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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Read A Section: Area Administered By Turkish Cypriots

Republic of Cyprus

The government of the Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized government on the island, but since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots.  This area proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A “green line,” or buffer zone (which is over 110 miles long and several miles wide in places) patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  For areas in the north that have different Greek and Turkish names, both are listed (e.g., Kormakitis/Korucam).

Executive Summary

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” refers to the “state” as secular and provides for freedom of religious faith and worship consistent with public order and morals.  It prohibits forced participation in worship and religious services and stipulates religious education may be conducted only under “state” supervision.  Although the “constitution” grants the Vakf the right to regulate its internal affairs, it is subordinate to the “Prime Minister’s” office and not an independent organization.  Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to grant access to Greek Orthodox religious sites, although visits declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The “Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)” said during the year it approved 37 of 66 requests to hold religious services between July-October 2021, compared with 26 of 33 requests in 2020.  The “MFA” said, “18 could not be facilitated as they fell outside the pre-determined criteria.”  Turkish-Speaking Protestant Associations (TSPA) representatives continued to report police surveillance of their activities, although the surveillance was somewhat reduced, primarily due to a reduction in church activities as a result of the pandemic.  According to Greek Orthodox representatives, police monitored their church services.  They reported plainclothes police officers present during services checked priests’ identification and monitored the congregation.

The TSPA said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths often experienced abuse, insult, criticism in society, and workplace discrimination.  The TCCH reported completing conservation and structural support to five churches and the walls of Nicosia’s historic city center.  Mufti of Cyprus Talip Atalay and Church of Cyprus Archbishop Chrysostomos II and their representatives continued to meet throughout the year until Atalay was removed from his position in July.  During a July weekend days before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the area administered by Turkish Cypriots, then “TRNC Prime Minister” Ersan Saner named Ahmet Unsal to succeed Atalay as the Mufti of Cyprus.

The Ambassador and embassy officials continued engagement with the office of the Mufti of Cyprus, who was also head of the “Religious Affairs Department,” to discuss cooperation among religious leaders and access to religious sites.  Embassy officials met with representatives of the “MFA” and the Vakf to discuss unrestricted access to religious sites.  Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from the Sunni and Alevi Muslim, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss access to religious sites and instances of religious-based discrimination.

Section I. Religious Demography

According to a statement from the “Statistics Council,” as of August 2021, the population of the area administered by Turkish Cypriots is 382,836.  The census contains no data on religious affiliation.  Sociologists estimate as much as 97 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim.  The Alevi Culture Association estimates approximately 10,000 immigrants of Turkish, Kurdish, and Arab origin and their descendants are Alevi Muslims.  The TSPA estimates there are 1,000 Turkish-speaking Protestants.  The government of the Republic of Cyprus estimates 290 members of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and 48 Maronite Catholics reside in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  According to sociologists, other groups include the Russian Orthodox, Anglican, Baha’i, Jewish, and Jehovah’s Witness communities.  According to “Ministry of Education (MOE)” statistics for the 2020-21 academic year, there were approximately 94,381 foreign students enrolled at universities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  Of these, 60 percent were Muslim Turks and the rest were predominantly Christians and Muslims from more than 140 countries.

Section II. Status of “Government” Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Turkish Cypriot “constitution” states the territory is a “secular republic” and provides for freedom of conscience and religious faith and unrestricted worship and religious ceremonies, provided they do not contravene public order or morals.  It prohibits forced prayer, forced attendance at religious services, insulting others’ religious beliefs, and compelling individuals to disclose their religious beliefs.  It stipulates religious education requires “state” approval and may only be conducted under “state” supervision, but the “law” allows summer religious knowledge courses to be taught in mosques without “MOE” approval.  The “law” does not recognize exclusively any specific religion, and individuals cannot “exploit or abuse” religion to establish, even partially, a “state” based on religious precepts or for political or personal gain.

According to the “constitution,” the Vakf has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with Vakf laws and principles.  Although the “constitution” states the Vakf shall be exempt from all taxation, its commercial operations are subject to applicable taxes.  The “constitution” does not explicitly recognize religious groups other than the Vakf.  According to the “constitution,” Turkish Cypriot authorities shall help the Vakf in the execution of Islamic religious services and in meeting the expenses of such services.  No other religious organization is tax-exempt or receives subsidies from Turkish Cypriot authorities.

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

Turkish Cypriot “regulations” stipulate Greek Orthodox residents may conduct liturgies led by two priests designated by the Orthodox Church at three designated functional churches on the Karpas Peninsula Maronite Catholic residents may hold liturgies or masses led by Maronite-designated clergy without seeking permission at three designated functional Maronite churches:  Agios Georgios Church in Kormakitis/Korucam, Timios Stavros Church in Karpasia/Karpasa, and Panagia Church in Kampyli/Hisarkoy.

Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox worshippers must submit applications to authorities for permission to hold religious services at churches or monasteries other than the six designated churches, including at restored religious heritage sites.  Although the “MFA” reported 78 churches open for religious services in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots, these churches were only available for religious services upon “government” approval.  The “MFA” continued to evaluate requests for religious services based on certain criteria.

For authorities to consider an application, the day of the requested service must be a religious day (Christmas, Easter, the church’s name day – sometimes referred to as its feast day) and should be of significance to that religious group.  The church or monastery must be structurally sound and not be located in a military zone, with exceptions for some Maronite churches.  It must not have a dual use, for example, as a museum, and there should be no complaints from local Turkish Cypriot residents, and police must be available to provide security.

Permission is also necessary for priests other than those who were officially predesignated to conduct services.  Specific permission is required for individuals who do not reside in the Turkish Cypriot-administered area, including members of the Greek Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches, to participate.  UNFICYP coordinates these applications, which religious groups must submit 10 days before the date of the requested service.

The “government”-appointed Mufti of Cyprus heads the “Religious Affairs Department” in the “Prime Minister’s Office,” which represents Islam in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots and functions as a civil authority.  Whereas the Vakf manages Muslim-donated property as an endowment for charitable purposes, the “Religious Affairs Department” oversees how imams conduct prayers and deliver Friday sermons in mosques.

Under the section “Offenses Against Religion” in the “TRNC Criminal Code,” any person who, with the intention of insulting the religion of any person, or knowing that any destruction, harm or defilement of any person will be an insult to their religion, destroys, damages or pollutes a place of worship or any property considered sacred by a certain group people, commits a minor offense.

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

There is mandatory religious instruction in grades four through eight in all schools, public and private.  These classes focus primarily on Sunni Islam but also include sessions on comparative religion.  The “MOE” chooses the curriculum, which is based on a textbook commissioned by the Ministry of Education in Turkey.  Students may opt out of mandatory religion courses in grades six through eight.  At the high school level, religion classes are optional.

There are no provisions or “laws” allowing conscientious objection to mandatory military service, which requires a 12- to 15-month initial service period and one-day annual reserve duty.  The penalty for refusing to complete mandatory military service is up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,800 Turkish lira ($830), or both.

“Government” Practices

The “MFA” reported that despite the rule to submit religious service applications at least 10 days in advance for religious services, it granted three that were requested seven days in advance of the service.  The UNFICYP office responsible for facilitating these requests said Greek Cypriot religious service applicants often complained “MFA” approvals were granted a few days before the requested service, causing organizers to cancel.

According to statistics reported by the “MFA,” authorities continued to grant access to Greek Orthodox places of worship.  UNFICYP reported the “MFA” approved 21 of 38 requests it received to facilitate religious services at churches in the northern part of the island between August and December.  In 2020, UNFICYP reported 15 approvals of 18 requests.  The “MFA” reported it approved 37 of 66 total requests (including both UNFICYP-facilitated requests and requests submitted directly to the “MFA”) to hold religious services, compared with 26 of 31 total requests in 2020.  The “MFA” also reported 18 requests were denied because they could not be facilitated, as they fell outside the predetermined criteria.

Three Greek Orthodox churches, Apostolos Andreas, St. Barnabas, and St. Mamas, were again open for individual prayers throughout the year, but Turkish Cypriot authorities continued to require advance notification for religious services.  While St. Mamas and St. Barnabas Churches functioned as museums and were only open during working hours, individuals could still pray at the churches during those hours.  The “MFA” reported that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no additional Greek Orthodox churches were reopened for services for the first time since 1974.

According to a church representative and media reports, on January 27, authorities raided the home and business of an expatriate American pastor living in the “TRNC,” seizing Bibles and Christian literature in various languages.  Police said the pastor’s business, including a cafe, operated without a license.  Kibris Postasi, a daily newspaper, published an article linking him to another American pastor who had been imprisoned in Turkey for two years on charges of espionage.  After detaining him for 11 hours, the “government” released the pastor on a 160,000 Turkish lira ($12,300) bond and confiscated his passport.  They charged him in March with illegally importing Christian materials.  Authorities assessed a fine against the pastor of 5,000 Turkish lira ($390).  He was required to apply for court permission to travel.  At year’s end, he awaited trial.

The TSPA reported police continued to monitor its activities, asking specific questions about TSPA members and ceremonies.  The TSPA said there was less monitoring during the year due to a reduction in church activities resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Greek Orthodox representative stated 72 religious sites remained inaccessible due to their being located within Turkish military zones or the buffer zone.

A Maronite community representative said the Turkish military continued to restrict access to the Church of Archangelos Michael in the village of Asomatos/Ozhan.  Maronite representatives continued to report being required to submit by the preceding Tuesday a list of persons planning to attend Sunday services.  The “MFA” said this was because the Church of Archangelos Michael is located within a military zone.  The “MFA” said it required only advance notification, not a request for access, to hold Sunday services and that no one was refused admittance during the year.  According to the “MFA,” the Turkish military again allowed Maronites to celebrate Mass in Ayia Marina in July and denied Maronites access to the Church of Marki near Kormakitis/Korucam.  The “MFA” reported that the physical and structural condition of the Church of Marki was not safe to hold a religious service and that the church was located in a military zone.

As a result of a UN Development Program- and TCCH-facilitated tender, restoration and maintenance work began at the Armenian Sourp Magar Monastery during the year.  Although completion had been expected during the year, technical problems that emerged between the contractor and the UNDP cancelled the project.

The TCCH reported that during the year it completed 16 projects, including the restoration of two archeological sites, two cemeteries, two fountains, and 10 conservation and support projects at various religious sites.

In March, the TCCH announced completion of conservation efforts at the Afendrika archaeological site in Karpaz.  The site, situated in the ancient settlement known as Urania, includes Panagia Church, Asomatos Church and Agios Georgios Church.  The committee carried out conservation work at these sites with technical support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and EU financing.  As part of the conservation work, the committee cleared the site of shrubbery, strengthened the structures, and opened water drainage for improved rainwater management.  In June, the TCCH announced the completion of conservation work on Panagia Church and its perimeter wall.

During the year, the TCCH also announced the completion of conservation work at Agios Artemon Church in Afentaia/Gaziköy; Panagia Church and its perimeter wall in Askeia/Pasakoy; and the St. Epiphanos, Kampanopetra, and St. Barnabas basilicas at the Salamis archeological site.

In July, the TCCH announced a contract had been signed for conservation work at the church of Agios Synesios in Karpaz and that mobilization of the construction site had begun.  The conservation work is expected to last nine months and be completed in the first quarter of 2022.

The TCCH also continued restoring other religious sites.  It and the UNDP Partnership for the Future also continued restoration work on the Greek Orthodox Apostolos Andreas Monastery on the Karpas Peninsula, a popular destination for pilgrims.  The TCCH reported preparations for initiating the tendering process for the second phase of the restoration.

According to local press reports, the Turkish government provided significant support to Sunni Islamic activities in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  Such programs supplied iPads and bicycles as rewards to youth for participating in Islamic activities and funded community programs and iftars during Ramadan.  According to press reports and the Turkish Cypriot Human Rights Foundation, the Turkish “embassy” distributed 5,000 bicycles to children for attending online religious courses and praying twice a day at a mosque.  The program brochure, a photo of which was published in Yeniduzen, reportedly said, “Come to the mosque, get your bicycle.”  Human rights activists called the program an “imposition of religion” and a “manipulation of children.”

Secular Turkish Cypriot groups and teachers unions continued to criticize a protocol with Turkey announced by the “MOE” in 2019 that opened a Turkish Anatolia Religious High School program within the premises of Hala Sultan Religious High School, a public school.  They said the protocol imposed Islam on secular Turkish Cypriots.  The Secondary Education Teachers Union reported the administration of the Hala Sultan Religious High School and the “MOE” enrolled 200 students in the school without the usually required entrance exams.

The Alevi Culture Association reported Alevi children were subject to mandatory Sunni Islam religious instruction at school and could not opt out.

The “Religious Affairs Department” continued to appoint and fund all 225 imams at the 210 Sunni mosques in the northern part of the island.  “TRNC Prime Minister” Saner informed Mufti of Cyprus Atalay July 17 that he would be replaced as “Head of Religious Affairs” and Mufti of Cyprus effective immediately.  While Atalay had exceeded the official but previously unenforced limit of 10 years in office (two five-year terms), local media commentators and other sources said they were surprised by the abrupt timing.  Since it came immediately before Kurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha) and the July visit by Turkish President Erdogan, many observers assessed the change was politically motivated.  Then “TRNC Prime Minister” Saner named Ahmet Unsal to succeed Atalay as Cyprus’s Mufti.

A representative of the Church of Cyprus again stated that some religious sites to which Church officials had little or no access were deteriorating.

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

According to Greek Orthodox representatives, police monitored their church services.  They reported plainclothes police officers were present during services, checking priests’ identification and monitoring the congregation.

In March, the Kurdish community living in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots, together with leftist unions and left-wing political parties, including the main opposition Republican Turkish Party and “MPs,” gathered at the Kyrenia Gate in north Nicosia to celebrate Nowruz (the arrival of spring and new year in Kurdish culture).  Press reported participation was low due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there was a “very heavy police presence” at the event.  Kurds lit a Nowruz fire and gathered around it singing songs.  There were no incidents at the event.

On April 15, the Turkish Cypriot “Constitutional Court” ruled Quran lessons organized by the “Department of Religious Affairs” at mosques were unconstitutional, overturning legislation that gave authority to the “Department” to organize such courses.  According to the decision, the “Department’s” organizing Quran courses without the approval of the “Ministry of Education” had violated the “constitutional” provision on secularism of the “state.”  Head of the Turkish Cypriot Bar Association Hasan Esendagli said the court’s decision was a turning point and that it was the first time the “Constitutional Court” examined whether a law regarding religious belief and practice was permitted under the country’s secular constitution.  He said the overturned “law” had been problematic, since it granted limitless powers to the “Department,” which is comprised of a group of religious figures.  Turkish President Erdogan (along with other Turkish officials including the Vice President) criticized the decision, saying, “It is impossible for us to accept this.  The head of the Constitutional Court should learn secularism.”  Making a call to the head of the Constitutional Court to correct the mistake, Erdogan said, “North Cyprus is not France.  They have to adopt the practices in Turkey. …otherwise, the steps we will take will be different.”

On April 19, Turkish Cypriot lawyers staged a demonstration to protest Erdogan’s remarks.  Speaking at the protest, Esendagli said Turkish officials, including the Turkish President himself, had either spoken without knowing the details of the verdict or had deliberately distorted the facts.  Chief Justice Narin Ferdi Sefik and several other Supreme Court judges supported the protest, saluting the lawyers from the court building.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity often overlap, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

A video posted April 7 on YouTube showed an electronic music event recorded on March 20 on the grounds of the Saint Magar Armenian Monastery, the only Armenian monastery in Cyprus.  According to the RTCYPP, the video stirred negative reaction online among the Armenian community and news outlets.  In a RTCYPP-released joint statement, the five constitutionally recognized religious leaders of Cyprus condemned what they termed the monastery’s misuse and called for protection of all places of worship against vandalism, misuse, and desecration.

The TSPA continued to report societal discrimination, including verbal harassment, toward Protestants.  The TSPA again said Turkish Cypriots who converted to other faiths, particularly Christianity, faced societal criticism and feared losing their jobs.  The TSPA continued to report many members preferred to remain silent about their faiths and beliefs.  The TSPA also reported police continued to closely monitor its activities and occasionally visited representatives to inquire about church activities and attendance levels.

During the year, there were few pilgrimages and meetings across the “green line” due to pandemic mitigation measures.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The embassy promoted religious freedom on social media and met with representatives of the “MFA” and the Vakf to discuss unrestricted access to religious sites.  Embassy officials continued to meet with leaders from the Sunni and Alevi Muslim, Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Catholic, and Protestant communities to discuss access to religious sites and instances of religious-based discrimination.

Embassy officials continued to engage with the office of the Mufti of Cyprus, who also heads the “Religious Affairs Department,” to discuss cooperation among religious leaders and access to religious sites.

The Ambassador hosted an iftar on May 10 for Mufti of Cyprus Talip Atalay and other prominent members of the Turkish Cypriot community, which highlighted the U.S. commitment to advancing freedom of religion and interfaith dialogue and reinforced the Secretary of State’s April 12 message that the United States is committed to strong relationships with Muslim communities around the world.

The Ambassador met the Head of Religious Affairs and Mufti of Cyprus, Ahmet Unsal, on October 19 to reiterate U.S. support for religious freedom, encourage Unsal’s participation in the religious leaders’ dialogue, and stress the importance of interfaith cooperation for the Cyprus peace process and building trust between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.

Following the posting to YouTube in April of the “techno party” at the Saint Magar Armenian Orthodox Monastery, the Ambassador stated publicly her deep dismay about the incident and expressed support for religious leaders’ call that all places of worship across Cyprus be protected.  She issued a statement that the embassy “strongly condemns the misuse” of the monastery, and “Freedom of worship is a fundamental value, and we echo the call from religious leaders that all places of worship, in use or not, be protected against misuse, vandalism, and desecration.”

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

Read a Section

Republic of Cyprus

Austria

Executive Summary

Historical and modern constitutional documents provide for freedom of religious belief and affiliation and prohibit religious discrimination.  The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against religious groups and classifies registered religious groups into one of three categories:  religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations.  The 16 groups recognized as religious societies receive the most benefits.  Unrecognized groups may practice their religion privately if the practice is lawful and does not offend “common decency.”  The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam researched, disseminated information on, and organized workshops pertaining to what it described as Muslim extremism.  The Jewish Community (IKG) partnered with the government to hold workshops for teachers and personnel working with immigrant and refugee groups to combat antisemitism among the latter groups.  In July, parliament amended the law pertaining to Muslims as part of an antiterrorism package providing for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad.  The Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGO) opposed the amendment, which it said applied only to the Muslim community, was discriminatory, and interfered with religious freedom.  In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website with an “Islam Map” listing Islamic institutions in the country.  Religious and civil society groups criticized the map – and the center for publicizing it – stating it violated data privacy rules and endangered the lives of Muslims in the country by giving right-wing extremist groups the ability to target them.  In January, the government presented its strategy to combat antisemitism, which called for enhancing education about Judaism, improving security of Jewish sites, and more-vigorous prosecution of antisemitic crimes, and launched an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate the strategy.  A survey commissioned by parliament found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic and that more than a quarter of respondents agreed with statements that Jews dominated the business world and took advantage of having been victimized by the Nazis.  Citing the study, the parliamentary president said the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon.

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year.  For all of 2020, the ministry cited 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six crimes, respectively, in the previous year.  In 2020, the most recent year for which it had data, IGGO reported 1,402 anti-Muslim incidents, one-third more than in the previous year.  The IKG reported 562 antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year, more than double the number over the same period in the previous year; there were 585 such incidents in all of 2020.  Most incidents involved hate speech, especially on the internet, but there were also incidents of assault.  For example, in Vienna in May, a man threw rocks at a Jewish family wearing traditional religious clothing.  Government figures, unlike those from the IKG and IGGO, only included incidents in which authorities filed criminal charges.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy representatives met with officials from the Federal Chancellery and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior to discuss religious freedom, the protection of religious minorities, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with leaders from the IGGO, IKG, Roman Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and various Orthodox churches to discuss their relations with the government, instances of discrimination and interreligious dialogue, and the impact on their respective communities of the COVID-19 crisis.  In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the Muslim Youth Organization with an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements.  Embassy officials continued to serve on the advisory board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency, a governmental agency that promotes Holocaust remembrance.  In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video commemorating World War II.  In September, the embassy cohosted with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors.  In July, embassy staff hosted a lunch with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education.  Throughout the year, the embassy used social media platforms to deliver messages about religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to religious groups and government estimates, Roman Catholics constitute 55 percent of the population, and Muslims – predominantly Sunni – 8 percent, while approximately 25 percent is unaffiliated with any religion.  According to estimates from religious groups, Eastern Orthodox churches (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Antiochian, and Bulgarian) constitute 5 percent of the population, and Protestants (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions) 3.2 percent.  Groups that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and other Christian and non-Christian religious groups.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

A combination of historical and modern constitutional documents guarantees freedom of “conscience and creed.”  The law provides for freedom of religious belief and the rights of all residents to join, participate in, leave, or abstain from association with any religious community.  The law stipulates, “Duties incumbent on nationals may not be impeded by religious affiliation.”

Several constitutional provisions protect religious freedom.  The main pillars are historical laws on fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious freedom, and treaties and conventions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which form part of the constitution.  Antidiscrimination legislation prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.  Citizens have the right to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom.

The law prohibits public incitement to hostile acts against a church group, religious society, or other religious group if the incitement is perceivable by “many people,” which an official government commentary on the law and the courts interpret as 30 or more individuals.  The prohibition also applies specifically in the case of incitement in print, electronic, or other media available to a broad public.  The law also prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against religious groups, if such action violates human dignity.

The law divides registered religious groups into three officially recognized legal categories (listed in descending order of rights, privileges, and legal responsibilities):  religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations.  Members of religious groups not legally recognized may practice their religion at home, “insofar as this practice is neither unlawful nor offends common decency.”

There are 16 recognized religious societies:  the Roman Catholic Church; Protestant churches (Augsburg and Helvetic confessions); the IGGO; Old Catholic Church; IKG; Eastern Orthodox Church (Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Antiochian); The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; New Apostolic Church; Syrian Orthodox Church; Coptic Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Methodist Church of Austria; the Buddhist Community; Jehovah’s Witnesses; Alevi Community in Austria; and Free Christian Churches.

The law grants registered religious societies the right to public practice and independent administration of their internal affairs; to participate in the program requiring mandatory church contributions by church members; to bring religious workers into the country to act as ministers, missionaries, or teachers; and to provide pastoral services in prisons and hospitals.  Under the law, religious societies have “public corporation” status, permitting them to engage in several public or quasi-public activities, such as government-funded religious instruction in both public and private schools, which the government denies to confessional communities and associations.  The government grants all recognized religious societies tax relief in two main ways:  donors do not pay taxes on donations, and the societies receive exemption from property tax for all buildings dedicated to the active practice of religion or administration of such.  Additionally, religious societies are exempt from a surveillance charge, otherwise payable when the state provides security to religious groups, and administrative fees for garbage collection and other municipal services.  Responsibilities of religious societies include a commitment to sponsor social and cultural activities that serve the common good and – like all religious groups – to ensure their teachings do not violate the law or ethical standards, which the law does not define.

Religious groups seeking to achieve religious society status for the first time must apply for recognition with the Office for Religious Affairs in the Federal Chancellery.  Religious groups recognized as societies prior to 1998 retained their status.  The government grandfathered in 14 of the 16 recognized religious societies under this provision of the law.  To gain recognition as a religious society, religious groups not recognized prior to 1998 must have membership equaling 0.2 percent of the country’s population (approximately 17,700 persons) and have existed for 20 years, at least five of which must have been as a confessional community.  The government recognizes Jehovah’s Witnesses and Alevi Muslims as religious societies under these post-1998 criteria.  Groups that do not meet these criteria may still apply for religious society status under an exception for groups that have been active internationally for at least 100 years and active as an association in the country for 10 years.  Groups sharing a broad faith with an existing society or confessional community, for example Christianity, may register separately as long as they can demonstrate that they have a different theology.

The law allows religious groups not recognized as societies to seek official status as confessional communities with the Office for Religious Affairs.  The government recognizes 10 confessional communities:  the Baha’i Faith, Movement for Religious Renewal-Community of Christians, Pentecostal Community of God, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindu Community, Islamic-Shia Community, Old-Alevi Community in Austria, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, United Pentecostal Community of Austria, and Sikhs.

A recognized confessional community has the juridical standing needed to engage in such activities as purchasing real estate in its own name and contracting for goods and services, but it is not eligible for the financial and educational benefits available to recognized religious societies.  Contributions to confessional communities’ charitable activities are tax deductible for those who make them and tax free for the groups receiving them, but the communities are not exempt from property taxes.  Confessional communities may provide pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.

To gain government recognition as a confessional community, a group must have at least 300 members and submit to the Office for Religious Affairs its statutes describing the goals, rights, and obligations of members as well as membership regulations, a list of officials, and financing information.  A group must also submit a written description of its religious doctrine, which must differ from that of any previously recognized religious society or religious confessional community.  The Office for Religious Affairs determines whether the group’s basic beliefs are consistent with public security, order, health, and morals and with the rights and freedoms of citizens.  A religious group seeking to obtain confessional community status is subject to a six-month waiting period from the time of application to the chancellery.  After this period, groups that have applied automatically receive the status unless the government issues a decree rejecting the application.

Religious groups not qualifying for either religious society or confessional community status may apply to become legal associations, a status applicable to a broad range of civil groups.  Some groups organize as associations while waiting for the government to recognize them as confessional communities.

The Church of Scientology and several smaller religious groups, such as Sahaja Yoga and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, have association status.

According to the law, any group of more than two persons pursuing a nonprofit goal qualifies to organize as an association.  Groups may apply to the Ministry of Interior to obtain such status.  To become an association, a group must submit a written statement citing its common, nonprofit goal and commitment to function as a nonprofit organization.

Associations have juridical standing, the right to function in public, and many of the same rights as confessional communities, including the right to own real estate and to contract for goods and services.  Associations may not offer pastoral care in hospitals or prisons or receive tax-deductible contributions.

Pursuant to the law governing relations between the government and the Roman Catholic Church, the Church is the only religious group to receive government funding for pastoral care it provides in prisons.  The law also makes various Catholic holidays official national holidays.

The law governing relations between the government and the IGGO and Alevi Muslim groups stipulates that funding for the day-to-day operations of mosques must be derived from domestic sources, Islamic teachings and practices must not violate federal law (compliance with which is determined by the Office for Religious Affairs), and Islamic institutions should “take a positive stance” toward the state and society.  The law provides an explicit legal definition of, and legal protection for, Islamic practices, such as circumcision and preparation of food in conformity with religious rules, and states Muslims may raise children and youth in accordance with Islamic traditions.  Muslim groups with at least 300 members and a theology not distinct from a pre-existing Islamic religious society or confessional community are considered cultural communities and fall under the umbrella of the pre-existing, legally recognized Islamic religious society or confessional community.  This includes the IGGO and the Alevi Community in Austria, which are both religious societies, or the Islamic-Shia Community and the Old-Alevi Faith Community in Austria, both of which have confessional community status.  The law allows for Islamic theological university studies, which the University of Vienna offers.

An amendment to the law pertaining to Muslims passed in July as part of an antiterrorism package provides for stricter annual government monitoring of the finances of mosques and Muslim cultural associations, focusing on financial flows from abroad.  The legislation, which entered into force September 1, also allows the Federal Chancellery to request a list of all Muslim officials and associations and makes it easier to close mosques to “protect public security,” with the approval of the IGGO.  The IGGO must report changes in Muslim associations, such as changes in by-laws, leadership, and funding to the Office for Religious Affairs, so that authorities have up-to-date information on such associations.  The law also empowers Ministry of Interior officials, who already review requests to establish new associations, to scrutinize such requests to ensure that they are not “cover organizations” for religious groups attempting to bypass the transparency requirements for mosques.  The antiterrorism package also introduced a new statutory offense banning “religiously motivated extremism.”

Separate laws govern relations between the government and each of the other 14 state-recognized religious societies.  The laws have similar intent but vary in some details, since they were enacted at different times over a span of approximately 140 years.  As with the Muslim community, a law provides explicit protections for Jewish religious practices, including circumcision and ritual slaughter.

The law bans full-face coverings in public places as a “violation of Austrian values,” with exceptions made only for artistic, cultural, or traditional events, in sports, or for health or professional reasons.  Failure to comply with the law is an administrative violation.  The law prescribes a 150 euro ($170) fine but does not entitle police to remove the face covering.

In accordance with a Constitutional Court ruling in 2020 that overturned a headscarf ban for children in elementary school, children of all ages may wear headscarves and other head coverings in schools.

The government funds, on a proportional basis, religious instruction for any of the 16 officially recognized religious societies by clergy or instructors provided by those groups for children in public schools and government-accredited private schools.  The government does not offer such funding to other religious groups.  A minimum of three children is required to form a class.  Attendance in the respective religion classes is mandatory for all students who are members of those religious groups unless they formally withdraw at the beginning of the school year; students younger than age 14 require parental permission to withdraw from religion classes.  Religious instruction takes place either in the school or at sites organized by religious groups.  Some schools offer ethics classes for students not attending religious instruction.  Religious education and ethics classes include the tenets of different religious groups as comparative religious education.

The curriculum for both public and private schools includes compulsory antibias and tolerance education, including religious tolerance, as part of civics education across various subjects, including history and German-language instruction.

Holocaust education is part of history instruction and is also part of other courses such as civics.

The Equal Rights Agency, an independent agency falling under the jurisdiction of the Federal Chancellery Minister for Women, Family, Youth, and Integration, oversees discrimination cases, including those based on religion.  The agency provides legal counseling and mediation services, and it assists with bringing cases before the Equal Treatment Commission, another independent government agency.  In cases where it finds discrimination, the commission makes a recommendation for corrective action.  In a case of noncompliance with the recommendation, the case goes to court.  The commission may issue expert reports for plaintiffs to present before the court.  Only a court may order corrective action and compensation.

The law bans neo-Nazi activity and prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification “of the National Socialist genocide” or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print, broadcast, or other media.

The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and it imposes criminal penalties for violations.

On January 1, a law on hate speech, including religiously motivated hate speech, went into effect requiring online platforms to identify and delete posts that can be classified as hateful or defamatory.  It broadens the definition of hate speech to include single offenses, cyberbullying, and photographs taken surreptitiously, for which a person may be prosecuted in court.  The law also facilitates means of recourse by allowing individuals subjected to online hate speech to seek redress directly with the relevant communication platform, rather than go through civil courts.  It mandates companies to designate a contact person to whom affected individuals and government authorities can send complaints, and it requires platforms to issue annual reports on how they received and processed hate speech complaints.  Repeated failure by the platform to comply could lead to fines of up to 10 million euros ($11.34 million).  The law applies only to large for-profit communication platforms with more than 100,000 users and revenues of 500,000 euros ($567,000) or more per year.  Videos on video-sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook are excluded, as they are subject to a separate EU law, but comments on the videos fall under the new law.

The law extends citizenship to direct descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes.  Descendants may obtain citizenship by reporting to Austrian consulates.  Dual citizenship is also possible.

The law bans certain symbols the government considers extremist, including those pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaida, Hizballah, and the Croatian Ustasha.

The government requires a visa for visitors from non-visa-waiver countries or individuals who would stay beyond 90 days, including religious workers of confessional communities or associations.  Foreign religious workers of groups recognized as confessional communities or associations must apply for a general immigrant visa that is not employment or family based and is subject to a quota.  Foreign religious workers belonging to religious societies also require immigrant visas but are exempt from the quota system.  Religious workers from Schengen or EU-member countries are exempt from all visa requirements.

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

Government Practices

The IGGO expressed objections to the amendment of the law pertaining to Muslims enacted in July as part of the government’s antiterrorism legislation, stating it was discriminatory and interfered with religious freedom and the internal affairs of the Muslim community.  The provisions in the amendment pertained only to Islam.  IGGO president Umit Vural said he was also disappointed the government did not engage with the IGGO on the provisions of the amendment.  Responding to his criticism, both Justice Minister Alma Zadic and Integration Minister Suzanne Raab stated the new legislation was in no way designed to target a specific religious group.  The Office for Religious Affairs stated all religious groups in the country must adhere to the same restrictions concerning foreign funding and violating federal law and that only Islamic groups had violated either of these restrictions.

The Federal Chancellery’s Documentation Center for Political Islam, which was established in 2020, continued its research on what it described as politically motivated Muslim extremism.  It stated that it made its research available to the general public to promote awareness of Muslim extremism, pluralism, and religious freedom, while also staging workshops and publishing studies relevant to Muslim extremism.  In October, the Federal Chancellery hosted the Vienna Forum on Countering Segregation and Extremism in the Context of Integration, which brought together officials from Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and France as well as experts in the field to find avenues for cooperation on fighting “political Islam.”  The four countries agreed to begin joint cooperation projects in fighting radicalization and Islamic extremism, focusing on exchanging best practices and cooperation in research.  The Federal Chancellery said it would host the forum annually and seek cooperation with other countries as well.

In May, the Documentation Center for Political Islam created a website featuring an “Islam Map” compiled by the University of Vienna’s Institute for Muslim Theological Studies, listing Islamic institutions in the country, including mosques, Muslim associations, and prayer rooms.  The Islam Map had already been available through the university’s website, but it only became widely known publicly after the government posted it to the Documentation Center’s website in June.  Religious, political, and civil society groups criticized the map.  Green Party integration spokeswoman Faika El-Nagashi called it “the opposite of what integration policy and dialogue should look like on an equal footing,” while IGGO President Umit Vural called it dangerous and said attacks against Muslims rose after the posting of the map.  Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Catholic Church in the country, called it “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious communities is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out.  In June, following the posting of the map, individuals began to use the map to “out” certain locations as Muslim with posters and signs reading or “Beware!  Political Islam is here.”  The government briefly took the map down in June before reposting it online a few weeks later.  Also in June, the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria filed a complaint against the University of Vienna professor who compiled the map, the University of Vienna, and the Documentation Office on Political Islam, stating the map violated data privacy rules.

In January, the Federal Chancellery Minister for the EU and Constitution, Karoline Edtstadler, presented a national strategy to combat antisemitism and established an office in the Federal Chancellery to coordinate measures by all ministries to implement the new strategy.  The strategy focused on addressing antisemitism when educating new refugees and establishing security for the Jewish community, guidelines for tracking and prosecuting antisemitic incidents, and standards for EU-wide data comparison.  It recommended increasing protection of synagogues, improving education about Judaism in schools and awareness campaigns, more vigorous prosecution of hate speech, and closing loopholes in the law pertaining to right-wing extremist groups and their symbols.  Edtstadler stated that combatting antisemitism was a central priority of the government.  Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said the strategy reflected the country’s historic responsibility to combat antisemitism, and he warned against right-wing extremists exploiting protests against COVID-19 restrictions to spread antisemitism.  Jewish community president Oskar Deutsch welcomed the strategy, saying it would ensure the security and continuity of Jewish life in the country.

The Federal Office of Sect Issues offered advice to persons with questions about groups that it considered “sects” and “cults.”  The office was nominally independent but government funded, and the Minister of Women, Family, Youth and Integration appointed and oversaw its head.

In June, the government declared it had fulfilled the responsibilities of the Arbitration Panel for In Rem Restitution under the Law on the General Settlement Fund for Victims of National Socialism.  Parliament unanimously took note of the Final Report of the Arbitration Panel.  The Arbitration Panel was established in 2001 under the provisions of the Washington Agreement to decide on applications for in rem restitution of publicly owned property and movable assets for the previous owners and their heirs.

In August, an appellate court in the Styrian provincial capital of Graz ruled that nine police raids against Muslim Brotherhood individuals and associations in 2020 were illegal.  The Graz appellate court ruled that raids targeting terrorist financing were illegal because they were not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.  The court said there was no evidence that every member of the Muslim Brotherhood was “also a member of or promoted a terrorist organization, in particular Hamas.”  Individuals detained in the raids, who were reportedly questioned and released, had told media the raids were “mere guesswork by the police” and that there was no evidence of terrorist financing.

Revenue authorities continued to investigate Islamic associations that they said might have evaded taxes, which would result in the loss of charity status for those associations.  At year’s end, authorities had not stripped any Islamic associations of their charity status.

The Federal Office for Foreigner Affairs and Asylum (BFA) continued to refuse to issue or renew residence permits for foreign imams financed by foreign sources.  There were no reports that other religious groups faced similar problems in obtaining residence permits for their foreign clerics, as those clerics are not financed by foreign sources according to the BFA.

At year’s end, the Vienna-based, Saudi Arabia-funded King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue remained open, despite a foreign ministry announcement in 2019 that it would close the center, consistent with a nonbinding parliamentary resolution calling on it to do so because of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.  In October, Saudi Arabia announced it would move the center to Lisbon, although it did not indicate a timetable for the relocation.

In January, four online platforms, not publicly identified, sought an exemption from the new law on hate speech, stating it should not apply to them because they had offices in Ireland, but the Vienna Commercial Court rejected the claim.  Officials in the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs and the Federal Chancellery reported companies were complying to varying degrees, and some proceedings to penalize noncompliant companies were underway, but they did not provide details.  By year’s end, KommAustria, an independent telecommunications supervisory authority responsible for monitoring compliance with the law, had not levied penalties on any companies.

Following the IKG’s April presentation of its annual report on antisemitic incidents in 2020, EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler said much remained to be done and that it was important to implement the government’s strategy to fight antisemitism adopted in January.  Vice Chancellor Kogler also stated combatting antisemitism remained a major challenge.

In March, Parliamentary President Wolfgang Sobotka presented the results of a survey of citizens commissioned by parliament that found antisemitism had become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the circulation of conspiracy theories regarding the pandemic’s origin.  Of 2,000 persons polled in late 2020, 28 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews today try to take advantage of the fact that they were victims during the Nazi era.”  Another 26 percent agreed that “Jews dominate the international business world.”  Forty-nine percent of respondents agreed that it was citizens’ “moral responsibility to stand by Jews” in the country.  The study’s authors, the Institute for Empirical Social Research and the Demox research institute, said that, despite better efforts to combat antisemitism in the country, a vocal minority exploited public frustration with health and safety restrictions and demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions as public platforms to make antisemitism more visible and exploit the right to assemble to spread conspiracy theories against Jews.  Sobotka praised the study, saying it offered a chance to “grow awareness of the problem of antisemitism, which in turn is the basis for an actual change in the attitudes of Austrians,” adding that the country could not afford to view antisemitism as just a marginal phenomenon in society.  Sobotka also criticized opposition Freedom Party (FPOe) Floor Leader Herbert Kickl for his participation at demonstrations in March against COVID-19 restrictions, where Sobotka said right-wing extremists had spread antisemitic messages equating persons affected by COVID-19 restrictions with Holocaust victims.  In his speech at a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions, Kickl accused Israel of “vaccination apartheid.”

The international NGO Anti-Defamation League continued to conduct teacher-training seminars on Holocaust awareness in schools in the country, reaching approximately 100 teachers.  School councils and the Ministry of Education, Science, and Research continued to invite Holocaust survivors to talk to school classes about National Socialism and the Holocaust.

In September, Parliamentary President Sobotka presented the restored grave of the Epstein family, a renowned Jewish family that lived in Vienna in the 19th century, at the historic Waehring Jewish cemetery in Vienna to the IKG.  Parliament had financed and organized the restoration project.  Sobotka stated the cemetery was a “unique memorial for Jewish life in Vienna.”

The Vienna Prosecutor’s Office declined to prosecute the FPOe for incitement after the party posted slogans that equated traditionally dressed Muslims with radical, violent Islamism during Vienna municipal elections in October 2020.  The Association of Social Democrat Academics had sought incitement charges against the FPOe.

In May, Education Minister Heinz Fassmann announced the establishment of a research office on right-wing extremism and antisemitism with the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance Movement, an NGO that monitors right-wing extremism.  The center also provided schools with material for Holocaust education and supported investigations into right-wing extremists.

The government continued to allow headwear for religious purposes in official identification documents, provided the face remained sufficiently visible to allow for identification of the wearer.

According to statistics presented by Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in September, the government granted citizenship to 6,600 descendants of Austrian victims of Nazi crimes, including persons from the United States, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

The city of Vienna continued work on the Campus of Religions, which it financed and launched in 2019.  Vienna unveiled the winning design for the campus in September, which contains eight buildings on 2.5 acres of land and is expected to be completed in 2028.  The campus is planned as a site where the Catholic, Evangelical, and Orthodox Churches, as well as Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and members of the New Apostolic Church will exercise their own religious activities, while also working together.  Its designated function is to serve to promote faith, respect, diversity, and ideological tolerance.  Alongside the interfaith University College of Teacher Education of Christian Churches Vienna/Krems, the campus is designed to be a meeting point that encourages dialogue between religions, science, and education, and it will include access for the general public.

The government did not impose any COVID-19 restrictions on religious gatherings, relying on religious organizations to regulate their own gatherings.  Religious groups worked with government officials to establish COVID-19 guidelines that mirrored each other, which Catholic and Muslim leaders stated helped create unified restrictions that eliminated confusion and risk among their congregations.  There were no reports of widespread dissatisfaction among religious community members about the restrictions.

In October, the country opened its redesigned exhibit at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum commemorating the victims and acknowledging the role of Austrian perpetrators in the Holocaust.

The government inaugurated the Shoah Wall of Names Memorial in Vienna in November listing the names of the country’s 66,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 20 antisemitic and three anti-Muslim crimes reported to police in the first half of the year.  In all of 2020, there were 36 antisemitic and 16 anti-Muslim crimes, compared with 30 and six such crimes, respectively, in 2019.  The ministry said its figures included only incidents that were reported to it and in which authorities filed criminal charges, and the ministry attributed all the crimes in the three years to right-wing extremists.  Most incidents, according to the ministry, involved hate speech.  The ministry did not provide details on any of the incidents.

The IGGO’s Documentation Center on Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Racism reported that there were1,402 anti-Muslim incidents in 2020 (1,051 in 2019).  The 2020 data were the most recent available.  In 2015, the first full year in which it collected such statistics, IGGO reported 156 anti-Muslim incidents.  The IKG reported 585 antisemitic incidents (550 in 2019) in the same year.  From January to June, the IKG recorded 562 incidents, more than twice the 257 in the first half of 2020.  Most incidents in 2021 consisted of hate speech or insults on the internet, although there were also 11 cases of violent threats and eight physical assaults.  The data were the most recent available.  Both groups included incidents regardless of whether they were reported to police or criminal charges were filed.  Most 2020 antisemitic and anti-Muslim cases concerned hate speech and insinuations of violence on the internet (1,019 cases), followed by insulting language and property damage.  Eight cases involved physical assaults.  The IGGO reported men were more likely to experience anti-Muslim behavior on the internet, while Muslim women were more likely to experience it in person in significant part because of their visible face or head coverings.

The IKG reported antisemitic incidents in the first half of the year included eight physical assaults, 58 cases of property damage, 154 mass mailings, and 331 threats.  Examples of antisemitic incidents included one in Vienna in May in which a group of teenagers were apprehended for throwing rocks at a Jewish family in traditional clothes, and antisemitic graffiti at the Vienna Jewish Museum in May.  The IKG attributed the increase in incidents in part to antisemitic messages at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions.

In July, the Ministry of Interior presented its first report on hate crimes.  The report listed 1,936 hate crimes between November 2020 and April 2021, primarily directed against persons of a different religion, opinion, or ethnicity.  The report stated 309 of the cases were religiously motivated.

In May, two days before the annual event commemorating the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp, police disbanded a demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions attended by approximately 30 persons in Mauthausen after the organizer played a Hitler video.

In May, on the International Day against Racism and Violence, the Ministry of Interior reported several antisemitic postings on its Facebook site and launched investigations to identify the authors.

In May, demonstrators chanted “Allahu Akbar” and “Child Murderer Israel” and waved Palestinian flags during an anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian rally in Vienna.  The IKG appealed to its members to stay away from the area of the demonstration and warned that the political situation in Israel could pose a threat to Jewish communities in Europe.  Police launched investigations into the use of antisemitic slogans during the demonstration, while Integration Minister Raab and then Interior Minister Karl Nehammer warned that the right to assemble should not be abused to make antisemitic statements.  Authorities arrested and questioned 11 individuals but released them without filing charges.

In May, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel held demonstrations with pro-Palestinian groups to protest Israeli house evacuations in East Jerusalem.

In a video on Twitter that became publicly known in January, Martin Sellner, head of the pan-European nationalist Identitarian movement, widely described as right-wing extremist, called People’s Party member of parliament Martin Engelberg an infamous hypocrite, antipatriotic traitor, despicable person, and “destroyer of the homeland” who has “abandoned any Christian values.”  Sellner was reacting to a December 2020 statement in which Engelberg criticized FPOe Parliamentary Floor Leader Kickl for not distancing himself from the Identitarian movement.  Sellner also praised Kickl for “taking a stance” against persons like Engelberg.  EU and Constitution Minister Edtstadler condemned Sellner’s message as antisemitic and also called upon the FPOe and Kickl to distance themselves from the Identitarian movement.  In June, Engelberg obtained an injunction from the Vienna Commercial Court that ruled that Sellner must cease the slanderous statements about Engelberg.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 18 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Austria said they had negative feelings towards Jews, and 26 percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (26 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (30 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (21 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (28 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (17 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (19 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (40 percent).

At the July presentation of a Council of Europe survey on online hatred against Muslims conducted among Muslim associations in eight European countries, the council’s special representative on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred cited the country’s “Islam map” as a negative example fueling discrimination.  The study stated the authors of hate postings were usually “anti-migration, right-wing groups, and – especially in Austria – the Identitarian movement.”

A counseling center in Vienna managed by the Society Against Sect and Cult Dangers, an NGO that described itself as an organization working against harm caused by “destructive cults” such as Scientology, continued to distribute information to the general public and provide counseling for former members of such groups.  All provinces funded family and youth counseling offices that provided information on “sects and cults.”

In October, the Graz Provincial Court for Criminal Matters convicted a Syrian man of assaulting Graz Jewish Community president Elie Rose in Graz in 2020 and vandalizing the Graz synagogue and a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community center.  The court sentenced him to three years in prison, stating the man could not be dissuaded from his anti-Jewish sentiments.  In response to the attack, the Graz Jewish Community continued to receive additional police protection, and the government continued to provide orientation and values courses on antisemitism for refugees.

According to the IGGO report covering 2020, in June of that year a woman insulted and hit a Muslim woman on the head with a newspaper, causing her hijab to slip off on one side.  The woman complained that none of several persons sitting in a nearby sidewalk cafe came to help her.  In September 2020, a woman assaulted another woman wearing a headscarf on a city bus in Vienna, spitting on her, pulling on her headscarf, and shouting she should go back to Turkey.  Property damage cited in the report included an arson attack against a Somali cultural association and prayer room in Vienna in May 2020.

A report presented in June by the NGO Initiative for Discrimination-Free Education listed a total of 186 cases of discrimination in schools in 2020 (403 cases in 2019), of which it attributed 15 percent to anti-Muslim sentiment and 2 percent to antisemitism.  While the NGO said the sharp drop in total discrimination cases was due to the reduced physical presence of students in schools due to COVID-19, the percentage of incidents motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment (approximately 31 percent of total discrimination cases in 2019) and antisemitism (approximately 11 percent of total cases) also dropped significantly.  Examples included statements by a physics teacher in Vienna who said in 2020 in front of her Muslim students that Muslims were responsible for a November 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna by a man police identified as an ISIS sympathizer.  In another example, a sports teacher suggested to a 12-year-old student who was wearing a headscarf that she should go to another country if she wanted to continue wearing it.

The organizers of the annual May gathering of Croatians and Bosnians in Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate Nazi-allied Croatian troops and civilians killed in 1945 canceled the event after parliament passed a resolution in 2020 prohibiting the event.

In June, a court in the Carinthian provincial capital of Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and illegal possession of weapons and sentenced him to a 19-month prison sentence.  The man had a Nazi symbol tattoo on his testicles.

In January, the court in Klagenfurt convicted a man of neo-Nazi activity and sentenced him to 24 months in prison, 16 months of which were suspended.  The man had performed the Hitler salute in 2019 and had a swastika tattoo.

In January, the Vienna Criminal Court issued a six-month suspended prison sentence on incitement charges for an imam whom it convicted of making antisemitic statements in a sermon in 2018.  The imam said, “Allah hates the Jews; they are the worst kuffars (unfaithful).”

Fourteen Christian groups, consisting of the Roman Catholic Church, various Protestant denominations, and eight Orthodox and Old Oriental Churches, continued to meet twice a year within the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Austria to discuss religious cooperation.  The Christian groups coordinated with other religious groups and the government to create a unified set of COVID-19 restrictions on all religious services in 2020 and 2021.  Baptists and the Salvation Army had observer status on the council.  Two permanent working groups on “Religion and Society” and “Media” remained in place.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy representatives met regularly with government officials – including from the Federal Chancellery’s Office of Religious Affairs; the Federal Chancellery’s Ministry for Women, Family, Youth and Integration; the Division of Dialogue of Cultures at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Ministry of Interior – to discuss religious freedom and the protection of religious minorities.  Topics included the concerns of religious groups, integration of Muslim refugees, cooperation with religious groups in combating terrorism, and measures to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires met with religious group representatives from the IGGO, IKG, and Roman Catholic Church to discuss their relations with the coalition government, instances of discrimination, and interreligious dialogue, as well as how their communities were handling the COVID-19 pandemic.  Embassy officers also met with religious youth groups, such as the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria and the Jewish Student Association, to discuss issues such as antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.  Embassy officers met with Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to discuss interreligious relations, especially relating to the rise of antisemitism and the government’s strategy combating “political Islam.”

Embassy representatives continued to serve on the International Advisory Board of the Mauthausen Memorial Agency to promote Holocaust remembrance and education.

The embassy continued its engagement with the Muslim Youth Organization of Austria (MJOe) to promote religious dialogue and tolerance both in-person and virtually.  In February, the embassy cohosted a virtual live event with the MJOe featuring an American professor who spoke about the important role of youth in social movements.  The speaker shared lessons from the U.S. civil rights movement with religiously diverse youth audiences across the country.

In continuing to highlight members of diverse faith groups, the embassy’s Women’s History Month social media campaign featured two Muslim Austrian women, including the president of MJOe, as well as a youth reporter and former participant in an embassy-sponsored exchange program.  Their video commentaries were shared across embassy platforms to an audience that is not often exposed either to Muslims or to women from other religious groups.

The embassy also continued to work closely with the Jewish community to promote religious tolerance and fight antisemitism.  In April, the Charge d’Affaires was interviewed for a Mauthausen Committee video created as part of World War II commemoration events.  In September, together with a local NGO that focuses on antisemitism and the Holocaust, the embassy hosted a discussion with a group of Holocaust survivors.  Family stories and personal memories shared during the program are to become part of a podcast project to reach younger audiences.  The embassy amplified the event on social media, which garnered attention from several influential Jewish entities in Vienna.

In July, embassy staff hosted an event with representatives of the Jewish community to discuss Holocaust education.  In May, the embassy again supported the annual commemoration of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp through messages on its social media channels that focused on the importance of religious freedom and Holocaust remembrance.

Belarus

Executive Summary

The constitution grants the freedom to profess and practice any religious belief but prohibits religious activities directed against the sovereignty of the state, its constitutional system, and “civic harmony.”  A concordat grants the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) rights and privileges not granted to other religious groups, and the law recognizes the “determining role of the BOC” and historical importance of the “traditional faiths” of Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism.  The law prohibits all religious activity by unregistered groups and requires all registered religious groups to obtain permits to proselytize or hold events outside of their premises, as well as prior approval from the authorities to import and distribute religious literature.  Some minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to report difficulty registering.  Authorities denied a Russian extradition request of a Jehovah’s Witness who had applied for political asylum.  BOC Archbishop Artsemi of Hrodna, who retired in June, said authorities successfully requested his removal for criticizing the authoritarian regime headed by Alyaksandr Lukashenka and its crackdown on protesters that ensued following the 2020 presidential election that local and international civil society groups and governments stated was fraudulent.  The authorities continued to repress peaceful protesters and supporters of the prodemocracy movement which emerged following the election, including clergy.  Human rights groups said authorities restricted clergy access to prisons, denied pastoral visits to some political prisoners, and confiscated necklaces with crosses from some prisoners.  According to observers, authorities continued surveillance of registered and unregistered religious groups.  In February, the authorities evicted the New Life Church from its church building as part of a longstanding dispute over the ownership of the property.

There were antisemitic comments on social media and in the comment sections of local online news articles, but the origin of the comments was undetermined.  Several religious groups reported instances of vandalism of their properties.  In March, the Homyel Jewish community reported its building was painted with Nazi symbols, and the Orthodox Saint Maria Magdalena Church in Navalukaml was vandalized.  In May, the Roman Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Minsk was vandalized.  Interdenominational Christian groups continued to work together on education and charitable projects.

The Charge d’Affaires and other U.S. embassy officials engaged with the Lukashenka regime on religious freedom issues, including registration of religious communities, state pressure on clergy, freedom to express and practice religious beliefs, freedom of expression for clergy who participated in activities that the state considered political, and antisemitism.  In December, the regime rejected a request by the Charge d’Affaires to further discuss these issues with its representative for religious affairs.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with Jewish groups to discuss antisemitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy representatives also engaged with Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups, as well as with civil society activists to learn about their religious activities and discuss the regime’s actions affecting the exercise of religious freedom.  Embassy officials posted the Secretary of State’s speeches and other materials related to religious freedom on social media, affirming religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.4 million (midyear 2021).  According to a 2016 survey by the state Information and Analytical Center of the Presidential Administration (the latest such data available), approximately 53 percent of the adult population belongs to the BOC, and 6 percent to the Roman Catholic Church.  According to the state survey, 8 percent of the adult population is atheist, and 22 percent is “uncertain.”  Smaller religious groups together constituting approximately 2 percent of the population include Jews, Muslims (who number approximately 20,000), Greek Catholics (members of the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, also known as “Uniates”), Old Believers (priestist and priestless), members of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church and other Orthodox Christian groups, Lutherans (approximately 1,500), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Apostolic Christians, Presbyterians and other Protestant groups, Armenian Apostolics, Latin Catholics, members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Buddhists.  Jewish groups state there are between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews.  Most ethnic Poles, who constitute approximately 3 percent of the population, are Roman Catholic.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution grants individuals the freedom to profess or not to profess and spread any religious belief and to participate in acts of worship and religious rituals and rites that are not prohibited by law.  It stipulates all faiths are equal before the law.  The constitution states relations between the state and religious organizations shall be regulated by the law “with regard to their influence on the formation of the spiritual, cultural, and state traditions of the Belarusian people.”  It prohibits activities by religious groups that are directed against the country’s sovereignty, its constitutional system, and civic harmony; involve a violation of civil rights and liberties; “impede the execution of state, public, and family duties” by its citizens; or are detrimental to public health and morality.  It also prohibits the creation of political parties or other associations, or political activities that propagate religious hatred.  The constitution states the law shall determine conditions for exemption from military service and the performance of alternative service as a substitute.  It stipulates the state may grant asylum to persons persecuted in other states for their religious beliefs.

The Office of the Plenipotentiary Representative for Religious and Nationality Affairs (OPRRNA), subordinate to the Council of Ministers, regulates all religious matters.  The office takes part in drafting and implementing state policies on religious affairs, enforces and protects religious rights and freedom, monitors activities of religious organizations and compliance with their charters, regulates relations between the state and religious organizations, liaises with state agencies and religious organizations upon their request, promotes tolerance and mutual understanding between religious organizations of various faiths and nationalities, and researches dynamics and trends in interdenominational relations to prevent “religious exclusiveness” and disrespectful treatment of religions and nationalities.  The executive committees of the country’s six regions and Minsk city have departments for ideology and youth engagement that include coverage of religious issues.  These departments are independent from OPRRNA but share information with it.  The plenipotentiary representative heading OPRRNA is appointed by and may be dismissed by the President, based on a nomination from the Council of Ministers.

The law recognizes the “determining role” of the BOC, an exarchate (affiliate) of the Russian Orthodox Church, in the development of the traditions of the people, as well as the historical importance of four other religious groups commonly referred to as “traditional” faiths:  Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and evangelical Lutheranism.  The law does not consider as traditional faiths newer religious groups or older groups such as the priestless Old Believers, Uniates, and the Calvinist churches, which have roots in the country dating to the 17th century.

A concordat between the authorities and the BOC provides the Church with autonomy in its internal affairs, freedom to perform religious rites and other activities, and a special relationship with the state.  The concordat recognizes the BOC’s “influence on the formation of spiritual, cultural, and national traditions of the Belarusian people.”  Although the concordat states that it does not limit the religious freedom of other religious groups, it calls for the authorities and the BOC to combat unnamed “pseudo-religious structures that present a danger to individuals and society.”  The BOC, unlike other religious communities, receives state subsidies pursuant to presidential orders.  In addition, the BOC possesses the exclusive right to use the word “orthodox” in its title and to use as its symbol the double-barred image of the Cross of Saint Euphrosyne, the country’s Orthodox patron saint.

The concordat serves as the framework for at least a dozen cooperation agreements between the BOC and individual state agencies, including with the Ministries of Defense, Healthcare, and Information.  There is also an agreement with the Ministry of Education through 2025 that provides for joint projects for the “spiritual and moral education” of students based on BOC traditions and history.

The law establishes three tiers of registered religious groups:  religious communities, religious associations, and national religious associations.  Religious communities must include at least 20 persons older than 18 who live in one or several adjoining areas.  Religious associations must include at least 10 religious communities, and one of these communities must have been active in the country for at least 20 years.  National-level religious associations have the ability to establish regional and local religious associations.  National religious associations may be formed only when they comprise active religious communities in at least four of the country’s six regions.

According to OPRRNA data, as of January 1, there were 25 religious faiths and denominations registered in the country, encompassing 3,395 religious communities and 174 religious associations, monasteries, missions, brotherhoods, sisterhoods, and schools.  The BOC has 1,714 religious communities, 15 dioceses, six schools, 35 monasteries, one mission, 15 brotherhoods, and 10 sisterhoods.  (The latter two are clergy-led lay organizations.)  The Roman Catholic Church has four dioceses, six schools, 11 missions, nine monasteries, and 499 communities.  Protestant religious organizations of 13 denominations encompass 1,039 religious communities, 21 associations, 22 missions, and five schools.  There are 34 registered religious communities of Old Believers.  There are three Jewish religious associations – Orthodox, Chabad-Lubavitch, and Reform Judaism – comprising 51 communities.  There are 24 Muslim religious communities – 23 Sunni and one Shia – registered.

The national religious associations are the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, Old Believers Church, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, Confederation of Christian Seventh-day Adventists, Association of New Apostolic Churches, Union of Full Gospel Christian Churches, Association of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Union of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches, Jewish Religious Union, Association of Jewish Religious Communities, Union of Reform Judaism Communities, Muslim Religious Association, Spiritual Board of Muslims, and the Religious Association of Baha’is.

To register, a religious community must submit an official application containing the following information:  a list of its founders’ names, places of residence, citizenship, and signatures; copies of its founding statutes; the minutes of its founding meeting; and confirmation from regional authorities of the community’s right to occupy or use any property referenced in its founding statutes.  A religious community not previously registered by the authorities must also submit information about its beliefs.  The law stipulates authorities may take up to six months to review a new registration application due to an additional evaluation of the religion by a state-appointed religious commission of experts.  The commission evaluates the fundamental teachings of the religion, as well as its rituals, practices, history, and forms and methods of activities; welfare and charitable services; proselytizing and missionary activities; approaches toward marriage and family; educational activities; attitudes toward health care; and compliance with legal requirements.  In addition, the community must submit any texts written by its founder or considered sacred by the followers of the religion, information about prohibitions on clergy or adherents, a list of countries where the religion is widely practiced, and a list of countries officially recognizing the religion.  It also must submit information about countries that have refused to recognize the religion and information about court cases against followers of the religion in other countries.

Regional authorities, as well as Minsk city authorities or local municipal authorities (for groups outside of Minsk), review all registration applications.  Permissible grounds for denial of registration include failure to comply with requirements for establishing a community, an inconsistent or fraudulent charter or other required document, violations of the procedures to establish religious organizations, and a negative evaluation by the state-appointed religious commission of experts.  Communities may appeal refusals in court.

To register as a religious association or national religious association, a group must provide an official application with a copy of the founding statutes, a list of members of the managing body with biographical information, proof of permission for the association to be at its designated location, and the minutes from its founding congress.  Religious associations have the exclusive right to establish religious educational institutions and to organize cloistered and monastic communities.  All applications to establish religious associations and national associations must be submitted to OPRRNA, which has 30 days to respond.  Grounds for refusal are the same as for religious communities, except they also include failure to comply with requirements for establishing an association rather than a community.  Refusals or a failure by OPRRNA to respond within the 30-day period may be appealed in court.

The law confines the activities of religious communities and associations to the jurisdictional area where they are registered.  The law permits state agencies in charge of registration to issue written warnings to a registered religious group for violating any law or undertaking activities outside the scope of responsibilities in the group’s charter.  The authorities may apply to a relevant court, depending upon jurisdiction, to shut down the group if it has not ceased the illegal activity outlined in the written warning within six months or if the activity is repeated within one year of the warning.  The authorities may suspend activities of the religious group pending the court’s decision.  The law does not contain a provision for appealing a warning or suspension.

The law prohibits all religious activity by unregistered groups.  Under the administrative code as amended on January 6, individuals may be fined up to 870 Belarusian rubles ($340) for organizing, running, or participating in unregistered religious organizations.

The housing code permits registered religious groups to hold services at residential premises if local authorities grant permission.  Local authorities must certify that the premises comply with a number of regulations, including fire safety, sanitary, and health code requirements.  The authorities do not grant such permission automatically, and the law prohibits religious groups from holding services in private residences without prior permission from local authorities.

By law, all religious groups must obtain permits to hold events outside of their premises, including when proselytizing.

The law penalizes organizing and participating in unauthorized gatherings, the announcement of an intention to hold a mass event before securing official authorization, training protesters, financing public demonstrations, or soliciting foreign assistance “to the detriment” of the country.  Included in the definition of “mass event” are religious events held in places not especially intended for this purpose, whether in the open air or indoors.  The law requires organizers to request permission from authorities to hold a mass event, including those involving religious groups, 15 days before the event.  Some violations of the law prohibiting unauthorized mass events may be punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.  Authorities must inform organizers of a denial no later than five days before the event.

The authorities have a system of reimbursements for security, medical, and cleaning services required from organizers of mass events, including religious events held outside of religious premises and sites, rallies, competitions, cultural events, festivals, concerts, and similar occasions.  Authorities cover costs associated with events that are officially sponsored at the local and national levels.  A July 28 amendment requires organizers to sign contracts for services before applying for a permit to hold a mass event and reimburse all costs within 10 days.

The law requires all religious groups receive prior approval from the authorities to import and distribute religious literature.  The approval process includes official examination of the documents by state-appointed religious studies experts.

Although there is no law providing for a systematic restitution process for property, including religious property, seized during the Soviet and Nazi periods, groups may apply for restitution to local authorities.  The law on religion specifically bans the restitution of, or compensation for, seized property that is being used for cultural or sports purposes.

The law permits associations and national associations to establish schools to train clergy but does not permit religious communities to do so.

The law permits only registered religious groups that are members of national religious associations to organize extracurricular religious activities at educational institutions.  The law states the national religious association must first conclude an agreement on cooperation with the Ministry of Education; the BOC is the only religious group to have such an agreement.  Even with such an agreement in place, students who wish to participate in voluntary “moral, civic, and patriotic education” in collaboration with religious groups must either provide a written statement expressing their desire to participate or secure their legal guardians’ approval.  According to the law, “Such education shall raise awareness among the youth against any religious groups whose activities are aimed at undermining Belarus’s sovereignty, civic accord, and constitutional system or at violating human rights and freedoms.”

The law prohibits religious groups from conducting activities in any school without identifying themselves, regardless of whether there is an agreement with the Ministry of Education.  It also prohibits visits from representatives of foreign religious groups; missionary activities; collections of donations or fees from students for religious groups or any charity; distribution of religious literature, audio, video, and other religious materials; holding prayer services, religious rituals, rites, or ceremonies; and placing religious symbols or paraphernalia at educational institutions.

The law does not allow private religious elementary, junior, or senior high schools or homeschooling for religious reasons.

The law establishes penalties ranging from fines to five years in prison for failure to fulfill mandatory military service, with an exemption for conscientious objectors for religious reasons.  The law allows alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors.  Military service typically lasts from six to eighteen months; alternative service can last up to 36 months.  By law, individuals who evade alternative civilian service may face up to five years in prison.

Only registered religious associations may apply to OPRRNA for permission to invite foreign clergy to the country.  OPRRNA must grant permission before foreign clergy may serve in local congregations, teach or study at local institutions, or participate in charitable work.  The authorities generally grant such permission for a period of one year, which may be reduced or extended.  OPRRNA has 30 days to respond to requests for foreign clergy permits (religious visas) and may deny requests without explanation.  If OPRRNA does not respond, permission is not granted.  There is no provision for appeals.

By law, the authorities permit foreign missionaries to engage in religious activity only in the territorial area where their religious association is registered.  Transfers of foreign clergy within a religious association, including from one parish to another, require prior permission from the authorities.  By law, foreigners may not lead religious groups.  Authorities may reprimand or expel foreign citizens who officially are present in the country for nonreligious work if they lead any religious activities.  Law enforcement agencies on their own initiative or in response to recommendations from other state agencies, such as the security service, may require foreign clergy to depart the country – a decision which may not be appealed.

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

Government Practices

Throughout the year, in response to peaceful protests following a 2020 presidential election that local and international civil society groups and governments stated was fraudulent, authorities responded with what most observers described as a brutal crackdown on what the regime stated were “unauthorized mass events.”  The prodemocracy movement continued to peacefully call for an end to violent action by state security services, the unconditional release of all political prisoners, a facilitated national dialogue with civil society and the democratic forces, and new free and fair elections under international observation.  The authorities punished clergy, along with others, who supported the prodemocracy movement.  For example, on July 6, Roman Catholic priest Vyachaslau Barok, based in the town of Rassony in the Vitsebsk region, wrote on social media that he had left the country after police threatened to search his office and confiscate computer equipment in follow-up to an earlier July 1 search at his home.  Police reportedly charged Barok with repeatedly violating the law pertaining to mass events, under which they could have arrested him for up to 30 days and had summoned him for interrogation several times during the year for criticizing the Lukashenka regime’s response to protests.

According to the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum 18, which focuses on religious freedom, on August 27, a Rechytsa district court fined Council of Churches member Andrei Tryfan, a Baptist, 580 rubles ($230) for holding an unauthorized baptism of his son in a lake on August 1 that was attended by 25 associates and family members.  Reportedly, a person driving by took a photo and reported it to the police.  In October, the Homyel Regional Court dismissed Tryfan’s appeal.

On October 20, the Prosecutor General’s Office refused a request from Russia to extradite Jehovah’s Witness and Russian citizen Oleg Lonshakov.  Authorities detained Lonshakov in Brest in late September and told him Russia had requested his extradition for “organizing an extremist organization” and that he had been placed on the countries’ interstate wanted lists.  Authorities released Lonshakov, who had requested political asylum in the country, following the prosecutor’s ruling.  Information as to whether he was granted asylum was unavailable.

The authorities continued to harass individuals, including clergy, who expressed disagreement with the Lukashenka regime or criticized violence by agencies under its control.  After sustained harassment and threat of punishment by the regime, many religious leaders and clergy reportedly chose to refrain from commenting on regime actions.  The authorities stated remarks by religious leaders constituted interference in what they deemed to be political affairs.

According to Christian Vision, an independent Belarus-focused monitoring group, in January, the BOC dismissed Archpriest Siarhei Tsimashenkau, who headed the Synodal Missionary department, due to “alleged workload and other circumstances,” as well as the department’s member priest, Alyaksandr Kukhta.  Father Kukhta spoke against the 2020 presidential election and ensuing postelection violence and provided religious services to hundreds of persons in Minsk detained for participating in the peaceful prodemocracy movement.  Tsimashenkau criticized BOC Metropolitan Veniamin’s engagement with the Lukashenka regime.

In a televised interview on May 20, Metropolitan Veniamin urged clergy “to stay out of politics” and “set an example for other people,” and he also said, “While every person has a right to their own opinion, they also have the right to make a mistake.”  Independent observers interpreted the comments to mean clergy should avoid political activity opposing the Lukashenka regime, as expressing antiregime opinions would be a mistake.  He stated the BOC issued new guidelines to prohibit its clergy from engaging in what it deemed political events and expressing support for political groups.  Speaking at an Easter event on May 2, Lukashenka lauded the BOC for its “courage and endurance,” and he called on the BOC to “continue to stand with the people”; independent political analysts said Lukashenka meant to imply the BOC stands with him.

According to independent media reports in June, the KGB handed the BOC a list of approximately 100 priests who purportedly engaged in political activity surrounding the prodemocracy movement in the country.  The list included religious leaders or clergy who condemned human rights abuses by the authorities and supported fundamental freedoms and who were removed from office, demoted, or forced to retire, according to independent media reports.  For example, on June 9, the Russian Orthodox Holy Synod in Moscow accepted a request from the BOC to retire the 69-year-old Archbishop Artsemi of Hrodna due to what the BOC said was his “health.”  The Archbishop told Radio Free Europe on July 13 that the BOC’s request for his removal was an order from the authorities because “[the authorities] considered it necessary to deal with me.”  In his sermons, Archbishop Artsemi had repeatedly condemned what he said was the falsification of the presidential election and the Lukashenka regime’s violence against protesters.  He also did not take action against priests in his diocese who participated in unauthorized protests or other events not authorized by the regime.

According to Archbishop Artsemi, authorities accused him of “dividing society,” citing as an example a photo of the Archbishop next to a boy holding an Easter egg painted with a symbol associated with the opposition and prodemocracy movement.  The Archbishop dismissed the complaint as “laughable” and said the authorities were “purging” the church of perceived dissenters.  The Archbishop also said authorities had accused him of permitting the singing of Mahutny Bozha (“God Almighty”), a hymn that protesters adopted as a rallying song, in his parish.

According to Forum 18, in April, consistently proregime video bloggers harshly criticized Archbishop Artsemi for commissioning icons depicting 10 Orthodox bishops whom the Russian Orthodox Church had canonized after they were executed by Soviet secret police.  The bloggers criticized the icons as “emanating hatred.”

After Archbishop Artsemi’s retirement and the appointment of his replacement, the Diocese of Hrodna removed or transferred several priests who had participated in protests or had helped protesters injured by police.  One of these priests was Father Heorhi Roy, of Hrodna’s Orthodox Pakrouski Cathedral, who had expressed grief on the internet and from the cathedral’s pulpit regarding the authorities’ violence.  The cathedral had also held regular prayers for an end to violence and for peace in the country.  On July 20, the BOC sent Father Roy to serve in a small locality in the Hrodna region, which religious activists said was a punishment.  On the same day, the BOC removed Archpriest Anatol Nenartovich from his position as Hrodna Diocese secretary.  On July 22, the BOC removed Father Mikalay Haiduk from his post as the priest of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker Church of the Bishop’s Courtyard in Hrodna and later transferred him to a small town in the Hrodna region.

According to Christian Vision, the administration of the Minsk-based Theological Seminary dismissed teacher of philosophy and priest Father Uladzilau Bahamolnikau on August 30.  Bahamolnikau publicly joined a hunger strike in solidarity with political prisoner Ihar Losik on January 19.  Separately, the BOC dismissed Alena Ziankevich, head of the BOC’s Association of Charity Sisterhoods, on September 7.  Ziankevich was reportedly associated with the prodemocracy movement following the August 2020 elections.

Protestant groups say they remained concerned about the authorities’ ability to prosecute unregistered religious organizations, although there were no reports authorities did so during the year.

Christian groups continued to state the registration requirements for religious groups remained complex and difficult to fulfill, which, they said, restricted their activities, suppressed freedom of religion, and legalized administrative penalties such as fines against individuals for their religious beliefs while the groups were unregistered.  The authorities’ guidelines for evaluating registration applications remained sufficiently broad and their application arbitrary, they said, to give authorities a pretext for denying applications from disfavored groups.

Nontraditional religious groups continued to state the procedure for registering communities and using residential premises for religious gatherings remained cumbersome and arbitrary.  In March and August, authorities in Lida rejected a registration application and an appeal from a local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Some minority religious groups stated that they did not apply for registration because their members feared harassment by authorities and did not want to submit their names, as required by the application process.  Other minority religious groups preferred to negotiate registration and other concerns with local authorities, but few registration attempts were made during the year.  Some communities said they decided to postpone their registrations until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic due to health concerns related to gatherings.

Many unregistered religious groups stated they continued to maintain a low profile because of fear of prosecution and perceived regime hostility.  Some registered religious communities said they were reluctant to report restrictions on their activities because they feared drawing attention to themselves.

From July to November, authorities across the country shut down approximately 300 NGOs, including some faith-based groups and those groups whose activities were widely supported by Protestant and other religious activists and volunteers.  For example, in July, authorities in Orsha shut down the AIDS Care Education Training, an independent educational center supported by local Baptist and Pentecostal communities.  Also in July, Mahilyou authorities shut down a private educational organization associated with the local community of members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, “Vedanta Veda,” alleging that its leader conducted illegal business activities.

According to Forum 18, in June, OPRRNA sent a letter instructing the BOC, the Roman Catholic Church, and Muslim and Jewish communities to hold an “all-Belarus prayer” in the format of a morning service, with the widest possible attendance, including public servants, and representatives of civil society, culture, and art in the framework of the “2021 Year of National Unity” on July 3, Independence Day.  The opposition used the social media platform Telegram to publish leaked letters from various ministries, including Transport and Communications and Emergency Situations, ahead of the July 3 prayer, calling upon organizations subordinate to ministries and their officials to attend those services “in accordance with their religious affiliations” across the country.  On July 3, the Ministry for Emergency Situations posted a video of approximately 50 uniformed officers attending a service at the BOC’s Assumption Church, in Vitsebsk.  The Roman Catholic Church urged its parishes through a message on its official website on June 16 to “add prayers for unity and peace in our country if the opportunity arises” and “to sing the Mahutny Bozha, in which we ask Almighty God to save us and our land from all evil.”

According to human rights activists, authorities arbitrarily restricted access to prisons by clergy from October 2020 through June 30 to protect against COVID-19 infections.  Former detainees reported, however, that authorities did not implement other basic pandemic protective measures within detention centers.  For example, authorities deliberately placed prisoners with infected individuals as punishment, and withheld medical aid.  Even after restrictions were lifted, prison administrators reportedly selectively denied clergy visits for certain detainees, including political prisoners.  Officials continued to state these denials were related to COVID-19.

Opposition activist Paval Sevyarynets, recognized by human rights groups as a political prisoner, requested a pastoral visit by an Orthodox priest in writing at least five times between June 2020 and April 2021.  His wife also requested a visit three times on his behalf.  The authorities denied all requests while he was in pretrial detention.  After he was sentenced to a seven-year jail term in May, authorities allowed a priest to speak to him only over the phone, separated by a glass panel, which barred him from communion or the privacy needed for a confession.

According to her family, Volha Zalatar, recognized by human rights groups as a political prisoner, repeatedly requested a pastoral visit by a Catholic priest after her detention in March.  Catholic representatives also appealed on her behalf.  The Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency, refused all requests.  Authorities also prevented Zalatar’s mother from giving her a prayer book.  On June 2, the authorities permitted Vatican Nuncio Archbishop Ante Jozic to visit Zalatar due to his status as a diplomat.

According to Forum 18, prison authorities arbitrarily and forcibly confiscated necklaces with crosses from some detainees upon their arrest.  Christian Vision reported that Vitsebsk resident Dzmitry Karneyenka said that while he was serving several days of detention in January and February for allegedly violating the law on mass events, the prison administration took away his cross.

Many prisons maintained designated Orthodox religious facilities that BOC clergy were allowed to visit through the year, and some prison administrations selectively allowed different Protestant denominations to hold religious meetings for inmates.

The authorities strove to censor the pan-Christian hymn “Mahutny Bozha,” and they harassed and punished religious leaders, clergy, event organizers, and laypeople who sang or allowed or supported the singing of the hymn.  The hymn became linked to the country’s post-Soviet national revival in the early 1990s, when it was proposed (unsuccessfully) as the national anthem, and it had been sung routinely by both religious communities and pro-opposition individuals since then.  After the 2020 presidential election, civil society and the prodemocracy movement adopted it as an unofficial anthem and prayer, including during protests.  According to Roman Catholic activists, believers did not sing the hymn during public masses or the annual pilgrimage to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Basilica in Budslau on July 3, because authorities reportedly told organizers they would face reprisals if they did.

On July 7, Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Minsk-Mahilyou Yuri Kasabutski reported that on July 4, police visited the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Minsk to notify clergy they had purportedly violated laws by singing “Mahutny Bozha.”  Kasabutski told the press police could not cite any legal statutes prohibiting the hymn and had issued no formal warnings.  He linked the visit, however, with Lukashenka’s July 2 and 3 remarks that the Roman Catholic Church would face reprisals if it allowed the continued singing of “Mahutny Bozha” in churches.  Lukashenka stated the hymn was associated with Nazi collaborators and was used “to destroy the sacred statehood” and “reverse history by justifying [the collaboration of] their grandfathers.”

On August 30, independent media reported that local authorities canceled the biannual Christian music festival called “Mahutny Bozha,” which was scheduled to have been held in August.  While authorities cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason, independent media commentators and local observers connected the denial with Lukashenka’s July 2 and 3 remarks.

According to observers, authorities continued surveillance of registered and unregistered religious groups.  The sources stated that “ideology officers” and other representatives of the Lukashenka regime continued to monitor the activities of members of unregistered religious groups, including in their workplaces, although there were no reports of prosecutions.  For example, prosecutors and ideology officers inspected Roman Catholic churches across the country after authorities opened a criminal case against several leaders of the nonregistered Union of Poles on March 25.  Officials reportedly inquired about plans, operations, and activities of parishes and communities.

Authorities, including the security forces, reportedly continued to hold occasional “informal” talks with members of religious groups to learn about their activities.  According to religious leaders, state security officers also continued to attend religious services of registered Protestant communities to conduct surveillance, which group members described as intimidation and harassment.  According to these religious leaders, security officials monitored religious groups for activities or speech perceived as indicating support for the opposition or dissatisfaction with the authorities.

Religious groups, especially Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, continued to report they remained cautious about proselytizing and distributing religious materials due to their perceptions that they could face intimidation or punishment.

According to media accounts, the BOC was free to proselytize without restrictions on television and in print media as well as in public spaces.

The Mahilyou prison reportedly refused to allow political prisoners to subscribe to the monthly newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vitsebsk, among other independent publications, from July to December, according to Christian Vision.  Some families of political prisoners reportedly said that as of September 23, inmates were informed they would no longer be allowed to choose which newspapers and magazines to subscribe to, as internal prison regulations had been changed to give to prison administrators what had been an exclusive right of the inmates.

State radio station Belarus One aired a Sunday Mass at the Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Minsk on April 11 and resumed broadcasts of the cathedral’s weekly Sunday masses on November 28 after discontinuing them in August 2020.

Authorities continued to deny the Catholic station Radio Mariya permission to broadcast via radio but did not interfere with the station’s internet broadcasts.

According to several local Protestant groups, communities chose not to pursue many new purchases or rentals of properties as places of worship during the year, partially due to the political situation and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many communities reported, however, that they did not face impediments to purchases or rentals of nonsanctioned places of worship.  Some religious communities with outstanding property cases, such as the Roman Catholic “Red Church” and the evangelical New Life Church in Minsk, continued to engage with the authorities and the legal system to resolve them.  Converting residential property for religious use remained difficult.  Protestant groups stated they continued to be more severely affected than other groups because they were less likely to own religious facilities, and that they could not apply for permission to conduct religious activities in private homes because residences were too small to accommodate their numbers.

The Saint Simon and Helena Roman Catholic parish continued to use its existing church building (the “Red Church”).  The building was expropriated during the Soviet period and the authorities retained title to it despite continued efforts by churchgoers to return ownership of the property to the church.  Given the property’s disputed status, the parish continued to refuse to pay rent, utilities, or land and property taxes or for 2018-19 renovation work for which Minsk city authorities billed it in 2020.  By May, according to authorities, the parish was in arrears exceeding 400,000 rubles ($157,000), and the city continued to bill the parish more than 12,000 rubles ($4,700) monthly.  In June, St. Simon and Helena Church community members collected more than 20,000 signatures on a petition for the authorities to return title to the building to the church.  At year’s end, the authorities had not responded to the petition.

On February 17, police, authorities forced open the doors of the New Life Church (NLC) during prayer services and evicted its congregation from its building.  Authorities allowed the community to remove its property but barred the community from any further access to the church.  Authorities also fined NLC Senior Pastor Vyachaslau Hancharenka for not allowing bailiffs to enter the church on January 5.  Hancharenka said Minsk and national authorities made it clear in a series of meetings that they would not return the church building to NLC, and that alternative rental facilities offered by the city were either too small or too expensive.  Authorities also said they would not approve NLC’s purchase of land on which to build a new church until the community paid land taxes, which totaled approximately 450,000 rubles ($177,000) as of July.  Although religious groups are exempt from land taxes, the building used by the church was owned by district housing authorities, who argued the NLC had to pay the land taxes per a 2009 court ruling that transferred ownership of the building to the city and denied the NLC’s appeal of an earlier eviction order.  The church’s building was the subject of a longstanding property dispute with city authorities.  The NLC bought the building in 2002.  Local authorities, however, had refused to allow the NLC to officially convert the building into a church, starting a series of legal appeals.  In addition, authorities said they would not pay NLC for the costs it incurred in converting the vacated building from a cow barn into a church.

The NLC began holding weekly Sunday services in the parking lot outside its former building immediately following its eviction.  On July 23, however, Minsk police told participants they could be held liable for holding an unauthorized mass event.  The city repeated the warning to Hancharenka on August 5, saying he could be held criminally liable.  At year’s end, the community continued to hold services in the parking lot, and authorities had not pressed charges against Hancharenka or NLC members.

According to media reports, school administrators continued to cooperate only with the BOC among registered religious groups, based on the BOC’s concordat with the regime.  School administrators continued to invite BOC priests to lecture to students, organize tours of Church facilities, and participate in BOC festivities, programs, and humanitarian projects.

On January 11, Lukashenka signed a decree allocating 1.43 million rubles ($562,000) from reserve funds to cover salaries of professors and employees, as well as stipends for students, of the BOC’s seminaries.  As in previous years, Protestant groups and the Roman Catholic Church said their schools did not receive any financial support from the authorities.

On August 23, the Council of Ministers issued an order approving voluntary weekly classes on “Spiritual and Moral Culture and Patriotism” for middle school students.  According to the order, the purpose of the classes was “to shape the spiritual and moral ethics and patriotism of students based on Christian traditions and values of the Belarusian people.”  The material the courses covered focused on Russian Orthodox Church history and traditions and did not mention other religious groups, according to publicly available syllabi of the courses.

BOC dioceses signed several agreements with regime institutions in their respective regions of the country.  For example, on October 21, Polatsk State University and the BOC Diocese of Polatsk signed a cooperation agreement allowing BOC clergy to lead or participate in classes.  The authorities also encouraged student participation in BOC events.  On October 12, Hrodna Medical University and the BOC Diocese of Hrodna signed a similar cooperation agreement covering 2021-2025.

On May 21, the BOC signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Internal Affairs that was intended to prevent drug use and drug trafficking among youth.  At the signing ceremony, BOC Metropolitan Venyamin said the agreement would be implemented jointly by the Healthcare and Education ministries, as well as with state media outlets and public associations.

Unlike other religious groups, the BOC continued to participate in the majority of state-sponsored public events, such as rallies or celebrations, without the need to seek prior approval from authorities.  For example, on July 2, BOC Metropolitan Venyamin participated in the annual Independence Day commemoration, along with Lukashenka, military veterans, public officials, soldiers, civil society representatives, and residents of Brest.  In addition, regional authorities and state-run companies often included BOC representatives in their events.  On March 12, for example, BOC Metropolitan Venyamin held a prayer service and blessed three airplanes owned by national airline Belavia, marking the company’s 25th anniversary.  On August 9, the Metropolitan held a service at a church located at a riot police detachment near Minsk and met with officers.  Human rights organizations and local prodemocracy activists criticized such public engagements with riot police due to what they said were the police forces’ widespread abuses against peaceful demonstrators following the 2020 presidential election.  On September 1, the Metropolitan and Healthcare Minister Dzmitry Pinevich participated in a ceremony launching the academic year at Minsk Medical University.

Authorities continued to permit the BOC to collect charitable donations in public venues as well as on its religious property.  While the law does not restrict other religious groups from raising donations in public, representatives of these groups said authorities continued to limit their fundraising activities to their own places of worship or other properties.  The groups said they faced harassment and possible detention if they tried to raise donations at other locations.

On July 19, the BOC signed a cooperation agreement with the Ministry for Emergency Situations under which the two organizations would streamline activities that would reinforce “spirituality and traditional moral values among officers” and also improve “interethnic communication” and their “quality and efficiency” at work.

On March 25, the BOC and the National Academy of Sciences signed a 2021-2025 plan of joint activities that included plans for scientific conferences, seminars, roundtables, exhibitions, and research work.

In public remarks on July 6, regarding the need to investigate and raise awareness of Nazi war crimes, Lukashenka said the country should follow the example of “the Jews,” who got “the whole world to bow before them” and “to be afraid to point a finger at them.”

On September 7 the state-owned newspaper Minskaya Prauda published a caricature on its front page showing Roman Catholic priests wearing pectoral crosses that progressively changed shape into a swastika and singing “Mahutny Bozha” while holding a flag associated with the opposition.  Senior Roman Catholic Church leaders, including Bishop Yuri Kasabutski and Spokesperson of the Roman Catholic Church Yuri Sanko, condemned the article and said it insulted “millions of Catholics” in the country.  On September 9, Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei met with Apostolic Nuncio Jozic, who said afterwards that the authorities did “not support any actions to incite religious hatred.”  Independent observers viewed Makei’s meeting as an attempt to defuse the situation.  In September, Plenipotentiary Representative for Religious and Nationality Affairs Alyaksandr Rumak wrote to Bishop of Vitsebsk Aleh Butkevich, the head of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference, that the caricature did not reflect official state policy, but he urged the Church to “follow the law” and cooperate with authorities in order to preserve interfaith peace and harmony in the country.  On October 15, the Minsk regional police department said it had determined Minskaya Prauda had not violated any laws.  The Ministry of Information did not cite the newspaper for hate speech and recommended only that the outlet take “measures to avoid similar publications in the future.”

Religious groups said the regime continued to apply visa regulations inconsistently, which affected the ability of foreign missionaries to live and work in the country.  Authorities maintained a burdensome visa application process but, contrary to past years, did not cancel visas for clergy.  Authorities refused to extend the six-month religious permit of a Full Gospel pastor, which was required to allow him to continue serving in a leadership position of a parish.  The pastor, a Russian citizen, held a permanent residence permit in the country and was allowed to remain in Belarus.  In general, Russian citizens do not need visas to enter Belarus but are required to obtain residence permits to live and work in the country long-term.  In addition, all foreign clergy working in Belarus are required to obtain religious permits to serve in leadership positions at religious institutions and conduct religious duties.

Roman Catholic bishops continued to state that foreign priests faced multiple challenges, including a lengthy approval process before obtaining permission to celebrate Mass; and visas often issued for only three to six months.  In December, however, local bishops reported that contrary to prior years, authorities renewed all requested visa applications that had previously been submitted or were pending review.

According to sources in the Roman Catholic community, authorities continued to refuse Klemens Werth, a Catholic priest from Russia, permission to engage in religious work.  He was allowed to remain in Vitsebsk to continue building a new church, but since he was a foreigner, he was banned from celebrating Mass or otherwise serving in church.

The Jewish community and foreign donors worked with local authorities to erect seven privately funded monuments and five plaques that commemorated victims of the Holocaust at sites of mass killings in the villages of Yasen and Telekhany, the towns of Kletsk, Motal, and Ivanava, and other locations in the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Antisemitic comments appeared on social media and in the comment sections of local online news articles, although it was unclear whether the comments were posted by persons in the country.  For example, online communities on the Russian social media platform VKontakte posted images and videos featuring neo-Nazi themes and calling for violence against Jews and others.

Various religious communities reported instances of vandalism.  For example, on March 4, the Homyel Jewish community reported a communal multiuse building on its premises was painted with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.  Police launched an investigation into the vandalism but did not provide further information.

In March, individuals broke into and vandalized the BOC Saint Maria Magdalena Church in Navalukaml.  The next day, police arrested two men who had allegedly also vandalized residential buildings in Navalukaml.  A local court convicted them on charges of hooliganism and gave them suspended sentences of one and a half years as well as a fine of 1,450 rubles ($570) and 80 hours of community service, according to a September report by the General Prosecutor’s office.

In May, unidentified persons vandalized the Roman Catholic Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral in Minsk, damaging flower beds, streetlamps, a door, and the vehicle of one of the priests.  Police announced an investigation but by year’s end had not announced the results.

Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, former Archbishop of Minsk-Mahilyou and one of the senior Roman Catholic prelates in the country, retired on January 3 at the age of 75, the standard retirement age for Catholic bishops.  The Lukashenka regime had frequently targeted the Archbishop for criticism and barred his return to the country between August and December 2020.  On September 14, the Vatican announced as his replacement Bishop Iosef Staneuski, general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the country.

The BOC continued its annual commemoration in honor of Hauryil Belastoksky (Gabriel of Bialystok), a child allegedly killed by Jews in Bialystok in 1690.  The Russian Orthodox Church considers him one of its saints and martyrs, and the BOC falls under the authority of the Russian Church on traditional practices such as this.  The traditional memorial prayer recited on the anniversary of Belastoksky’s death on May 3 states the “martyred and courageous Hauryil exposed Jewish dishonesty,” although a trial after the boy’s death acquitted the Jew who was charged with the crime.  Some antisemitic references about Belastoksky remained on the BOC’s official website, though in recent years the BOC’s online materials focused more on his role as a regional patron saint of children.  While Jewish community leaders said they prioritized other concerns, prayers for the commemoration reportedly continued to include antisemitic references.

An interreligious working group comprising the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Union of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches, and Jewish religious communities organized seminars and educational events, some of which were virtual due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.  For example, in July, representatives of the working group held a forum marking the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Minsk ghetto.  The participants highlighted the importance of preserving shared historic memories.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with representatives of the Lukashenka regime, including the Office of the Plenipotentiary Representative for Religious and Nationality Affairs in February, to discuss religious issues.  The Charge d’Affaires engaged with the authorities on issues related to religious freedom, including the registration of religious communities, the freedom to express and practice religious beliefs, state pressure on clergy for exercising their religious beliefs and participating in political life in their personal capacities, and antisemitism.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Makei, denied the Charge d’Affaires’ request to meet with Plenipotentiary Representative for Religious and National Affairs Alyaksandr Rumak in December on the grounds that the previous Charge d’Affaires had already met with the Plenipotentiary in February and the situation with regard to religious freedom in the country had not changed since the previous encounter.

On October 25, the Charge d’Affaires participated in an event commemorating the liquidation of Minsk’s Jewish ghetto in 1943.  The embassy shared on social media photos from the event in memory of the thousands of Jewish victims and those who strove to save Jews.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of the BOC, Roman Catholic Church, Protestants, and minority religious groups, as well as with civil society activists and lawyers for religious groups to learn about religious activities and discuss the regime’s actions that affected religious freedom.  The regime’s political restrictions on public gatherings limited the embassy’s ability to hold events and public engagements with representatives from religious communities.  Embassy officials discussed antisemitism and the preservation of Jewish religious heritage with Jewish religious groups, as well as the regime’s restrictions on registration and operations with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups.  Embassy officials continued to hold regular discussions about restrictions on religious freedom with religious freedom activists and religious leaders.  Embassy officials also discussed the status of the Roman Catholic community and the state’s relationship with the Church with diplomatic colleagues at the Apostolic Nunciature.

Following the eviction of New Life Church from its property in February, the Charge d’Affaires visited the church’s new outdoor gathering place and discussed the situation with its leadership.  The embassy expressed concern publicly regarding the eviction and urged authorities to abide by their commitments to uphold religious freedom as a member state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  The U.S. Special Envoy for Belarus also expressed support for religious freedom following the investiture of Roman Catholic Archbishop Staneuski as the new Archbishop of Minsk-Mahilyou.  The Special Envoy posted on social media a video message to the Jewish community before Passover and a video message to the Muslim community during Ramadan.  Embassy officials posted the Secretary of State’s speeches and other materials related to religious freedom on social media, including the Secretary of State’s comments on May 16 affirming religious freedom as a fundamental human right.

Belgium

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the law prohibits discrimination based on religious orientation.  Federal law bans covering one’s face in public.  In June, the Flemish government resumed accepting applications for recognition from houses of worship after suspending them in 2017.  The Flemish government also moved to withdraw existing recognition from four mosques.  Numerous mosque recognition applications remained pending in the Brussels and Flanders regions.  A Ghent criminal court fined the Kraainem Jehovah’s Witness congregation 12,000 euros ($13,600) for inciting hatred or violence against former members.  The federal government expelled a Turkish imam from the country, stating he had posted homophobic comments online.  All regions except Brussels retained their ban on the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, which Muslim and Jewish groups criticized for infringing on halal and kosher practices.  Despite an announcement by the coalition government elected in 2020 of its intention to recognize the Belgian Buddhist Union, which first applied for such status in 2008, at year’s end, the group remained unrecognized.

Unia, the Interfederal Center for Equal Opportunities, an independent government agency that reviews discrimination complaints, reported that in 2020, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 115 antisemitic incidents (compared with 79 in 2019) and 261 incidents (336 in 2019) against other religious groups, 88 percent of which targeted Muslims.  Media reported increased hate speech against Jews during the year, and some Jews reported accusations blaming Jews for the spread of COVID-19.  On December 16, Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne stated that foreign influence and mismanagement within the Muslim Executive could justify a cutoff of government subsidies in 2022 if the executive did not carry out reforms.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 8 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Belgium said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

U.S. embassy officials continued to meet regularly with senior government officials in the Office of the Prime Minister; at the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice; and with members of parliament to discuss anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and discrimination.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials met with civil society and religious leaders in Brussels and other communities to address anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and sentiment and to advocate religious tolerance.  The embassy continued to provide funding for a nongovernmental organization (NGO) to implement a project to educate elementary aged students from varied backgrounds on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to break down stereotypes and combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 11.8 million (midyear 2021).  According to the most recent survey in December 2018 by the GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, 57.1 percent of residents are Roman Catholic, 2.3 percent Protestant, 2.8 percent other non-Orthodox Christian, 6.8 percent Muslim (mostly Sunni), 0.6 percent Orthodox Christian, 0.3 percent Jewish, 0.3 percent Buddhist, 9.1 percent atheist, 20.2 percent “nonbeliever/agnostic,” and 0.5 percent “other.”  A 2015 study by the Catholic University of Louvain estimated that 42.2 percent of Muslims reside in Flanders, 35.5 percent in Brussels, and 22.3 percent in Wallonia.  According to Catholic University of Louvain sociologist Jan Hertogen, based on 2015 data, 24.2 percent of the Brussels population and 7.5 percent of the Antwerp population is Muslim.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of worship, including its public practice, and freedom of expression, provided no crime is committed in the exercise of these freedoms.  It states no individual may be required to participate in any religious group’s acts or ceremonies or to observe the group’s religious days of rest, and it bars the state from interfering in the appointment of religious clergy or blocking the publication of religious documents.  It obligates the state to pay the salaries and pensions of clergy (according to law, to qualify clergy must work in recognized houses of worship and be certified by those religious groups), as well as those of representatives of organizations recognized by the law as providing moral assistance based on a nonconfessional philosophy.

The law prohibits discrimination based on religious or philosophical (e.g., nonconfessional) orientation.  Federal law prohibits public statements inciting religious hatred, including Holocaust denial.  Discrimination based on Jewish descent is distinguished from discrimination against Jewish religious practices.  The maximum sentence for Holocaust denial is one year in prison.  Courts have interpreted that an antiracism law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of nationality, race, skin color, ancestry, national origin, or ethnicity may be applied to cases of antisemitism.

The government officially recognizes Roman Catholicism, Protestantism (including evangelicals and Pentecostals), Anglicanism (separately from other Protestant groups), Orthodox (Greek and Russian) Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and secular humanism.

The law does not define requirements to obtain official recognition.  The Ministry of Justice specifies the legal basis for official recognition.  A religious group seeking official recognition applies to the Ministry of Justice, which then recommends approval or rejection to parliament, which votes on the application.  The government evaluates whether the group meets organizational and reporting requirements and applies criteria based on administrative and legislative precedents in deciding whether to recommend granting recognition to a religious group.  The religious group must have a structure or hierarchy, a “sufficient number” of members, and a “long period” of existence in the country.  It must offer “social value” to the public, abide by the laws of the state, and respect public order.  The government does not formally define “sufficient number,” “long period of time,” or “social value.”  Final approval is the sole responsibility of the federal parliament; however, parliament generally accepts the ministry’s recommendation.

The law requires each officially recognized religious group to have an official interlocutor, such as an office composed of one or more representatives of the religion plus administrative staff, to support the government in its constitutional duty of providing the material conditions for the free exercise of religion.  The functions performed by the interlocutor include certification of clergy and teachers of the religion, assistance in the development of the religious curriculum in schools, and oversight of the management of houses of worship.

The federal and regional governments provide financial support for officially recognized religious groups.  Federal government subsidies include direct payment of clergy salaries and pensions, while regions subsidize maintenance and equipment costs for facilities and places of worship, as well as clergy housing, and oversee finances and donations when the legal exemption amount is exceeded.  Denominations or divisions within the recognized religious groups (Shia Islam, Reform Judaism, or Lutheranism, for example) do not receive support or recognition separate from their parent religious group.  Parent religious groups distribute subsidies according to their statutes, which may also include salaries to ministers and public funding for renovation or facility maintenance.  Unrecognized religious groups may worship freely and openly but do not receive the subsidies that recognized groups do.  In addition, the law stipulates a separate federal government subsidy for three organizations:  the Belgian Muslim Executive, the Secular Central Council, and the Belgian Buddhist Union.  Although the Buddhist Union receives this separate subsidy, the government has not officially recognized Buddhism as a religious group.

There are procedures for individual houses of worship of recognized religious groups to apply to obtain recognition and federal subsidies.  To do so, a house of worship must meet requirements set by the region in which it is located and receive final approval by the federal Ministry of Justice.  These requirements include transparency and legality of accounting practices, renunciation of foreign sources of income for ministers of religion working in the facility, compliance with building and fire safety codes, and certification of the minister of religion by the relevant interlocutor body.  Recognized houses of worship also receive subsidies from the linguistic communities and municipalities for the upkeep of religious buildings.  Houses of worship or other religious groups that are unable or choose not to meet these requirements may organize as nonprofit associations and benefit from lower taxes but not government subsidies.  Individual houses of worship in this situation (i.e., not completing the recognition process) may still be affiliated with an officially recognized religious group.

The Flemish government has a policy of conducting enhanced security screening for possible radicalization of imams or worshippers and against foreign influence at mosques, including by requiring all religious communities and places of worship to submit to a four-year probation period prior to official recognition.  This policy applies to all places of worship regardless of religion.

There is a federal ban on covering one’s face in public.  Individuals wearing face coverings that cover all or part of the face in public are subject to a maximum fine of 137.50 euros ($160).  In addition, the penal code stipulates violators may be sentenced to a maximum of seven days’ imprisonment.

Outside of the Brussels region, which still allows ritual slaughter without stunning, the law prohibits the slaughter of animals without prior stunning.  The legislation does not prevent halal and kosher meat from being imported from abroad.

By longstanding practice rather than law, the government bans the wearing of religious symbols by employees in public sector jobs requiring interaction with the public.  The ban does not apply to teachers of religion in public schools.

The constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief.  The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes.  All public schools offer religious or “moral” instruction oriented toward citizenship and moral values.  Outside of Flanders, these courses are mandatory; parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses.  Francophone schools offer a mandatory one-hour per week “philosophy and citizenship” course plus an additional one-hour mandatory course on either philosophy and citizenship or one of the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling.

Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference.  The degree of religious expression varies but must follow a principle of “neutrality.”  Because “neutrality” is not defined explicitly in the constitution in the context of religious expression, most state-funded institutions follow one of two principles: “inclusive neutrality,” where individuals must remain neutral in their behavior but may wear religious symbols, or “exclusive neutrality,” where there is a total ban on religious attire.  In either case, the education provided outside of the religious classes must remain neutral.

Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister.  Private, authorized religious schools (limited to schools operated by recognized religious groups), known as “free” schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes.  Teachers at these religious schools are civil servants, and their salaries, as well as subsidies for the schools’ operating expenses, are paid for by the respective linguistic community, municipality, or province.

Unia is a publicly funded independent agency responsible for reviewing discrimination complaints, including those of a religious nature, and attempting to resolve them through mediation or arbitration.  The agency lacks legal powers to enforce resolution of cases but may refer them to the courts.

The federal justice minister appoints a magistrate in each judicial district to monitor discrimination cases and oversee their prosecution, including those involving religion, as a criminal act.

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

Government Practices

During the year, according to Justice Minister Van Quickenborne and reported by media outlet La Libre, mosque applications for government recognition stagnated due to changes in the leadership of the Muslim Executive and an announced internal restructuring of the organization, as well as unfavorable decisions by intelligence services following the review of some mosques’ applications.  Some observers continued to state that a number of mosques opted not to seek official recognition because they received sufficient foreign funding and preferred to operate without government oversight.  Some observers stated the lengthy, bureaucratic process of obtaining recognition also acted as a deterrent.

On June 4, the Flemish government approved a decree to resume accepting and reviewing applications for recognition by religious houses of worship that then regional Interior Minister Liesbeth Homans had suspended in 2017.  In 2020, a senior Flemish government official estimated there were 50-100 local places of worship with pending applications for recognition, some dating back to the 2017 moratorium.  Local media reported in June that in the province of Antwerp alone, 31 mosques were awaiting official recognition.

On June 9, Flemish Minister of Civic Integration Bart Somers withdrew the recognition of a Pakistani mosque in Antwerp due to what he said was its failure to meet the criteria of social value.  Somers stated the mosque disrupted social cohesion and had insufficient support within the community.  According to the civil intelligence service, Surete d’Etat, the mosque had faced internal disputes since 2013, which in some cases required police intervention.  On October 18, Somers withdrew recognition of the De Koepel Mosque in Antwerp for what he said was a failure to meet administrative obligations, such as providing annual accounts, budget, and board meeting records.

According to local media and academics, recognition applications by eight mosques in the Brussels-Capital region remained pending.  Minister of Justice Van Quickenborne denied recognition to the Great Mosque of Brussels in December 2020 after a negative report from Surete d’Etat.  The Surete cited what it described as questionable ties to Moroccan authorities.

At year’s end, there were 87 recognized mosques, the same number as at the end of 2020 – 39 in Wallonia, 27 in Flanders, and 21 in Brussels.  The Belgian Muslim Executive estimated there were a total of 300 mosques in the country, both recognized and unrecognized.

In January, the deputy head of the Muslim Executive, Salah Echallaoui, resigned after Minister of Justice Van Quickenborne accused him of mismanagement; he was subsequently replaced by Noureddine Smaili.  On January 27, the Muslim Executive reported that an internal evaluation found several of its members had ties to extremist movements and networks.  The organization subsequently announced it would undergo internal restructuring.  On October 6, Justice Minister Van Quickenborne requested an investigation to be led by Surete d’Etat into the operations of the Muslim Executive, since, he said, it had failed to make progress restructuring.  On October 19, several media outlets quoted President of the Muslim Executive Mehmet Ustun stating that he was considering renouncing state subsidies due to excessive “political meddling.”  In response, Van Quickenborne threatened to withdraw state funding for the Muslim Executive, which amounts to 500,000 euros ($567,000) per year, if the organization failed to comply with the government’s conditions for maintaining official recognition – greater transparency, reduced concentration of power among a small group of persons within the organization, and elimination of foreign influence.  On December 16, during a plenary session of the House of Representatives, Van Quickenborne stated that the “current circumstances” of foreign influence and mismanagement within the Muslim Executive could justify cutting it off from subsidies in 2022, and he urged the executive to institute reforms.

An application from the Belgian Hindu Forum for the government to recognize Hinduism as a religion, submitted in 2013, remained pending, as did its application to receive a government subsidy.  There were no other pending requests by religious groups.

In March, the Ghent Correctional Court ruled against the Kraainem Jehovah’s Witness congregation, finding it guilty of inciting discrimination and inciting hatred or violence against former members of the congregation and fining it 12,000 euros ($13,600).  The Ghent prosecutor filed a criminal case against the group in 2020 following a five-year investigation based on a complaint by a former member of the congregation, Patrick Haeck, who said he had been shunned after he exposed a case of sexual abuse.

Although the ban on face coverings remained unchanged, police did not enforce the law in the context of COVID-19.

On January 27, media reported that the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi, said he had ordered a Turkish imam to leave the country within 30 days for making homophobic remarks.  The man, who was the imam of the Green Mosque in the Flemish municipality of Houthalen-Helchteren and a member of the Belgian branch of the Turkish religious authority Diyanet, reportedly posted the comments on the mosque’s and his personal Facebook pages.  Mahdi stated that the imam’s comments could incite hate and “harm public order or national security” and refused to renew his residence permit.  On April 23, Mahdi’s cabinet confirmed via a press release that the imam had left Belgium.  At the same time, Flemish Minister for Civic Integration Somers began procedures to remove the recognition of the mosque due to what he said were discriminatory messages against the LGBTQI+ community on its Facebook page.  At year’s end, the government continued to recognize the mosque.

In January, the city of Charleroi approved a construction project for a mosque in its municipality of Lodelinsart after a second public comment period, which the city opened in 2020 after approving the project in 2019.  However, in June, Walloon Minister for Urbanism Willy Borsus denied a construction permit for the mosque, citing parking and noise concerns.

On March 8, media reported that a mosque in Court-St-Etienne had been completed.  The project was approved in 2018 after four construction permit rejections.

In a newspaper interview, Mayor of Antwerp Bart De Wever stated that the city’s historic community of Orthodox Jews risked bringing a “wave of antisemitism” upon themselves because of noncompliance with COVID-19 social distancing and testing requirements.  De Wever threatened to close one synagogue for violation of COVID-19 restrictions, stating that police had raided the synagogue twice on the Sabbath, evicting 37 persons in one incident and 22 persons in the other.  A spokesperson in Antwerp for the Forum of Jewish Organizations called De Wever’s criticism of the Jewish community “undiplomatic,” but added that the mayor was “a close and good friend of the Jewish community.”

In October, the Constitutional Court rejected the appeals launched by Muslim and Jewish associations against the ban on animal slaughter without stunning in Flanders and Wallonia.  The office of the Central Israelite Consistory of Belgium (the official representative of the Jewish community in dealings with the government) unanimously decided to lodge an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights against the decision rendered by the court.  Representatives of the Islamic faith, the Muslim Executive, and the Coordination Council of Islamic Institutions in Belgium said they were also considering an appeal.

A large slaughterhouse performing kosher and halal slaughter continued to operate in Brussels, where slaughter without prior stunning remained permitted, but it could not accommodate all requests, particularly during religious holidays.  The Brussels government said it had no policy on animal slaughter without prior stunning.  In February, Brussels Minister for Animal Welfare Bernard Clerfayt held discussions on the subject with Muslim and Jewish leaders in Brussels who followed halal and kosher practices, as well as with animal welfare organizations.  Sources stated that Clerfayt had been due to present a draft ordinance to the Brussels Council of Ministers in October that would prohibit the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, including for religious reasons, but he had not done so by year’s end.

On January 9, national media reported that, in a civil case, the Antwerp Court of First Instance ruled that the Antwerp-based NGO Mothers for Mothers, which stated its aim was to assist families and mothers in financial difficulties, was guilty of discrimination for refusing aid to veiled women.  The organization allowed veiled women to access only the entrance hall to its offices, excluding them from the rest of the premises.  The court ruled that the association had to remove the restrictions on veiled women or incur a penalty of 500 euros ($570) for each documented violation.  On January 15, the association closed its building in Antwerp to avoid complying with the court order.  A notice on the building door stated that the association deemed the court ruling “incomprehensible.”

During the year, the government appointed Ihsane Haouch, who wears a hijab, as government commissioner to the Institution for the Equality of Women and Men.

In May, the Brussels Labor Court found the Brussels-based public transportation company STIB/MIVB guilty of gender and religious discrimination after a Muslim woman was denied interviews for jobs at the company for wearing a religious head covering.  The court ordered the company to end its policy of “exclusive neutrality,” which bans all outward display of religious symbols and ruled that it disproportionately affected Muslim women.  In June, following internal discussions, the Brussels government announced it would not appeal this decision.  In a press release, Brussels authorities highlighted the “importance of the principle of neutrality of staff in the organization of public services” and called on parliament to hold a debate on the issue.

In February, the Ghent public prosecutor’s office called for the criminal prosecution of nine members of the youth movement Schild & Vrienden (Shield and Friends), commonly characterized as far right in Flemish and Francophone news media, for violating the antiracism law.  The accused included Dries Van Langenhove, a founder of Schild & Vrienden and a Member of Parliament for the Flemish political party Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), commonly characterized as extreme right.  The public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation in 2018 after public broadcaster VRT documented antisemitic, anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist, and sexist messages exchanged by the members in an online chat room.  Some of the individuals were also accused of Holocaust denial.  On December 28, the media outlet De Morgen reported that procedural issues in the case had arisen following accusations of a lack of impartiality by investigating judge Annemie Serlippens.  Serlippens subsequently resigned, and Van Langenhove’s lawyer requested that the evidence obtained through her investigation be declared null and void.  The Ghent Chamber of Indictments rejected this request.  At year’s end, the case had not been referred to the criminal court.

On September 1, the government ended Operation Vigilan Guardian (OVG), which since 2015 had provided domestic military protection in the face of increased terror threats.  With the change, responsibility for protection of Antwerp’s Jewish quarter shifted from the military to the Antwerp municipal police, although Antwerp Mayor De Wever stated on multiple occasions that his municipality lacked the resources to protect the Jewish quarter.  According to media, the Antwerp police department would need to expand significantly to meet the increased security requirement.  Community members stated publicly that they felt less secure due to the end of OVG.  They said the military had withdrawn the military protection because the government assessed the threat to the Jewish community was a tier lower than it had been several years earlier when the threat had been rated at the highest of four possible tiers.  Community members expressed concern that police might provide less effective security because, unlike the military, the police could be called away.  On Jewish high holy days, the city assigned extra police to protect synagogues and other sites.

Police continued to offer a voluntary, day-long course, “The Holocaust, the Police, and Human Rights,” at the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen, site of a Holocaust museum and memorial.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Media and NGOs, including Amnesty International, the Collective Against Islamophobia in Belgium, the NGO Antisemitism Belgium, and Unia, reported incidents of violence, threats, harassment, discrimination, and hate speech against Muslims and Jews.

In 2020, the most recent period for which data were available, Unia reported 115 antisemitic incidents, a 45 percent increase from 2019.  Unia defined these as incidents against Jewish persons rather than against Jewish practices, which it tracked separately.  Of these, 70 percent were related to hate speech and 49 percent took place on the internet.  Unia reported four cases of destruction of public property and four cases of verbal harassment related to antisemitism.  No cases of physical assault or attacks were recorded.

Unia reported 261 cases of other religious discrimination or harassment in 2020 and noted that the decreased number of in-person social interactions due to COVID-19 might account for the decrease in cases from 2019, when 336 cases were recorded.  Of the 2020 incidents, 37 percent were media related, and 30 percent occurred in the workplace, mostly against Muslims.  Approximately 88 percent of the cases targeted Muslims.  There were 11 incidents against Jewish religious practices, seven against Christians, and 13 in which the religious link was categorized as “other” or “unclear.”

Unia cited 112 cases of religious hate speech in its 2020 annual report. Approximately 90 percent of these were related to “inciting hatred, discrimination or violence.”  A total of 29 religious hate crimes were recorded by Unia, with 93 percent being cases of intimidation or harassment and no cases of physical attacks.

In February, Flemish media outlets De Morgen and Gazet Van Anwerpen reported that Flemish Jews pointed to increasing antisemitic comments on social media following news reports about large gatherings in synagogues and higher infection rates in the Antwerp Jewish community during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Security services also reported an increase in hate messages targeting Jews, including some accusing the Jewish community of spreading COVID-19.

In March, the Flemish television program TelefactsNU reported it had infiltrated and exposed an extreme right online chat group called “Volksverbond” that praised violence and spread racist and anti-Muslim propaganda.  Members of the chat group created fake online Muslim profiles and posted provocative and purportedly Islamist messages, such as calling for adoption of sharia, to “open the eyes of the people.”  Others proposed dressing as Muslims and throwing Molotov cocktails at protestors during a far-right demonstration.  Group members also shared information on how to acquire weapons and arms licenses.  According to the Flemish media outlet Het Laatste Nieuws, the group had 350 followers on Instagram and 26 core members in its private chat.

On June 3, the Court of Mechelen sentenced a man to six months in prison and fined him 800 euros ($910) for performing the Nazi salute in Fort Breendonk, located near the city of Mechelen, which had served as a Nazi prison hub for the transit and deportation of the country’s Jews during World War II.  The man was a member of Right-Wing Resistance Flanders, listed as a right-wing extremist group by the government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis.

In May, press reported that the Royal Belgian Football Association had begun an ethics investigation of a Dutch soccer player for the Brugge soccer club after video appeared of the man singing with club fans that he would “rather die than be a Jew” following a match with Brussels club Anderlecht.  According to local media, other teams commonly referred to Anderlecht players and supporters as “Jews.”  The player said on social media he had not intended to offend, and the Brugge club said he “had no antisemitic undertone.”  Jewish parliamentarian Michael Freilich said the player needed to hear “how offensive his words have been to Belgian Jews.”

The Aalst Carnival, which in previous years was marked by open displays of antisemitism, did not take place due to COVID-19.  In January, press reported that the director of the carnival, Sven de Smet, posted a message on Facebook referencing accusations that Orthodox Jews did not follow COVID-19 restrictions.  The message read, “Hey, Jew, the rules apply to you, too.  Anything!  The chosen people of God.”  Journalist Rudi Roth filed a complaint with Unia about de Smet’s post.

According to Antisemitism Belgium, in early May five men insulted a man, his wife, and children, shouting “Free Palestine”; one of them later punched the man twice in the face.  The victim received medical care at the hospital, and the perpetrator was arrested by local guards and transferred to the police.  There was no further information on the status of the case.

Also in May, two persons threw rocks at a group of Jews in Antwerp.  Police were unable to identify the individuals responsible.

In July, an Antwerp resident assaulted two members of the Antwerp Jewish community near a synagogue.  The police later arrested a suspect.  There was no further information on the status of the case.

Other cases reported by Antisemitism Belgium include online antisemitic hate messages, for example postings comparing Israel and Zionists to Nazis or calling for the killing of Jews or the destruction of Israel; in-person verbal harassment, for example, instances of calling persons “dirty Jews”; and discrimination and vandalism, such as the defacement of posters highlighting the issue of violence against Jews.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 8 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Belgium said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Four percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “The interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23 percent); “There is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (23 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (14 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (24 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (16 percent); “Many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (9 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (12 percent); and “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (22 percent).

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents and sentiment in meetings with representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister; the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice; and regional governments.

A U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director for Democracy and Human Rights in November to discuss the government’s efforts to promote religious freedom in the country and combat antisemitism.

Embassy officials regularly met with religious leaders to discuss incidents of religious discrimination and ways to counter public manifestations of anti-Muslim and antisemitic sentiment.  They continued engagement with activists from the Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish communities.  On October 29, embassy representatives met with the Forum of Jewish Organizations in Antwerp to discuss animal slaughter, government regulations, antisemitic incidents, and security concerns following the end of the OVG program.  In December, the Charge d’Affaires met with leaders from the Central Israelite Consistory and the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Organizations in Belgium to discuss interreligious understanding and listen to concerns within the Jewish community.

Embassy officials met with various university professors to discuss the animal slaughter ban outside of Brussels and its effect on the Muslim and Jewish communities, the veil in public schools and institutions, and the process for recognition of mosques and imam training in Belgium.

The embassy engaged with the Antwerp municipal government and police to ensure the continued protection of the Jewish community as responsibility shifted from the military to local police forces.

The embassy continued its grant support to Actions in the Mediterranean (AIM), a Brussels-based NGO, to implement a project to educate elementary-aged students on the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The program brought 40 students from various Brussels schools from a wide variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds together to learn about the history of the conflict and travel to Israel and Palestinian areas for a week to learn to break down stereotypes and combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment alongside young Israelis and Palestinians.  Upon return, they shared their experience with peers and others.  The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials discussed the project with the president of AIM on December 14.

The embassy supported participation by an archivist from Kazerne Dossin Institute, a museum and documentation center on the Holocaust and human rights, in a virtual U.S. government program on preserving Holocaust history in July.

Bulgaria

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience.  Religious groups may worship without registering, but registered groups receive financial and other benefits and legal protections.  The constitution recognizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion, and the law exempts the Bulgarian Orthodox Church (BOC) from registration.  In February, the Plovdiv Appellate Court confirmed the sentences of 12 Romani Muslims convicted in 2019 of supporting ISIS and spreading Salafi Islam, among other charges.  The 12 individuals appealed the ruling.  Muslim leaders again said several municipalities denied permission to build new or rehabilitate existing religious facilities.  In May, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled Shumen Municipality’s ordinance restricting proselytizing did not violate the constitution.  In March, the Sofia Appellate Court rejected a restitution claim by the International Missionary Society Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference on land in Sofia.  In February, Sofia Mayor Yordanka Fandakova canceled an annual march (after it had begun) honoring 1940s pro-Nazi leader Hristo Lukov on procedural grounds after the city was unable to legally ban the event.  In February, Jewish groups strongly protested remarks by a television quiz show host on Bulgarian National Television denying there were gas chambers in Nazi extermination camps and stating that Jews disliked working, especially in the camps, preferring others “to do all the work so that they can collect the profit.”  The director general of the station and the show’s host apologized for the remarks.  According to NGOs, souvenirs exhibiting Nazi insignias and imagery continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country and few local governments responded to complaints about them.

Antisemitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly in online comments and on social networking sites, for example, calling Jews “lampshades,” and in online media articles and in the mainstream press.  Antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas and offensive slurs appeared in public places.  The Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO) Shalom reported increased incidents of antisemitic hate speech online in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing election campaigns, and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) and Jehovah’s Witnesses reported no instances of harassment or threats from the public, which they attributed to moving most of their activity online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials met with relevant government officials, including representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MFA) Directorate for Human Rights, the Council of Ministers’ Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, and local governments regularly to discuss cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and their efforts to promote interfaith dialogue among the community.  The Ambassador and embassy officials also met with the National Council of Religious Communities (NCRC) and discussed how to involve the BOC more in interreligious activities.  Embassy officials regularly met with religious groups and supported civil society efforts to encourage tolerance and stimulate interfaith dialogue, although the frequency of such engagements decreased.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent), 76 percent of the population identifies as Eastern Orthodox Christian, primarily affiliated with the BOC.  The census reports Muslims, the second largest religious group, are approximately 10 percent of the population, followed by Protestants, including the Union of Evangelical Congregational Churches, Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches, and Union of Evangelical Pentecostal Churches, at 1.1 percent, and Roman Catholics at 0.8 percent.  Nearly 95 percent of Muslims reported being Sunni; most of the rest are Shia, and there is a small number of Ahmadis concentrated in Blagoevgrad.  Orthodox Christians of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church (AAOC), Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and other groups together make up 0.2 percent of the population.  According to the census, 4.8 percent of respondents have no religion and 7.1 percent did not specify a religion.  According to a 2019 report by the think tank Agency for Social Analyses, 74 percent of individuals identify as Orthodox Christians, 10 percent as Muslims, 13 percent as atheists, and 3 percent with other religious traditions.

Some religious minorities are concentrated geographically.  Many Muslims, including ethnic Turks, Roma, and Pomaks (descendants of Slavic Bulgarians who converted to Islam under Ottoman rule) live in the Rhodope Mountains along the southern border with Greece and Turkey.  Ethnic Turkish and Romani Muslims also live in large numbers in the northeast and along the Black Sea coast.  Some recent Romani converts to Islam live in towns in the central region, such as Plovdiv and Pazardjik.  According to the census, nearly 40 percent of Catholics live in and around Plovdiv.  The majority of the small Jewish and Armenian communities are in Sofia, Plovdiv, and along the Black Sea coast.  Protestants are widely dispersed.  Many Roma are Protestant converts, and Protestants are more numerous in areas with large Romani populations.  Approximately 80 percent of the urban population and 62 percent of the rural population identifies as Orthodox Christian.  Approximately 25 percent of the rural population identify as Muslim, compared with 4 percent of the urban population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states freedom of conscience and choice of religion or no religion are inviolable, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the state shall assist in maintaining tolerance and respect among believers of different denominations, as well as between believers and nonbelievers.  It states the practice of any religion shall be unrestricted except to the extent its practice would be detrimental to national security, public order, health, and morals, or the rights and freedoms of others.  It states no one shall be exempt from obligations established by the constitution or the law on grounds of religious or other convictions.  The constitution also stipulates the separation of religious institutions from the state and prohibits the formation of political parties along religious lines or organizations that incite religious animosity, as well as the use of religious beliefs, institutions, and communities for political ends.  The law does not allow any privilege based on religious identity.

The constitution names Eastern Orthodox Christianity as the country’s “traditional” religion.  The law establishes the BOC as a legal entity, exempting it from the court registration that is mandatory for all other religious groups seeking legal recognition.

The penal code prescribes up to three years’ imprisonment for persons attacking individuals or groups based on their religious affiliation.  Instigators and leaders of an attack may receive prison sentences of up to six years.  Those who obstruct the ability of individuals to profess their faith, carry out their rituals and services, or compel another to participate in religious rituals and services may receive prison sentences of up to one year.  Violating a person’s or group’s freedom to acquire or practice a religious belief is subject to a fine of between 100 and 300 levs ($58-$170).  If a legal entity commits the infraction, the fine may range from 500 to 5,000 levs ($290-$2,900).

To receive national legal recognition, religious groups other than the BOC must register with the Sofia City Court.  Applications must include:  the group’s name and official address; a description of the group’s religious beliefs and service practices, organizational structure and bodies and management procedures, bodies, and mandates; a list of official representatives and the processes for their election; procedures for convening meetings and making decisions; and information on finances, property, and processes for termination and liquidation of the group.  The Directorate for Religious Affairs under the Council of Ministers provides expert opinions on registration matters upon the court’s request.  Applicants must notify the Directorate for Religious Affairs within seven days of receiving a court decision on their registration.  Applicants may appeal negative registration decisions to the Sofia Appellate Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Cassation Court, the country’s highest court.  The law does not require the formal registration of local branches of registered groups with the local court, only that branches notify local authorities and local authorities enter them in a register.  The law prohibits registration of different groups with the same name in the same location.  The Directorate for Religious Affairs and any prosecutor may request that a court revoke a religious group’s registration on the grounds of systematic violations of the law.  There are 199 registered religious groups in addition to the BOC.

Registered religious groups must maintain a registry of all their clergy and employees, provide the Directorate for Religious Affairs with access to the registry, and issue a certificate to each clerical member, who must carry it as proof of representing the group.  Foreign members of registered religious groups may obtain long-term residency permits, but for the foreign member to be allowed to conduct religious services during his or her stay, the group must send advance notice to the Directorate for Religious Affairs.

The law requires the government to provide funding for all registered religious groups based on the number of self-identified followers in the latest census, at a rate of 10 levs ($6) per capita to groups that comprise more than 1 percent of the population and varying amounts for the rest.

Registered groups have the right to perform religious services; maintain financial accounts; own property such as houses of worship and cemeteries; provide medical, social, and educational services; receive property tax and other exemptions; and participate in commercial ventures.

The law does not consider unregistered religious groups.  These groups may engage in religious practice, since there is no law prohibiting it, but they lack privileges that the law grants to registered groups, such as access to government funding and the right to own property, establish financial accounts in their names, operate schools and hospitals, receive property tax exemptions, and sell religious merchandise.  Some local regulations also restrict the groups, in breach of the law.  Several municipalities, including Kyustendil and Sliven, prohibit unregistered religious groups from conducting any religious activities.

The law restricts the wearing of face-covering garments in public places, imposing a fine of 200 levs ($120) for a first offense and 1,500 levs ($870) for repeat offenses.

The law allows registered groups to publish, import, and distribute religious media; it does not address the rights of unregistered groups with regard to such media.  The law does not restrict proselytizing by registered or unregistered groups.  Dozens of municipalities, including the regional cities of Kyustendil, Pleven, Shumen, and Sliven, have ordinances prohibiting door-to-door proselytizing and the distribution of religious literature without a permit.  The ordinance in Kyustendil remains in effect despite a 2018 Supreme Administrative Court ruling that it was unconstitutional.  Burgas municipality prohibits the wearing of religious dress and symbols of unregistered religious groups.  Some municipalities prohibit religious activities inside cultural institutes, schools, and establishments for youth and children.

The law states that every child has “the right to protection from involvement” in religious activities and prescribes that parents or guardians shall determine the religious attitudes of children up to 14 years of age.  Between the ages of 14 and 18, children determine their religion by agreement between them and their parents or guardians.  If such agreement is not reached, a child may apply to the relevant regional court to resolve the dispute.

By law, public schools at all levels may, but are not required, to teach the historical, philosophical, and cultural aspects of religion and introduce students to the moral values of different religious groups as part of the core curriculum.  A school may teach any registered religion in a special course as part of the elective curriculum upon request of at least 13 students, subject to the availability of books and teachers.  The Ministry of Education and Science approves the content of and provides books for these special religion courses.  If a public school is unable to pay for a religion teacher, it may accept financial sponsorship from a private donor or a teacher from a registered denomination.  The law also allows registered religious groups to operate schools, provided they meet government standards for secular education, and post-secondary educational institutions that meet the requirements for opening secular higher education institutions.

The Commission for Protection against Discrimination is an independent government body charged with preventing and protecting against discrimination, including religious discrimination, and ensuring equal opportunity.  It functions as a civil litigation court adjudicating discrimination complaints and does not charge for its services.  The commission’s decisions may be appealed to administrative courts.  Upon accepting a case, the commission assigns it to a panel that then reviews it in open session.  If the commission makes a finding of discrimination, it may impose a fine of 250 to 2,000 levs ($150-$1,200).  The commission may double fines for repeat violations.  Regional courts may also try civil cases involving religious discrimination.

The law establishes an independent ombudsman to serve as an advocate for citizens who believe public or municipal administrations or public service providers have violated their rights and freedoms, including those pertaining to religion, through their actions or inaction.  The ombudsman may request information from authorities, act as an intermediary in resolving disputes, make proposals for terminating existing practices, refer information to the prosecution service, and request that the Constitutional Court abolish legal provisions as unconstitutional.

The penal code provides up to three years’ imprisonment for forming “a political organization on religious grounds” or using a church or religion to spread propaganda against the authority of the state or its activities.

The penal code prohibits the propagation or incitement of religious or other discrimination, violence, or hatred “by speech, press, or other media, by electronic information systems or in another manner,” as well as religiously motivated assault or property damage.  Either offense is punishable by imprisonment for one to four years and a fine of 5,000 to 10,000 levs ($2,900-$5,800), as well as “public censure.”  The propagation of “fascism or another antidemocratic ideology” is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to 5,000 levs ($2,900).  Courts have found that Nazism falls within the purview of “antidemocratic ideology.”  Desecration of religious symbols or sites, including places of worship or graves, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 to 10,000 levs ($1,700-$5,800).

The law provides for restitution of real estate confiscated during the communist era; courts have also applied the law to Holocaust-related claims.

The law allows religious groups to delay until 2029 paying back outstanding revenue obligations owed to governments, for example, for social insurance payments or garbage collection or other municipal services, incurred before December 31, 2018.

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

Government Practices

On February 19, the Plovdiv Appellate Court confirmed the Pazardjik District Court’s 2019 verdict convicting 12 Romani Muslims on charges of supporting ISIS, assisting foreign fighters, propagating Salafi Islam, characterized by the government as an antidemocratic ideology, and incitement to war.  Two other Romani Muslims who were part of the original case did not appeal their convictions or sentences.  The appellate court also confirmed the lower court’s sentences:  8.5 years in prison for the group’s leader, Islamic preacher Ahmed Mussa, and incarceration ranging from 12 to 42 months for 10 of the other Romani, all men.  The 12th Romani, the only woman in the group, received a two-year suspended sentence.  A final appeal of the case to the Supreme Cassation Court by both defendants and prosecutors was pending at year’s end.

In May, the Samokov Regional Court exonerated Church of God-Bulgaria pastor Nikolay Vasilev, who was charged in 2020 with holding an Easter service in Samokov in breach of the COVID-19-related ban on public gatherings.  A prosecutor appealed the verdict in the Sofia District Court, where the case was pending at year’s end.  Administrative proceedings in the Samokov Regional Court regarding fines imposed on other Church of God-Bulgaria officials relating to the same event were also pending.

In April, Sofia Municipality revoked its ordinance restricting the activity of unregistered religious groups, complying with a 2020 decision of the Sofia Administrative Court.  In May, the Supreme Administrative Court reversed a 2020 decision of the Shumen Administrative Court and determined that a Shumen Municipality ordinance restricting door-to-door proselytizing did not violate the country’s constitution and laws, but it stated the provisions prohibiting religious activities by “non-traditional religious groups” (i.e., groups other than the BOC) inside cultural institutes, schools, and establishments for youth and children were illegal, since they discriminated against those religious groups.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the decision limited their right to express their beliefs and put followers at risk of being subjected to discrimination and aggression.  On November 2, a five-member panel of the Supreme Administrative Court refused to review an appeal by Jehovah’s Witnesses of the court’s April ruling, stating the group had missed the appeal deadline.

Contrary to years prior to 2020, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not report any incidents against their members by government officials while engaged in proselytizing.  They attributed the change to reduced public proselytizing and increased online activity due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In September, a publication in the online human rights platform Marginalia stated the national census had violated children’s rights for the benefit of religious groups by disregarding the legal right of children aged 14-18 to independent religious self-identification.  According to the publication, the census instructions allowed adults to increase the number of members of a religious group by including their children, which directly affected the size of the government subsidy for that group until the next census.

The Office of the Grand Mufti and regional Muslim leaders again said several municipalities, including Sofia, Stara Zagora, and Gotse Delchev, continued to reject, on what they said were nontransparent grounds, their requests to build new, or rehabilitate existing, religious facilities.  Grand Mufti Mustafa Hadji said he had raised the issue in several meetings with Sofia Mayor Fandakova, including in March and October, but the mayor’s office had not provided by year’s end any information on the reasons for the city’s continued rejections of the construction applications.

The Office of the Grand Mufti said it was continuing to search for ways to litigate its recognition as the successor to all pre-1949 Muslim religious communities for the purpose of reclaiming approximately 30 properties, including eight mosques, two schools, two baths, and a cemetery seized by the former communist government.  Pending a decision on who was the rightful successor to the Muslim religious communities, some courts continued to suspend action on all restitution claims by the Office of the Grand Mufti.  In May, the Targovishte District Court ruled against the Office of the Grand Mufti’s claim regarding a former mosque and Muslim school in Popovo, stating the office was not the proven successor.  In October, the Varna Appellate Court confirmed the lower court’s decision.  In October, the Tutrakan Regional Court ruled against the Office of the Grand Mufti’s claim to a former Muslim school converted to a secular school during communism, refusing to recognize the office as the proven successor.

In March, the Sofia Appellate Court rejected a restitution claim by the International Missionary Society Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement on a plot of land in Sofia.  According to the court, the group had failed to prove that the three persons who bought the lot in 1934 had acted on behalf of the denomination despite the written declarations to that effect by two of those persons in 1949 and 1951.  At year’s end, an appeal was ongoing at the Supreme Cassation Court, and the next hearing was scheduled for January 2022.

The national public school elective curriculum continued to provide three sets of classes in religious studies at various grade levels:  one for Orthodox Christianity, one for Islam, and one for “good morals” (nonconfessional) developed by the Protestant NGO Bible League.  In September, the Ministry of Education approved official school textbooks for students from sixth to twelfth grade in the program on Islam, grades one through five having been approved in 2020.  Schools began using the full set of books on Orthodox Christianity and Islam from first to twelfth grade in the academic year that began in September.  There were approved textbooks on nonconfessional religious education from first to third grade but there were no trained teachers to put them to use.  The Evangelical Alliance, a group of 14 Protestant Churches and 16 Protestant NGOs, complained that the Ministry of Education delayed the training of teachers until 2022 and provided funding only for 40 percent of the candidates.

The Office of the Grand Mufti and the Evangelical Alliance expressed concern that they lacked the resources to meet the legal requirement for bringing their religious academies up to university standards by the end of the year and would be forced to close them.

In September, High Muslim Council chair Vedat Ahmed criticized schools and universities that invited BOC clerics to perform religious rituals, stating that many students were Muslims, and said it would be appropriate either to invite imams as well or refrain from any religious activity.

On February 13, Sofia mayor Fandakova issued an order canceling the Lukov March after it had begun on the grounds that the municipality had not approved the route proposed by the organizers, after the city was unable to legally ban the event in advance.  Approximately 50 participants turned out for the annual demonstration to honor General Hristo Lukov, the 1940s antisemitic, pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions leader.  Police divided the rally into smaller groups and escorted them to Lukov’s house, where the groups held a commemoration ceremony.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the then-ruling GERB Party, the Democratic Bulgaria Alliance, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, NGOs, international organizations, and diplomatic missions denounced the rally.  In February, the Sofia City Court rejected a prosecutor’s claim for deregistration of the rally organizer, Bulgarian National Union-Edelweiss, stating the claim failed to provide evidence of incitement of ethnic, racial, and religious hostility or other unconstitutional activity by the party.  At year’s end, an appeal was proceeding in the Sofia Appellate Court.

In February, Blagovest Asenov, the leader of the National Resistance organization, accused on social media Jews and Jewish NGOs of being “anti-Bulgarian,” as well as of causing the “refugee crises in Europe” and “forcing the COVID pandemic” on authorities.  Police issued Asenov a warning, but a prosecutor dismissed the case, citing lack of evidence of a criminal offense.

Shalom expressed “strong concern” regarding Alternative for Bulgarian Revival Party leader Rumen Petkov’s appearance for a TV interview on September 21 while wearing a yellow badge reading “Unvaccinated” on his lapel.  Shalom said Petkov’s badge was a reference to the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear during World War II and stated he was minimizing the Holocaust.  In a subsequent public statement, Petkov denied the accusations of antisemitism and apologized to “everyone who felt offended.”

In October, the Office of the Grand Mufti expressed concern that municipal authorities had excavated the area around the historic Kursun Mosque in Karlovo and piled up a large amount of dirt in the yard, calling it a desecration.  In a subsequent meeting with Regional Mufti of Plovdiv Taner Veli, Karlovo mayor Emil Kabaivanov explained the piles of dirt were the result of archaeological excavations dating back three years.  At year’s end, the Office of the Grand Mufti’s litigation (which the office initiated in 2012) against Karlovo Municipality regarding ownership of the mosque was pending in the Sofia Appellate Court.

In February, Jewish organizations protested the “scandalous and slanderous content” of a question posed by Orlin Goranov, host of the game show “Last One Wins,” to contestants on Bulgarian National Television.  Goranov asked for the name of the chess player who allegedly denied there were gas chambers in Nazi extermination camps and who claimed that Jews disliked working, especially in the camps, preferring others “to do all the work so that they can collect the profit.” According to press reports, the host was quoting, without naming him, the late world chess champion Bobby Fischer.  The Director General of the station, Emil Koshlukov, apologized on Facebook and fired the scriptwriter for including the question.  The show’s host also publicly apologized on the air.

According to NGOs, souvenirs exhibiting Nazi insignias and imagery continued to be widely available in tourist areas around the country and few local governments responded to complaints about them.  In June and August, Shalom alerted the mayors of Primorsko and Pomorie, respectively, about such souvenirs, calling for their removal from the market.  The Primorsko Municipality did not respond, but Pomorie authorities removed the merchandise.

In February, March, April, and November, the government allocated 11.42 million levs ($6.62 million) to fund repair and maintenance of BOC facilities in Karan Varbovka, Kyustendil, Nevestino, Granitsa, Godech, Pernik, Sugarevo, Zhablyano, Shipka, Veliko Tarnovo, Vidin, Muldava, Sofia, and Rila, as well as 3.34 million levs ($1.94 million) for repair and maintenance of Islamic facilities and for purchasing a building to house the High Islamic Institute.

The national budget allocated 42.65 million levs ($24.74 million) to registered religious groups for current expenses, such as employee and cleric salaries, educational activities, and cemetery maintenance, as well as capital investments, such as construction and maintenance of religious facilities and related expenses, compared with 33.34 million levs ($19.34 million) in 2020.  Of the 42.65 million, 35.75 million levs ($20.74 million) went to the BOC; 6.35 million levs ($3.68 million) to the Muslim community; 220,000 levs ($128,000) to the Catholic Church; 176,000 levs ($102,000) to Protestant denominations; and 77,000 levs ($45,000) each to the AAOC and the Jewish community.  No other registered religious groups received government funding.  Evangelical Alliance representatives again said Protestants did not receive their fair share of government funding, possibly because they were not represented by a single organization, even though their numbers exceeded 1 percent of the population.  The Religious Affairs Directorate held the subsidy allocated for Protestants and said it allocated portions of it (typically only for construction and repairs) to whichever denomination sent a request.

In April, ahead of Ramadan, President Rumen Radev invited Grand Mufti Hadji to meet with him “as a token of respect to the traditions and culture of Bulgarian Muslims.”  The President subsequently issued an Eid al-Fitr greeting addressed to the country’s Muslim population, citing a national culture of tolerance and sharing.

In January, the Armenian Community Association objected in an open letter to the April 4 date the President had set for general elections, which coincided with Armenian Easter, stating it was a “sign of disrespect for Armenian religious customs and culture.”  Pavel Gudjerov, the mayor of Rakovski, home to the largest Catholic community in the country, also addressed the President, urging him to change the date, but the President did not reverse his decree.

After the government’s term expired in May and the new parliament failed to form a government, the two caretaker governments succeeding it did not appoint a new national coordinator on combating antisemitism to replace the outgoing coordinator.  In May, a senior official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the ministry would fill the coordinator position when parliament formed a regular government.  In early November, another MFA official said the previous coordinator could not be replaced because he was appointed to the post by name.  The MFA stated in mid-December it was unable to submit the draft decision establishing the position permanently to the Council of Ministers for adoption due to the elections in November and subsequent government formation process, but it expected to have a decree establishing the position permanently at the deputy minister of foreign affairs level in early 2022.  At year’s end, the government had not filled the coordinator position.

According to press reports, the city of Vidin, with the approval of Shalom, was proceeding with a project using the equivalent of $6 million in EU funds to restore the crumbling synagogue in the city and convert it into a community and cultural center.  The center, according to the plan, would include a permanent exhibition on the history of the Jewish community in Vidin, which once numbered approximately 2,000 members, although only approximately a dozen Jews remained.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Antisemitic rhetoric continued to appear regularly in online comments and on social networking sites, for example, calling Jews “lampshades,” as well as in online media articles and in the mainstream press.  Antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas and offensive slurs, appeared regularly in public places.

In June, Shalom reported spotting stickers with Nazi symbols inside public transportation vehicles in Sofia and inside ski lifts in Bansko.  Shalom also reported increased incidents of antisemitic hate speech online in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing election campaigns.  In October, vice presidential candidate Elena Guncheva of the Vazrazhdane Party referred on social media to local politicians of Jewish and Turkish origin, saying they should consider themselves “guests” in the country.  After Shalom complained of “xenophobia and hate speech” to the Central Electoral Commission, which condemned her words but stated it could not interfere in the political campaign, Guncheva addressed Shalom specifically on social media, reiterating that “Bulgaria is the land of Bulgarians.”  In November, the Israeli embassy issued a public letter condemning her comments.

Jewish community leaders expressed concern regarding periodic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and monuments and what they said was an increasing trend of antisemitic and xenophobic propaganda and graffiti.  In June, Shalom approached the local government in Provadia after discovering that the old local Jewish cemetery had become an illegal landfill, with bones scattered around the site.  Shalom asked the municipality to clean the cemetery and to allow a rabbi to collect the bones.  At year’s end, the municipality had not responded to Shalom.

On January 29, unknown persons defaced with a swastika a memorial plaque in Plovdiv for a Jewish man killed in 1943.  The Plovdiv municipality cleaned the plaque, but police had not identified the perpetrator by year’s end.

On August 22, vandals drew racist and antisemitic symbols, including a swastika, on the fence of the Sofia Synagogue.  Police had not identified any suspects by year’s end.

Shalom condemned remarks by Miroslav Ivanov, a candidate for parliament from the Bulgarian National Union-New Democracy Party during a television interview in July.  The party has no representation in parliament.  According to press reports, among other comments, Ivanov said that Jews were happy under Hitler because they could work freely, Nazi gas chambers were used for deworming, and that a Nazi salute he was shown to be doing in a picture was actually a “Roman salute.”  Shalom called for Ivanov to be prosecuted for Holocaust denial and spreading antisemitic propaganda.

For the second consecutive year, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported no cases of hostility or harassment against their members by nongovernment officials, which they attributed to COVID-19-related restrictions that forced them to switch to online gatherings.

The Church of Jesus Christ reported no instances of harassment of missionaries, compared with three such incidents in 2020.  The Church attributed the change to having moved most of its activity online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of the Grand Mufti said Muslims were targets of periodic hate speech, such as at a protest in November in front of the Embassy of Turkey in Sofia against alleged interference of Turkey in the general elections, where participants chanted “death to Turks.”  According to the office, since most of the Muslim population in the country is ethnic Turkish, Bulgarian society frequently conflates “Muslim” and “Turk.”  The office also cited several instances of offensive graffiti on Muslim properties, such as a swastika on a mosque in Plovdiv in January and obscenities spray-painted on a mosque in Kazanlak.

On February 14, Regional Mufti of Plovdiv Veli again hosted the annual Tolerance Coffee, gathering representatives of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities, local government officials, foreign diplomats, and representatives of civil society.  According to the press release from the mufti’s office, the event commemorated the 2014 attack on the local Cumaya Mosque and was intended as a sign of respect and tolerance among all people, regardless of their ethnic background or religious beliefs.

The National Council of Religious Communities, whose members include representatives of the BOC, Muslim, evangelical Protestant, Catholic, AAC, and Jewish communities, continued to serve as a platform for the largest religious groups to organize joint events and defend a common position on religious issues, such as legislative proposals, political statements, and actions by others, and religiously motivated vandalism.  The BOC only occasionally participated in the council’s activities, according to reports from members of the council and public reports of council activities.  The council again substantially curtailed activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including by canceling the annual Festival of Religions in Sofia for the second year in a row.

In July, Bridges – Eastern European Forum for Dialogue, an NGO, organized its fifth youth camp, gathering 15 youths from different regions in the country and from different faiths in Plovdiv for discussions on history, traditions, tolerance, and dialogue with BOC, Catholic, Muslim, AAOC, and Jewish leaders.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy officials held regular discussions with representatives of the MFA’s Directorate for Human Rights, the Council of Ministers’ Directorate for Religious Affairs, Office of the Ombudsman, Commission for Protection against Discrimination, and local government administrations about cases of religious discrimination, harassment of religious minorities, and initiatives to support interfaith dialogue.  Embassy representatives also discussed with the MFA the need to fill the position of national coordinator on combating antisemitism, vacant since May.

Embassy officials continued to meet with representatives of the NCRC, BOC, Office of the Grand Mufti, Church of Jesus Christ, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Evangelical Alliance, and the Catholic, AAOC, Muslim, and Jewish communities throughout the country to discuss religious discrimination with regard to ongoing efforts to restitute religious properties, religious education, and government funding provided to the groups.  Embassy officials also met with civil society and human rights groups, such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, to discuss these issues and cases of harassment against religious groups.

In February, the Ambassador visited the new mosque in Kardjali and discussed interfaith dialogue and mutual support with Regional Mufti Beyhan Mehmedov.  In February, the Ambassador discussed with the NCRC joint initiatives to promote interfaith dialogue, such as a proposal to hold an interfaith roundtable, possibly in 2022, when it could potentially be held in person.  The Ambassador also discussed with the council the lack of BOC participation in most council meetings and events, and possible ways to bring in the BOC.  The Ambassador discussed religious tolerance, support for interfaith dialogue, and initiatives with Grand Mufti Hadji in June.  They conferred about joint public events between the embassy and the Office of the Grand Mufti.  In July, the Grand Mufti and the Ambassador jointly commemorated Eid al-Adha by delivering a donation of food and toys to a Center for Children with Disabilities in Sofia

In November, the Ambassador and embassy officials discussed rising antisemitic rhetoric with Shalom, both in the country and beyond.  Subsequently, the embassy posted a message about the meeting on social media that expressed solidarity with the Jewish community in the face of discrimination and denounced hate speech and intolerance.

In December, the Ambassador met separately with BOC Patriarch Neofit and Grand Mufti Hadji.  The Ambassador sought their support in interfaith efforts to promote tolerance.

On December 10, to recognize International Human Rights Day, the Ambassador joined religious groups, the NCRC, like-minded diplomatic missions, and local human rights NGOs within Sofia’s “Triangle of Tolerance” – an area downtown demarcated by the Sveta Petka Orthodox Church, the Banya Bashi Mosque, and the Sofia Synagogue – to record a video message against religious intolerance and hate speech and unveil a banner reading in Bulgarian and English, “United for Human Rights – United Against Hate.”  Participants signed the banner, to be displayed on a rotating basis at their respective organizations.

Crimea

Read A Section: Crimea

Ukraine

Executive Summary

In February 2014, armed forces of the Russian Federation seized and occupied Crimea.  In March 2014, Russia claimed that Crimea had become part of the Russian Federation.  The UN General Assembly’s Resolution 68/262 of March 27, 2014, entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” and Resolution 75/192 of December 28, 2020, entitled “Situation of Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol (Ukraine),” declared continued international recognition of Crimea as part of Ukraine.  The U.S. government recognizes Crimea is part of Ukraine; it does not and will not recognize the purported annexation of Crimea.  Russian occupation “authorities” continue to impose the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory of Crimea.

On September 10, the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, stating that the “Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, many religious communities were essentially driven out of the peninsula through registration requirements under newly imposed Russian laws.  Only the UOC-MP continued to be exempt from these registration requirements.  According to the Religion Information Service of Ukraine (RISU), the number of denominations decreased from 43 in 2014 to 20 in 2021.  Various sources reported that Russian “authorities” in occupied Crimea continued to persecute and intimidate minority religious congregations, including Muslim Crimean Tatars, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and OCU members and clergy.  At year’s end, two Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences for their faith.  According to the NGO Crimea SOS, as of July, 74 (compared with 69 through October 2020) Crimean residents remained in prison in connection with their alleged involvement with the Muslim religious political organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Russia but legal in Ukraine.  Russian occupation “authorities” continued to subject Muslim Crimean Tatars to imprisonment and detention in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation by prosecuting them for purported involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  According to the international religious freedom NGO Forum 18, Russia continued to prosecute individuals for some types of worship, including imams leading prayers in their own mosques, as “illegal missionary activity.”  UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities “and that they must register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name.  Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.  The OCU reported continued seizures of its churches.  According to the OCU, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to pressure the OCU Crimean diocese to force it to leave Crimea.  On August 23, a judge fined Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted “unlawful missionary activities.”  Religious and human rights groups continued to report Russian media efforts to create suspicion and fear among certain religious groups, especially targeting Crimean Tatar Muslims, whom media repeatedly accused of having links to Islamist groups designated by Russia as terrorist groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Russian media portrayed Jehovah’s Witnesses as “extremists.”  In January, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  The court accepted Ukraine’s allegation of the harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids on places of worship, and confiscation of religious property.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses said that non-Jehovah’s Witnesses who observed Jehovah’s Witnesses being treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith had increased sympathy for the organization.

The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea and called international attention to religious rights abuses committed by Russian forces through public statements by the Secretary of State and other senior officials.  In a September 5 press statement, the State Department spokesperson stated, “The United States strongly condemns the September 4 detention of the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal and at least 45 other Crimean Tatars by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea.  We call on the Russian occupation “authorities” to release them immediately.  This is the latest in a long line of politically-motivated raids, detentions, and punitive measures against the Mejlis and its leadership, which has been targeted for repression for its opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.”  U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula following its occupation by the Russian Federation.  Embassy officials, however, as well as other State Department officials and the Secretary of Energy, participated in the August 23 Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials to discuss the annexing of Crimea, in which human rights was one of five key topics.  The Secretary of Energy, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and a senior official from the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor gave remarks at the summit, whose joint declaration condemned the “continued violations and abuses and systematic undue restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms that residents of Crimea face,” including the right to religion or belief.  Embassy officials continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns about actions taken against their congregations by the occupation “authorities” and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

There are several Jewish congregations, mostly in Sevastopol and Simferopol.  Jewish groups estimate between 10,000 and 15,000 Jewish residents lived in Crimea before the 2014 Russian occupation.  No updates have been available since the occupation began.  The 2001 census, the most recent, records 671 Karaites.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Pursuant to international recognition of the continued inclusion of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea within Ukraine’s international borders, Crimea continues to be officially subject to the constitution and laws of Ukraine.  In the aftermath of Russia’s occupation, however, Russian occupation “authorities” continue their implementation of the laws of the Russian Federation in the territory.  The Muslim religious-political group Hizb ut-Tahrir is considered a terrorist organization under Russian Federation law but not under Ukrainian law.  According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation “authorities” continue to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses in Crimea under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

According to occupation “authorities,” fines for individuals conducting illegal missionary activity range from 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670); the fine for legal entities is 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300-$13,300).

Government Practices

According to the Kyiv-based Ukrainian human rights organization Crimean Human Rights Group (CHRG), the Russian government unlawfully incarcerated or imprisoned 117 individuals pursuant to politically or religiously motivated persecution in Crimea during the year, compared with 111 in 2020.

Human rights groups said occupation “authorities” continued to impede the rights of Crimean Tatars following the 2016 designation of the Mejlis, recognized under Ukrainian law as the democratically elected representative council of Crimean Tatars, as an extremist organization.  Rights groups reported detentions and forced psychiatric examinations of Crimean Tatar Muslim prisoners continued throughout the year.

According to CHRG, as of December, 79 Crimean residents remained in prison for alleged involvement in Muslim religious organizations that are declared terrorist or extremist in Russia, although they are legal in Ukraine.  In most cases, these were individuals accused of belonging to the “illegal” organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, but detainees also included individuals accused of belonging to Tablighi Jamaat and Takfir wal-Hijra.  Observers believed these individuals were largely prosecuted in retaliation for their opposition to Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  Occupation “authorities” placed three additional Crimean residents under supervision and banned them from leaving the occupied territory, and two more remained under house arrest.  As of November, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported Russian occupation authorities had detained 80 Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainian Muslims for supposed involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, which the human right group described as a peaceful transnational Muslim party.

On August 16, the Southern District Military Court in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced Crimean Muslims Ruslan Mesutov and Lenur Halilov to 18 years each in prison, Ruslan Nagayev to 13 years, and Eldar Kantimirov to 12 years in prison for their membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  “Authorities” arrested the four men in 2019 in Crimea after searching their homes.

According to the CHRG, on December 1, Russia’s Southern Area Military Court (YuOVS) in Rostov-on-Don extended to March 2022 the detention of Crimean Tatars Tofik Abdulgaziyev, Vladlen Abdulkadyrov, Izzet Abdullayev, Medzhit Abdurakhmanov, Imam Bilial Adilov, Servet Gaziyev, Dzhemil Gafarov, Alim Karimov, Seyran Murtaz, Erfan Osmanov, Erver Ametov, Osman Arifmemetov, Yashar Muedinov, Ruslan Suleymanov, and Rustem Sheikhaliyev.

In December, the Military Court of Appeal in Vlasikha, Russia upheld the decision of a lower court to hold in custody Crimean Tatars Ernest Ibragimov and Oleg Fedorov until February 2022.

On December 23 the same court upheld a lower court decision to hold in custody Crimean Tatars Raim Ayvazov, Farkhod Bazarov, Remzi Bekirov, Rizu Izetov, Shaban Umerov until February 16, 2022.

On December 23, YuOVS extended the detention period for Crimean Tatar Ismet Ibragimov until April 24, 2022.

According to press reports, on November 25, the Southern District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don extended until March 15, 2022 the detention of NGO Krymska Solidarnist (Crimean Solidarity) activist Remzi Bekirov.  Crimean Solidarity is a human rights organization that opposes Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  The court also extended until March 15 the detention period of Tatars Rustem Seitkhalilov, Seitveli Seitabdiyev, Asan Yanikov, and Ruslan Suleimanov.

According to Crimean Solidarity, during mass searches of Crimean Tatar homes on August 17, the FSB detained Rustem Murasov, Rustem Tairov, Dzhebbar Bekirov, Zavur Abdullayev, and Raif Fevziyev for their suspected membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Fevziyev was the imam of a mosque in Strohonivka village near Simferopol.  According to the Parliamentary Human Rights Ombudsperson, occupation “authorities” kept the imam in a damp and overcrowded prison cell containing six beds for eight inmates.  One of Fevziyev’s cellmates reportedly suffered from a mental health disorder and posed a threat to the lives of other prisoners.  According to the Radio Free Europe-associated news website Krym.Realii, in November, occupation “authorities” subjected the imam to forced psychiatric examination, keeping him in a hospital ward with four convicted murderers.  During his detention, Fevziyev reportedly began to feel abdominal pain and could only ease it using medicine provided by his family.  In December, Simferopol’s Kyivsky District Court extended his detention until April 11, 2022.

Krym.Realii reported that on December 21, the Leninsky District Court of Simferopol extended the detention of Murasov and Abdullayev until February 10, 2022.  Krym.Realii quoted Murasov’s lawyer as saying that occupation “authorities” kept Murasov in a cell infested with rats, mice, and mold.  In October, the court extended the detention of Rustem Tairov until January 11, 2022.  The news outlet said that for two weeks Tairov suffered tooth pain, but the administration of his pretrial detention center ignored his request for medical assistance.

On July 30, Ukraine’s Consul General in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, described to the Crimea SOS-affiliated QirimInfo news website what he said were the worsening conditions of elderly Tatar prisoners Servet Gaziyev and Dzhemil Gafarov.  The Consul General said Russian “authorities” did not provide adequate medical assistance to Gaziyev, who suffered a ministroke on June 28, until September 2.  On October 29, Crimean Solidarity quoted lawyer Aider Azamatov as saying that during the year, an ambulance had to be called six times to provide urgent medical aid to Servet Gaziyev during his trial, and the judge insisted that Gaziyev speak Russian rather than Crimean Tatar.  According to lawyer Lilya Gemedzhi, prior to his discharge from the hospital on September 25, unspecified individuals threw Gaziyev to the floor, beat him, and shaved his beard.

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Russian occupation “authorities” continued to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses’ activities in Crimea, ostensibly under a 2017 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation outlawing the group.  The OHCHR reported that all 22 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses registered in Crimea had lost the right to operate since 2017.  As a result, practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses risked retaliation by law enforcement and were subject to detention, house arrest, or travel restrictions.  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, four Ukrainian Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving sentences of six years or more, with at least 12 others facing such sentences.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that on February 10, “authorities” searched the homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses Andriy Rogutsky and Lyudmila Shevchenko, removing Bibles, notebooks, and electronic devices.  According to the website jw-russia.org, the items seized at Lyudmyla Shevchenko’s home included a book, “The Sacred Nativity Scene,” that did not belong to her and was not published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She said security officials had planted and then “found” the book.  During the search, Andriy Rogutskiy’s wife became ill and required an ambulance.  Reportedly, “authorities” did not detain or charge the women.

In March, according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, “authorities” carried out 11 armed searches and detained four Jehovah’s Witnesses.  “Authorities” charged Taras Kuzio, who was previously charged in 2019, with “financing an extremist organization” and ordered him to remain under house arrest.  They also ordered him to have no contact with others involved in the case and prohibited him from using the internet and sending or receiving mail.  According to the CHRG, on July 29, “authorities” detained Jehovah’s Witness Petro Zhiltsov, whom they previously interrogated as a witness against Kuzio, and charged him with “organization of the activities of an extremist organization” and “financing of extremist activities.”  The charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years.  On July 30, “authorities” placed him under house arrest until his trial.  On July 29, “authorities” opened a case against Daria Kuzio, the wife of Taras Kuzio, for “organizing of the activities of an extremist organization” and issued a travel restriction.  On July 30, “authorities” combined the criminal cases against the Kuzios and Zhiltsov into one case.  On August 10,” authorities” detained Sergei Lyulin, connected to Taras Kuzio, and transported him to Simferopol, a 16-hour journey, taping him to the seat of the luggage compartment of a minibus with his arms handcuffed to the ceiling.  The court in Simferopol ordered his detention until September 4.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, on August 2, FSB investigators filed charges against Oleksandr Lytvyniuk and Oleksandr Dubovenko for “organizing the activities of an extremist organization.”  The charges, which carry a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, stemmed from a Zoom conference that “authorities” said was to “attract new members of a banned organization.”  On August 5, “authorities” searched at least eight Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes for more than nine hours.  According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the FSB officers reportedly tried to force their way into one home by turning off the plumbing.  Authorities removed individuals’ computers, personal notes that mentioned the Bible, and documents confirming ownership of their residences.  They later held Lytvyniuk overnight, placing him under house arrest on August 6.  “Authorities” placed Dubovenko, who was not at home during the searches, under house arrest on August 9.

According to Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witnesses Sergei Filatov and Artyom Gerasimov remained in prison in the town of Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in Rostov Oblast, Russia – each serving six-year sentences since 2020 – and “authorities” did not allow them to receive letters from their families.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on May 24, Jehovah’s Witness Artem Shabliy’s trial for “drawing others into the activities of an extremist organization” began.  The group stated that in May 2020, armed FSB, Russian National Guard, and masked riot police raided four homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kerch, arresting Shabliy.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on October 22, a court in Sevastopol sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Ihor Schmidt to six years in prison for “organizing extremist activities.”  Three other men, Yevhen Zhukov, Volodymyr Maladyka, and Volodymyr Sakada, arrested with Schmidt in 2020 and also charged with “organizing extremist activities,” remained imprisoned at year’s end.

According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, on March 23, a court sentenced Jehovah’s Witness Viktor Stashevsky to six and half years’ imprisonment for “organizing extremist activities” and placed a seven-year restriction on his right to carry out public activities.  Addressing the court before sentencing, Stashevsky said all charges against him would be dismissed if he were to stop being a Jehovah’s Witness, saying, “I do not plan to renounce my faith in God.  I have been and remain a Jehovah’s Witness.”  A judge dismissed his appeal in August.

In a review of the eighth periodic report on Ukraine, released in October, OHCHR cited the significantly limited freedom of religion in territories controlled by armed groups, noting that religious communities there faced selective restrictions.  Valeriia Kolomiiets, the country’s Deputy Minister of Justice for European Integration, reported to OHCHR that the Russian Federation continued to violate human rights in the temporarily occupied territories.  Specifically noting the systematic persecution of the OCU, she reported that persecution on national and religious grounds was carried out systematically.  According to the report, there continued to be a pattern of criminalization of affiliation with or sympathy toward Muslim groups banned in the Russian Federation that continued to disproportionately affect Crimean Tatars.  According to the report, these cases raised concerns about the right to a fair trial, because detainees’ hearings often banned cameras, media, and family members from the courtroom.  OHCHR reported that Russian courts in Crimea cited the “need to ensure the safety of the participants in the proceedings,” but defendants’ lawyers and family members said Russian occupation “authorities” excluded the public from court hearings to limit public awareness of trials, restrict public scrutiny, and exert additional pressure on the defendants.

According to Forum 18, Russian “authorities” continued to prosecute and fine individuals in Crimea for conducting missionary activity.  Of the nine known prosecutions brought so far during the year, three were against imams and four against members of Sevastopol’s House of the Potter Protestant Church.  The NGO stated that by law, “Russians conducting missionary activity” could incur a fine of 5,000 to 50,000 rubles ($67-$670), with the fine for organizations (legal entities) being from 100,000 to one million rubles ($1,300-$13,300).  “Foreigners conducting missionary activity” could incur a fine of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($400-$670), with the possibility of expulsion from Russia.

On February 11, a judge fined Imam Murtaza Ablyazov the equivalent of approximately two weeks average local wages for conducting missionary activity by leading prayers in a mosque.  On January 25, a judge fined Aleksey Smirnov and Ivan Nemchinov after identifying them as Potter Protestant Church leaders based on a social media post by a Church member.

On August 23, a judge fined OCU Archimandrite Damian, the head of the St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki Men’s Monastery, for holding a church service on the private land on which the monastery stands, stating such worship constituted unlawful missionary activities.  This ruling followed an August 8 raid on the parish.  Archbishop Klyment, Head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in Crimea, called it “an appalling act of lawlessness.  A priest is accused merely of praying to God in his own home.”  According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Damian’s lawyer stated he planned to appeal, and said, “Russia is destroying yet another Ukrainian religious and cultural group and is continuing to purge Crimea of all that is Ukrainian.”

Renat Suleimanov, a member of Muslim group Tablighi Jamaat, remained under administrative supervision and on Russia’s Federal Financial Monitoring Service List of Terrorists and Extremists at year’s end.  Russia continued to ban the Tablighi Jamaat Muslim missionary movement in Crimea under a 2009 ruling by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, although the movement remained legal in Ukraine.  In January 2019, a Simferopol court sentenced Suleimanov to four years in prison on extremism-related charges for meeting openly in mosques with three friends to discuss their faith.  The state released him in December 2020 and ordered him to spend one year under administrative supervision.

On January 14, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision accepting for consideration Ukraine’s complaint alleging that Russia was responsible for multiple human rights violations in Crimea between February 27, 2014, and August 26, 2015.  Among the claims accepted was Ukraine’s allegation that the local “authorities” harassed and intimidated religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raided places of worship, and confiscated religious property in violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

On February 16, parliament appealed to international organizations and foreign governments to condemn the occupation of Crimea and to call for the release of Ukrainian political prisoners.  It condemned the persecution and harassment of its citizens on ethnic, religious, political, and other grounds in the Russia-occupied area, emphasizing the unacceptability of restricting linguistic, religious, and other rights of minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular, Crimean Tatars.

On February 25, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy released a declaration that stated, “Residents of the peninsula face systematic restrictions of their fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression, religion or belief and association, and the right to peaceful assembly… The Crimean Tatars continue to be unacceptably persecuted, pressured, and [to] have their rights gravely violated.  Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians, and all ethnic and religious communities in the peninsula must be ensured the possibility to maintain and develop their culture, education, identity, and cultural heritage traditions, which are currently threatened by the illegal annexation… The ban on the activities of the Mejlis, a self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars, must be reversed.”

On November 24, the Religious Information Service of Ukraine reported that the First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Emine Dzhaparova, told the audience attending the Forum of the International Alliance on Freedom of Religion in Brazil that Russia continued to create artificial obstacles to the activities of any religious community that did not belong to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.  She said Crimean Tatars had become the most persecuted religious community in occupied Crimea, with more than 120 imprisoned on trumped-up criminal cases.  “In the occupied territories of Ukraine, Russia restricts missionary activities under the pretext of fighting so-called extremism.  The Russian Federation is trying to stop the activities of all pro-Ukrainian organizations in occupied Crimea – in particular, religious communities of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Crimean Tatar Muslims.”  Dzhaparova said that of the 49 religious communities that operated in Crimea at the beginning of 2014, only five were still operating.

According to Russia’s Ministry of Justice, as of the end of 2020 (the most recent information available), 907 religious organizations were registered in Crimea, compared with 891 in 2019.  The number of religious organizations had dropped by more than 1,000 since the occupation began in 2014, the last year for which Ukrainian government figures were available.  Registered religious organizations included the two largest – the Christian Orthodox UOC-MP and the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea – as well as various Protestant, Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Greek Catholic communities, among other religious groups.

On January 7, Metropolitan Epiphaniy told the Espreso.tv news agency that Russia wanted to eliminate the OCU’s presence in Crimea.  In May, RISU reported Metropolitan Klyment of Simferopol and Crimea of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine said that at the beginning of the occupation, 49 Ukrainian Orthodox religious organizations were operating in Crimea, but only six remained.  In August, RISU reported that Iryna Verihina, a representative of the Commissioner for the Observance of the Rights of Residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, said that because of Russian repression, only five of 49 OCU religious organizations remained in Crimea, and only four of 22 clergymen.

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

The RCC continued to operate in the territory as a pastoral district directly under the authority of the Vatican.  “Authorities” permitted some Polish and Ukrainian RCC priests to stay in the territory for only 90 days at a time and required them to leave Crimea for 90 days before returning.

UGCC leaders said they continued to have difficulty staffing their parishes because of the policies of occupation “authorities”.  They said “authorities” continued to require them to register their congregations in Crimea as parishes of the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite, removing all reference to Ukraine in their name, and to operate as a part of the pastoral district of the RCC.

According to the pro-Ukraine Voice of Crimea news website, on August 8, representatives of the Center for Combating Extremism, led by police major Vladimir Gorevanov, stormed into a church at the OCU Monastery of St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki in Balky Village, Bilohirsk District.  The representatives forced the monastery’s abbot to halt the morning religious service and ordered all its participants to exit to the backyard so “authorities” could document the monastery’s “illegal missionary activity.”  On August 23, the Bilohirsk District Court ordered the abbot, Archimandrite Damian, to pay a fine of 15,000 rubles ($200).

On September 10, the Executive Board of UNESCO published its Follow-up of the Situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (Ukraine), pursuant to the decisions and resolutions by the UNESCO Executive Board and the general conferences.  According to the document:  “Over seven years of occupation… systemic political persecution, physical and psychological pressure, annihilation of the independent media, discrimination on the basis of religion, [and] violation of ownership and language rights forced more than 45,000 Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians to leave the occupied peninsula.  The Russian Federation continues to prosecute ethnic and religious communities that refuse to recognize the illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol and seek to preserve their native language, religious, and cultural identity.  The Russian occupation of Crimea has changed the perception of Ukraine’s historical and cultural heritage, both by the state and society.  Russia has appropriated Ukrainian cultural property on the peninsula, including 4,095 national and local monuments under state protection.  Appropriation of monuments is in itself a violation of international law.  However, it is equally important that Russia uses such appropriation to implement its comprehensive long-term strategy to strengthen its historical, cultural, and religious dominance over the past, present and future of Crimea.”

The OCU continued to call on the Ukrainian parliament to finalize the approval of a 2020 decision by the Cabinet of Ministers to transfer the Saints Volodymyr and Olha Cathedral, the only OCU church building in Simferopol and the location of the OCU diocesan administration, from the ownership of the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to central government ownership.  OCU sources believed this transfer would enable Ukraine to take Russia to international courts over its refusal to allow OCU members to use the premises.  According to RISU, on June 28, the Russian-controlled Arbitration Court of Crimea ordered the transfer of the cathedral premises to the use of the Russian Ministry of Property of Crimea.  Klyment said he would appeal this decision.

Crimean Tatars reported police continued to be slow to investigate attacks on Islamic religious properties or refused to investigate them at all.

On April 20, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea and Sevastopol expressed outrage over the desecration of an old Islamic cemetery in Kamyanske village, Leninsky District.  Construction equipment scattered human remains while digging a trench though the burial area as part of a pipeline project.  Occupation “authorities” had reportedly not taken the cemetery into account when planning the construction.  After complaints from local residents, authorities suspended the work to allow the Muslim community to rebury the remains.

According to Freedom House, the Russian FSB continued to encourage residents to inform on individuals who expressed opposition to the purported annexation, including expressing support for Crimean Tatars, condemning the designation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hizb ut-Tahrir as extremist groups, or opposing the oppression of the OCU.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, a radio survey in Crimea found 67 percent of those surveyed did not approve of Russia’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that respondents, seeing “ordinary citizens” treated like criminals and accused of terrorism for their faith, had increased sympathy for the organization.

On November 2, the Unian.net news website reported “authorities” in Crimea placed under house arrest a suspect who had allegedly painted offensive graffiti on a wall of a Christian church in Leninsky District.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. government condemned the continued intimidation of Christian and Muslim religious groups by Russian occupation “authorities” in Crimea and called international attention to religious abuses committed by “authorities.”  On February 26, on the seventh anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, the President released a statement saying, “The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia’s aggressive acts.”

Also on February 26, the Secretary of State released a statement saying, “Russian occupation authorities have sustained a brutal campaign of repression against Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians, and members of other minority ethnic and religious groups in Crimea.  Russian occupation authorities have raided mosques and homes… Russia’s repression has left Crimean residents in a constant state of fear, unable to live their lives freely.”

In a September 5 press statement, the State Department spokesperson stated, “The United States strongly condemns the September 4 detention of the Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Nariman Dzhelyal and at least 45 other Crimean Tatars by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea.  We call on the Russian occupation authorities to release them immediately.  This is the latest in a long line of politically-motivated raids, detentions, and punitive measures against the Mejlis and its leadership, which has been targeted for repression for its opposition to Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea.”

U.S. government officials remained unable to visit the peninsula due to its occupation by the Russian Federation.  U.S. government and embassy officials, however, participated in the August 23 Crimea Platform Summit, an international gathering of senior officials convened to discuss the situation in Crimea, in which human rights was one of five key topics.  The Secretary of Energy, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, and a senior official of the Bureau of Democracy, Rights, and Labor gave remarks at the summit.  In a joint declaration, Crimean Platform Summit participants condemned the “continued violations and abuses and systematic undue restrictions of human rights and fundamental freedoms that residents of Crimea face,” including the right to religion or belief.  Participants also pledged in the joint statement “to urge the Russian Federation to ensure that all persons belonging to ethnic and religious communities in the peninsula, including ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, are fully able to enjoy their human rights and given the possibility to maintain and develop their culture, education, identity, and cultural heritage traditions, which are currently severely threatened by the temporary occupation.”

Embassy officials also continued to meet with Crimean Muslim, Orthodox, and Protestant leaders to discuss their concerns about actions taken against their congregations by the occupation “authorities” and to demonstrate continued U.S. support for their right to practice freely their religious beliefs.

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Ukraine

Croatia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  All religious communities have the same religious protections under the law.  The government has written agreements with the Roman Catholic Church that provide state financial support and specific tax and other benefits; 19 other registered religious communities have agreements with the state offering benefits not available to registered religious communities without such agreements or to unregistered religious groups.  Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC) representatives again said that although some property had been returned, the restitution of property seized by the Yugoslavia government remained an outstanding issue.  This was echoed by representatives of the Catholic Church.  In April, media reported that an Afghan woman stated a border police officer forced her to strip naked while using religiously charged language during a search of a group of migrants on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in mid-February.  The European Commission urged the government to thoroughly investigate the alleged incident and the Ministry of Interior said it would do so.  In February, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman attended a ceremony to reinstall a damaged Stolperstein (stumbling block) memorial for Holocaust victim Chief Rabbi Miroslav Salom Freiberger.  According to the 2020 annual report released in March by the Office of Ombudsperson for Children, the largest number of complaints of discrimination with regard to education were related to religion and/or belief.  On April 22, senior government officials, a representative from the Alliance of Anti-Fascists, and leaders of the Serbian, Roma, and Jewish communities commemorated victims of the World War II concentration camp at Jasenovac.

SOC representatives said that following the enthronement of the new head of the Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan Joanikije II, at the historic monastery in Cetinje, Montenegro on September 5, several media outlets published negative news articles against the SOC.  One article appeared under the headline, “Zagreb Likes [head of the SOC] Metropolitan Porfirije; however, this does not mean that the SOC is not evil.”  Members of Jewish groups reported hate speech, especially on the internet, and graffiti and other vandalism with offensive slogans.  Representatives of the Jewish community expressed concerns regarding the use of Ustasha (pro-Nazi World War II-era government) symbols in society.

U.S. embassy officials discussed the status and treatment of religious minorities, antisemitism, and Holocaust revisionism with cabinet ministers and other senior government officials.  During the year, embassy officials attended major events that emphasized the importance of Holocaust remembrance and interreligious dialogue.  Embassy officials continued to encourage the government to amend legislation covering Holocaust and post Holocaust-era property restitution to allow for restitution and compensation claims with a revised deadline for new applications.  Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives from a broad spectrum of religious groups.  The embassy continued a speaker series under a diversity and inclusion initiative in which embassy staff engaged representatives from different religious and secular groups to promote tolerance and discuss challenges and cooperation among religious communities.  In September, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff visited the memorial at the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp to pay respects and learn about its history.  Also in September, the embassy and several partner organizations promoted Holocaust remembrance through a youth performance of the opera Brundibar for hundreds of Croatian students at the Jasenovac site.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 4.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent available), 86.3 percent of the population is Catholic, 4.4 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 1.5 percent Muslim.  Nearly 4 percent identify as nonreligious or atheist.  Other religious groups include Jews, Protestants, and other Christians.  According to the World Jewish Congress, there are approximately 1,700 Jews.

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion, as well as freedom of conscience and religious expression.  It prohibits incitement of religious hatred.  According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to conduct religious services publicly as well as open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and with the assistance of the state.  The Penal Code defines a hate crime as a criminal offense committed on the grounds of race, skin color, religion, national or ethnic origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  The Penal Code criminalizes public incitement to violence and hate and provides sanctions for such crimes.  Hate crimes are also considered an aggravating circumstance unless a provision already provides for more severe sanctions.

Hate speech is also punishable as a misdemeanour under laws on Public Order and Peace, Act on Public Assembly, Law on Prevention of Violence at Sport Games, and the Anti-Discrimination Act. 

 

Legislation covering electronic media (amended in 2021) stipulates that in audio and/or audiovisual media services it is forbidden to incite, encourage incitement, and spread hatred or discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin or skin color, gender, language, religion, political or other belief, national or social background, property, union membership, education, social status, marital or family status, age, health, disability, genetic heritage, gender identity and expression or sexual orientation, as well as antisemitism and xenophobia, fascism, nationalism, communism, and support for other totalitarian regimes.  The legislation stipulates that audiovisual and radio programs and contents in electronic publications must publish accurate information and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Roman Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established by four concordats between the government and the Holy See.  One of these agreements provides state financial support for some religious officials.  Another agreement stipulates state funding for religious education in public schools.

The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits.  Registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations.  According to the law, a religious community previously active as a legal entity before enactment of the current law in 2002 (amended in 2013) need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information on the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register.  To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status as a religious community must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association, with at least three members, for at least five years.  To register as a religious community, a group must submit a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.  Nonregistered religious groups may operate freely but do not receive tax benefits.  They may conduct financial transactions as legal entities.  A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.

There are 55 registered religious communities, including the Roman Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Catholic Old Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia.  In addition to the Roman Catholic Church, 19 of the registered religious communities have formal agreements with the state that more clearly define activities and cooperation, such as in the areas of marriage and religious education in public schools.  These groups may access state funds for religious activities.

The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration.  Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by nonregistered religious groups, require civil registration.

Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in public schools.  Nonregistered religious groups have no access to state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, and building costs.  Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and nonregistered religious groups may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature.  Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.

Public schools at both the primary and secondary levels must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds.  The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used.  Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith.  Eligible religious communities provide the instructors, and the state pays their salaries.  Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance and follow a national curriculum.  Registered religious communities may have their own schools.  Unregistered religious groups may not have their own schools.

Education regarding the Holocaust is mandatory in the final year of elementary school (eighth grade) and during the final year of high school.

The law allows foreign citizens whose property was confiscated during and after the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution if the applicant’s country has a bilateral restitution treaty with the state; however, no such bilateral treaties currently exist.  Two court cases have held that such treaties are not required; however, the law has not changed.  The law does not allow new property claims because the deadline expired in 2003.

The ombudsperson is a commissioner appointed by parliament responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom.  The ombudsperson examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies, local and regional self-governments, and legal persons vested with public authority.  The ombudsperson may issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices but does not have authority to enforce compliance with his or her recommendations.

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

Government Practices

International media reported in April that an Afghan woman stated that a border police officer on February 15 held her at knifepoint and forced her to strip during a search of a group of migrants on the border with BiH.  The Guardian newspaper later reported the woman told police officers she was a Muslim and said it was haram (forbidden) to strip and he slapped her over the head and responded, “If you are Muslim, why did you come to Croatia – why didn’t you stay in Bosnia with Muslims?”  The European Commission described the incident in the report as a “serious alleged criminal action” and urged the Croatian authorities “to thoroughly investigate all allegations and follow up with relevant actions.”  According to the Danish Refugee Council, the incident occurred on the night of February 15, a few kilometers from the city of Velika Kladusa in BiH.  The Ministry of Interior said the police would investigate the allegations but that based on preliminary checks, there were no recorded dealings with “females from the population of illegal migrants” on the day in question.  It stated, “The persistent portrayal of the Croatian police as a brutal and inhumane group prone to robberies and abuse of illegal migrants has now become commonplace, without a single piece of evidence.”

The government’s measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 applied to all religious groups and representatives of religious groups stated that they did not perceive them as having a discriminatory effect.  Leaders from several religious groups cooperated with the government in respecting COVID-19 related guidelines related to their religious practices, which included modifications as circumstances changed.

Representatives of different minority groups advocated the criminalization of the Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland, Ready).  On August 26, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told reporters that the use of salute already was not allowed and no one could question that, but that potential amendments of the Penal Code would be discussed.  Scholars and judges were reported to be divided on the question of whether the use of the salute is a criminal act, misdemeanor, or permissible for the use of commemorative purposes under existing law.

On September 20, Croatian state television (HRT) aired a 12-part documentary entitled “NDH” that featured approximately 30 members of the academic community and historians who discussed the period when Croatia was controlled by the Ustasha.  Media reported that the creator, historian Hrvoje Klasic, said the documentary should have been aired much sooner; HRT rejected claims that it deliberately delayed the broadcast.  Both Klasic and HRT said publicly that this project was long-awaited.

SOC representatives said their community still had outstanding restitution issues with the government, mainly properties and residential buildings the government appropriated during the Yugoslav period.  The government reported that since 1999, the state had resolved 344 property claims related to the Orthodox Church that included the right to compensation in bonds.  The Church stated several outstanding claims remained, especially in the southern and eastern part of the country.  Catholic Church representatives also said there remained a significant number of outstanding claims for Catholic properties appropriated during the Yugoslav period.

According to the 2020 annual report released in March by the Office of Ombudsperson for Children, the largest number of complaints of discrimination with regard to education were related to religion and/or belief.  Parents complained about difficulties for children who did not attend elective religious education classes; complaints involved the timing for such classes and the lack of appropriate facilities to meet during prescribed times.  The report cited these issues as especially problematic in the lower grades of primary school because children whose parents did not want them enrolled in religious education classes would sit in the hallway, walk around the school or, in the absence of a suitable solution, be required to remain in the religious education class.  The report stated that due to the inadequate organization of activities for opt-out students during this “free” hour, some parents would enroll their children in religious education for their protection and safety, even though they did not wish to do so.  In 2020, parents reported that teachers required children who did not attend religious education at school to stay with other students in religious classes due to COVID-related epidemiological measures.

The Office of the Ombudsperson for Children reiterated to the Ministry of Science and Education its recommendations that elective religious instruction should take place at the beginning or end of the daily schedule, and in the case such scheduling was not possible, that schools provide an alternative plan.  The introduction of such an alternative plan was supported by the National Strategy for the Rights of the Child for the period 2014-2020, which emphasized the right to education, its acceptability and that “quality education that should be without discrimination, relevant and culturally appropriate for all students,” and that students “should not be expected to adapt to any religion or ideology.”

Atheist, Jewish, and Serbian Orthodox organizations continued to state that although the law allowed students to opt out of religious education, in practice, most public primary schools did not offer any alternatives to Catholic catechism.

Atheist groups continued to complain that Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals.  They said they believed this practice was inconsistent with the constitution, which states religious communities shall be separate from the state.

During the year, the government did not take action to adopt amendments to legislation providing for restitution of private property from the Holocaust and post-Holocaust-eras for foreign claimants or reopen the deadline for potential new claims.

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 325.9 million kuna ($50.53 million) during the year to the Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 293.1 million kuna ($45.44 million) in 2020.  The government provided funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools and the operation of private religious schools.  The government budgeted 23.9 million kuna ($3.71 million) to these groups, compared with 22.7 million kuna ($3.52 million) in 2020.  Atheist groups again criticized the government for allocating more to the Catholic Church than to other groups; although the funding was generally proportional to the Catholic share of the population, analysts stated the criticism reflected the atheist groups’ concern about what they perceive as the outsized role of the Church in society.

Some minority religious and secular groups, including atheists, continued to say the Catholic Church enjoyed a special status in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government, which provided the Church with significant financial support, and in part because of its far-reaching cultural, educational, and political influence as the majority religion.

According to the ombudsperson’s annual report released in February, apart from the specific challenges related to the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was marked by a smaller number of complaints of religious discrimination.  The office reported on the positive impact of the amendment to the law governing holidays and time off that entered into force in January 2020.  Specifically, the law stipulates that Muslims who celebrated Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and Jews who celebrated Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah had the right not to work one day of their choice for each of these holidays with full salary compensation, while Orthodox Christians who celebrated Easter according to the Julian calendar had the right not to work on Easter Monday, also with the right to full salary.  The office had received complaints in previous years about the unequal treatment of members of certain religious communities in the workplace when using days off during religious holidays but said there were no such complaints in 2020.

On January 27, President Zoran Milanovic, Speaker of Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Human Rights Boris Milosevic, and Minister of Culture and Media Nina Obuljen-Korzinek marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day by laying a wreath in the Jewish section of Zagreb’s Mirogoj Cemetery.  The government issued a statement on that day strongly opposing any form of discrimination, exclusiveness, or intolerance, and stressing the importance of Holocaust education.  Civil society organizations, including the Croatian Antifascist League and the Serb National Council (SNV), issued a statement on January 27 demanding that the law be changed to ban and criminally prosecute the use of Ustasha insignia, the denial of the existence of World War II concentration camps, and the glorification of pro-Nazi Ustasha war criminals.

On February 5, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Gordan Grlic-Radman attended a ceremony to reinstall a damaged memorial Stolperstein (“stumbling block” that denotes the last location of residency or work before Holocaust victims were apprehended) honoring Holocaust victim Chief Rabbi Miroslav Salom Freiberger, organized by the Centre for the Promotion of Tolerance and Holocaust Remembrance, in partnership with the Bet Israel community and the Spuren (Traces)-Gunter Demnig Foundation.  Grlic-Radman expressed regret that the monument was damaged and spoke on behalf of the government about the importance of preserving the collective memory, declaring that no crime should be minimized and each victim deserved to be remembered and respected.  He said that Croatia would chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2023.

On April 22, President Milanovic, Prime Minister Plenkovic, Speaker of Parliament Jandrokovic, several ministers, and representatives of victims’ groups (Jews, Roma, Serbs, and antifascists) commemorated the victims of the Jasenovac World War II concentration camp and condemned the World War II Nazi-affiliated Independent State of Croatia (NDH).  Prime Minister Plenkovic called the atrocities committed under the NDH “the most tragic period in Croatian history” and stated that patriotism could not be contrary to the tolerance of others.  President Milanovic told the press, “This was an Ustasha-run camp, and the Ustasha were Croats, and since I am a Croat, I cannot say that it does not concern me.”  For four years, from 2016 to 2019, representatives of the Jewish and Serbian communities, as well as antifascists, boycotted the official commemoration, stating that the government had not taken real measures to stop or even limit revisionist denials of the Holocaust.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

SOC representatives reported that following the inauguration of Metropolitan Joanikije II on September 5 in a historic monastery in Cetinje, Montenegro, several negative media articles about the Church appeared.  One article appeared under the headline, “Zagreb Likes Patriarch Porfirije; however, this does not mean that the SOC is not evil.”  Commenting on the situation on September 13, Porfirije said, “The Church is not a political organization and has no political goals.”  He added that he had always spoken “affirmative[ly] of Croatia, even though sometimes there were reasons not to do so.”  He expressed regret for the negative messaging but said he was not surprised by the “fallacy of arguments” coming from Montenegro to Croatia.  He stated, “Croatia, together with its leadership and majority of its citizens, has a democratic capacity that leaves everyone a space to live in individual ethnic freedom and to freely declare feelings, regardless to which God he or she is praying.”

In April, the association In the Name of the Family published a “Report on Intolerance and Attacks on the Catholic Church and Catholic Believers in Croatia” that detailed incidents occurring during 2020.  The report stated there was an increasing number of incidents against the Catholic Church and Church members.  They included expression of hatred and intolerance, false accusations by the media, and dissemination of fake news and claims based on prejudice about priests, religious brothers and sisters, bishops, and the faithful.  The report also noted that individuals disputed the obligation and the right of bishops, priests, and monks to publicly express the views of the Catholic Church on social issues, and they also criticized Catholic teaching.  The report described burglaries of churches and desecration of church buildings and property.  The organization said the aim of the report was to shed light on the difference between constructive criticism and the spread of intolerance and discrimination.

The report of the ombudsperson described generally positive relations with the Muslim community in 2020; there was, however, an incident in which insulting messages appeared at the Zagreb Mosque and the perpetrator(s) was/were not identified.  The Office of the Ombudsperson also investigated an incident related to the alleged dissatisfaction of local citizens with the planned construction of an Islamic Center in the city of Pula but found nothing significant and closed the case.

Following complaints by a minority Christian religious group, the Office of the Ombudsperson issued a recommendation to the HRT to include more content intended for minority religious communities when designing and planning media programs.

As in recent years, some members of Jewish groups expressed concern over the public use of the Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni, associated with the World War II-era Independent State of Croatia.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff regularly discussed religious freedom issues, including the status and treatment of religious minorities, antisemitism, and Holocaust revisionism, with representatives of the Ministries of Foreign and European Affairs, Justice and Public Administration, and Culture and Media, the ombudsperson, representatives of parliament, youth representing different religious groups, and other officials.

The Charge d’Affaires held meetings with the Ministers of Justice and Administration, Foreign and European Affairs, Culture and Media, and leaders of Jewish organizations, which covered a wide range of issues, including restitution of private and communal properties from the Holocaust and post Holocaust-era, restitution of art, and Holocaust education and remembrance.  U.S. officials continued to encourage the government to adopt amendments to legislation to provide for restitution of private property, including provisions that would unequivocally allow for foreign claims and reopen the deadline for potential new claims.  Embassy engagement also focused on the restitution of Jewish communal properties, including resorts, land, cultural centers, synagogues, and cemeteries.

During the year, embassy officials attended major events that emphasized the importance of Holocaust remembrance and interreligious dialogue.  On February 5, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials, along with city and national government officials, other foreign diplomats, and Jewish group members, attended the reinstalment of the memorial Stolperstein honoring Chief Rabbi Freiberger.  During the event, embassy officials discussed with participants the importance of the Holocaust remembrance activities.  The embassy’s diversity and inclusion program deepened engagement on religious freedom issues through a speaker series with members of different faith groups.

In September, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff visited the memorial at the World War II-era Jasenovac concentration camp to pay respects and learn about its history.  Also in September, the embassy partnered with the Jewish Film Festival of Zagreb, the Center for the Promotion of Tolerance and Holocaust Remembrance, and the Jasenovac Memorial Center to commemorate Holocaust remembrance through a youth performance of the opera Brundibar for hundreds of Croatian students at the Jasenovac site.  The event drew substantive media coverage, including from neighboring Serbian outlets.  In November, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy staff visited Zagreb’s mosque to show support for the Islamic community and promote dialogue and tolerance.

Embassy officials discussed religious freedom issues, including freedom of expression and efforts to counter discrimination, with NGOs such as Human Rights House, Documenta, and Protagora, academics and historians, as well as with representatives from Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, Baptist, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups.  The embassy provided grants to local NGOs and cultural institutions for the advancement of education on Holocaust issues, with the goal of creating a regional network of teachers to address the topic through conferences, commemorations, and cultural events.  For these programs, the embassy engaged leaders such as Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs and Human Rights Boris Milosevic, representatives from the Ministry of Science and Education, the ombudsperson’s office, and the President of the Coordination Committee of Jewish Communities, as well as other government and local officials.

In partnership with an NGO that promotes tolerance, the embassy funded a unique opera for children at a memorial site for Holocaust victims for an audience of Croatian school children.  The embassy used social media platforms to highlight a range of religious freedom issues, including support for Holocaust commemorations and a pluralistic view of faith and religion, particularly among youth in the country.

Cyprus

Read A Section: Republic Of Cyprus

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

The government of the Republic of Cyprus is the only internationally recognized government on the island, but since 1974 the northern third of Cyprus has been administered by Turkish Cypriots.  This area proclaimed itself the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) in 1983.  The United States does not recognize the “TRNC,” nor does any country other than Turkey.  A substantial number of Turkish troops remain on the island.  A “green line,” or buffer zone (which is over 110 miles long and several miles wide in places) patrolled by the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), separates the two sides.  This report is divided into two parts:  the Republic of Cyprus and the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  For areas in the north that have different Greek and Turkish names, both are listed (e.g., Kormakitis/Korucam).

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the freedom to worship, teach, and practice one’s religion.  It grants the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and recognizes the Vakf, an Islamic institution that manages sites of worship and property Muslims have donated, as a charitable endowment.  Reuters and other press outlets reported that on September 15, the government dropped a disciplinary investigation launched in 2020 against art teacher and headmaster Yiorgos Gavriel after complaints about his work from the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and other figures.  In a written complaint to the Ministry of Education, the Archbishop said that Gavriel’s depictions of Jesus were “obscene.”  Gavriel painted Jesus as a soccer fan; on a motorcycle; naked; and interned in a refugee camp.  Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to allow the community access for religious services at only six of the 19 mosques designated as cultural heritage sites, as well as to two other mosques not located on such sites.  Of the eight functioning mosques, seven were available for all five daily prayers and six had the necessary bathroom and ablution facilities. Representatives of the Jewish community continued to report authorities performed autopsies on deceased members of the community for deaths that were not suspicious, a practice they said violated Jewish religious beliefs and practice.  They stated that despite their continuing efforts to raise the issue with government authorities during the year, it remained unresolved.  Two of the functioning mosques under the guardianship of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) continued to lack bathroom and ablution facilities.  The Department of Antiquities continued to limit regular access to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque to only two of the five daily prayers, although it routinely granted expanded access during Ramadan and at the request of the imam.  The imam said the Department of Antiquities replaced the security guards after his complaint in 2020 that they allowed some non-Muslim tourists to enter the mosque without observing the dress code.  Authorities continued to deny permission to perform animal slaughter for food production according to Jewish law.  Authorities did not respond to a request pending since 2017 from the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus to have the right to officiate marriage, death, and divorce certificates.

In March, unknown persons sprayed anti-Turkish graffiti, Greek flags, and crosses on the exterior wall of the Episkopi Mosque in Limassol District.  The Orthodox Church of Cyprus called for the withdrawal of the country’s entry into the annual Eurovision contest, a song entitled “El Diablo,” charging the song made an international mockery of the country’s moral foundations by advocating “our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship.”  Some religious minority groups continued to report societal pressure to engage in public Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies, such as weddings and christenings.  Greek Orthodox Christians reported they sometimes faced ostracism from their community if they converted to another religion.  Leaders of the main religious groups continued to meet under the framework of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) and advocated for greater religious freedom for faith communities across the island. The RTCYPP, organized under the auspices of the Swedish embassy, is a peacebuilding initiative to encourage and facilitate religious leaders’ dialogue and efforts for religious freedom, human rights, and bicommunal reconciliation.

U.S. embassy representatives continued to meet with government officials to discuss various issues, including access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” dividing the country.  The Ambassador met with religious leaders to discuss religious freedom restrictions, access to religious sites, and interfaith cooperation.  Embassy staff met with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders to discuss topics including access to religious sites island-wide and discrimination against minority religious groups.  Embassy officials also visited places of religious significance on both sides of the “green line” and encouraged continued dialogue and cooperation among religious leaders.  Embassy staff interacted on several occasions with religious leaders in the country, focusing on religious freedom and encouraging interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population of the island at 1.3 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census, the most recent, the population of the government-controlled area is 840,000.  Of that total, 89.1 percent is Orthodox Christian and 2.9 percent is Roman Catholic, known locally as Latin.  Other religious groups include Protestants (2 percent), Muslims (1.8 percent), Buddhists (1 percent), Maronite Catholics (0.5 percent), and Armenian Orthodox (0.3 percent), with small populations of Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’is.  The country’s chief rabbi estimates the number of Jews at 4,500, most of whom are foreign-born residents.  A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative estimates the group has 2,600 members.  Recent immigrants and migrant workers are predominantly Roman Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and protects the right of individuals to profess their faith and to worship, teach, and practice or observe their religion, individually or collectively, in private or in public, subject to limitations due to considerations of national security or public health, safety, order, and morals or the protection of civil liberties.  The constitution specifies all religions whose doctrines or rites are not secret are free and equal before the law.  It protects the right to change one’s religion and prohibits the use of physical or moral compulsion to make a person change, or prevent a person from changing, his or her religion.

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

The constitution sets guidelines for the Islamic Vakf, which is tax exempt and has the exclusive right to regulate and administer its internal affairs and property in accordance with its laws and principles.  According to the constitution, no legislative, executive, or other act may contravene or interfere with the Church of Cyprus or the Vakf.  The Vakf, which acts as caretaker of religious properties in the Turkish Cypriot community, operates only in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.  The government administers and provides financial support for the physical maintenance of mosques in government-controlled areas.

In addition to the Church of Cyprus and Islam, the constitution recognizes three other religious groups:  Maronite Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, and Latins (Latin Rite Roman Catholics).  These groups’ institutions are tax exempt and eligible for government subsidies for cultural and educational matters, including to cover costs to operate their own schools, for school fees of group members attending private schools, and for activities to preserve their cultural identity.

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

The clergy of the Greek Orthodox, the Muslim, and the three Christian communities recognized by the constitution (Armenian, Maronite, and Latin) serve as automatically authorized marriage officers and may sign marriage certificates.  Members of the clergy of other faiths must apply to the MOI for authorization to perform marriages.  The list of authorized marriage officers is published in the Official Gazette.  Divorce requires a court decision.  A state doctor or pathologist, not a member of the clergy, signs any death certificates.

According to the law, the Armenian, Maronite, and Latin communities each have an elected representative to the parliament who has nonvoting observer status.  Members of these communities also may run for one of the 56 seats that have voting rights in the body.

The government has formal processes by which religious groups may apply to use restored religious heritage sites for religious purposes.

According to a public school regulation, students are not permitted to cover their heads in school.  The regulation explicitly states, however, that it should be implemented without discriminating against a student’s religion, race, color, gender, or any political or other convictions of the student or the parents.

The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.  Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($11,300), or both.

The law requires stunning animals before slaughter.  No religious exemptions are granted.

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

The Office of the Commissioner for Administration and Protection of Human Rights (ombudsman) is an independent state institution responsible for protecting citizens’ rights and human rights in general.  The ombudsman may investigate complaints made against any public service agency or official for actions that violate human rights, including freedom of religion, or contravene the laws or rules of proper administration.  The ombudsman makes recommendations to correct wrongdoings but is unable to enforce them.

Conscientious objectors on religious grounds are exempt from active military duty and from reservist service in the National Guard but must complete alternative service.  The two options available for conscientious objectors are unarmed military service, which is a maximum of four months longer than the normal 14-month service, or social service, which is a maximum of eight months longer than normal service but requires fewer hours of work per day.  The penalty for refusing military or alternative service is up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 6,000 euros ($6,800), or both.  Those who refuse both military and alternative service, even if objecting on religious grounds, are considered in violation of an offense involving dishonesty or moral turpitude, and are disqualified from holding elected public office, and ineligible for permits to provide private security services.

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

Government Practices

Reuters and other press outlets reported that on September 15, the government dropped a disciplinary investigation launched in 2020 against Nicosia public high school art teacher and headmaster Yiorgos Gavriel after complaints about his work from Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II and other religious and government figures.  In a written complaint to the Ministry of Education, the Archbishop said Gavriel’s depictions of Jesus were “offensive” and “obscene.”  Gavriel depicted Jesus in his paintings as a soccer fan; on a motorcycle; naked; and interned in a refugee camp.  The government announced it was ending the investigation after a public outcry and expressions of support for Gavriel from members of parliament.

Although requests for access to churches, mosques, and monasteries declined due to government-imposed COVID-19 mitigation measures, religious leaders on both sides of the island said this issue remained a top priority.  As of year’s end, the MOI had not responded to a letter from Imam Alemdar, the representative of the Mufti of Cyprus, regarding the Department of Antiquities’ August 2019 closure of the Limassol Great Mosque for restoration.  The Department of Antiquities took the action without previously informing the Muslim community of the nature of, or timeline for, the restoration.  The MOI reported in October that the Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the Department of Antiquities, was in the process of finalizing the designs for the restoration of the mosque and said it expected the restoration to be completed by 2024.

Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to allow the community access for religious services at only six of the 19 mosques located on cultural heritage sites as well as at two other mosques not located on such sites.  Of the eight functioning mosques, seven were available for all five daily prayers and six had the necessary facilities for ablutions.  The government again failed to respond to the Muslim community’s longstanding request for permission to make improvements at the functioning mosques, and there was no change from previous years in either the number of open mosques or the number of ablution and bathroom facilities available at those mosques.  The Bayraktar and Dhali Mosques had no ablution facilities and no bathrooms.

According to Alemdar, the functioning mosque in Paphos was too small for the size of the Muslim congregation, holding approximately 100 worshippers, compared with an estimated Muslim population of approximately 5,000 in the area.  He said the Department of Antiquities did not approve his request to allow the use of the recently restored Grand Mosque of Paphos.  In 2019, the MOI said installing facilities at Dhali Mosque was difficult due to limited space near the mosque but that it planned to identify a suitable location and develop new plans.

The MOI reported in December that the only available space for the construction of the facilities at Dhali Mosque was behind the uninhabited house intended for the mosque’s imam.  MOI inspectors reportedly found the house structurally unsafe and decided to not proceed with construction because use of the facilities would require passage through the house.  The MOI was preparing a study for the stabilization of the house at year’s end.

In 2020, the Department of Antiquities and Imam Alemdar agreed on plans for the installation of bathrooms and ablution facilities at the Bayraktar Mosque.  Alemdar reported the Department of Antiquities informed him the plans had been submitted in 2020 to the MOI to initiate the project.  Construction, however, had not begun by year’s end.

Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, the most historically important Islamic religious site in the country because of its ties to a companion of the Prophet Muhammed, continued to be the only one of the eight functioning mosques not regularly open for all five daily prayers.  The Department of Antiquities classified the mosque as an “ancient monument” and continued to keep it open only for standard museum hours, limiting access to the mosque to two of the five daily prayer times during most of the year.  The imam reported the mosque remained open 24 hours daily only during Ramadan.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only a few persons attended communal prayers.  Ramadan services were recorded and uploaded on YouTube.  According to the Department of Antiquities and the mosque’s imam, the imam still had to obtain permission from the MOI and Department of Antiquities to keep the mosque open after 5 p.m. in the autumn and winter months and after 7:30 p.m. in the spring and summer months.  According to local observers, the imam said the authorities routinely granted permission.

The imam of Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque reported to local observers that the Department of Antiquities replaced the security guards stationed at the complex following his complaint that guards sometimes did not require visitors to wear appropriate clothing when entering the mosque.  The new guards enforced the dress code.

In August, the Cyprus Mail reported a group of individuals gathered outside the Nicosia district court in support of Metropolitan of Morphou Neophytos, whom authorities had charged with “prompting people to attend an illegal gathering.”  The bishop was present to defend himself for violating coronavirus decrees and for holding a church service on Epiphany during the government-mandated lockdown.  His lawyer said Neophytos was not allowed into the courtroom, which the lawyer said was in defiance of articles of the constitution specifying the right to be present.  His hearing resumed on September 24. The court did not allow Neophytos to enter the courtroom because he refused to wear a mask, a requirement per government regulations, and he was therefore represented by his lawyer.  On October 4, Neophytos, arguing that his constitutional right to be present had been violated, appealed to the Supreme Court to declare the hearing null and void.  The appeal was pending before the Supreme Court at year’s end.

In previous years, the government waived visa requirements for the movement of non-Turkish Cypriot pilgrims crossing the “green line” into the south to visit the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque to conduct prayers and services on special occasions.  The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) facilitated these movements.   Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no such requests were submitted during the year.

Representatives of the Jewish community continued to report that authorities performed autopsies on deceased members of the community for deaths that were not suspicious, a practice they said violated Jewish religious beliefs and practice.  Representatives stated that despite continuing efforts to raise the issue with government authorities during the year, it remained unresolved.  According to the law, the state pathologist determines which deaths require autopsies.

Jewish representatives again reported that Department of Veterinary Services officials denied exemptions from the requirement to stun animals before slaughter following a 2019 department decision to no longer grant exemptions for religious slaughter.  The Jewish community reported it was able to import kosher meat from other European Union (EU) countries at a significantly higher cost than if it were locally available.

In April 2020, the Council of Ministers submitted to the House of Representatives a bill allowing kosher and halal slaughter of animals, i.e., without stunning.  The government withdrew the bill the same month following strong reactions by animal rights activists.  The leadership of the Jewish community reported sending letters on the issue to all members of the House of Representatives, the president of the Agriculture Committee, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce.  In December 2020, the EU Court of Justice ruled EU member states may impose a requirement to stun animals prior to slaughter and that such a requirement did not infringe on the rights of religious groups.

Jewish representatives again said the government continued not to respond to their longstanding request to grant the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus the right to sign official documents, including marriage, death, and divorce certificates, as an authorized party.

A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said that some local government authorities still did not allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to bury their adherents in some municipal cemeteries, which were often managed by local Greek Orthodox churches.  The MOI did not respond to a request submitted in 2019 for assistance with the municipalities.

Imam Alemdar said the Larnaca Turkish cemetery was completely full and new land for Islamic burials was required.  In February 2020, he sent a letter to the MOI requesting that a Vakf property near Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque be made available as a cemetery.  According to local observers, the representative of the mufti said an MOI official denied the request that same month, saying there was space for burials in the existing cemetery.

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

Pope Francis made an official visit December 2-4 and President Nicos Anastasiades hosted a reception in his honor that included senior government officials, civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps.  The President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Annita Demetriou, participated in an open-air Mass led by the Pope at a Nicosia sports stadium that was reportedly attended by 10,000 people.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity often overlap, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Media reported a group of Greek Orthodox people staged a protest outside the stadium holding Greek flags and banners saying, “The Pope is persona non grata,” “Pope out of Cyprus,” and “Cyprus is Orthodox.”  At a separate event, Pope Francis led a prayer at the Catholic Church of Holy Cross in Nicosia with dozens of migrants and asylum seekers in attendance.  The entire visit appeared live on national television.  Press coverage was widespread and predominantly positive.

Vandals spray painted Greek nationalist graffiti consisting of Greek flags, crosses, nationalist slogans, and threats on the Episkopi Mosque in Limassol on March 25, the 200th anniversary of the Greek uprising against the Ottoman Empire.  The building, originally a Byzantine church dating to the sixteenth century, later became a mosque during the Ottoman period.  The graffiti included letters and symbols meaning “Jesus Christ Conquers.”  On the same day, government spokesperson Kyriakos Koushos issued a written statement saying the Republic of Cyprus “strongly and unreservedly condemns the actions of some brainless people who under the pretext of so-called patriotism, insult religious sites and the meaning and ideals of patriotism.”  The Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus did not issue a public condemnation or comment.  “TRNC President” Ersin Tatar, the “MFA,” and the “Prime Minister’s” office separately released statements condemning the attack.  Tatar stated, “With only days to go prior to the 5+1 UN informal meeting to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, Greek Cypriot provocations have once again intensified.”  Chairman of the Turkish Cypriot People’s Party (HP) Kudret Ozersay also called the incident a provocation, adding, “If the same place is attacked twice, sometimes three times in a row, it is because the Greek Cypriot political leadership does not identify and punish those responsible.”

The Episkopi community council immediately cleaned the wall and the community chairman publicly condemned the incident.  The police said they examined footage from closed-circuit television and searched the residence and the car of a suspect looking for evidence linking him to attack.  The Supreme Court denied a request by the suspect to invalidate a search warrant.  However, the police investigation did not identify the individuals responsible.  Human rights defenders and representatives of the Muslim community stated on social media they did not believe there would be a serious investigation and named the lack of law enforcement action for previous incidents as the primary reason for repeated acts of mosque vandalization in the country.  Episkopi mayor Lefkios Prodromou told Politis Radio this was the third time that such a “reprehensible” incident had occurred at the mosque.  Speaking to the newspaper Phileleftheros on March 26, Prodromou said he asked the local police chief to provide a visible police presence at the mosque on April 1 to prevent a repeat attack on Greek Cypriot National Day.  Imam Alemdar said the incident marked a “worrying and growing trend” of hate speech in the country.  He added that authorities never fully investigated or prosecuted previous culprits and that security concerns would persist for mosques throughout the country until those responsible for such acts were held accountable.

The Orthodox Church of Cyprus called for the withdrawal of the country’s entry into the annual Eurovision contest, a song entitled “El Diablo,” charging the song made an international mockery of the country’s moral foundations by advocating “our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship.”  The Holy Synod, the Church’s highest decision-making body, said in a statement the song “essentially praises the fatalistic submission of humans to the devil’s authority” and urged the state broadcaster to replace it with one that expressed the country’s history, culture, and traditions.  The Church’s statement came a few days after authorities charged a man with uttering threats and causing a disturbance when he entered the grounds of the public broadcaster and condemned the song as blasphemous and an affront to Christianity.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported an increase in instances of antisemitic verbal harassment in public places, threats on social media and against Jewish students at schools, vandalism of menorahs and Israeli flags, and antisemitic and pro-Nazi graffiti outside schools attended by Jewish students.  They reported a physical attack against a 15-year-old Jewish student in Limassol by a group of Palestinian students.  Individuals who were attacked in public places wore kippahs or tzitzit.  Some of the incidents were reported to the police.  Authorities reported no arrests, according to Jewish community representatives.

The Catholic NGO Caritas reported that discrimination against Muslim children in schools declined compared with previous years and stated increased diversity awareness and language training during the year contributed.

The NGOs Caritas and Action for Equality, Support, Antiracism (KISA) said women wearing the hijab often faced difficulties finding employment.  According to Caritas, in October 2019, a Somali woman filed a complaint with the ombudsman based on a hotel’s refusal to employ her because she was wearing a hijab.  Her case remained under review at year’s end.

Members of minority religious groups continued to report societal pressures to participate in the public religious ceremonies of majority groups.  For example, children of various religious minorities said they faced social pressure to attend Greek Orthodox religious ceremonies at school.  Armenian Orthodox representatives continued to say community members who married Greek Orthodox individuals received pressure from their spouse’s family members to have a Greek Orthodox wedding and follow Greek Orthodox rituals.  Similarly, Armenian Orthodox army recruits reportedly continued to feel peer pressure to take the oath administered by a Greek Orthodox priest.

Some Greek Orthodox adherents who converted to other faiths reportedly continued to hide their conversion from family and friends due to fear of social ostracism.

In June, the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage (TCCH), one of the bicommunal (Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot) technical committees established as part of the UN-facilitated settlement negotiations process, finished the conservation of two Muslim cemeteries in Mandria/Yeşilova and in Kalo Khorio/Vuda.  In March, the TCCH launched tender processes for the restoration of mosques in the villages of Orounda, Maroni, Kalo Khorio/Vuda, Lefkara, Alektora, Avdimou/Evdim, and Tera.  In February, the TCCH launched conservation works at Zouhouri Mosque in Larnaca.

The leaders of the main religious groups on the island continued to meet regularly, in-person and online, within the framework of the RTCYPP.  On June 7, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian, Maronite, and Roman Catholic leaders met in person for the first time since June 2020 to demonstrate what they said was their commitment to standing together for religious freedom and to advocating for others’ religious rights.

On May 2, the Mufti of Cyprus, on the RTCYPP website and on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, extended Easter greetings to the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus and all Christians celebrating Easter.  On May 12, Christian religious leaders similarly issued a joint greeting to the Mufti of Cyprus and all Muslim faithful, wishing them a blessed Eid al-Fitr on the RTCYPP website and social media accounts.  The RTCYPP organizes regular meetings of religious leaders and facilitates interreligious communication and cooperation, and maintains an office in the buffer zone in Nicosia.

The RTCYPP continued its joint project of offering religious leaders Greek and Turkish language classes for priests, imams, nuns, and laypersons in the Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite, and Roman Catholic communities who worked for faith-based organizations.  Classes continued online when in-person gatherings were not possible due to COVID-19-related restrictions.  In June, the RTCYPP expanded its Greek language classes to include 20 new students from the Muftiate of Cyprus, 10 women and 10 men, including imams and teachers of religious education.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives met with government officials from the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Justice to discuss religious freedom issues, including encouraging greater access to religious sites on either side of the “green line” and reducing discrimination against minority religious communities.

The Ambassador met with numerous religious leaders, including the Archbishop of the Maronite Church of Cyprus and several Orthodox Church of Cyprus metropolitan bishops.  These discussions included interfaith cooperation, changes to the restrictions on access to religious sites on either side of the island, concerns expressed by members of religious minorities about their ability to exercise their right to religious freedom, and discrimination for religious reasons by state institutions or society.  In February, the Ambassador met with the executive director of the RTCYPP to coordinate action in support of religious freedom.

On July 27, the Ambassador visited Koprulu Mosque in Limassol, which was vandalized in 2020, and discussed religious freedom issues with the mosque’s imam.  In March, following the defacement of the Episkopi Mosque, the Ambassador tweeted, “The U.S. Embassy strongly condemns the vandalism on the Episkopi Mosque.  Freedom of worship is a fundamental value, and we echo the condemnation from religious leaders and the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.”

Embassy staff continued to discuss religious freedom issues, including religious-based discrimination, with Caritas, the Cyprus Refugee Council, and KISA.  They used social media to promote religious freedom and to engage representatives of the Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Maronite, Muslim, and Roman Catholic communities on their concerns about access to, and the condition of, religious sites and cemeteries, incidents of religious-based harassment and discrimination, societal attitudes toward minority religious groups, and obstacles to religious freedom.

Embassy staff visited Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque and discussed the mosque’s limited hours of operation and the condition of the Larnaca Turkish Cemetery with the resident imam.  Embassy officials supported religious leaders’ continuing dialogue within the RTCYPP and encouraged continuing reciprocal visits of religious leaders to places of worship on both sides of the “green line.”  Embassy staff interacted regularly with religious leaders in country, focusing on religious freedom and encouraging interfaith dialogue.

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, a supplement to the constitution, guarantees freedom of religious conviction and states everyone has the right to change, abstain from, and freely practice religion.  The Ministry of Culture (MOC) registered one religious group; a second registration application submitted in January remained pending with the MOC at year’s end.  The Prague Municipal Court rejected a religious group’s appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application, and another religious group’s appeal remained pending with the same court.  An appellate court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s conviction of Jaroslav Dobes, the leader of the Path of Guru Jara (PGJ), and another PGJ member on six charges of rape and also upheld their acquittal on a seventh charge.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) granted subsidiary protection, which prevents the forced return of persons found ineligible for refugee status, to some of the Chinese Christians whose applications for asylum it rejected in 2018.  The government continued to compensate religious groups for communal property confiscated by the communist regime.  The opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) Party and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to publicly criticize Islam and Muslim migrants and initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan following the departure of allied forces in order to restrict the immigration of Muslims to the country.

A local nongovernmental organization (NGO), In IUSTITIA, said it received reports of one religiously motivated incident in the first half of the year – an antisemitic hate crime – compared with seven (four against Muslims, two against Jews and one against Christians) in the first half of 2020.  The government reported 27 antisemitic and nine anti-Muslim incidents in 2020, compared with 15 and eight incidents, respectively, in the previous year.  The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, almost all of which were internet hate speech, but which also included one case of assault, six of harassment, and one of vandalism, as well as antisemitic graffiti.  The number of incidents in 2020 was 26 percent higher than in the previous year and 252 percent higher than in 2018.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  The MOI reported two “white power” concerts in which participants expressed antisemitic views in the first half of the year.

U.S. embassy representatives discussed religious freedom issues, including property restitution for religious groups and religious tolerance, with MOC officials and the envoy for Holocaust issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Embassy officials met with Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant religious leaders to reaffirm U.S. government support for religious freedom and tolerance.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.7 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2021 census, of the 70 percent of citizens who responded to the question about their religious beliefs, approximately 48 percent held none, 10 percent were Roman Catholic, 13 percent listed no specific religion, and 9 percent identified with a variety of religious faiths, including the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, other Christian churches, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism.  Academics estimate there are 10,000 Jews, while the FJC estimates there are 15,000 to 20,000.  Leaders of the Muslim community estimate there are 10,000 Muslims, most of whom are immigrants.  According to a 2018 report by the Pew Research Center based on a 2015 survey of 1,490 adults, 72 percent of persons do not identify with a religious group, 21 percent identify as Catholic, 3 percent as Protestant, 1 percent as Orthodox Christian, and 3 percent as other or did not know or refused to answer.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

For second (higher) tier registration, a group must have been registered with the Department of Churches as a first-tier group for 10 years, have published annual financial reports throughout the time of its registration, and have membership equal to at least 0.1 percent of the population, or approximately 10,700 persons.  The group must provide this number of signatures as proof.  Second-tier registration entitles religious groups to tax benefits granted to first-tier groups and to the exercise of special rights, including conducting weddings, teaching religion at public schools, and conducting chaplaincy in the army and prisons.  Prisoners may receive visits from their own clergy, regardless of registration status.  Second-tier religious groups registered prior to 2002 are entitled to government subsidies.  The law phases out direct state subsidies to second-tier religious groups over a 17-year period ending in 2029.

Religious groups registered prior to 2002 received automatic second-tier status without having to fulfill the requirements for second-tier registration.  These groups must publish an annual report on the execution of special rights, including conducting weddings, teaching religion at public schools, and maintaining chaplaincy in the army and prisons.

There are 42 state-registered religious groups, 21 first- and 21 second-tier.

Unregistered religious groups are free to assemble and worship but may not legally own property.  Unregistered groups may form civic associations to own and manage their property.

The law authorizes the government to return land or other property that was confiscated during the communist era and is still in the government’s possession to 17 religious groups (the largest of which are the Roman Catholic Church, FJC, Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, and Hussite Church).  The government estimates the total value of property in its possession eligible to be returned at 75 billion crowns ($3.5 billion).  The law also sets aside 59 billion crowns ($2.8 billion) in compensation for property – mostly in possession of private persons or entities or local or regional governments – that cannot be returned, payable over a 30-year period ending in 2043.  Based on an agreement among the affected religious groups, the law allocates approximately 79 percent of these funds to the Catholic Church and 21 percent to the other 16 groups.  The law prescribed a one-year deadline ending in 2013 for religious groups to file restitution claims for confiscated property.  The government agency in possession of a property for which a group has filed a restitution claim adjudicates that claim.  If the government agency rejects a property claim, the claimant may appeal the decision in court.

The law permits second-tier religious groups to apply through the MOC to teach religion in state schools if there is a demand for such classes.  Eleven of the 21 second-tier groups have permission to teach religion classes.  The religious groups provide the teachers and the state pays their salaries.  If a state school does not have enough funds to pay for its religious education teachers, religious groups pay for them.  Student attendance at religious classes is optional.  According to law, if seven or more students register for a particular religion class at the beginning of the school year, a school must offer that class to those who registered.

The government does not regulate religious instruction in private schools.

The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on religion, as well as the denial of Nazi- and communist-era genocides and crimes.  Violators may be sentenced to up to three years in prison.

Religious workers who are not from European Economic Area countries or Switzerland must obtain long-term residence and work permits to remain in the country for more than 90 days.  There is no special visa category for religious workers.  Foreign missionaries and clergy are required to meet the conditions for a standard work permit.

The law designates January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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

Government Practices

In December, the MOC registered the Religious Society of Slavs, which had applied for registration in 2020.  In August, the Municipal Court in Prague denied an appeal, pending since 2017, of the MOC’s 2016 rejection of the registration application from the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown.  The Ecclesia Risorum’s (Church of Laughter) 2020 appeal against the MOC’s 2019 and 2020 denials of its application remained pending with the Municipal Court in Prague.  The Essenic Christian Church’s application for registration, submitted to the MOC in January, was pending at year’s end.

In January, the Olomouc Appellate Court upheld the Zlin Regional Court’s 2020 conviction of PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and member Barbora Plaskova of the rape of six women and acquitted them of a charge of rape of a seventh woman.  Dobes and Plaskova continued to seek asylum in the Philippines, where they were in immigration detention, and international arrest warrants by Czech authorities for the pair remained outstanding.

In March, according to the PGJ, the Prague Municipal Court ruled that the government’s Office for Personal Data Protection’s investigation of the group’s registration application had been conducted improperly and instructed the office to reexamine the case.  PGJ officials reported that the office declined to further investigate the group’s registration application procedures and returned the fine it had levied on PGJ representative Martin Krajca for what the office had said was negligence in the collection of personal data of PGJ members.  The PGJ had filed a lawsuit with the Prague Municipal Court in 2017 against the Office for Personal Data Protection, alleging abusive investigation of its registration application and arguing against the MOC’s rejection of its registration application.  Also in March, the PGJ said it filed an appeal of the MOC’s denial of its registration application with the Administrative High Court after the Prague Municipal Court rejected the group’s appeal of the MOC’s registration denial.  That appeal, according to the PGJ, remained pending in the Administrative High Court at year’s end.

According to an article published in April by the NGO Center for Studies on New Religion, the Appellate Court in Olomouc ruled that 190,000 euros ($215,000) seized by the Zlin Regional Court in 2010 should be returned to the Poetrie esoteric yoga school, which was tied to the PGJ.  The Zlin court had seized the funds as part of the prosecution against Jaroslav Dobes and Barbara Plaskova.  According to the PGJ, the group was seeking additional compensation for losses due to inflation during the 11 years the funds had been withheld.

The MOI reported that as of June, it had granted subsidiary protection to all the remaining Chinese citizens who applied for asylum in 2016 citing fear of persecution as Christians.  Subsidiary protection prevents forcible return to their country of origin of persons who have been found ineligible for refugee status.  An NGO representing some of the applicants, however, reported that its clients still had pending applications but had stopped communicating with the Czech government out of fear of reprisal from the government of China.

The government provided second-tier religious groups approximately 3.2 billion crowns ($149.41 million):  one billion crowns ($46.69 million) in government subsidies to 17 groups and 2.2 billion crowns ($102.72 million) to 16 groups as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned.  Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined the government subsidy and were not eligible for compensation payments for lost property.  The Baptist Union accepted the state subsidy, but while eligible to receive it, opted not to accept compensation for unreturned property.  In addition, the MOC provided 11.9 million crowns ($556,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from various religious groups.

The government paid the annual allotment of 20 million crowns ($934,000) of the total of 100 million crowns ($4.67 million) earmarked for 2019-2023 as contribution to the Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims for projects focused on Holocaust remembrance and education, welfare for Holocaust victims, and care for Jewish monuments.

In November, the Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation (a U.S. charity), the FJC, the U.S. Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and the Hanacky Jerusalem Association met with the municipal council of Prostejov to continue discussions on the plan to restore a former Jewish cemetery in that city that the MOC had designated a cultural monument.  Later in the month, the Prostejov municipal assembly approved the 2022 municipal budget that earmarked 350,000 crowns ($16,300) to conduct a preparatory study for the restoration project.

The SPD and its leader, Tomio Okamura, continued to criticize Islam and Muslim migrants.  In November, Okamura stated on his Facebook page that “It has been fully confirmed that Islam is not compatible with freedom and democracy.  There will either be democracy here, or Islam.  There is nothing in between.”  In October, Okamura stated on Facebook that the “SPD submitted bills that ban the promotion of hateful Islamic ideology and Islamic veiling in public.”  Also in October, he stated on Facebook that the “SPD does not want us [the Czech Republic] to end up like the Islamized Western Europe where people often fear to go outside as they do not want to be stabbed or killed by the migrants.”  In September, the SPD initiated a petition against accepting migrants from Afghanistan after the departure of allied forces.  The petition, which had no legal force, was part of an action by the Identity and Democracy faction in the European Parliament, of which the SPD is a member, stated that “the new migration wave from Afghanistan can bring various risks, including Islamization and terrorism.”

In June, the government approved the 2020 Report on Extremism and Hate Crime, the 2021-2026 Strategy to Combat Extremism and Hate Crime, and the 2021-2022 Action Plan to Combat Extremism and Hate Crime that defined as one of its three strategic goals improving protection and assistance to victims of crimes, including religiously motivated crimes.  The action plan outlined specific tasks for various ministries, such as the MOI, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, MOC, and Ministry of Finance, in fighting extremism and hate crimes, including those against religious groups.  Steps the document outlined included “raising public awareness about extremist activities, initiatives by state regulatory and security bodies to reduce hate speech on the internet, strategic communication to combat xenophobia and racism, education and prevention programs at schools, specialized training for law enforcement, and assistance to victims.”

On January 27, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Social Equality, organized an online commemoration of International Holocaust Memorial Day entitled “Remembering, Perpetuating and Pursuing Justice.”  Speakers included Czech President Milos Zeman and then Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and the U.S. Secretary of State.  Speakers stressed the importance of recalling past tragedies and fighting Holocaust denial.

Also on January 27, the Senate, in cooperation with the FJC, again organized a ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust.  Speaker of the Senate Milos Vystrcil, Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Radek Vondracek, Holocaust survivor Michaela Vidlakova, and FJC Chairman Petr Papousek delivered remarks and called for religious tolerance.  The event was broadcast live on state-owned television.

In April, the 16th annual public reading of Holocaust Victims’ names – Yom Ha-Shoah – took place online.  Public figures who participated in the reading included then Foreign Minister Petricek, Mayor of Prague Zdenek Hrib, and members of the diplomatic community.

In April, organizers cancelled the annual Culture Against Antisemitism Festival and march due to the COVID-19 pandemic and held an online event in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague in memory of victims of the Shoah entitled “We All Are People 2021.”  Speaker of the Senate Vystrcil and director of the Jewish Museum Oto Pavlat spoke out against hatred and violence based on ethnicity and religion, and Vystrcil cited the importance of the continued fight against antisemitism, stating that any form of hatred, including hatred against Jews, was dangerous to persons all over the world.  The event also included the testimony of a Czech Holocaust survivor and a telecast of the commemoration ceremony from the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem.

The government provided grants for religiously oriented cultural activities, including the annual Night of Churches held in several cities; the National Commemoration of the 1,100th Anniversary of St. Ludmila’s death; a liturgical festival of St. Cyril and Methodius in Velehrad; the annual Concert in Memory of Holocaust Victims; an exhibition entitled Musical Treasures of the Jerusalem Synagogue; a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Hussite Church, part of which had been postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and the Litomysl Days of Baroque Tradition (a festival consisting of liturgical music, masses, and readings).

According to the FJC, the MOI continued to provide security to the Jewish community and Jewish sites based on a memorandum of cooperation signed in 2016.

The government-funded Endowment Fund for Holocaust Victims, established by the FJC, contributed four million crowns ($187,000) to 14 institutions providing health and social care to approximately 450 Holocaust survivors.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NGO In IUSTITIA stated it received reports of one religiously motivated hate crime during the first half of the year – an incident against Jews – compared with seven such cases – four against Muslims, two against Jews, and one against Christians – in the same period in 2020.  The incident concerned an employee of the Jewish community’s school, who was part of a government on-line hate free campaign.  Someone posted “Juden raus” (“Jews out”, a common antisemitic slur) under his profile in the campaign.

In 2020, the most recent year data were available, the MOI reported 27 criminal offenses with antisemitic motives and nine with anti-Muslim motives, compared with 23 and 11 offenses respectively, in 2019.  The MOI reported only incidents that it investigated.

The FJC, which monitored the internet for instances of antisemitism, reported 874 antisemitic incidents in 2020, an increase of 26 percent over the 694 incidents in 2019 and 252 percent over the 347 incidents in 2018.  The FJC attributed this increase to improved digital monitoring tools, rising political polarization, and a move from the real to the virtual world because of COVID-19-related restrictions.  The 2020 incidents included one of physical assault, one of property damage, and six of harassment.

In one incident, an unidentified person assaulted an Israeli student in a bar in Brno during the Purim holiday in March 2020 after he requested the disk jockey play an Israeli song.  The victim, who received medical treatment, did not report the incident to police.  In May 2020, the front gate of the synagogue in Krnov was doused with a sticky liquid.  The other 866 incidents included graffiti, videos, articles, and online comments.  According to the FJC, the largest increase was in antisemitic hate speech on the internet, which accounted for 98 percent of the incidents.  It stated 84 percent of incidents involved stereotypical statements and conspiracy theories about Jews, such as allegations Jews controlled the economy and government.  In 9 percent of the cases, the writers criticized Israel (the FJC did not classify all criticism of Israel as antisemitic) and wrote in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, while 4 percent denied the Holocaust.  The FJC stated that although the country remained safe for the Jewish community, online antisemitism should not be underestimated, as an analysis of attacks in other countries showed that violent acts were preceded by online radicalization.

In June, police charged four individuals and two companies associated with the publishing firm Guidemedia with Holocaust denial for producing a Czech translation of Germar Rudolf’s book Dissecting the Holocaust, which denies gas chambers were used in Nazi camps.  At year’s end, their trial had not begun.  Police continued to investigate Guidemedia for publishing an antisemitic children’s book, Poisonous Mushroom, first published in Germany in 1938 as part of antisemitic Nazi propaganda.  In January, police charged Emerich Drtina and the Nase Vojsko company with promoting a movement suppressing human rights and freedoms for publishing a 2021 calendar featuring Nazi figures.  As of October, the case was pending review by the District Court in Prague.  In September, police charged the Bodyart Press publisher and another person for publishing and distributing The Myth of the Six Million, a Holocaust denying book authored by a deceased U.S. historian.  In November, the state prosecutor indicted the publisher.  The case was pending at year’s end.

The MOI reported two private “white power” concerts were held during the first half of the year in which participants expressed antisemitic and neo-Nazi views, compared with nine such concerts in 2020.  The ministry estimated approximately 50 to 100 persons attended each concert.

A report published during the year on 2020 hate crimes in the country from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) cited five antisemitic incidents, one of physical violence, two of threats, and two of vandalism.  In one case that ODIHR sourced to the FJC, a television presenter received an anonymous letter containing antisemitic and xenophobic insults and threats of physical violence.  ODIHR also cited the FJC as the source of one report of vandalism against a Jewish synagogue in 2020 and In IUSTITIA as reporting vandalism against a street sign pointing to a Jewish cemetery damaged by gunshots.

The ODIHR report, citing In IUSTITIA, included five incidents against Muslims – one of physical violence, one of a threat, and three of vandalism.  In one incident, five persons subjected a woman wearing a headscarf to anti-Muslim and misogynist insults and death threats on the street.  In another incident, a woman wearing a headscarf was repeatedly subjected to anti-Muslim insults.  The perpetrators ripped the hijab from her head.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 21 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in the Czech Republic said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Twenty-seven percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (24 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (23 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (14 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (22 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (14 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (15 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (20 percent).

In July, the Olomouc Appellate Court issued a two-year suspended sentence to Benedikt Cermak for online comments expressing approval of the deadly attacks on two mosques in New Zealand in 2019.  The court reversed a verdict of the Regional Court in Brno that had sentenced Cermak to six years in prison in May.

The Jewish community said it hoped to complete by 2022 a memorial that would include Jewish gravestone fragments.  The communist government took the fragments from a 19th century Jewish cemetery in the 1980s and cut them into cobblestones to be placed across the capital.  The Prague mayor’s office returned the fragments to the Jewish community in 2020.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives continued to engage government officials from the MOC on issues including religious tolerance and compensation in lieu of property restitution to religious groups, as well as developments on restoration of the Prostejov Jewish cemetery.  Embassy officials also met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs special envoy for Holocaust issues, Robert Rehak, regarding compensation for confiscated property of religious groups.  Embassy officials expressed support for the restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Prostejov, meeting jointly in November with Mayor Frantisek Jura and the groups involved in the project.

The Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials continued to meet with representatives from the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish communities to reaffirm U.S. commitment to religious freedom and tolerance and to hear their views on interfaith relations.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs.  The constitution establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, granting it privileges not available to other religious groups.  The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups other than the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration.  Congregations are not required to register by law, though registration is required to receive tax benefits.  Religious communities must comply with annual reporting requirements to maintain their government recognition.  In January, prior to parliamentary debate on 2020 draft legislation to mandate the translation of sermons into Danish, the Danish Council of Churches sent an open letter to Prime Minister Frederiksen opposing the legislation.  The letter noted, “We welcome the broader political intention of integrating ethnic minorities in an open and pluralistic Danish society – but we see dangers in a law leading to religious harassment.”  The letter stated that the draft legislation was “discriminatory and ill-considered” and would impose “significant burdens” on economically weak minority religious groups.  In March, parliament approved a new law that bans foreign countries from funding and financing mosques in the country.  The new law garnered support from all major political parties.  Social Democrat Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye labeled the law as an important step to curb what he termed “Islamist extremism.”  In a report released in September and drawn from data collected in 2019, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate government restrictions on religion,” the second level in the report’s four-tiered system (low, moderate, high, and very high government restrictions).  In November, the Immigration Service updated its national sanctions list of religious preachers barred from entering the country to include 21 individuals; five were U.S. citizens.  The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated the individuals were barred from entering the country for the “sake of the nation’s public order,” but provided no additional details.

In January, witnesses discovered the words “[expletive] the Quran,” accompanied by a drawing of a hand with the middle finger up, painted on the side of the mosque belonging to the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation in Aabenraa, in the southern part of the country.  This was the third time vandals damaged the mosque since 2019.  By year’s end, authorities had not arrested anyone for the incident.  In April, vandals placed two dolls in nooses near a grave in the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg and poured red paint over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery.  The vandals also left antisemitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical organization Nordic Resistance Movement near the dolls.  Police charged a man with vandalism and racism for the crime, and in June, a court sentenced him to one year in prison.  He appealed the verdict and authorities released him in November, with the court expected to rule on his appeal in January 2022.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to encourage the country to include the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s examples in applying the alliance’s definition.  Embassy officials met with parliamentarians and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office of the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to emphasize the importance the United States places on religious freedom, and to discuss ways to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and antisemitism.  Embassy officials expressed concerns about legislation proposing to ban circumcision and requiring translation of sermons into Danish, and urged support for the protection of religious expression.  Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year to discuss issues including the debate on the proposed circumcision ban, the ban on ritual slaughter, the proposed bill requiring the translation of sermons into Danish, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their faith practices.  Embassy officials met with representatives from the Danish Islamic Center, Muslim World League, and Danish Muslim Aid to discuss interfaith engagement opportunities and challenges for Muslims in the country, including anti-Muslim sentiment.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.9 million (midyear 2021).  As of the end of 2021, 73.2 percent of the Danish population were ELC members according to Statistics Denmark.  In 2021, 8,961 members left the ELC, representing the lowest yearly number who departed that church since 2007.  A church historian at the University of Copenhagen attributed this development to the pandemic, which highlighted the importance of religious communities.  The Danish government does not collect data on religious affiliation outside of the ELC.  A professor estimated in April 2020 that there are approximately 250,000 Muslims, accounting for 4.4 percent of the population.  Muslims are concentrated in the largest cities, particularly Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, to include, in descending order of size, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Baptists, Buddhists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pentecostals, members of the Baha’i Faith, and nondenominational Christians.  According to a 2020 survey released by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, approximately 11 percent of the population does not identify as belonging to a religious group or identifies as atheist.  The organization Jewish Community in Denmark estimates between 6,000 and 8,000 Jews live in the country, mostly in the Copenhagen area.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the ELC as the country’s established church, which shall receive state support and to which the reigning monarch must belong.  The constitution also states individuals shall be free to form congregations to worship according to their beliefs, provided that nothing “contrary to good morals or public order shall be taught or done.”  The constitution stipulates no person may be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs and that these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with any common civic duty.  It prohibits requiring individuals to make personal financial contributions to religious denominations to which they do not adhere.

The law prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech, and specifies as penalties a fine (amount unspecified) or a maximum of two years’ imprisonment.  The law also prohibits the incitement of terrorism, murder, rape or violence in connection with religious movements or training and specifies penalties, including a fine or a maximum of three years’ imprisonment.

The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary, tax-deductible contributions paid through payroll deduction by its members.  Voluntary payroll deduction contributions account for an estimated 79 percent of the ELC’s operating budget, and government grants contribute another 10 percent; the remaining 11 percent comes from a variety of activities, such as revenue from use of Church property.  Members of other recognized religious communities may not contribute via payroll deduction but may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive a tax deduction.  The ELC and other state-recognized religious communities have the authority to carry out registration of civil unions and name changes.  The ELC also registers births and deaths of its members.

The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs is responsible for granting official status to religious groups other than the ELC through recognition by royal decree (for groups recognized prior to 1970) or through official registration.  Congregations are not required to register by law, although registration is required to receive tax benefits.  Religious communities must comply with annual reporting requirements to maintain their government recognition.  According to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, there are 448 religious groups and congregations the government officially recognizes or that are affiliated with recognized groups:  338 Christian, 65 Muslim, 16 Buddhist, seven Hindu, three Jewish, and 19 other groups and congregations, including Baha’is, the Alevi community, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system Forn Sidr.

Recognized religious groups may perform legal marriage ceremonies, name and baptize children with legal effect, issue legal death certificates, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive various value added tax exemptions.  The law allows only religious communities recognized before 1970 to issue birth, baptismal, and marriage certificates.  In accordance with the 2018 law recognizing religions outside the ELC, this privilege will expire for all religious communities except the ELC in 2023.  Members of other religious communities or individuals unaffiliated with a recognized religious group may have birth and death certificates issued by the health authority.

The state entitles groups not recognized by either royal decree or the registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, to engage in religious practices without public registration.  The state does not grant unrecognized religious groups full tax-exempt status, but members may deduct contributions to these groups from their taxes.

The law codifies the registration process for religious communities other than the ELC and treats equally those recognized by royal decree and those approved through registration.  A religious community must have at least 50 adult members who have resident status and possess Danish citizenship.  For congregations located in sparsely populated regions such as Greenland, the government applies a lower population threshold, which varies according to the total population of the region.

Religious groups seeking registration must submit a document describing the group’s central traditions and most important rituals to the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs.  A group applying for registration must also provide a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure; an audited financial statement (which it must submit annually); information about the group’s leadership; and a statement on the number of adult members permanently residing in the country.  Groups also must have formal procedures for membership and make their teachings available to all members.  The ministry makes the final decision on registration applications after receiving recommendations from a group consisting of a lawyer, religious historian, sociologist of religion, and nonordained theologian.  Religious groups that do not submit the annual financial statement or other required information may lose their registration status.

The law prohibits masks and face coverings, including burqas and niqabs, in public spaces.  Violators face fines ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 Danish kroner ($150-$1,500).  Fines are 1,000 kroner ($150) for the first offense, 2,000 kroner ($310) for the second, 5,000 kroner ($760) for the third, and 10,000 kroner ($1,500) for the fourth and subsequent offenses.

The law bans judges from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves, turbans, skullcaps, and large crucifixes while in court proceedings.

The law requires persons to shake hands during their naturalization ceremonies to obtain Danish citizenship, although authorities suspended the requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In December, the government passed a bill reintroducing the handshake requirement for citizenship ceremonies starting January 1, 2022.

All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support.  The Ministry of Children and Education oversees private schools, which includes supervising teaching standards, regulating compliance with the country’s regulations on curriculum, and financial screening.  The Board of Education and Quality conducts systematic monitoring and has authority to issue directives to individual institutions, withhold grants, and terminate financial support.  Public schools must teach ELC theology.  The instructors are public school teachers rather than individuals provided by the ELC.  Religion classes are compulsory in grades 1-9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing.  No alternative classes are offered.

The ELC course curriculum in grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity.  In grades 7-9, the curriculum adds a module on world religions.  The course is optional in grade 10.  If the student is 15 or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption.  Private schools must teach religion classes in grades 1-9, including world religions in grades 7-9.  The religion classes taught in grades 1-9 need not include ELC theology.  The law allows collective prayer in schools but each school must regulate prayer in a neutral, nondiscriminatory manner, and students must be allowed to opt out of participating.

The law requires parents in communities with significant non-Western populations to send children from one year of age to government-funded daycare, where they learn what are considered to be Danish values, including Christmas and Easter traditions.  The penalty for noncompliance is the loss of quarterly welfare benefits of up to 4,557 kroner ($700).

Military service, typically for four months, is mandatory for all physically fit men older than 18 years of age.  There is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including on religious grounds, which allows for alternative civilian service.  An individual wishing to perform alternative service as a conscientious objector must apply within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service.  The application is adjudicated by the Conscientious Objector Administration and must demonstrate that military service of any kind is incompatible with the individual’s conscience.  Alternative service may take place in various social and cultural institutions, peace movements, organizations related to the United Nations, churches and ecumenical organizations, and environmental organizations.

The law prohibits ritual slaughter of animals, including kosher and halal slaughter, without prior stunning and limits ritual slaughter with prior stunning to cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens.  All slaughter must take place at a slaughterhouse.  Slaughterhouses practicing ritual slaughter are obliged to register with the Veterinary and Food Administration.  Violations of this law are punishable by a fine or up to four months in prison.  Halal and kosher meat may be imported.

The law requires clergy members with legal authorization to officiate marriages to have an adequate mastery of the Danish language and to complete a two-day course on family law and civil rights administered by the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs.  The law also requires that religious workers “must not behave or act in a way that makes them unworthy to exercise public authority.”  The government may strip the right to perform marriages from religious workers whom it perceives as not complying with these provisions.

By law, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration may prevent entry by foreign religious figures who do not already have a residence permit if it determines their presence poses a threat to public order.  In such cases, the ministry places the individuals on a national sanctions list and bars them from entry for two years, a period which it may extend.  The sanctions list does not apply to European Union nationals and residents.

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

Government Practices

In January, prior to parliamentary debate on 2020 draft legislation to mandate the translation of sermons into Danish, the Danish Council of Churches sent an open letter to Prime Minister Frederiksen opposing the legislation.  The letter noted, “We welcome the broader political intention of integrating ethnic minorities in an open and pluralistic Danish society – but we see dangers in a law leading to religious harassment.”  The letter stated that the draft legislation was “discriminatory and ill-considered” and would impose “significant burdens” on economically weak minority religious groups.  Similarly, in February the Islamic Faith Society published a press release with concerns over the proposed bill’s potential to increase the alienation of Danish Muslims, referring to it as “an encroachment on religious freedom” and “a clear obstacle to the Danish Muslims’ practice of their religion.”  In July, the government postponed indefinitely plans to introduce the legislation, which had been sponsored by the ruling Social Democratic Party but opposed by ELC, Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic religious leaders.

Representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express frustration at the country’s limitations on slaughter of livestock meeting their religious requirements but reported that halal and kosher meat could be imported from within the European Union.

In March, parliament approved a new law that bans foreign countries from funding and financing mosques in the country.  The new law garnered support from all major political parties.  Social Democrat Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye labeled the law an important step to curb what he termed “Islamist extremism.”  The law states, “Anyone who receives one or more donations that individually or together exceed 10,000 kroner ($1,500) within 12 consecutive calendar months from a natural or legal person who is included on the public ban list is punishable by a fine.”

In March, the parliamentary Legal Committee held a hearing focusing on hate crimes committed against Muslim women in the country at the request of Free Greens parliamentarian Sikandar Siddique.  During the hearing, Siddique criticized the government for not doing enough to publicly denounce incidents, such as a confrontation between an elderly couple and a Muslim woman in a suburb of Copenhagen in February.  In that incident, a Muslim woman reported that an elderly woman repeatedly slammed her car door into her car and when the young woman confronted the woman and her husband, they called her a racial slur and spat on her.  Police charged the elderly couple with assault and the husband with threatening violence, as well as vandalism.  In May, the court sentenced the husband to 50 days’ probation, subsequently lowered to 60 days of community service because this was his first offense.  The court acquitted his wife.

Siddique contrasted what he termed the government’s weak reaction to attacks against Muslims to what he said was its stronger response to hate crimes against the Jewish community.  He called for an action plan to combat what he labeled Islamophobia.  In response to Siddique’s comments, Minister of Justice Nick Haekkerup cited improved prosecution efforts for hate crimes and strengthened police training on identifying and handling hate crimes.  In October, Siddique and his parents were targets of hate speech outside of parliament when a man accosted them and shouted at them, “Go home,” and “Your Arabic culture has no place in Denmark, you’re not welcome here.”

In March, parliament amended the law for religion instructors seeking to extend their residency permits, raising the required passing grade for the test in competency in the Danish language and knowledge of Denmark and Danish society to qualify for an extension.

In April, Jakob Naesager, chairman of the Copenhagen municipality resident committee and member of the Conservative People’s Party, stated that municipal legislation should be changed to ban the Islamic call to prayer in that city in the absence of national level legislation to do so.  Legislators took no action on it during the year.

On May 18, parliament failed to pass legislation proposed in 2020 to ban and criminalize ritual circumcision for boys under the age of 18.  The vote followed extensive political and public debate, including opposition from Prime Minister Frederiksen, leader of the largest opposition party Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, and Jewish community leaders.  The Institute for Human Rights (IHR) stated that the proposed ban would have been “a significant encroachment on religious freedom.”  The Society of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine supported the legislation, which was proposed for the third year in a row in 2020.  Despite the government’s opposition, approximately 74 percent of the public supported the ban according to an April opinion poll conducted by the Danish research firm Epinion.  In a similar poll conducted by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Jewish Community in September, only 38 percent of respondents supported the ban, due to a different phrasing of the question.  Representatives from the Jewish and Muslim communities expressed concern that parliament could take up the bill again after the next parliamentary election, which will take place no later than June 2023.

In May, the Danish People’s Party (DPP) proposed requiring that cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and discussion of the 2005 controversy surrounding publication of those caricatures be included in school curricula.  In a media interview, DPP parliamentary faction leader Peter Skaarup said the cartoon controversy is “part of Danish history” and reflected the country’s “firm stance” in favor of free speech.  Skaarup said the requirement would be “a protection for teachers who are under threat today because they want to show what the Muhammad cartoons are about, but they cannot be allowed to do so because someone is coming and threatening them.”  At the Socialist People’s Party’s annual meeting in September, Party Chair Pia Olsen Dyhr said there was a need for teachers to be able to use such “tools” in a classroom setting without fearing consequences.  The Chair of the Union of Teachers said the DPP proposal, which was not presented as draft legislation, would still leave the choice of whether to include the cartoons to the teachers.  Representatives from the Muslim community expressed concerns that if the proposal became enacted legislation, it would further fuel anti-Muslim sentiment.

In June, the government reached an agreement with five major political parties to modify the 2018 policy to reduce the number of what are termed “parallel societies” by 2030.  The agreement passed as legislation in November and replaced the term “ghetto” with the term “parallel society,” which the government defined as a neighborhood with more than 1,000 residents where at least two criteria based on employment, income, education, and crime rates were met and where the proportion of non-Western immigrants and their descendants exceeded 50 percent.  The agreement also introduced a new category called “prevention areas,” defined as meeting two of four socioeconomic criteria and where the proportion of non-Western immigrants and their descendants exceeded 30 percent.  The stated goal of the agreement was to prevent the emergence of new parallel societies by reducing the percentage of non-Western residents in such neighborhoods to less than 30 percent within 10 years, according to the Ministry of the Interior and Housing website.  In May, parliament had rejected a civil society petition that received 55,000 signatures calling for the pre-November “ghetto” law to be repealed altogether.

Media continued to widely interpret “non-Western” to mean Muslim-majority communities.  In March, Minister of Housing and the Interior Kaare Dybvad Bek said the government’s goal was to “prevent more vulnerable residential areas” by “creating more mixed residential areas” throughout the country.  He also said, “The term ghetto is misleading….This is about helping the residents and creating equal opportunities for all children, no matter where they grow up in Denmark.”  The November legislation required neighborhoods classified as parallel societies for four years in a row to reduce the amount of public housing in their area by 40 percent through demolition, sale, or privatization.  The government would be responsible for rehousing evicted individuals.  The legislation aimed to integrate Danish residents from these neighborhoods into other neighborhoods to reduce “the risk of an emergence of religious and cultural parallel societies,” according to Bek.  The legislation also mandated that parents living in those areas send their children to daycare to learn Danish values, and doubled penalties and sentences for crimes committed in the neighborhoods, such as vandalism, burglary, arson, drug offenses, and possession of weapons.

One activist from a neighborhood affected by the legislation said, “The ghetto lists and ghetto legislation are an expression of the politicians’ desire to change the composition of the population [in those areas].”  Some NGOs said that the government’s language regarding societal integration stemmed from anti-Muslim sentiment and therefore focused on predominately Muslim immigrant communities.  DIHR advocated for the removal of ethnic origin from the legislation’s criteria to avoid discrimination, and it said the term “parallel society” could be as stigmatizing as the term “ghetto.”  Several NGOs demonstrated against the new legislation on December 1 when the Interior Minister announced additions to the list of areas to be covered by the legislation.

In a report released in September and drawn from data collected in 2019, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate government restrictions on religion,” the second level in the report’s four-tiered system (low, moderate, high, and very high government restrictions).

In November, the Immigration Service updated its national sanctions list of religious preachers barred from entering the country to include 21 individuals; five were U.S. citizens.  The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated the individuals were barred from entering the country for “the “sake of the nation’s public order” but provided no additional details.

In consultation with Jewish Community, the government continued to provide security for sites considered to be at high risk of a terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue, community center, and one school.

In a December letter to parliament, DIHR reiterated the need for religious communities to be able to apply for COVID-19 exemptions to permit services, weddings, and funerals to protect their religious freedom in future revisions of the Epidemic Act, which governed the country’s COVID-19 protocols.  Most leaders of faith groups, however, reported that the pandemic did not have a major impact on their religious services, as they were able to adapt by implementing safety protocols such as social distancing.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Police reported 194 religiously motivated crimes in 2020, the most recent year for which statistics were available, 8 percent more than in 2019, in which 180 such crimes were reported.  There were 87 crimes reported against Muslims, compared with 109 in 2019; 79 against Jews, compared with 51 in 2019; 25 against Christians, compared with eight cases in 2019; and three against members of other religions or belief groups, compared with 12 in 2019.  Most incidents involved harassment, hate speech, and vandalism, including desecration of cemeteries, and mainly affected the Muslim and Jewish communities.  The report cited hate speech as the most common type of religiously motivated hate crime.  In 2020, 45 percent of religiously motivated hate crime cases reported were directed at Muslims.  The number of hate crime cases committed against Jews increased significantly since 2018, when there were 26 cases reported.  The police report attributed the 2020 increase in hate crimes against Christians to the 12 cases of parish priests who received threatening text messages in April and May that year.

Police Inspector Claus Birkelyng said it was unclear whether the increase in reports in 2020 reflected an increase in actual crimes or a higher number of reported crimes than in previous years.  He also said there had been an increase in hate crimes committed online compared with previous years, from 128 in 2019 to 164 in 2020.  Of the 164 reported online hate crimes, 99 were identified as religiously motivated, of which 32 were directed at Muslims and 51 at Jews.

In January, witnesses discovered the words “[expletive] the Quran,” accompanied by a drawing of a hand with the middle finger up, painted on the side of the mosque belonging to the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation in Aabenraa, in the southern part of the country.  This was the third time vandals damaged the mosque since 2019.  By year’s end, officials had not arrested anyone for the incident.

In April, vandals placed two dolls in nooses near a grave in the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg and poured red paint over the dolls and the wall surrounding the cemetery. The vandals also left antisemitic flyers referring to a website for the right-wing radical organization Nordic Resistance Movement near the dolls.  Police charged a man with vandalism and racism for the crime and in June, and a court sentenced him to one year in prison.  He appealed the verdict and officials released him in November, with the court expected to rule on his appeal in January 2022.

On April 6, a court sentenced a man to nine months in prison for racism, violation of the peace of a graveyard, and gross vandalism against a grave in a Jewish cemetery in Randers in 2019.

In May, a video of a Danish man verbally abusing a Muslim couple and their two small children went viral, prompting several politicians, including Prime Minister Frederiksen, to condemn the act.  Frederiksen said, “We all have a responsibility to speak out – against racism, hate, and discrimination.  It doesn’t belong in Denmark.”

In July, the newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad released the findings of a survey the paper had conducted among 81 Muslim associations in the country.  The survey found that 30 percent of the associations contacted had been vandalized since January 2017.  The incidents ranged from graffiti and stickers promoting hatred on walls to door handles wrapped in bacon.  The survey reported that in two-thirds of the cases, the mosque or organization involved did not report the incident to the police.  In a media report about the survey, Ismail Celik, chairman of the mosque in Odense and spokesman for the Danish-Turkish Islamic Foundation said, “People are worried about the hatred of Muslims.  We want to be part of society and we want to be respected in the community.”  Similarly, a study released by the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs in February showed that 19 percent of all churches had experienced vandalism since 2017.

In its report released in September, the Pew Research Center categorized the country as having “moderate societal hostility to religion.”

In September, a Danish-Somalian family appeared on television after being harassed by their downstairs neighbor in Copenhagen.  The family showed videos, including a clip in which the neighbor yelled “You know what you are? You are dirty Muslim animals.”  Authorities did not file charges in this case.

Also in September, unknown persons physically and verbally assaulted a Muslim woman at a public library in Copenhagen, where an individual called her a “Muslim [expletive]” and told her to “take that [expletive] off,” referring to her hijab.  Authorities charged the perpetrator with assault.  No further information emerged on the case.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues met with the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to encourage the country to include the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s examples in applying the alliance’s definition.  Embassy officials met with parliamentarians and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office of the Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief to emphasize the importance the United States places on religious freedom, and to discuss ways to combat anti-Muslim sentiment and antisemitism.  Embassy officials expressed concerns about legislation proposing to ban circumcision and requiring translation of sermons into Danish, and urged support for the protection of religious expression.

Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year to discuss issues including the proposed circumcision ban, the ban on ritual slaughter, the proposed bill requiring the translation of sermons into Danish, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their faith practices.  Embassy officials met with representatives from the Danish Islamic Center, Muslim World League, and Danish Muslim Aid to discuss interfaith engagement opportunities and challenges for Muslims in the country, including anti-Muslim sentiment.

The embassy funded a project designed by the Jewish Community to survey attitudes and knowledge about male circumcision and to create a website to counter misinformation related to this topic.  Representatives of the organization discussed their concerns about negative societal attitudes, which they attributed to increasing antisemitism in the country and fueled by extremists such as the Nordic Resistance Movement.  Embassy officials also supported the development of a national action plan to combat antisemitism.

Embassy officials also met with Christian groups, including representatives from the ELC and Roman Catholic Church, and discussed the proposed requirement for sermon translation, as well as broader issues of religious freedom and practice.  The embassy engaged with interfaith organizations, including the NGOs Religion and Society, the Islamic Christian Study Center, and DIHR, to discuss efforts to increase interfaith dialogue and understanding.

On May 6, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an iftar with leaders of the Muslim community and discussed issues pertaining to religious freedom and the groups’ concerns, including the ban on ritual slaughter, the proposed circumcision ban, and the proposed bill requiring the translation of sermons into Danish.

Estonia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares there is no state church and protects the freedom of individuals to practice their religion.  It prohibits the incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  The law establishes registration of religious associations and religious societies and regulates their activities.  Unregistered religious associations are free to conduct religious activities but are not eligible for tax benefits.  The government continued to provide funds to the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities.  On January 27, the government held an annual memorial event on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn.  In April, the government approved a plan to combat antisemitism designed by representatives of the Ministries of the Interior, Culture, Foreign Affairs, Education and Research, and Justice, the Police and Border Guard Board, the Estonian Jewish Community, and the Estonian Jewish Congregation.  Authorities arrested Kristo Kivisto for threats and defamation of a foreign symbol after Kivisto had advocated for the formation of a new cell of the violent far-right Nordic Resistance Movement.  Kivisto also made antisemitic comments online.  In February, the Parnu County Court sentenced him to six months’ probation.  On April 2, individuals desecrated the site of the Holocaust Memorial in Rahumae Jewish Cemetery.  Police identified the individuals involved and filed charges.

According to 2020 government statistics, the most recent data available, police registered three cases of physical abuse, breach of public order, or threats (as defined by law) that included hatred against persons belonging to religious or other minorities, compared with eight cases in 2019.  According to government sources, most of the cases were tied to the victim’s race or national origin.

Embassy officials raised the importance of combating antisemitism, promoting religious tolerance, and promoting Holocaust education in meetings with government officials from the Ministries of Interior, Culture, Education and Research, and Foreign Affairs.  The Charge d’Affaires regularly met with the leader of the Jewish community and participated in its Yahad Conference, a forum on Estonian Jewry held in the city of Parnu.  Embassy officials met with members of the Jewish community, leaders of religious associations, including members of the Muslim community, representatives of the Council of Churches, civil society groups, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss religious tolerance and the state of religious freedom in the country.  The embassy used social media to promote religious freedom, including a Facebook post celebrating International Religious Freedom Day.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2011 census (the most recent data available), 29 percent of the population is religiously affiliated, 54 percent do not identify with any religion, and 17 percent do not state an affiliation.  According to Estonian Council of Churches data from December 2020, 13 percent of the population belong to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, while 13.9 percent belong to the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP), and 2.3 percent belong to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.  The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia and the Roman Catholic Church together comprise 1 percent of the population.  Other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Russian Old Believers, collectively constitute 1.1 percent of the population.  According to the 2011 census, there are small Jewish and Muslim communities of 2,500 members and 1,500 members, respectively.  Most religious adherents among the Russian-speaking population belong to the EOCMP and reside mainly in the capital or the northeastern part of the country.  According to 2011 census data, most of the country’s community of Russian Old Believers live along the west bank of Lake Peipsi in the eastern part of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares there is no state church and stipulates freedom for individuals to belong to any religious group and practice any religion, both alone and in community with others, in public or in private, unless doing so is “detrimental to public order, health, or morals.”  The constitution also prohibits incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination.  According to the penal code, an act inciting hatred is a crime if it results in danger to the life, health, or property of a person.  The law also states that violations are punishable by fines or up to three years in prison.  The constitution recognizes the right to refuse military service for religious reasons but requires conscientious objectors to perform alternative service for the same amount of time required for military service as provided by law.

Although gender discrimination and discrimination based on race or ethnicity are prohibited in employment, housing, healthcare, social welfare, education, goods and services, and other forms of discrimination, including that based on religion, are only prohibited for employment.  For these forms of discrimination there is no mechanism for affected individuals to receive state assistance or to claim compensation.

The law criminalizes activities that publicly incite hatred, violence, or discrimination on the basis of religion or other minority status if they result in danger to the life, health, or property of a person.  Violators are subject to a fine or detention.  The law prohibits any activity that knowingly interferes, without legal grounds, with the acknowledgement or declaration of religious beliefs or the absence thereof, or the exercise of religion or religious rites.  Violators are subject to a fine or up to one year’s imprisonment.

The law regulates the activities of religious associations and religious societies.  Religious associations are defined as churches, congregations, unions of congregations, and monasteries.  Churches, congregations, and unions of congregations are required to have a management board.  The management board has the right to invite a minister of religion from outside the country.  The residence of at least half the members of the management board must be in the country, in another member state of the European Economic Area, or in Switzerland.  The elected or appointed superior of a monastery serves as the management board for the monastery.  Religious societies are defined as voluntary organizations whose main activities include religious or ecumenical activities relating to morals, ethics, and culture and social rehabilitation activities outside the traditional forms of religious rites of a church or congregation.  Religious societies do not need to affiliate with a specific church or congregation.

The registration office of the Tartu County Court registers all religious associations and religious societies.  To register, a religious association must have at least 12 members, and its management board must submit a notarized or digitally signed application, the minutes of its constitutive meeting, and a copy of its statutes.  The law treats registered religious associations as nonprofit entities entitled to some tax benefits, such as a value-added tax exemption, if they apply for them.  There are more than 550 religious associations registered with the government.

The law does not prohibit activities by unregistered religious associations.  Unregistered religious associations, however, may not act as legal persons.  Unlike registered religious associations, unregistered associations are not eligible for tax benefits.

Religious societies are registered according to the law governing nonprofit associations and are entitled to the same tax benefits as religious associations.  To register as an NGO, a religious society must have a founding contract and statutes approved by its founders, who may be physical or legal persons.  The minimum number of founders is two.  The society must submit its registration application either electronically or on paper to the Tartu County Court registry office.

The law requires the commanding officer of each military unit to provide its members the opportunity to practice their religion.  Prison directors must also provide the opportunity for inmates to practice their religious beliefs.  The state funds police and border guard, military, and prison chaplains, who may belong to any registered religious denomination, and it must guarantee religious services for individuals of all faiths.

Optional basic religious instruction is available in public and private schools and is funded by the state.  All schools must provide religious studies at the primary and secondary levels if students request these studies.  The courses offer a general introduction to different faiths.  Religious studies instructors may be lay teachers.  There are also private religious schools.  All students, regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation, may attend religious schools.  Attendance at religious services in religious schools is voluntary.

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

Government Practices

Authorities arrested Kristo Kivisto for threats and defamation of a foreign symbol after Kivisto had advocated for the formation of a new cell of the violent Nordic Resistance Movement, generally characterized as far right.  Kivisto also made antisemitic comments online.  In February, the Parnu County Court sentenced him to six months’ probation on those charges.

On April 2, individuals threw eggs at the site of the Holocaust Memorial in Rahumae Jewish Cemetery.  Police identified those involved and filed charges under the penal code’s section on desecration of graves.

According to the government NGO register, two religious associations – both Christian congregations – registered with the government during the year.

The government allocated 646,000 euros ($732,000) to the Estonian Council of Churches.  The council, comprised of 10 Christian churches, including the Lutheran Church and both the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate and the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, continued to serve as an organization encompassing the country’s largest Christian communities.  The government continued to fund ecumenical activities, including ecclesiastical programs broadcast by the Estonian Broadcasting Company, youth work by churches, activities promoting interreligious dialogue, and religious publishing.

The Ministry of the Interior provided 103,179 euros ($117,000) in subsidies for the salaries of religious association employees to compensate for losses caused by COVID-19 restrictions.  All registered religious associations had the opportunity to apply for salary compensation.

in cases of suspected arson in February and again in June, fires broke out at the Orthodox Church of Narva Joesuu, in the northeast of the country.  The police opened a criminal investigation, which was pending at year’s end.  Due to the significant destruction of church property of historical and cultural value, the National Heritage Board allocated 100,000 euros ($113,000) to the restoration of the church.

In March and April, the government provided 65,100 euros ($73,800) to support televised prayer services on the Estonian Broadcasting Company when in-person religious services were restricted due to COVID-19.

In April 2020, the government pledged two million euros ($2.27 million) for support of religious associations struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, both to the members of the Council of Churches and to other independent congregations, including the Estonian Jewish Congregation and the Jewish Community of Estonia.

On January 27, the government held its annual memorial event for Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn.  Schools again participated in commemorative activities throughout the country.  The Education and Research Ministry, in cooperation with the Estonian Jewish community, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the Estonian Memory Institute, and the Museum of Occupation, again organized an essay writing competition for schoolchildren on topics related to the lessons of the Holocaust.

The government is a member of IHRA.

In May, the government announced a reorganization and reduction of the military chaplain service due to state budget cuts.

On May 8 and in the last week of July, the Chaplain Service of the Estonian Defense Forces held annual commemorations honoring victims who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In August, unknown persons defaced a poster promoting vaccination with antisemitic graffiti in Tallinn.  City council member Vladimir Svet denounced the incident saying, “The district government takes such situations very seriously and condemns antisemitism and any incitement of hatred against any group.”  Police did not file formal charges due to what they stated was a lack of evidence and suspects.

According to government statistics, in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, police registered three cases of physical abuse, breach of public order, or threats (as defined by law) that included hatred against persons belonging to religious or other minorities, compared with eight cases in 2019.  According to government sources, at least two of these cases were tied to the victim’s race or national origin.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

According to many religious and other civil society leaders, there was societal support for religious freedom and tolerance.

On September 5, the Jewish Community held its annual commemoration for the victims of the Holocaust at the memorial for the victims of Nazism at Kalevi-Liiva, with the participation of foreign diplomats and representatives of the state, municipalities, and public organizations.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised the importance of combating antisemitism, promoting religious tolerance, and promoting Holocaust education in meetings with government officials from the Ministries of Interior, Culture, Education and Research, and Foreign Affairs.  The Charge regularly met with the leader of the Jewish community and participated in the Jewish community’s Yahad Conference, a forum on Estonian Jewry held in the city of Parnu.

Embassy officials met with members of the Jewish community, leaders of religious associations, including members of the Muslim community, representatives of the Council of Churches, civil society groups, and NGOs to discuss religious tolerance and the state of religious freedom in the country.  The embassy used social media to promote religious freedom, including a Facebook post celebrating International Religious Freedom Day.

Finland

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination “without an acceptable reason” and provides for the right to profess and practice a religion and to decline to be a member of a religious community.  The law prohibits breaching the sanctity of religion, which includes blasphemy, offending that which a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies.  According to representatives of their respective groups, immigration authorities continued to deny most asylum applications from Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan.  While a United Nations Human Rights Committee ruling granted two families that are members of Jehovah’s Witnesses positive interim decisions halting deportation proceedings, 15 other cases of Jehovah’s Witness asylum applicants were pending before the Supreme Administrative Court at year’s end.  At least 47 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses previously denied asylum renewed their applications.  In July and September, the Helsinki Police Department fired two officers and were investigating at least five others for engaging in communications that included antisemitic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.  A Finnish People First Party chairman and a Finns Party Member of Parliament (MP) were convicted of aggravated defamation and ethnic agitation respectively for comments against Muslims and asylum seekers.  In September, authorities charged a former city councilor with ethnic agitation for making threatening comments about Muslim immigrants and refugees.  The attorney general declined to prosecute a Social Democratic Party (SDP) MP regarding antisemitic comments made in 2011 because the attorney general declared that the MP had actively and independently sought to minimize the harm from his previous actions.  Prosecutors charged Christian Democrat MP Paivi Rasanen, a former Minister of the Interior, with ethnic agitation and incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality in connection with a booklet she published in 2004 and a 2019 tweet.  Rasanen said her statements were an expression of her freedom of speech and religion.

Police reported 108 hate crimes involving members of religious groups in 2020, the most recent statistics available, compared with 133 such incidents in 2019, but did not specify how many were motivated solely by religion.  Police stated the largest drop in hate crimes were crimes reported at bars and restaurants and were driven by COVID-19 protocols.  The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office received 34 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020, compared with 37 in 2019.  The Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) continued to post anti-Muslim and antisemitic statements online and acted to circumvent the ban of the organization by continuing activities as part of Towards Freedom and far-right websites such as Partisaani.  There were several demonstrations by neo-Nazi or nativist groups.  The Jewish community reported continued incidents of antisemitic vandalism in Helsinki throughout the year.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the inability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center.  Some Muslim groups reported that currently available places of worship did not suit the full needs of their communities, but there was disagreement across communities as to the need for additional places of worship or the need for a grand mosque and disagreement as to how these places of worship could best serve the diverse Muslim population.

U.S. embassy staff engaged with government ministries to discuss government support for religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, government and police responses to antisemitic incidents, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Ahmadi Muslims seeking asylum.  Embassy staff met with the Jewish and Muslim communities to discuss their shared concerns about the impact of government guidelines discouraging male circumcision and addressed religiously motivated crimes and continuing problems involved in establishing or maintaining mosques sufficient for the diverse Muslim population.  Embassy staff also discussed the state of religious freedom with these communities, other religious minority groups, and interfaith networks.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.6 million (midyear 2021). According to Finnish government statistics from December 2020 that count only registered members of registered congregations, 67.8 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELC) and 1.1 percent to the Finnish Orthodox Church, while 0.3 percent (approximately 17,000) have official membership in Islamic congregations, and 29.4 percent do not identify as belonging to any religious group.  The census combines other minority religious communities, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roman Catholics, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jews, and members of the Free Church of Finland, that together account for 1.4 percent of the population.

Multiple sources indicate the Muslim population has grown rapidly in recent years because of a significant inflow of immigrants.  Muslim religious leaders estimate the number of Muslims rose to 100,000 in 2018 (most recent data available), of which approximately 80 percent is Sunni and 20 percent Shia.  In 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, the Pew Research Center estimated 2.7 percent of the population, or approximately 150,000 persons, were Muslim.  According to a survey by the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC), the Muslim population numbered approximately 65,000 in 2016.  According to the Islamic Society of Finland, discrepancies among these sources and between them and official government statistics may occur because only a minority of Muslims register with registered Islamic societies.  Apart from Tatars, who immigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as during the Soviet Union period, most Muslims are immigrants or descendants of immigrants who arrived in recent decades from Somalia, North Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, Syria, Turkey, and Iran.  There are 300 registered members of the Ahmadi community, according to leaders of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland.

In a report released in 2020, the Institute of Jewish Policy Research estimated the Jewish population at 1,300.  There are 18,000 members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, according to Church representatives.  According to Catholic Diocese statistics from 2021, there are 15,902 registered Catholics in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution bars discrimination based on religion “without an acceptable reason.”  It stipulates freedom of religion and conscience, including the right to profess and practice a religion, to express one’s convictions, and to be a member or decline to be a member of a religious community.  It states no one is under the obligation to participate in the practice of a religion.

The law criminalizes blasphemy, or the “breach of the sanctity of religion,” which includes “blaspheming against God,” publicly defaming or desecrating to offend something a religious community holds sacred, and disturbing worship or funeral ceremonies.  Violators are subject to fines or imprisonment of up to six months.  The amount of a fine is dependent both on the severity of the offense and the financial standing of the sentenced offender.  Authorities have occasionally applied the law, most recently in 2019.

The constitution cites the ELC, the only religious group it mentions, stating that “provisions on the organization and administration [of the ELC] are laid down in the Church Act.”

It is considered a crime of ethnic agitation if any person makes available or spreads to the public an expression of opinion or any other message that threatens, defames, or insults a certain group on the basis of race, skin color, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion, belief, sexual orientation, or disability.  This includes the distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination in print or in broadcast media, books, or online newspapers and journals.  Punishment includes a fine based on the severity of the defamation or insult or up to two years’ imprisonment.  If the ethnic agitation involves incitement or enticement to serious violence, a person may be charged with aggravated ethnic agitation, which carries a punishment of imprisonment of between four months and four years.  Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses.  In principle, any act that is considered a crime in legislation may be a hate crime, depending on the underlying motive.  The victim does not need to be a part of a defined group for a crime to be considered a hate crime; it is enough that the perpetrator assumes the victim to be a member of the group.

The law prohibits religious discrimination and establishes the position of a nondiscrimination ombudsman responsible for supervising compliance with the law, investigating individual cases of discrimination, and having the power to issue fines in noncriminal cases.  The ombudsman advocates on behalf of victims, offers counseling, promotes conciliation, and lobbies for legislation, among other duties and authorities.  The ombudsman may also refer cases to the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal (NDET), which also enforces fines issued by the ombudsman and assists plaintiffs seeking compensation in court.  Individuals alleging discrimination may alternatively pursue legal action through the NDET, which may issue binding decisions that may be appealed to the courts or through the district court system.  Litigants may appeal the decisions of the NDET and the district courts to the higher Administrative Court.  Neither the ombudsman nor the NDET has the authority to investigate individual cases of religious discrimination involving employment.  Such cases fall under the purview of the Occupational Safety and Health Authority.

Individuals and groups may exist, associate, and practice their religion without registering with the government.  To be eligible to apply for government funds, however, religious groups must register with the Patent and Registration Office as a religious community.  To register as a religious community, a group must have at least 20 members, the public practice of religion as its purpose, and a set of rules to guide its activities.  A registered religious community is a legal entity that may employ persons, purchase property, and make legal claims.  A religious group may also acquire legal status by registering as an association with a nonprofit purpose that is not contrary to law or proper behavior.  Registered religious groups and nonprofit associations are generally exempt from taxes.  According to the MEC, as of August, there were approximately 156 registered religious communities, most of which had multiple congregations.

According to the MEC, several additional religious communities are organized under the name the Pentecostal Church of Finland but have registered as associations and not as separate religious communities.  Similarly, other organizations, such as revivalist congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, have independent theological or functional operations but have remained administratively under the Evangelical Lutheran Church and have not registered as independent religious communities.  Persons may belong to more than one religious group.

In March, parliament passed an amendment to the Church Act that governs the practices of the ELC.  The amended Church Act provides greater freedom to the ELC administration for holding meetings in an online setting.  It allows members participating in meetings virtually to be considered as present for the purposes of reaching a quorum.

All citizens who belong to either the ELC or Finnish Orthodox Church pay a church tax, collected together with their income tax payments.  Congregations collectively decide the church tax amount, currently set at between 1 to 2 percent of a member’s income.  Those who do not want to pay the tax must terminate their ELC or Orthodox congregation membership.  Members may terminate their membership by contacting the official congregation or the local government registration office, either electronically or in person.  Local parishes have fiscal autonomy to decide how to use funding received from taxes levied on their members.

Registered religious communities other than the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church are eligible to apply for state funds in lieu of the church tax.  In addition to receiving the church tax, the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church may also apply for state funds.  The law states registered religious communities that meet the statutory requirements, including ELC and Orthodox congregations, may apply to receive an annual subsidy from the government budget in proportion to the religious community’s percentage of the population.

The law requires the ELC to maintain public cemeteries using its general allocation from state funds and church taxes and to account for monies used for this purpose.  Other religious communities and nonreligious foundations may maintain their own cemeteries.  All registered religious communities may own and manage property and hire staff, including appointing clergy.  The law authorizes the ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church to register births, marriages, and deaths for their members in collaboration with the government Digital and Population Data Services Agency.  State registrars do this for other persons.

Parents may determine their child’s religious affiliation if the child is younger than 12.  The religious affiliation of children between the ages of 12 and 17 may only be changed by a joint decision of the child and his or her parents or guardian, and the family must pursue specific administrative procedures with their religious community and the local population registration officials to change or terminate the religious affiliation.

All public schools provide religious teaching in accordance with students’ religion.  All students must take courses either in religious studies or ethics, with the choice left up to the student.  Schools must provide religious instruction in religions other than the Lutheran faith if there is a minimum of three pupils representing that faith in the municipal region, the religious community in question is registered, and the students’ families belong to the religious community.  Municipalities may arrange for students from different schools to take a combined course to meet this requirement.  Students who do not belong to a religious group or belong to a religious group for which special instruction is not available may study ethics.  Students aged 18 or older may choose to study either the religious courses pertaining to their religion or the ethics courses.  If a student belongs to more than one religious community, the parents decide in which religious education course the student participates.  The national and municipal governments fund private, including religiously based, schools.  Despite the name, private schools are in fact completely financially dependent on government funding, to ensure equitable education nationwide.  With the exception of international and foreign-language schools, by law private schools may not charge tuition.  They do not practice selective admission based on students’ religion.

Religious education focuses on familiarizing students with their own religion, other religions, and on general instruction in ethics.  Teachers of religion must have state-mandated training for religious instruction.  The state appoints them, and they are not required to belong to any religious community.  The National Board of Education provides a series of textbooks about Orthodox and Lutheran Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, as well as a textbook on secular ethics.

By law, conscientious objectors, including those who object on religious grounds, may choose alternative civilian service instead of compulsory military service.  Conscientious objectors who refuse both military and alternative civilian service may be sentenced to prison terms of up to 173 days, one-half of the 347 days of alternative civilian service.  Regular military service ranges between 165 and 347 days.

The law requires that animals be stunned prior to slaughter or be stunned and killed simultaneously if done pursuant to religious practice.

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

Government Practices

YLE, the Finnish English news site, administered a poll revealing that a majority of MPs did not want to change Finland’s law on the sanctity of religion, which includes the possibility of a six-month prison sentence for blasphemy.  The survey, however, also indicated that MPs of the Greens Party, part of the governing coalition, and opposition Finns Party were united in favor of making changes to the law, with their views based on the same issue:  freedom of speech.  The UN Human Rights Committee called on Finland to change the “vague and broadly worded” criminal provision on the sanctity of religion, stating that it restricts freedom of expression.

Religious communities reported a consistently high level of autonomy in how they were allowed to implement COVID-19 protocols and said that inspections by government officials were unobtrusive and generally helpful.  According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, restrictions imposed on public events did not apply to the characteristic activities of religious communities organized in community premises or similar facilities.  According to legal analysts in an interview with the newspaper Iltalehti, the legislation on communicable diseases that provides the legal basis for limiting public gatherings does not apply to religious gatherings because the latter are legally distinct from public events, as defined by the relevant legislation regarding public assembly.  Catholic Church officials said that when more than 100 persons were potentially exposed to COVID-19 after attending a funeral service in Kouvola, which led to a public outcry, the Church worked closely with government officials to develop improved internal protocols to continue offering regular services without additional public backlash.

In August, the Helsinki District Court ruled that men who carried swastika flags in an Independence Day Towards Freedom rally in 2018 were not guilty of ethnic agitation.  According to the court, while flags carried in the demonstration were associated with the Nazi ideology of persecution and genocide of Jews, carrying a swastika flag was not sufficient for an ethnic agitation conviction.  The court found that the defendants had not been shown to have spread a message that threatened and insulted specific ethnic groups.  Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen stated that he intended to appeal the decision.  Leaders in the Jewish community spoke out against the ruling, saying that displaying a swastika flag represented expressing advocacy of genocide.  According to a survey by the public broadcaster Yle News, most political parties supported criminalizing public use of the swastika flag, either through legislative action or through a Court of Appeal’s decision.  Of the major parties, only the Finns Party, citing concerns for individual freedom, responded that swastika flags should not be banned.

On October 1, Director General of the Finnish National Gallery Kimmo Leva stated the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt plans to prepare a formal study of the state of research on the provenance of Holocaust-era art in museum collections, as recommended by the MEC in June 2019.  At the same time, the Finnish Heritage Agency organized a roundtable discussion for Finnish museums on art provenance (the record of ownership of a work of art) related to both Nazi art and colonialism.  Articles published in 2020 and 2021 through MuseoPro, a publication of the Finnish Association of Museums, showed an increasing consensus regarding the complications of art provenance.  Leva suggested the Finnish Association of Museums might crowdsource the research, following the example of the Finnish National Gallery, which had published a list online of all its art lacking sufficient provenance from the period 1933-1945.

Yle News in May reported that the Ministry of the Interior continued its previously postponed study regarding whether religious symbols, including headscarves, could be worn as part of police uniforms.  In January, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reported the story of Fardowsa Mohamud, a Muslim woman who withdrew from voluntary military service due to a similar hijab ban in the Defense Forces.

In November, the Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture requested public commentary for proposed changes to animal welfare laws.  Proposals included a section on the stunning of animals before slaughter, and explicitly did not include religious exceptions for ritual slaughter.  These legal changes, which would affect kosher and halal practices in the country, were met by vocal opposition by Muslim and Jewish organizations.  The Central Council of Jewish Communities in Finland in a public statement said the law trampled on religious rights and was in contradiction of rights protected under the European Human Rights Convention. Religious groups also stated that as the proposal did not include measures to rectify what they said were other problematic issues concerning animal rights, including tightening of animal stunning procedures, the effect was a culturally subjective law that exclusively limited the cultural traditions of religious minorities.

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health guidelines discouraged the circumcision of males and continued to withhold public healthcare funding for such procedures.  In its guidelines, which were recommendations rather than requirements per prior Supreme Court rulings, the ministry stated only licensed physicians should perform nonmedical circumcision of boys, a child’s guardians should be informed of the risks and irreversibility of the procedure, and it should not be carried out on boys old enough to understand the procedure without their consent.  The ministry termed nonmedical male circumcision a violation of child bodily integrity and self-determination.  Members of the Muslim and Jewish communities continued to express disagreement with the guidelines and stated that each time the issue came up for public debate, it was accompanied by antisemitic or anti-Muslim rhetoric in the press and more broadly.

Parliament took no action on a proposal submitted by 16 parliamentarians in 2020 that “the government…identify the need for regulation of non-medical circumcision of boys and take the necessary legislative measures to clarify the legal situation and define the legal boundaries of non-medical circumcision.”  In the parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee discussion on the October proposal, however, pro-ban MPs were able to get a mention in the committee report that the matter should be brought under consideration in the future.

According to representatives from Jehovah’s Witnesses, the number of Russia-origin members of Jehovah’s Witnesses applying for asylum based on stated religious persecution continued to decline for the second consecutive year, in part because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.  The Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) rejected most of the claims by members of Jehovah’s Witnesses and continued to state that asylum adjudicators did not consider membership in the Church alone to be sufficient basis for an asylum claim.  Information from representatives for Finnish Jehovah’s Witnesses and the FIS showed 15 cases pending before the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) in the first half of 2021.  At least 47 individuals who received negative decisions from the SAC renewed their asylum applications with the FIS based on changed circumstances and were awaiting new decisions at year’s end.

In its Concluding Observations on the Seventh Periodic Report of Finland submitted in April, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern “that the Act Repealing the Act on the Exemption of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Military Service in Certain Cases (330/2019) has removed the exemption from military and civilian service accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses, in contrast to the Committee’s previous recommendations to extend such exemption to other groups of conscientious objectors.”  The Human Rights Committee and the Finnish branch of Amnesty International both noted that alternative nonmilitary service amounted to the longest period of conscripted service, placing a burden on those who exercised their right to conscientious objection, including those who did so on religious grounds.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives, two asylum-seeking families who identified as members of Jehovah’s Witnesses faced deportation to Russia during the year because the families had exhausted all domestic legal remedies in seeking asylum.  The families applied for interim measures to the United Nations Human Rights Committee; both received positive interim decisions that halted their deportation.  While their applications were pending under the domestic immigration system, legal employment was no longer possible.  As a result, the families became dependent on limited government services.

According to representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland, the FIS continued to deny most asylum applications for Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan.  The representatives said the FIS only considered “prominent persons” in the Ahmadi community to be in danger, while other Ahmadis should be able to move to safer areas of Pakistan instead of seeking asylum.  The representatives said that when deportation orders were appealed, authorities requested proof that the individuals in question were in danger instead of considering the systematic persecution Ahmadis faced in Pakistan.  Ahmadi community leaders said they were never consulted on how to confirm or verify membership or persecution status in seeking asylum.  They said that asylum applications had decreased during the past two years because individuals who faced persecution were unwilling to start the asylum process, knowing that it would ultimately be unsuccessful.  The representatives said the group had met with several government representatives, but that it had not yet been able to secure a meeting with the Ministry of Interior to discuss the challenges the community faced.  In the past, the Ministry of the Interior had formally declined to meet with the community and had directed representatives to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

According to a senior military officer, the military continued to maintain a zero-tolerance policy regarding hate speech and hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents.  Unit commanders initiated investigations of reported incidents.  If a commander judged the infraction to be minor, he or she administered a formal reprimand or other punishment.  For more serious offenses, the commander reported the investigation up the chain of command, and military authorities might refer the case to civilian courts.  The officer also stated that the military accommodated, per regulation, religious dietary needs and fasting requirements, and granted religious leave and prayer time to all personnel.  The officer said that these procedures were maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic and that recruits still had access to military chaplains while pandemic protocols were in place.

Yle News reported in July and September that the Helsinki Police Department fired two officers, including the chief of staff, for engaging in communications with far-right hate groups that included anti-Muslim and antisemitic messages.  Text messages revealed discussion of an upcoming “civil war,” with language particularly targeting the country’s Muslim, Somali, and Roma populations.  The report indicated that an additional five police officers and one guard with ties to far-right groups were under investigation.

Religious community leaders repeatedly stated that reported hate crime statistics likely significantly undercounted incidences of hate crimes.  A member of the National Forum for Cooperation of Religions (CORE Forum), an interfaith dialogue group, stated that many members of Muslim communities, particularly women who wear hijabs, encountered verbal and physical harassment that had gone unreported because previous reports were unaddressed.  One Muslim woman said that she no longer used public transit, and a Jewish woman stated she was considering leaving the country due to increased harassment, but neither had reported incidents to the police.  In October, the hashtag #miksienluotapoliisiin (“why I do not trust the police”), trending on Twitter, included citizens’ statements of religious harassment and neo-Nazi, racist, and anti-Muslim rhetoric that they said police ignored.  Representatives from the Helsinki police responded that they were taking the discussion seriously.

On January 5, Yle News reported that Jyrki Aland, the chairperson of the Turku local association of the Finns Party, said he wished for increased COVID-19 deaths in the Varissuo district of Turku in light of the area’s ethnic composition.  Sources quoted Aland as saying that the reports of COVID-19 deaths in Sweden in 2020 would be good for Varissuo because “it is a neighborhood where migrants live and possibly a small Corona cleaning job would do a lot of good there.”  Aland later stated that the comments were made in jest and apologized for them.  According to Yle News on January 11, police were investigating the statements.  More than 48 percent of the population and more than 80 percent of school-age children in Varissuo identify as speaking neither Finnish nor Swedish as their first language, and the suburb is home to significant Muslim and Catholic immigrant populations.  Aland resigned as local association chairperson on September 20.

Yle News also reported in January that the Attorney General’s office announced it would not prosecute SDP MP Hussein al-Taee for Facebook posts from 2011-2012, before he was elected to parliament.  At a press conference in September 2019, al-Taee apologized to Jewish and Sunni Muslim communities for the posts, which were directed at those communities, and did not contest police findings that his posts promoted ethnic agitation.  The Attorney General’s office stated in its decision that al-Taee had actively and independently, without the intervention of authorities, sought to apologize and minimize the harm from his previous actions. On his website, al-Taee apologized to Jewish, Egyptian, and Sunni Muslim communities for the posts and stated that his previous writings are incompatible with his current worldview.

On April 30, the Helsinki Times reported that Christian Democrat MP Paivi Rasanen, a former Minister of the Interior, had been charged with ethnic agitation and incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality in connection with a booklet she published in 2004 and a 2019 tweet.  According to the article, the prosecutor examined statements in Rasanen’s booklet, entitled “Male and Female He Created Them – Homosexual Relationships Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” and a tweet responding to news that the ELC was partnering with the Helsinki Pride Festival that stated, “How can the Church’s doctrinal foundation, the Bible, be compatible with the lifting up of shame and sin as a subject of pride?”  The prosecutor determined that these comments disparaged gays and lesbians, violated their equality rights, and fomented intolerance and hatred.  Incitement to hatred on the basis of sexuality was outlawed in 1995.  Rasanen defended her statements by stating her religious beliefs were an expression of her freedom of speech and religion.  Dr. Juhana Pohjola, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, faced a similar charge related to distribution of the 2004 booklet.

Yle News reported in May that authorities sentenced former chairman of the Finnish People First Party Marco de Wit to six months’ probation for three counts of aggravated defamation and 13 counts of defamation, one of which concerned “violating the peace of religion.”  De Wit had published several articles online threatening and insulting Muslims, Afghans, refugees, and asylum seekers on the basis of their religion, skin color, and ethnic origin.  More than 20 plaintiffs joined the defamation case against de Wit, who had posted social media items linking Finnish Muslims and police officers with child sexual exploitation.  In addition, the court ordered de Wit to delete his social media posts and pay more than 40,000 euros ($45,400) in compensation to the victims.

On October 7, Helsingin Sanomat reported that the Oulu District Court convicted former Oulu city councilor Junes Lokka of ethnic agitation and sentenced him to 70 day-fines with a value of 420 euros ($480).  The severity of a sentencing fine is measured by the number of day-fines while the monetary value of the day-fine is set by one’s income level.  The court had previously convicted Lokka on two counts of ethnic agitation regarding videos Lokka posted online in 2016 depicting Muslim immigrants and other immigrants as being inferior to other human beings.  The prosecution brought the new charge as a result of comments Lokka made at an Oulu city council meeting in February 2020 in which he threatened Muslim immigrants and refugees and promoted the hiring of “death squads” to promote migration of minorities out of the municipality of Oulu.

In October, a court convicted Finns Party MP Sebastian Tynkkynen on charges of ethnic agitation in connection with 2017 Facebook posts that were part of a municipal election campaign.  In the posts, Tynkkynen published several pictures and texts referencing “the criminal behavior of Muslim asylum seekers and immigrants towards women and children.”  Tynkkynen denied all charges, stating that his posts were moderate and in accordance with freedom of expression.  The court fined Tynkkynen 70 day-fines, totaling 4,410 euros ($5,000) and demanded Tynkkynen delete the posts from his Facebook account.

Ministry of the Interior and MEC statistics indicated the government allocated 117 million euros ($132.65 million) to the ELC, compared with 115.6 million euros ($131.07 million) in 2020, and 2.6 million euros ($2.95 million) to the Finnish Orthodox Church, compared with 2.58 million euros ($2.93 million) in 2019.  The MEC allotted a total of 824,000 euros ($934,000) to all other registered religious organizations, equal to the amount allotted in 2020.  This sum includes 524,000 euros ($594,000) distributed across communities in relation to the number of registered members and 300,000 euros ($340,000) to the Helsinki Jewish Congregation to continue its investments in security at facilities and events following antisemitic incidents.  Religious leaders of minority religions indicated concern over the funding allocation.  Several Muslim community leaders noted what they said was that a lack of cultural understanding regarding individual registration hurt funding for Muslim communities, while the Catholic Church lobbied for the ability of its members to designate funds for the Church through their taxes, as ELC and Finnish Orthodox Church members are able to do.

The MEC awarded 80,000 euros ($90,700) to promote interfaith dialogue, consistent with funding in 2020.  Three organizations split the funding:  the CORE Forum, composed of representatives from the largest religious denominations; Fokus, an interfaith and intercultural organization; and Ad Astra, an organization promoting dialogue, interfaith projects, and inclusivity for children in schools, preschools, and daycare facilities.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In 2020, the latest period for which data were available, police reported 108 hate crimes against members of religious groups, including crimes involving assault, threats and harassment, discrimination, and vandalism, compared with 133 such incidents in 2019.  There were 39 incidents involving Muslims, 28 involving Christians, including two involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, 18 involving Jews, and 21 involving others or unknown religious groups.  Police did not, however, cite any details of the incidents or release information on how many were motivated solely by religion.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

Despite the ban on the self-described Pan-Nordic neo-Nazi NRM in the country, the group continued to operate a website, make statements promoting discrimination or violence against Jews and Muslims, and participate in demonstrations.  Authorities stated that in 2020, Finnish members of the NRM began operating as part of the Towards Freedom group, considered to be the NRM’s successor by the National Bureau of Investigation.  While Towards Freedom’s website remained active, it had not been updated since December 2020.  Former NRM members continued activities under new websites, including Partisaani, a far-right news aggregation website that spread anti-Muslim and antisemitic conspiracy theories and Finn Aid (Suomalaisapu), an organization that describes itself as a charity organization but also used anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.  These outlets often featured the traditional NRM logo that includes neo-fascist imagery.

Finnish researchers studying online extremism stated that neo-Nazi activities decreased significantly during the year following the ban of the NRM.  Helsingin Sanomat reported in March, however, that the threat of terrorism posed by far-right groups, particularly as a response to racist and anti-Muslim “replacement theory” (which asserts that immigration and low birth rates among native populations will result in the replacement of native populations by foreigners of different races and religions), increased in the country, corresponding with the findings of a 2020 study by the National Bureau of Investigation.

In August, former Tampere City Council member and far-right party organizer Terhi Kiemunki led a protest organized by the Alliance of Nationalists commemorating the fourth anniversary of a terrorist attack by a self-identified soldier of ISIS in Turku, Finland.  While the Alliance of Nationalists stated that it did not take a position on the activities or opinions of its members or discriminate against other nationalities, religions, and ethnicities, the alliance hosted regular “White Lives Matter” events and promoted news articles describing “replacement theory” ideology on its webpage.  Leaders of the Alliance of Nationalists include former NRM members.  Police estimated attendance at the protest at more than 100 participants, fewer than both previous memorial demonstrations.  Police estimated attendance at a concurrent counterdemonstration by the anti-fascist group Turku Without Nazis as larger than the event sponsored by the Alliance of Nationalists.  Police arrested one person for harassing behavior, but police did not comment on whether the detainee took part in the protest or counterprotest.

Stickers and posters with antisemitic images and messages were placed on the synagogue of Helsinki’s Jewish Congregation, in neighborhoods with significant Jewish populations, and on public property throughout the year.  Sources stated the vandalism was both random and targeted.  Antisemitic graffiti and stickers bearing iconography of the NRM also appeared at LGBTQI+ Pride events.  Representatives of the Jewish community reported that despite available video and photographic evidence of those responsible, police made no arrests.

In September, anti-immigration activists organized a demonstration called Rise Finland (Nuose Suomi) in Helsinki’s Parliament Park to protest the reception of Afghan refugees in the country.  Speakers included former members of the NRM, and organizers advertised the event on the Norwegian branch of the NRM’s website and on Partisaani.  Speeches, broadcast live on YouTube, focused on what the organizers called “the Islamization of Finland” and called on Finns to take a stand for “Finnishness.”

In a Swedish documentary series released in Finland in January, Linda Karlstrom, the coach of the IK Kronan gymnastics club of Kronoby, made several remarks questioning the existence of the Holocaust.  The Swedish-speaking Sports Federation raised Karlstrom’s case, but the Gymnastics Association Disciplinary Committee did not punish her on free-speech grounds.  The disciplinary committee stated that, as a general rule, matters outside sports do not fall with its remit.  As of March, Karlstrom no longer coached at IK Kronan.

Anti-Muslim and antisemitic organizations were active across a variety of social media platforms.  “Replacement theory” references spread on Facebook, Twitter, the Russian social media network VK, and the American social media network Gab.  The European Jewish Congress and leaders of the Helsinki Jewish community reported antisemitic incidents in European social networks, including posts in Finnish, throughout the year.  Telegram, VK, Gab, and Twitter spread Holocaust denials and conspiracy theories of Jewish “world domination.” According to Helsingin Sanomat, the Finnish Football Association announced in May that it would donate Nike sports hijabs to every soccer player who wanted one.  The announcement was met with a backlash on Twitter, where a significant proportion of comments expressed opposition to the hijab.

NGOs working with migrants, including the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, continued to raise concerns about the ability of religious minorities housed in migrant reception centers to worship without harassment from other migrants housed within the same center.  A representative of the center said converts to Christianity in migrant reception facilities continued to face harassment, including social exclusion, threats, and blackmail but that there were limited security and social services resources to combat these issues.

Leaders of Muslim religious organizations were divided concerning the need for additional houses of worship that could accommodate the growing and diverse Muslim community.  A representative of the CORE Forum said that Muslim groups continued to seek adequate houses of worship, but that they were hindered by insufficient funds from purchasing property, given that most Muslims did not belong to congregations registered with the government and did not choose to register.  Except for a handful of purpose-built mosques, most mosques were located in converted commercial spaces.  Other members of the Muslim community noted that, in sum, the spaces available were sufficient, but that persons from some religious or ethnic backgrounds may not feel comfortable using the currently available spaces.  According to one community leader, while the number of prayer rooms was sufficient, there were not enough spaces providing community services, particularly for women and children, or prayer services in Finnish.  Members of the LGBTQI+ Muslim community noted that there were no “safe spaces” for Muslims who identified as LGBTQI+ and, in particular, for LGBTQI+ Muslims in asylum-seeker reception centers.  Attempts to build a large grand mosque in the south of the country stalled; some Muslim community leaders identified politicization of zoning laws, anti-Muslim and racist attitudes in some local communities, and deep divisions across the diverse Muslim community as contributing factors.

Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland stated that other Muslim groups continued to block the group’s formal membership in interfaith organizations.  Representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Finland said the group planned to construct a mosque and cultural center in the future and that although the mosque would be built solely with funds from the Ahmadi community, it would be open to all religious and nonreligious individuals.

The nondiscrimination ombudsman’s office reported receiving 34 complaints of religious discrimination in 2020 – 3 percent of total discrimination complaints – compared with 37 complaints in 2019.

The website Magneettimedia continued to post antisemitic content and in January published an article entitled, “Biden:  Jews in leadership positions in the White House, CIA, NSA, and Ministry of Finance,” and in April a piece entitled “World Power Aspirations of the Jewish Mafia.”  The website also warned of what it said was a coming confrontation among the Christian and Islamic and Jewish worlds that could lead to the destruction of Christianity.  Major companies and consumer brands continued to boycott the department store chain owned by the former owner of Magneettimedia, Juha Karkkainen, due to his antisemitic views.

In June, the Ministry of the Interior published a report by a working group dedicated to improving security at religious sites.  The report found that while nearly all (93 percent) Christian respondents reported feeling safe in or near their religious facilities, only 69 percent of Muslims and 33 percent of Jews reported feeling safe in the vicinity of designated religious spaces.  The report’s recommendations included improving state support for security for all religious communities.  According to the leadership of the Central Council of Jewish Communities, proposed budget cuts to synagogue security funding were a significant concern.  Representatives of the Ahmadi Muslim community said that they were not consulted in the production of the report and expressed additional security concerns, particularly about what they termed extremist groups.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, representatives of religious groups participated in virtual events hosted by other religious groups.  Finn Church Aid (FCA), associated with the ELC, again hosted an interfaith iftar, bringing together virtually representatives from the largest religious groups, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and municipal governments.  The theme of the event was “Loving Thy Neighbor in the Time of a Pandemic:  An Inclusive Approach,” and it discussed how interfaith dialogue and community organization might advance religious freedom during difficult times and restrictions, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Throughout the year, embassy staff engaged with officials from the Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Foreign Affairs to discuss religious intolerance, the promotion of interfaith dialogue, the provision of religious services for refugees and asylum seekers, and the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in asylum adjudications.

Embassy staff engaged with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy, lay activists from these communities, the Finnish Ecumenical Council, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other minority religious groups to discuss the state of religious freedom in the country.  Embassy staff and members of the Jewish and Muslim communities discussed these communities’ shared concerns about the impact of government guidelines discouraging male circumcision, religiously motivated crimes, and problems establishing or maintaining places of worship that fit the various needs of the diverse Muslim population.  Embassy staff also discussed anti-Muslim discrimination with representatives from different Muslim congregations and met regularly with NGOs such as the CORE Forum.  Embassy staff continued to engage with representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses concerning the high rate of application denials for Jehovah’s Witnesses from Russia seeking asylum on grounds of religious persecution.  Embassy staff corresponded with representatives of the Ahmadi Muslim community, who expressed concerns over the high rate of denials of asylum applications for Ahmadis from Pakistan and the security situation of the Ahmadi community in Finland.  Embassy staff also engaged with the predominantly Muslim Uyghur community.

The embassy coordinated approaches on anti-Semitism with counterparts in the UK and Canadian diplomatic missions.  Embassy officers used social media messaging to elevate minority religious voices and to promote greater Holocaust awareness.

Embassy staff participated in events hosted by minority religious groups and the CORE Forum.  Embassy staff participated in an online seminar in September that promoted interfaith dialogue to confront persecution of religious minorities.  In October, embassy staff participated in the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the CORE Forum, which included a seminar series on religious literacy and direct engagement with government officials and leaders of religious institutions on issues of religious expression, cooperation, and freedom.

France

Executive Summary

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

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

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

Section I. Religious Demography

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

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

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The country is a member of the IHRA.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 government banned the Muslim association Ansaar International, stating it financed terrorism, and Hamburg’s intelligence service said it would classify the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) as an organization receiving “direct orders from Tehran.”  Federal and some state offices of the domestic intelligence service continued to monitor the activities of numerous Muslim groups and mosques, as well as the Church of Scientology (COS).  Certain states continued to ban or restrict the use of religious clothing or symbols, including headscarves, for some state employees.  A ruling on two German cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union said the needs of employers could outweigh an employee’s right to wear religious clothing and symbols.  Senior government leaders continued to condemn antisemitism and anti-Muslim sentiment and acts.  In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed regret that public antisemitism had increased in the country and said Germany would expend great strength to resist it.  The first antisemitism commissioner for the state of Hamburg assumed office in July; Bremen remained the only state without such a position.

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents.  These included assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, vandalism, and demonstrations.  In separate incidents, two Jewish men were hospitalized after being severely beaten and suffering broken bones in the face.  In May, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations and attacks, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country, during violence in the Middle East.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported during the year, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.  Ministry of Interior crime statistics for 2020, the most recent year for which complete data were available, cited 2,351 antisemitic crimes, an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019, attributing 2,224 (94.6 percent) of them to the far right.  Fifty-seven of the antisemitic crimes involved violence.  The ministry registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions – including 79 against places of worship and 51 involving battery – and 141 anti-Christian crimes, including seven involving violence.  The ministry classified most of the perpetrators of anti-Muslim crimes as right-wing extremists; the composition of those acting against Christians was mixed.  The partially government-funded Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism (RIAS) attributed the increase in antisemitic incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, classifying 489 antisemitic incidents as connected to the pandemic.  Demonstrations also occurred expressing anti-Muslim sentiment.  In September, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

In June, then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the U.S. Secretary of State launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and antisemitism.  The U.S. embassy and five consulates general assessed the government’s responses to incidents of religious intolerance and met with a wide range of officials at all levels and with federal and state legislators.  They expressed concerns regarding antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian acts, and advocated for more law enforcement and other resources to prevent violent attacks on religious communities.  Consuls General met with state-level government representatives, including antisemitism commissioners.  The embassy and consulates general maintained a dialogue with a broad spectrum of religious communities and human rights NGOs on their concerns regarding religious freedom and on ways to promote tolerance and communication among religious groups.  The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities to support programs promoting religious tolerance and understanding, while countering antisemitism and extremism targeting religion.  The embassy utilized virtual and in-person speaker programs and workshops to help preserve accurate Holocaust narratives and expand discussion of religious freedom issues.  The Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community in June following an attack on a synagogue there.  The Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General visited Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, where they met with members of the Jewish community to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in the east of the country.  The embassy made extensive use of social media to amplify U.S. government messaging and disseminate its own original content advocating religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 79.9 million (midyear 2021).  Unofficial estimates based on the census and figures provided by religious groups indicate approximately 27 percent of the population is Catholic and 25 percent belongs to the Evangangelische Kirche in Deutschland (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, account for approximately 2 percent of the population.  Orthodox Christians represent 1.9 percent of the population.

According to government estimates published in April, approximately 6.6 percent of the population is Muslim, of which 74 percent is Sunni, 8 percent Alevi, 4 percent Shia, 1 percent Ahmadi, and 1 percent other affiliations such as Alawites and Sufis.  The remaining 12 percent of Muslims in the country say they are not affiliated with any of the above groups or are unwilling to disclose an affiliation.  Intelligence officials estimate there are approximately 12,150 Salafi Muslims in the country.  Estimates of the Jewish population vary widely; the Federal Ministry of the Interior estimates it at 95,000, while other estimates place the number at approximately 190,000 when including Jews who do not belong to a specific Jewish community.  According to the secular NGO Religious Studies Media and Information Service (REMID), Buddhists (270,000); Jehovah’s Witnesses (167,000); Hindus (100,000); Yezidis (100,000); members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) (40,000); Sikhs (10,000-15,000); and members of the COS (3,400) together constitute less than 1 percent of the population.  All of REMID’s estimates are based on members who have registered with a religious group.  According to the nonprofit Research Group Worldviews Germany, approximately 39 percent of the population either has no religious affiliation or belongs to religious groups not counted in government statistics.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religious opinion and provides for freedom of faith and conscience, freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, and freedom to practice one’s religion.  It 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 parents have the right to decide whether their children receive religious instruction.  It recognizes the right to establish private denominational schools.  The constitution guarantees the freedom to form religious societies and permits groups to 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 to provide religious services in the military, hospitals, and prisons.

A federal law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

The federal criminal code prohibits calling for violence, inciting hatred, or taking arbitrary measures against religious groups or their members.  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 penalties apply equally to online speech.  In addition, the federal criminal code prohibits insulting a domestic religious organization, its institutions or practices, or the religious beliefs or world views of another person, if doing so could disturb the public peace.  Violations are punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison but are rarely prosecuted.  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.

By law, social media companies with more than two million registered users in the country must implement procedures to review complaints and remove or block access to illegal speech within seven days of receiving a complaint and within 24 hours for cases considered “manifestly unlawful.”  Noncompliance may result in fines of up to 50 million euros ($56.69 million).  Unlawful content includes actions illegal under the criminal code, such as defamation of religions and denial of historic atrocities.

The law permits the federal government to characterize “nontraditional” religious groups – such as the COS – 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 past court decisions ruled that the government must remain neutral toward 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.  Those applying for tax-exempt status must provide evidence they are a religious group through their statutes, history, and activities.

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 (8 percent of income tax in Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, 9 percent in the other states) on members, who must register their religious affiliation with federal tax authorities.  Each state collects the tithes on behalf of the religious community through the state’s tax collection process, separately from and in addition to income taxes.  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 benefits, including 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.  State governments subsidize institutions with PLC status that provide public services, such as religious schools and hospitals.  In addition, due to historic “state-church contracts” dating back to before 1919, 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.  The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has 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.

Federal animal protection laws prohibit the killing of animals without anesthesia, including as part of halal and kosher slaughter practices.  Pursuant to a Federal Administrative Court decision, however, 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.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, and hair or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct.  The law specifies that if these symbols are of a religious nature, they may only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affecting trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of his official duties.”

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.  The states of Bavaria, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), and Saarland render decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony 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.  Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg prohibit teachers from wearing full-face veils (i.e., niqabs or burqas).  Berlin bans visible signs of religious affiliation for police, lawyers, judges, and law enforcement staff but not for primary and secondary school teachers.  In Lower Saxony and Bavaria, judges and prosecutors may not wear religious symbols or clothing in the courtroom.  Other states have laws that restrict religious attire in certain circumstances.

Citing safety reasons and the need for traffic law enforcement, federal law prohibits the concealment of faces while driving, including by a niqab.  Infractions are punishable by a 60 euro ($68) fine.

State law in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg forbids students in primary and secondary schools from full-face veiling at school (i.e., wearing a niqab or burqa).  This state ban on full-face covering does not apply in higher education.

According to federal law, religious groups may appoint individuals with special training to carry out circumcision of males younger than 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 those without such status that have concluded a special agreement with the state granting them this right) appoint religion teachers and work with the states to ensure the curriculum is 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 by state) express an interest.  Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Berlin, Hesse, Lower Saxony, NRW, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, and Schleswig-Holstein also offer some religious instruction in Islam.  In most federal states, Muslim communities or associations provide this instruction, while in Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the state does.  In Hamburg and Bremen, nondenominational religious instruction is offered for all students by the EKD and the state, respectively.

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 states.

The government provides annual payments to Holocaust victims and their descendants, and regularly expands the scope of these programs to broaden the eligibility requirements.

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

Government Practices

In May, then federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer banned the Duesseldorf-based Muslim association Ansaar International and related suborganizations for financing terrorism and opposing the country’s constitutional order.  The NRW Office for the Protection of the Constitution (OPC, the state’s intelligence service) had been observing these organizations since 2013.  More than 1,000 officers were deployed in 10 states (Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Schleswig-Holstein) to enforce the ban.

In July, Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service announced that, based on new evidence, it would officially classify the IZH as an organization that is not independent, but rather one that “receives and depends on direct orders from Tehran.”  The IZH challenged this and previous claims in court; a verdict was pending at year’s end.  Hamburg opposition parties and civil society actors continued to advocate an end to Hamburg’s formal relationship with the IZH, which they said was an important Iranian regime asset.

Federal and state OPCs continued to monitor numerous Muslim groups, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups ISIS, Hizballah, and Hamas, as well as groups such as Turkish Hizballah, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jama’at, Millatu Ibrahim, the IZH, the Muslim Brotherhood, Milli Gorus, and various Salafist movements.

The OPC in Saxony continued to monitor two mosques it said were dominated by Salafists.

According to reports from the federal OPC and COS members, the federal OPC and the OPCs of six states – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, NRW, and Saxony-Anhalt – continued to monitor the activities of the COS, reportedly by evaluating COS publications and members’ public activities to determine whether they violated the constitution.  At least four major political parties – the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Christian Social Union (CSU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Free Democratic Party (FDP) – continued to exclude Scientologists from party membership.  “Sect filters,” signed statements by potential employees to confirm they had no contact with the COS, remained in use in the public and private sectors.

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

In speeches in September and October, then Chancellor Merkel expressed regret that expressions of public antisemitism had increased in the country and said the country would expend great strength to resist it.  At the presentation of a prize for tolerance in September, she stated that support for Jewish life was a special obligation of the government and that the country would not tolerate racism, antisemitism, or hate directed at a group of persons.  She also acknowledged a strong increase in antisemitic acts in 2020 and expressed concern that antisemitism was becoming bolder and more open than before.

In August, the federal government announced it would spend an additional 12 million euros ($13.61 million) on research networks focusing on antisemitism between 2021 and 2024, complementing the one billion euros ($1.13 billion) in spending already planned for 89 measures against right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism during that period.  Then Education and Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the government wanted to invest millions in researching the causes of anti-Semitism in order “to efficiently fight” it, adding that there was reason to worry that the 2,351 cases of antisemitism reported in 2020 were “only the tip of the iceberg and that the unreported number of daily attacks on Jews is substantially higher.”

In July, the Duisburg public prosecutor’s office charged six law enforcement officers with sedition and spreading symbols of unconstitutional organizations by participating in right-wing extremist chat groups with names such as “Alphateam” and “Kunte Kinte.”  According to the NRW Interior Ministry, officers exchanged anti-Muslim content in the groups, including praise for the 2019 anti-Muslim attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.  The groups had been found entered into an officer’s phone in September 2020.  Investigations against seven other accused members of the chat groups were dropped due to statutes of limitation or lack of sufficient evidence.  Investigations continued in 13 other cases, all involving law enforcement officers.  In September, the NRW Interior Ministry’s unit examining police right-wing extremism published its report of conclusions, in which it recommended 18 separate measures to fight right-wing extremism within the police.

In June, Frankfurt prosecutors launched investigations of 20 members of the city’s elite police special forces (SEK) for exchanging right-wing extremist material in a chat group, including material venerating Nazi organizations and expressing hate against minority groups.  On August 26, Hesse Interior Minister Peter Beuth dissolved the Frankfurt SEK and announced a statewide reorganization of SEK units.  Investigations against a majority of the officers continued at year’s end, but investigations of two superior officers for failing to report the activity were closed.  Frankfurt Police president Gerhard Bereswill said in September that parts of the city’s police force would be reformed to address antisemitic tendencies and other discriminatory attitudes within it.

In July, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Ayman Mazyek, and other representatives of the Muslim community said that military chaplains were not available to the estimated 3,000 Muslim soldiers who “put their heads on the line for Germany.”  The Ministry of Defense said that the lack of an umbrella organization for Muslims with which the ministry could negotiate made it difficult to appoint imams as chaplains.

In June, the Bundeswehr (military) appointed its first military rabbi, the first of up to 10 rabbis scheduled to serve the 150-300 Jews in the armed forces.  The Central Council of Jews in Germany and leading politicians of all major parties welcomed the move.

According to the Rhineland-Palatinate Ministry of Justice, the state employed four Muslim prison chaplains, all of whom are state employees and had to pass a multistep recruitment process.  The states of Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Bavaria also employed Muslim chaplains, according to media reports, and in Lower Saxony, 11 Muslim chaplains worked for the prison system on a freelance basis.

In May, the Stuttgart Administrative Court decided in favor of the Wuerttemberg EKD, ruling that the federal government’s COVID-19 restrictions for areas with high infection rates did not apply to church funerals.  The EKD had argued in April that church funerals were religious services, not private events, and should therefore be exempt from the 30-person attendance limit mandated by the COVID-19 regulations.  The court also found that the federal regulation constituted an infringement on religious freedom.

Religious groups, including the Coordination Council of Muslims, whose members included the country’s largest Muslim organizations, expressed concern that authorities might restrict civil servants from wearing headscarves or other religious symbols after the law allowing such restrictions in some circumstances came into effect in July.

On March 22-23, then Chancellor Merkel and the minister-presidents (governors) of the 16 states decided the government would ask churches to cancel in-person Easter services on April 4 as part of heightened COVID-19 restrictions during a five-day “quiet period” of no in-person gatherings.  According to media reports, the Chancellor and minister-presidents did not consult with church leaders or government advisors on religious affairs before announcing the decision.  On March 24, following strong protests by the Catholic Church, the EKD, and business leaders, the federal government withdrew the plan for the quiet period.  The government, however, still encouraged churches to avoid in-person Easter services.

In April, NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul suggested that religious congregations suspend in-person services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The suggestion followed a COVID-19 outbreak at a church in Euskirchen.  Religious groups followed strict social distancing rules for in-person worship but also offered virtual and drive-in services.

Also in April, local officials and mayors across NRW encouraged Muslims to celebrate Ramadan virtually, as large gatherings were prohibited due to COVID-19 regulations.  To comply with social distancing regulations, many mosques offered in-person services for smaller numbers of participants, as well as online prayers.

In August, the NRW state government established a reporting office for antisemitic incidents that do not rise to the level of criminal charges.  The North Rhein State Association of Jewish Communities temporarily administered the office until the government could establish a new organization.

In March, the city of Cologne established a reporting and documentation office for antisemitic incidents at its National Socialist Documentation Center that it said would coordinate its efforts with similar institutions at the state and national level.

In April, the Hamburg government appointed Stefan Hensel, the local chair of the German Israeli Society (DIG), as the city-state’s first independent antisemitism commissioner.  Hensel’s three-year term began on July 1.  Hamburg’s largest Jewish congregation, led by Chief Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, as well as the smaller Liberal Jewish Community, endorsed the appointment.  Hensel stated that he was committed to fighting both antisemitism and anti-Zionism, adding that the city should appreciate Hamburg Jews as modern citizens.

Bremen remained the only state in the country without an antisemitism commissioner.  In previous years, the deputy chair of the Jewish community in Bremen said the community preferred to address antisemitism and other issues of concern in an existing forum that included the mayor and president of the legislature.

In August, the government of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced that the annual budget of the state’s antisemitism commissioner would be doubled to more than 2.2 million euros ($2.49 million).

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg State Criminal Police Office and the state Interior Ministry announced a new prevention program called “Safe in Religious Communities” aimed at improving communication between law enforcement agencies and religious communities, while giving community representatives tools to safely organize events and identify extremism.  Police officers at regional headquarters were trained to act as liaisons to the Jewish and Muslim communities.  According to a press release by the Baden-Wuerttemberg government, more religious communities might be added at a later date.

On August 23, Baden-Wuerttemberg Interior Minister Thomas Strobl officially inaugurated the country’s first two police rabbis, Moshe Flomenmann from Loerrach and Shneur Trebnik from Ulm.  According to Strobl, the police rabbis would serve as counselors and points of contact for prospective and current police officers, as well as for community members.

In September, the Central Archive for the History of Jews in Germany reopened at a new location in Heidelberg.  The federal Ministry of the Interior funded the archive with 900,000 euros ($1.02 million) annually.

On October 7, the Berlin Administrative Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in which they said the Bundestag had infringed upon their fundamental rights when it passed a resolution criticizing the BDS as antisemitic in 2019.

In May, the Moenchengladbach District Court of Appeals overturned a man’s eight-month suspended sentence imposed by a lower court for distributing the antisemitic manifesto of the 2019 Halle synagogue attacker online, and instead fined him 900 euros ($1,000).  The court stated it found the defendant’s claims that he had shared the manifesto only to mock its contents to be credible.

In May, the NRW Higher Administrative Court in Muenster rejected an exemption for a woman from Duesseldorf who wanted to drive a car while wearing a niqab.  The court cited the law prohibiting drivers from fully covering their face except for the eyes.  The decision could not be appealed.

According to a 2020 survey of state-level education ministries, the most recent available, more than 900 schools in the country offered Islamic religious instruction.  Almost 60,000 students took part in Islamic religious instruction in the school year 2019-20, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year.  Since 2017-18, approximately 35 schools had added Islamic religious instruction.

In May, the NRW Ministry of Education created a new commission to cooperate on Islamic religious instruction in public schools.

In July, the Wiesbaden Administrative Court ruled the Hesse state government had unlawfully ended cooperation with the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) on Islamic religious education in public schools in April 2020.  The state government appealed the decision in August; the appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In the 2021-22 school year, 364 schools in Bavaria began offering Islamic religion courses, similar to existing religion courses on Christianity and Judaism.  All pupils in Bavaria must receive instruction in one of these religions, or an ethics course if courses in their religion are not available.  Approximately 100 Muslim instructors were expected to teach approximately 17,000 Muslim pupils, although demand for Islamic religion courses was much higher than 17,000, according to parents, schools, and education ministry officials.  Muslim communities complained that the state government, not the religious community, set the curriculum of the course.

In October, Saxony-Anhalt also began offering pupils Judaism instruction for the first time as a pilot project at an elementary school in Magdeburg.  Fourteen pupils enrolled in the course.

In April, the Mainz Administrative Court ruled that the 2019 closure of Rhineland-Palatinate’s only Islamic daycare center, the al-Nur center in Mainz, was lawful.  State authorities had closed the center, saying it was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations.

In May, the Sunni School Council Foundation, which oversees Islamic religious education in Baden-Wuerttemberg public schools, rejected the teaching license of Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, head of the Islamic Theology department at the University of Education in Freiburg.  While the foundation cited missing credentials as a reason for its decision, critics, including members of the Muslim community, academics, and politicians, accused it of trying to silence a prominent voice of a liberal interpretation of Islam.  The Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs defended the decision, which could be appealed.

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 contributed 13 million euros ($14.74 million) to help maintain Jewish cultural heritage 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 group researching 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 March, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (also known as the Jewish Claims Conference) and the government announced an agreement to provide transitional payments to surviving spouses of Jewish victims of the Nazis who had been receiving a pension from the government.

In January, the Baden-Wuerttemberg state government signed a contract with the state’s Jewish communities to protect Jewish institutions and combat antisemitism.  The contract stipulated the state government would provide funds to protect Jewish facilities totaling one million euros ($1.13 million) in 2021 and 1.17 million euros ($1.33 million) in each of the ensuing three years, as well as 200,000 euros ($227,000) yearly for three years for the construction of a Jewish academy.

On April 22, the Dresden city council voted to establish a museum on the history of Jewish life in the states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia and in Poland and the Czech Republic.

After many years of renovation, the Goerlitz synagogue reopened on July 12.  Consecrated 110 years earlier, it had survived the Nazi pogrom of November 1938 (also referred to as Kristallnacht) and been neglected during the German Democratic Republic period.  The federal government supported the construction with 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million).

Construction of Frankfurt’s Jewish Academy began in September.  The academy, due to open in 2024, would function, according to sponsors, as an intellectual center of Jewish life, philosophy, and culture.  The costs of construction, estimated at 34.5 million euros ($39.12 million), was to be shared by the federal government, the state of Hesse, the city of Frankfurt, and the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

In September, the city of Frankfurt and its Jewish community signed an extension to the contract that governs cooperation between them.  The contract stipulated the city would provide an additional one million euros ($1.13 million) for the protection and security of the Jewish community, starting with the 2022 fiscal year.

According to media reports and the Humanistic Union, an organization that describes its mission as working to protect and enforce civil rights, including the right to free development of the personality, total state government contributions during the year to the Catholic Church and the EKD totaled approximately 581 million euros ($658.73 million).  The union said it calculated its estimate based on budgets of the 16 states.  The Humanistic Union advocates the abolition of state church privileges such as faith-based religious education as a regular school subject, collection of church taxes, and other financial aid to religious groups.

On June 16, the country’s first publicly funded Islamic seminary opened in Osnabrueck with a class of 50 students.  Five Muslim federations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany and the Muslim Community of Lower Saxony, founded the seminary.  A commission of their representatives sets the curriculum, which is taught in German.  The federal and Lower Saxony governments committed to provide 5.5 million euros ($6.24 million) in funding to the school over five years.

The government continued the German Islam Conference dialogue with Muslims in the country.  The dialogue’s stated aim was to improve the religious and social participation of the Muslim population, 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 Muslim organizations.  Among the specific outcomes of the dialogue were the April publication of a large study on Muslim life in the country that included new official estimates of the size of the Muslim population, the first in years; a May conference on young Muslims’ perspectives on issues affecting Islam in the country; the establishment of an Islamic seminary in Osnabrueck in June, including government funding for it; and support for efforts to inform the Muslim community about the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the year.

The country is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and held the organization’s chairmanship for the year ending March 31.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were numerous reports of antisemitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents across the country, including assaults, verbal harassment, threats, discrimination, and vandalism.  According to figures collected by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as of November 5, there had been 1,850 antisemitic crimes reported, including 35 involving physical violence leading to 17 persons injured.

In August, a group insulted and severely beat a young Jewish man wearing a kippah while he was sitting in a Cologne park.  The victim was hospitalized with broken bones in his face.  The two attackers were arrested and released; police investigations into the crime continued at year’s end.  Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker, Catholic Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, and President of the Jewish Community in Munich and Upper Bavaria Charlotte Knobloch condemned the attack, which police said they suspected was motived by antisemitism.

In Hamburg on September 18, a man and his companion shouted antisemitic slogans before attacking a 60-year-old Jewish man, leaving him hospitalized with potentially lifelong injuries, according to media reports.  Hamburg Anti-Semitism Commissioner Stefan Hensel said the attacker and his companions were shouting antisemitic and anti-Israel insults at a pro-Israel vigil in central Hamburg and, when vigil participants asked them to stop, the attacker punched the Jewish man in the face, breaking his nose and cheek bone.  Hamburg Deputy Mayor (equivalent to deputy governor) Katharina Fegebank condemned the attack.  Police arrested a 16-year-old suspect, Aram A., in Berlin in late September.

In May, during clashes in Gaza and Israel, there was an outbreak of antisemitic demonstrations, some of them violent, as well as vandalism and assaults across the country.  On May 10, unknown individuals burned a memorial plaque at the site of the former Duesseldorf synagogue, and on May 11, demonstrators burned Israeli flags in front of synagogues in Bonn and Muenster.  Demonstrators also threw stones at the Bonn synagogue.  Approximately 180 persons attended an anti-Israel demonstration in Gelsenkirchen May 12, chanting antisemitic insults describing Jews as subhuman.  Some made the hand signal of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish right-wing extremist group.

The NRW Interior Ministry reported a total of 77 incidents with antisemitic or anti-Israeli connections (the ministry did not separately categorize antisemitic from anti-Israeli incidents) at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in May, for which it believed at least 125 individuals were responsible; it identified 45 persons by name.

On May 15, 3,500 persons participated in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the Neukoelln district of Berlin that turned antisemitic.  Demonstrators chanted antisemitic slogans and displayed signs equating Israel with the Nazis.  According to media reports, participants included members of the Grey Wolves and left-wing extremist groups.  After police tried to end the demonstration due to noncompliance with COVID-19 requirements, participants became violent, throwing bottles, stones, and burning objects at police and journalists covering the event.  Ninety-three police officers were injured, and 59 persons were arrested for battery, assaulting police, and other charges; police restored order after several hours.  Police investigations were underway at year’s end.  The then mayor of Berlin, Michael Mueller, condemned the demonstration as “unacceptable.”

In a statement delivered by the federal government spokesman, then Chancellor Merkel condemned the demonstrations and attacks on Jewish institutions as antisemitic abuses of the right to free assembly.  They had shown that those involved were not protesting a state or government but expressing hate against a religion and those that belong to it, she said.  Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also condemned the demonstrations and attacks, saying that that country “will not tolerate hate against Jews, no matter who it comes from … Nothing justifies threatening Jews or attacking synagogues in our cities.”  Then Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble issued a statement that there was “no justification for antisemitism, hate, and violence at the protests,” while acknowledging the existence of antisemitism in the country.  Then Interior Minister Seehofer said that attacks on synagogues and spreading antisemitism would be met with the full force of the law.  President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Josef Schuster and Chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Mazyek also condemned the incidents.  The president of the Central Council of Jews and the German Conference of Bishops issued a joint press statement warning of growing antisemitism and a “combination of political conflict and religious fanaticism.”  Several state-level religious leaders and government officials, including DITIB Hesse Managing Director Onur Akdeniz, Bishop of Limburg Georg Baetzing, and Hesse Antisemitism Commissioner Uwe Becker, spoke out against antisemitic propaganda at the pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In May, the Hessian State Criminal Police Office arrested a Berlin-based man, identified only as Alexander M., for sending more than 85 threatening letters with right-wing extremist content, sometimes including antisemitic content, to politicians, journalists, and other prominent figures from late 2018 through 2020.  Many of the most visible targets were Muslim women.  Among the recipients were the heads of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

In June in Moenchengladbach, two men assaulted a Jewish man, speaking to him in Arabic.  Police were investigating but had not identified any suspects at year’s end.

During a September 30 soccer match in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium between 1.FC Union Berlin and Haifa Maccabi – the first time an Israeli team had played in the stadium opened by the Nazis for the 1936 Olympic games – Maccabi supporters reported that some Union supporters threatened them, used antisemitic insults, and threw objects at them.  According to press reports, one Union fan also attempted to burn an Israeli flag.  1.FC Union apologized for the flag burning, insults, and physical attacks, all of which it termed antisemitic, and banned one person from attending games in the future.  Police were investigating at year’s end.

In April, on Easter Sunday, three unidentified men entered a church in Nidda, Hesse, shouted slogans such as “There is only one God, and that is Allah,” and “Allah is greatest,” and insulted a worshipper attending the church service.  The political crimes unit of the Hesse state police investigated the incident as a possible infringement of the free exercise of religion.

In September, a Halle police officer was suspended for repeatedly corresponding with Stephan Balliet, who had attacked the Halle synagogue on Yom Kippur in 2019.  The officer wrote Balliet at least 10 letters using a pseudonym and false address and reportedly expressed sympathy for the attacker, while minimizing his crimes, in conversations with colleagues.  The police officer had left the force as of October 31, according to newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung.

On June 15, the Erfurt newspaper Thueringer Allgemeine reported that local construction companies had repeatedly declined orders for the construction of a mosque in Erfurt because they feared their involvement would precipitate attacks on their vehicles by opponents of the mosque.  Another newspaper reported in 2020 that construction companies had also declined to participate in the mosque construction at that time.  Suleman Malik, the spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Erfurt, said the reaction of the construction companies had delayed the construction of the mosque by two years.

In July, according to press reports, the Duesseldorf Hyatt Hotel cancelled the reservation of the Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Yezidis, and his two companions.  The hotel said the cancellation was due to technical issues, apologized for the misunderstanding, and upheld the reservation.

In October, Jewish singer Gil Ofarim reported that hotel staff told him to remove his Star of David necklace during check-in at the front desk of Leipzig’s Westin Hotel.  Hotel employees denied doing so and filed a defamation suit against the singer.  In response, Ofarim accused employees of filing a false report.  Ofarim’s discrimination lawsuit against the hotel was pending at the end of the year.  According to the hotel, it conducted its own investigation that exonerated its employees.

Media again reported that women who wore a hijab faced employment discrimination and that discrimination was made easier by the customary practice of requiring photographs as part of job applications.  According to one March report, a job seeker who wore a headscarf said that she had to submit 450 applications before she got an interview, while hearing about others who did not wear headscarves and received interviews after four applications.

In June, a man attempted to set fire to the Ulm synagogue, resulting in limited damage to the building.  The suspect was a German-born Turkish national who fled to Turkey after the attack.  According to Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities, the Turkish government refused to extradite the suspect.  Following the incident, nearly 500 persons, including various city and state politicians, attended two separate support vigils, and the Baden-Wuerttemberg state parliament passed a resolution denouncing antisemitism.

In April, an unknown perpetrator shot at the Bochum synagogue and a nearby planetarium.  According to police, the attack destroyed windows in both buildings.  Police did not rule out an antisemitic motive for the crime.  In May, police announced they had surveillance camera footage and issued an appeal to the public to help identify the suspect.  The Bochum prosecutor’s office closed the investigation in December, citing insufficient evidence.

On July 24, unknown persons set on fire a banner announcing the construction of a new synagogue in Magdeburg.  Police were investigating the case.  The state of Saxony-Anhalt earmarked 2.8 million euros ($3.17 million) for the construction of the synagogue, out of a total construction cost of approximately 3.4 million euros ($3.85 million).

In June, a swastika was found painted on the Torah ark in a Jewish prayer room at Frankfurt International Airport.  The country’s Orthodox Rabbinical Conference denounced the act of vandalism, saying, “This hatred of Jews must finally stop.”

According to Ministry of Interior federal crime statistics, there were 2,351 antisemitic crimes committed during 2020 (the most recent year for which complete statistics were available), including 57 crimes involving violence.  This represented a 15.7 percent increase from the 2,032 antisemitic crimes reported in 2019, of which 73 were violent; federal crime statistics classified 2,224 crimes (94.6 percent) as motivated by far-right ideology.  RIAS attributed the increase in antisemitic crimes and incidents to the large number of demonstrations against measures to contain COVID-19 or to other COVID-related issues, and it reported 489 antisemitic incidents connected to the pandemic.

The federal OPC annual report stated that, of the 57 violent antisemitic crimes committed in 2020, 48 were motivated by right-wing extremism, a 14 percent drop compared to 2019, when it reported 56 such crimes.  According to the report, membership in right-wing extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party dropped slightly, from approximately 13,330 persons in 2019 to 13,250 in 2020.

In May, the NRW commissioner for antisemitism published the second NRW antisemitism report, which cited 276 antisemitic crimes (down from 310 in 2019) registered in the state in 2020, of which 254 (down from 291) were motivated by right-wing ideologies.  The crimes ranged from verbal abuse to physical injury; all cases resulted in criminal investigations.  The NRW commissioner stated that 500 antisemitic incidents were reported to her office, including incidents that did not rise to the level of criminal complaints.

A July study by RIAS based on Jewish residents in the state and other sources found that antisemitism was an everyday experience of Jews in Baden-Wuerttemberg, ranging from mundane to virulent forms.  A leading Jewish community representative described antisemitism as “background noise of Jewish life.”  The study analyzed 671 antisemitic crimes that occurred in the state between 2014 and 2018.  A spokesperson of the state’s youth foundation pointed to an increasing online dimension to antisemitism, stating there were 200 such incidents reported in 2020, and 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.

RIAS, to which victims may report antisemitic incidents regardless of whether they file charges with police, reported 1,437 such incidents in the states of Berlin, Brandenburg, Bavaria, and Schleswig-Holstein in 2020, compared with 1,253 in 2019, an increase of 14.6 percent.

Lower Saxony’s government recorded 189 antisemitic crimes in 2020, down from 212 in 2019.  The Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania government counted 73 such crimes in 2020, up from 52 in 2019.

In 2020, the Ministry of Interior registered 929 crimes targeting Muslims and Muslim institutions, including 77 against places of worship and 51 incidents of battery.  The ministry classified most of these incidents as having been carried out by right-wing extremists.  Other recorded incidents included online hate speech against Muslims, hate mail, and aggressive public behavior against persons who appeared to be Muslim.

The Ministry of Interior counted 141 anti-Christian crimes in 2020, including seven cases involving violence, up from 128 in 2019, an increase of 10 percent.  The ministry classified 30 percent of these crimes as motivated by right-wing ideology and 12 percent as motivated by left-wing ideology.

In May, the Ministry of Interior presented its annual report on politically motivated crime, according to which police registered 1,026 crimes motivated by antireligious sentiment.

In January, an unknown person threw stones and paint at St. Luke’s, a confessional Lutheran church in Leipzig, breaking windows and damaging a newly restored mosaic.  An anonymous letter claiming responsibility for the attack was posted online; the writer accused Martin Luther of sexism and tyranny and called churches “one of the best targets” for attacks against western morals.  At year’s end, police had not identified a suspect.

In April, an unknown man broke the windows of the prayer room of a Hildesheim mosque and entered its courtyard before fleeing.  Police arrested and charged a suspect.  A trial was scheduled for 2022.

In August, a man assaulted a woman wearing a headscarf at a subway station in Berlin.  The unknown assailant beat her severely and tore off her headscarf while shouting xenophobic insults.  As she attempted to flee, he knocked her to the ground with his bicycle and left the scene.  The woman required hospitalization; the police unit responsible for hate crimes and political violence was investigating the incident at year’s end.

In September, unknown persons threw stones through six windows of what police called “a Muslim institution” in Zwickau, shattering them; media reports called the building a mosque, which had been the target of vandalism in the past.  Police had not arrested a suspect at year’s end.

In February, the Hamburg District Court found a man who had assaulted a Jewish student with a shovel in October 2020 guilty of attempted murder and aggravated battery.  The court, however, ruled the man was mentally ill and therefore not criminally liable, sentencing him to psychiatric institutionalization.  The man, who was wearing a military-style uniform, assaulted the student at a Sukkot celebration at the Hohe Weide Synagogue in Hamburg, leaving him with a serious head injury.

In January, the Hildesheim District Court in Lower Saxony ruled that a Hildesheim resident arrested in 2020 upon suspicion of planning attacks against Muslims and mosques was suffering from a severe mental illness and could not be held responsible for his behavior.  It ordered him placed in temporary psychiatric care.  Police had found weapons in his apartment, and the suspect had said in an online chat that he wanted to carry out an attack similar to the 2019 mosque attacks in New Zealand and “kill Muslims.”

On June 16, the Bavarian Court of Administrative Appeals ruled in favor of a COS member whose 2018 application for a 500 euro ($570) electric bicycle subsidy was rejected by the city of Munich because she refused to sign a written statement pledging not to employ COS methods or spread COS ideas.  The state of Bavaria and some other states and many cities require persons to sign such a declaration before they can accept public employment or government grants.  The court ruled that, as a citizen, the plaintiff had a right to the subsidy from the city, just like anyone else.

In July, the Court of Justice of the European Union, addressing appeals in two cases, one from Hamburg and one from Bavaria, ruled that employers could ban employees from wearing headscarves under certain circumstances.  Both cases were brought by employees who did not wear headscarves when they started their jobs but decided to do so after returning to work from maternity leave.  Their employers refused to allow them to do so, saying that the employees had to project a neutral image to clients.  The court agreed with the employers.  Muslim organizations and NGOs criticized the verdict, saying it made it difficult for Muslim women to choose a profession.

In September, a trial of two individuals arrested for the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Geilenkirchen began.  According to police, the pair knocked over more than 40 gravestones in the cemetery and defaced gravestones with blue paint and Nazi symbols in 2019.  They were charged with property damage and disturbing the peace of the dead.  Prosecutors said both were members of a Neo-Nazi group.  The trial started in September and continued at year’s end.

In September, the Moenchengladbach District Court convicted a man of placing a bloody pig’s head, plastic bags filled with blood, right-wing extremist slogans, and swastikas in front of the al-Rahman Mosque in Moenchengladbach in 2019 and sentenced him to four months’ probation.

In October, a man claiming that Christianity is a false religion forcibly removed sacred religious objects from a church in Nordhausen, Thuringia, including its crucifix and a medieval wooden altarpiece, damaging both.  Police stated they intended to press charges against the man, whose asylum claim had been denied.

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 continued to investigate “sects and cults” and publicize what they considered to be the dangers of those groups.  On its website, the EKD Center for Questions of World Views continued to warn 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 the groups.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 10 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Germany said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Fifteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were – “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (23percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (15 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (12 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (20 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (15 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (8 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (7 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (23 percent).

In a nationwide, representative survey conducted for the Alice Schwarzer Foundation, Giordano Bruno Foundation, and WZB Berlin Social Science Center published on June 11, 65 percent of respondents said it was “right” that freedom of religion applied to Muslims as well as Christians, whereas 18 percent said it was “not right” and 17 percent were unsure.  When asked whether “Islam is part of Germany,” 44 percent said “yes, but only peaceful, non-radical groups” and 44 percent answered “absolutely not,” excluding all Muslim groups.  Only 5 percent said they would completely agree that Islam was part of the country.  The survey also showed support for a ban on burqas among the general population had grown to 73 percent, from 56 percent in 2016.  Another 17 percent supported a ban in certain situations (32 percent in 2016), and 5 percent were generally opposed to such a ban (8 percent in 2016).  Majorities also supported banning headscarves for certain groups:  61 percent supported headscarf bans for public school teachers, 58 percent for public-sector employees, 56 percent for child-care workers, and 53 percent for girls younger than 14 years of age.

In February, Bundestag member Norbert Roettgen removed a social media post and image of a discussion he had held with Muslim students after the post was flooded with anti-Muslim insults.  Roettgen said he removed the image to protect the identities of the participants and decried what he described as the anti-Muslim hate the post had exposed.

In September, authorities initially did not allow a woman in Bergheim, Hesse, to cast her vote at a local polling station because she was wearing a headscarf and a medical mask.  Poll workers insisted she remove her headscarf to identify herself, stating that the law required that a person’s face not be covered when voting.  According to the electoral committee, the scarf only covered the woman’s hair and neck, not her face.  The woman protested to city election authorities and was later allowed to vote while wearing the headscarf.  The city apologized for the incident.

The far-right group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident (PEGIDA) continued to organize weekly demonstrations in Dresden, although media reports indicated significantly fewer demonstrators than in years prior to 2020.  Approximately 300 to 400 supporters continued to join PEGIDA rallies, even after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Participants regularly expressed anti-Muslim sentiments during the rallies, including by carrying posters expressing opposition to women who wore religious head coverings.  Authorities approved the demonstrations contingent upon participants adhering to masking and social distancing requirements.

Protesters at demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in Berlin, Kassel, Munich and other cities continued to use antisemitic rhetoric, including equating vaccines or the anti-COVID lockdown to Nazi-era persecution of Jews, or asserting that Jews were responsible for unleashing the corona virus.  For the year ending on March 17, RIAS registered antisemitic incidents, none of them violent, at 324 separate demonstrations against restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  For example, in March, numerous antisemitic acts, including ones trivializing the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, were reported at a large demonstration against COVID-19 measures in Kassel.

In May, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster remarked on the connection between COVID-19 conspiracy theories and antisemitism, saying, “The old antisemitic narrative of the Jewish world conspiracy has been adapted to the current situation.”  Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism Felix Klein also cited the role of the internet, saying, “In times of crisis, people are more open to irrational explanations, including antisemitic stereotypes…. What is new, however, is that…groups that previously had little or nothing to do with each other are now making common cause at demonstrations against the corona measures or on the [inter]net.”

In June, the U.S.-based newspaper The Algemeiner cited a study by the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue that found German-language antisemitic posts in major online platforms in January and February had increased 13-fold over the same period a year earlier.  According to the report, antisemitic narratives related to COVID-19 were frequent, and the most common narratives, 89 percent of the content, pertained to conspiracy theories about Jews controlling financial, political, and media institutions.

In May, NRW Antisemitism Commissioner Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the University of Bielefeld published a study on the influence of rap on antisemitic attitudes in young people.  The study found listeners of rap were more likely to have antisemitic and misogynistic views and were more prone to believe in conspiracy theories.

In July, a woman from Cologne was fined 700 euros ($790) for incitement for sharing an antisemitic Facebook post.  The woman said she had not read the full text of the post.

Approximately 20 churches continued to use bells bearing Nazi symbols and inscriptions.  A church in Berlin removed such a bell, and some churches in other part of the country said they had plans to do so.  In June, the Association of Protestant Churches in Central Germany held a conference on the issue; the association also offered financial support to churches under its jurisdiction to cover the cost of new bells.

In October, Cologne Lord Mayor Henriette Reker announced a two-year test phase for Muslim communities to issue calls to Friday prayer using outdoor speakers, if they applied to do so.  The call to prayer may only be made between noon and 3 p.m. and is limited to a maximum of five minutes.  The volume is to be based on the location of the mosque.  Of approximately 35 mosque congregations, two had requested permits by early December.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In June, the U.S. Secretary of State and then Foreign Minister Maas launched the U.S.-Germany Dialogue on Holocaust Issues to promote accurate Holocaust education and information and to combat Holocaust denial and distortion and anti-Semitism.  As part of the dialogue, embassy officials met on a monthly basis with representatives of the country’s foreign ministry, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to develop programs and initiatives.

The U.S. embassy and the five consulates general continued to engage closely with authorities at all levels of government regarding responses to incidents of religious intolerance.  Embassy officials met with Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight Against Antisemitism Klein and Ambassador Michaela Kuehler, the country’s Special Representative for Relations with Jewish Organizations, Issues Relating to Antisemitism, International Sinti and Roma Affairs, and Holocaust Remembrance on multiple occasions to discuss antisemitism, the growth in antisemitic incidents and violence, antisemitic conspiracy theories, and Holocaust denial.  Consulate officials also met with the commissioners for antisemitism in their districts.  Embassy and consulate officials engaged with other local, state, and federal officials to discuss religious freedom issues.  These included meetings with state interior ministers, state parliamentarians from the SPD, CDU, and Green party, and mayors.  At a meeting in November, the Cologne Consul General and Lord Mayor Henriette Reker discussed Cologne’s pilot program to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, among other issues.

Embassy and consulate representatives met with members and leaders of numerous local and national religious and civil society groups regarding their concerns related to tolerance and freedom of religion.  Among the meetings were ones with President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Schuster; Abdassamad El-Yazidi, speaker of the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany; Burhan Kesici of the Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany; Remko Leemhuis, director of the AJC Berlin Lawrence and Lee Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations; representatives of the Catholic, Evangelical, and other Protestant Churches; the Central Council of Muslims; the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers; the World Uyghur Congress; Alevi Muslims, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat.

Topics of discussion with Jewish groups included concerns regarding what they characterized as the growing acceptability of antisemitism throughout the country, concern that right-wing conspiracy groups had exacerbated antisemitism, and growing antisemitism on the intellectual left.

Topics discussed with Muslim groups and representatives included stereotypes and discrimination against Muslims, socioeconomic and cultural challenges that Muslim residents and immigrants faced in the country, and the training of imams.

In June, the Frankfurt Consul General visited Ulm’s Jewish community following an arson attack on the Ulm synagogue and met Ulm Rabbi Schneur Trebnik, as well as Israelite Religious Community of Wuerttemberg representatives.  The visit included a tour of the synagogue and the community center and a discussion on the situation of Ulm’s and Baden-Wuerttemberg’s Jewish community, various forms of antisemitism, and Trebnik’s work as one of the country’s first police rabbis.

Also in June, the Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General met with members of the Jewish community in Halle, the site of a fatal 2019 attack on a synagogue, to discuss antisemitism, religious tolerance, and Jewish life in Eastern Germany.  The Leipzig Consul General visited the synagogue and laid a wreath at the site of the attack in October.

The embassy and consulates worked closely with Jewish communities, especially in the east of the country, to provide small grants in support of programs promoting religious tolerance to leading NGOs countering violent extremism related to religion and antisemitism.  For example, the consulate in Leipzig funded an appearance by a Jewish-American speaker in Halle on Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as a small grant for Jewish Remembrance Week in Goerlitz in November.

The embassy utilized virtual programs in which presenters spoke on ways of preserving and promoting accurate Holocaust narratives in the fight against antisemitism.  Four German participants joined a program that showed archivists and museum professionals how to maximize outreach within their fields to counter Holocaust distortions and denial.  Participants included 12 staff members from the Arolsen Archives, a center that documents, archives, and researches Nazi persecution, forced labor, and the Holocaust.  The consulate in Leipzig also supported October and November presentations in Jena and Weimar by the archives’ exhibit #Stolen Memory, featuring items the Nazi regime stole from Jews.

As a follow-up to a 2020 teacher academy that focused on engaging with teachers about Jewish life in the United States, the embassy expanded its discussion of religious freedom by raising awareness of hidden bias and stereotypes.  A workshop on hidden bias as part of a March teacher seminar reached 300 teachers and generated a lively discussion with the presenter, a senior lecturer on North American studies at Leuphana University.  In May, the embassy followed up with a film presentation and discussion of the documentary “Bias” with the filmmaker (including additional sessions with the local state police academies) and, in June, a discussion with a U.S historian and American Academy in Berlin fellow.

In August, the consulate general in Leipzig provided financial support to the 21st Yiddish Summer Weimar in Thuringia, one of the world’s leading summer programs for the study and presentation of traditional and contemporary Yiddish culture.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many concerts and workshops again took place outdoors in public spaces in Weimar, Erfurt, and Eisenach, and other smaller towns in Thuringia.  The consulate also provided funding for several Jewish cultural events in Halle as part of a series of such events focusing on Jewish culture across the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

The consulate general in Leipzig provided seed money for the establishment of the Fachstelle Globaler Antisemitismus (Global Antisemitism Office) in Dessau-Rosslau, Saxony-Anhalt.  This NGO works to educate the public about online right-wing extremism and radicalization.

In October, the embassy and the consulate general in Leipzig cooperated to bring a senior American Jewish Congress official to the country, where he met with Berlin police and NGOs working against antisemitism and spoke on countering antisemitism in Cottbus, Jena, and Leipzig.

The embassy and consulates actively promoted religious freedom and tolerance through their social media channels, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to highlight the engagement of senior embassy officials on the issue.  Examples included visits of the Charge d’Affaires to Goerlitz for Jewish Remembrance Week; the meeting in Halle in June of the Charge d’Affaires and the Leipzig Consul General with representatives of NGOs working on tolerance and openness; and meetings with religious community leaders.  The embassy and consulates also amplified social media messaging by the President, Secretary of State, and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues in support of religious freedom on many occasions throughout the year, often with German translations, to highlight U.S. religious pluralism and support for religious freedom.

The embassy and consulates general also created their own content, including greetings from the Charge d’Affaires on Jewish and Muslim holidays, social media posts on the right to freedom of religion, and a statement by the Charge d’Affaires condemning antisemitic vandalism at a memorial site to the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz.  Public meetings with officials and religious community and public engagements by embassy and consular officials were also accompanied by social media messaging.  Religious freedom and tolerance were topics of frequent focus of the embassy’s and consulates’ digital platforms.

 

Greece

Executive Summary

The constitution states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship, with some restrictions.  It recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  On July 1, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of Golden Dawn, commonly characterized as a neo-Nazi political party, who had been a fugitive since he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October 2020.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of “known religions” (religious groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship) from running for mayor or city councilor and candidates from using religious symbols as campaign emblems.  On February 17, parliament approved legislation increasing from seven to nine the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee, adding two additional representatives from Muslim communities in Athens.  During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity.  The government issued seven permits for houses of prayer, four of which Muslim groups submitted, including a group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians, a group of Pentecostal Christians, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens.  The government also approved the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in in the northern town of Porotsani.  During the year, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected at least three applications by Muslim groups to establish houses of prayer, including one each in Thessaloniki, Imathia (Central Macedonia Region), and Athens, on various administrative grounds.  Government authorities also revoked seven house of prayer permits – two at the request of the specific religious groups that held the permits.  In the other cases, the permits were revoked due to a lack of responsiveness, of space for worship, or of a religious leader.  On October 26, the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, annulled a 2017 ministerial decree allowing the ritual killing of animals during Islamic and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia, stating the decree contradicted the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  On May 13 in Athens, the government opened the first government-funded mosque in Europe.  In September, the government announced it would distribute 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to religious groups to counter the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impact.  Throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis publicly advocated for the return of the Thessaloniki Jewish community’s archives seized by Germany in World War II and subsequently transferred to Moscow.  In a December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would return these archives to the Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS).  On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for a land exchange between the Railway Organization and the municipality of Thessaloniki for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum, an exchange the city of Thessaloniki approved on June 4.  On June 23, by a joint initiative of the KIS Central Board and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, among others, were imprisoned and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  On April 1, the country assumed chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were portrayed with the use of Jewish sacred symbols and Holocaust comparisons.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch of the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon arguing against an education bill regarding universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in a widely circulated newspaper on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”  At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage in March to a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims carried out a few days after the creation of the mural, on August 5, vandals opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in the western region of Epirus.  On September 10, unidentified individuals vandalized a different grave at the same cemetery.  On January 10, vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the cathedral in Heraklion, Crete.  In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.

The U.S. Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general representatives met with Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos as well as with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the Minister and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the secretary general for religious affairs and governors to discuss Greece’s chairmanship of the IHRA and other religious freedom issues.  These included the ability of minority religious communities to establish houses of worship and the operation of the first public mosque in Athens, government action regarding the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights in Thessaloniki, and initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue, including the country’s IHRA chairmanship.  In outreach to contacts and meetings with government officials and religious leaders, including the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concern regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric and attacks on Orthodox churches.  On February 3, the Ambassador discussed the planned Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki with the Deputy Prime Minister.  Three individuals working on religious issues in the country took part in digital leadership programs on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom and on countering Holocaust distortion and denial.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 10.6 million (midyear 2021).  According to research polls, 81 to 90 percent of the population identifies as Greek Orthodox, 4 to 15 percent atheist, and 2 percent Muslim.

Approximately 140,000 Muslims live in Thrace, according to government sources using 2011 data; they are largely descendants of the officially recognized Muslim minority according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.  According to a Pew Research Center study released in November 2017, an additional 520,000 Muslims – mostly asylum seekers, refugees, and other migrants from Southeastern Europe, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa – reside throughout the country, many clustered in communities by their countries of origin or in reception facilities.  Government sources estimate half reside in Athens.

Members of other religious communities that together constitute less than 5 percent of the population include Old Calendarist Orthodox, Catholics (mostly Roman Catholics and smaller numbers of Eastern Rite Catholics), Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, members of polytheistic Hellenic religions, Scientologists, Baha’is, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sikhs, Seventh-day Adventists, Buddhists, and members of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).  Independent and media sources estimate Ethiopian Orthodox number 2,500 and Assyrians less than 1,000.  According to the Armenian Orthodox Archbishop, interviewed in 2018, approximately 100,000 Armenian Orthodox live in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution recognizes Greek Orthodoxy as the “prevailing religion.”  It states freedom of religious conscience is inviolable and provides for freedom of worship under the protection of the law, with some restrictions.  The constitution prohibits “proselytizing,” defined by law as “any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion with the aim of undermining those beliefs through inducement, fraudulent means, or taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect, or naivete.”  The prohibition of proselytism is rarely enforced, entailing brief questioning or detentions, with no new cases reported since 2020.  The constitution prohibits worship that “disturbs public order or offends moral principles.”  It allows prosecutors to seize publications that “offend Christianity” or other “known religions,” which are defined as groups with at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship.  There is no publicly available list of “known religions,” but the Ministry for Education and Religious Affairs keeps a registry.

The law provides penalties of up to two years in prison for individuals who maliciously attempt to prevent or who intentionally disrupt a religious gathering for worship or a religious service, and for individuals engaging in “insulting action” inside a church or place of worship.  A 2019 amendment to the penal code abolishes articles criminalizing malicious blasphemy and religious insults.  The constitution enumerates the goals of public education, including “the development of religious conscience among citizens.”  Greek Orthodox priests and government-appointed muftis and imams in Thrace receive their salaries from the government.

The constitution states that ministers of all known religions are subject to the same state supervision and obligations to the state as clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church.  It states individuals are not exempt from their obligations to the state or from compliance with the law because of their religious convictions.

The Greek Orthodox Church, Jewish community, and Muslim minority of Thrace have long-held status as official, religious, public-law, legal entities.  The Catholic Church, Anglican Church, two evangelical Christian groups, and the Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, and Assyrian Orthodox Churches acquired the status of religious legal entities under a 2014 law.  The same law also allows groups seeking recognition to become “religious legal entities” under civil law.

The recognition process requires filing a request with the civil courts, providing documents proving the group has “open rituals and no secret doctrines,” supplying a list of 300 signatory members who do not adhere to other religious groups, demonstrating there is a leader who is legally in the country and is otherwise qualified, and showing their practices do not pose a threat to public order.  Once a civil court recognizes a group, it sends a notification to the Secretariat General for Religions.  Under the law, all religious officials of known religions and official religious legal entities, including the Greek Orthodox Church, the muftiates of Thrace, and the Jewish communities, must register in the electronic database maintained by the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.

The law also provides a second method for groups to obtain government recognition:  any religious group that has obtained at least one valid permit to operate a place of prayer or worship is considered a “known religion” and acquires legal protection, including a tax exemption for property used for religious purposes.  The terms houses or places of prayer or worship are used interchangeably; it is at the discretion of a religious group to determine its term of preference.  Membership requirements for house of prayer permits differ from the requirements for religious legal entities.  Local urban planning departments in charge of monitoring and enforcing public health and safety regulations certify that facilities designated to operate as places of worship fulfill the necessary standards.  Once a house of worship receives the required approvals, the religious group must submit a description of its basic principles and rituals and a biography of the religious minister or leader to the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs for final approval.  The application for a house of prayer or worship permit requires at least five signatory group members.  The leaders of a religious group applying for a house of prayer permit must be Greek citizens, EU nationals, or legal residents of the country and must possess other professional qualifications, including relevant education and experience.  A separate permit is required for each physical location.

A religious group qualifying as a religious legal entity may transfer property and administer houses of prayer or worship, private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.  Some religious groups have opted to retain their status as civil society nonprofit associations acquired through court recognition prior to the 2014 law.  Under this status, religious groups may operate houses of prayer and benefit from real estate property tax exemptions, but they may face administrative and fiscal difficulties in transferring property and in operating private schools, charitable institutions, and other nonprofit entities.

All recognized religious groups are subject to taxation on property used for nonreligious purposes.  Property used solely for religious purposes is exempt from taxation, as well as from municipal fees.

The law allows religious communities without status as legal entities to appear before administrative and civil courts as plaintiffs or defendants.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne accords the recognized Muslim minority of Thrace the right to administer and maintain mosques and social and charitable organizations.  A 1991 law authorizes the government, in consultation with a committee of Muslim leaders, to appoint three muftis in Thrace to 10-year terms of office, which may be extended.  The law also allows a regional official to appoint temporary acting muftis until this committee convenes.  The law mandates that official muftis in Thrace must request notarized consent from all parties wishing to adjudicate a family matter (marriage, divorce, child custody, alimony, or inheritance) based on sharia, or Islamic law.  Decisions issued by the muftis are subject to ratification by first instance courts.  Absent notarized consent from all parties, family matters fall under the jurisdiction of civil courts.  The law also provides for the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs to assume all operating expenses for the muftiates in Thrace, under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance Directorate General for Fiscal Monitoring.

The law establishes an individual’s right to choose his or her burial or cremation location and mandates that death certificates detail this information.  In the presence of a notary, individuals may designate the location and method of funeral service under conditions that adhere to public order, hygiene, or moral ethics, as well as designate a person responsible for carrying out funeral preferences.

Home schooling of children is generally not permitted.  The law requires all children to attend 11 years of compulsory education in state or private schools, including two years of preschool education (ages four to six), in accordance with the official school curriculum.  Religious instruction, mainly Greek Orthodox teaching, is included in the curricula for primary and secondary schools.  Primary schools cover grades one to six, while secondary schools include three years of middle school and three years of high school.  Non-Orthodox students may be exempted from religious instruction with a parent’s or guardian’s submission of a document citing religious consciousness grounds, according to regulations issued by decree during the year.  Exempted students may attend classes with different subject matter during that time.  Under legislation passed in 2020, secondary schools no longer list their students’ religion and nationality on transcripts.

The law provides for optional Islamic religious instruction in public schools in Thrace for the recognized Muslim minority and optional Catholic religious instruction in public schools on the islands of Tinos and Syros.  The law also includes provisions to make it easier for schools to hire and retain religious instructors for those optional courses.

By law, any educational facility with fewer than nine students must temporarily suspend operations, with students referred to neighboring schools.

The law allows Muslim students in primary and secondary schools throughout the country to be absent for two days each for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

According to the law, parents may send their children to private religious schools.  Private Orthodox, Catholic, and Jewish schools operate in the country.  As per the Lausanne Treaty, the government operates bilingual secular schools in Thrace.  Bilingual schools operate in Greek and Turkish, and their number may vary according to the number of registered students, with a minimum of nine per school.  There are two Islamic religious schools in Thrace for grades seven to 12.  In addition, Muslim students in Thrace wishing to study the Quran may attend after-hours religious classes in mosques with teachers paid by the Turkish Consulate in Komotini.  Bilingual schools in Thrace, in addition to other official holidays, also observe Islamic holidays.

The law establishes an annual 0.5 percent quota for admission of students from the recognized Muslim minority in Thrace to universities, technical institutes, and civil service positions.  Parliament approved legislation on January 15 designed to modernize the public-sector hiring system.  The law requires that 0.5 percent of job openings with an unspecified contract length be allocated to members of the Muslim minority in Thrace.  Similarly, 2 percent of students entering the national fire brigade school and academy are required to be from the Muslim minority in Thrace.

The law provides for alternative forms of mandatory service for religious conscientious objectors in lieu of the 12-month mandatory minimum military service for men.  Conscientious objectors must serve 15 months of alternative service in state hospitals or municipal and public services.  The law, among other provisions, requires the state to cover expenses for the transportation of conscientious objectors; provides an additional five-day parental leave per child for conscientious objectors who are fathers; protects the return of conscientious objectors to their previous employment after civilian service; and defines 33 as the age after which a conscientious objector may buy off the greatest part of civilian service.

According to what is commonly referred to as the “antiracist” law, individuals or legal entities convicted of incitement to violence, discrimination, or hatred based on religion, among other factors, may be sentenced to prison terms of between three months and three years and fined 5,000 to 20,000 euros ($5,700-$22,700).  Violators convicted of other crimes motivated by religion may be sentenced to an additional six months to three years, with fines doubled.  The law criminalizes approval, trivialization, or malicious denial of the Holocaust and “crimes of Nazism” if that behavior leads to incitement of violence or hatred or has a threatening or abusive nature toward groups of individuals.  A law, passed by parliament in June, prohibits individuals convicted of several specific felony crimes – including but not explicitly referencing those committed by imprisoned leaders from the Golden Dawn Party – from holding important party positions, such as president, secretary general, legal representative, or member of the administrative committee of a party or a coalition of parties during their sentence.  The law prevents any parties led by convicted felons from purchasing advertisements on radio and television during an election campaign.

The law requires all civil servants, including cabinet and parliament members, to take an oath before entering office; individuals are free to take a religious or secular oath in accordance with their beliefs.  Parliament approved legislation on June 5 banning religious leaders of known religions, in addition to judges and other public officials, from running for mayor or city counselor.  The same law also bans the use of religious symbols as emblems of candidate mayors and city counselors.  Through a separate provision in the same law, elected members of city and district councils are required to take a religious oath, in accordance with their faith, in the presence of religious leaders who are officially registered with the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.  A civil declaration remains an option for those who do not wish to take a religious oath.

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

Government Practices

On July 1, in Athens, national police arrested and jailed Christos Pappas, the fugitive former deputy leader of the Golden Dawn Party, which a court ruled a criminal organization and found responsible for orchestrated attacks against perceived outsiders, including Muslims and Jews, in 2020.  Pappas had been a fugitive since October 2020, when he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in a landmark trial that resulted in lengthy sentences for more than 50 Golden Dawn-associated defendants.  He was convicted of running a criminal organization, murder, assault, and possession of illegal weapons.

On October 7, Domokos Prison’s judicial council banned Ilias Kasidiaris, a former leader of Golden Dawn and former member of parliament, from making telephone calls from prison to outsiders.  The council ruled that Kasidiaris used the prison’s telephone to record speeches designed to incite his supporters to hatred.  The council decided Kasidiaris could maintain telephone communication only with individuals formally permitted to visit him in prison, including relatives and lawyers.

On February 19, an appeals court in Thessaloniki reduced the sentence of a medical doctor who in 2014 hung a sign in his office, stating “Jews not wanted” in German.  The court had initially sentenced him to a 14-month suspended term but reduced it to nine months based on his behavior afterward.

On October 18, a judicial council decided that Giorgos Patelis, a leading member of Golden Dawn, should be released, pending appeal, after serving just one year of his 10-year sentence because his son was facing mental health problems.  Patelis, who was the leader of Golden Dawn’s chapter in the Piraeus suburb of Nikaia, was convicted of taking part in a criminal organization and complicity in the killing of antifascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas in 2013.  Patelis was sentenced in October 2020.  Prosecutors and human rights groups condemned the decision.  On November 3, a Supreme Court vice prosecutor revoked the decision, and as of year’s end, Patelis remained in prison.

During the year, a civil court approved the registration of an Old Calendarist Christian group as a religious legal entity under the name “Holy Diocese of Talantio and Lokrida.”

On April 17, parliament approved legislation extending the term of all managing boards of Jewish communities until June 30.  Many terms had expired or were due to expire during the COVID-19 pandemic winter and spring lockdown periods.  Jewish community leaders said they appreciated the legislation because it helped the boards continue to operate and conduct transactions.

Groups lacking religious-entity status and without a house of prayer permit that had not applied for a house of worship permit, including Scientologists and ISKCON, continued to function as registered, nonprofit, civil law organizations.  The government did not legally recognize weddings conducted by members of these groups, who, if they wished to be officially recognized as couples, could pursue a civil wedding or civil partnership union.

On May 7, media reported on a local court that ruled, for the first time, that atheism should be listed among the vulnerability criteria when asylum seekers seek international protection.  The court ruling came in the case of a Pakistani man who faced a death sentence in his homeland due to his atheism.

Five prayer sessions marking Eid al-Fitr took place on May 13 in Athens at the newly opened, first government-funded mosque in Europe.  Commemoration of the event took place outside due to social distancing requirements.  The imam, Mohammed Sissi Zaki, led the sessions.  Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis attended a session, as did representatives of al-Azhar University in Egypt.  Because of the COVID-29 pandemic, the government said it could not yet officially inaugurate the mosque; however, the mosque held regular prayer sessions in accordance with social distancing and other measures for the countering of the pandemic, similar to other religious sites.  Parliament approved legislation on February 17 that increased the number of members of the Athens Mosque Managing Committee from seven to nine, adding two representatives from the Muslim communities in Athens.

Turkish-speaking members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s practice of appointing muftis, pressing instead for direct election of muftis by Muslims in Thrace.  The government continued to state that the appointments were appropriate because the constitution does not permit the election of judges and that the muftis retain judicial powers on family and inheritance matters as long as all parties sign a notarized consent stating they wish to follow sharia law instead of the civil courts.  During the year, government-appointed acting muftis continued to lead all three muftiates in Thrace.  Muslim minority members objected to the muftis’ appointment, stating that the limited and optional judicial powers of muftis were used by the government as an excuse for ignoring their call for direct election.

In parallel with the three official acting muftis, two unofficial muftis also continued to operate in Thrace, providing religious services to members of the Muslim minority; however, the government did not recognize services conducted by the unofficial muftis.  In letters to international organizations, unofficial muftis said they had faced charges for the unauthorized assumption of an official position on several occasions throughout the last decade.  While several such cases never reached the courts and others remained pending and were postponed further due to COVID-19, unofficial muftis reported a climate of longstanding harassment and persecution by the Greek authorities.  Government officials stated that even in the few cases in which unofficial muftis were convicted in court, they were only handed suspended prison sentences, with no prison time.

On February 2, according to media, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs rejected a petition filed in 2019 by the Cultural Association of Muslims of Macedonia and Thrace to establish a licensed Muslim house of prayer in Thessaloniki.  The ministry cited unmet technical requirements as the reason for the denial.  Applicants stated authorities did not allow them to use Ottoman-era mosques in Thessaloniki as alternative prayer sites.

Another group, the Educational, Cultural, Philanthropic and Philathletic Association of Greek Muslims in the Prefecture of Imathia, appealed to the Council of State regarding the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs’ rejection of the group’s petition to establish an authorized Muslim house of prayer.  Ministerial services rejected the association’s petition, contending that the applicants had requested the licensing of a space far exceeding what would be used for prayer and worship.  The ministry responded that it had no authority to license facilities for uses other than prayer and worship.  The hearing of the appeal at the Council of State took place on April 13, but no ruling was issued by year’s end.

On March 23, the same authorities rejected a petition to establish an authorized Muslim house of prayer filed by a Muslim group in Athens on the grounds that it did not provide certified copies of the passports of the applicants, including the individual who would perform the religious services.  The group also failed to submit documentation on the safety of the building, including fire safety and sound insulation.

Government authorities revoked a total of seven house-of-prayer permits; two, involving a Buddhist center and an evangelical Christian house of prayer in Rethymno, Crete, were revoked on June 29 and July 19 respectively, at the request of the groups operating the facilities.  According to government authorities, in the other cases, they revoked the permit because the religious groups in charge of the houses of prayer (all Pentecostal Christian) did not respond to government communications, had insufficient space for worship, or lacked a religious leader.

During the year, the government approved seven house-of-prayer permits, four of which were submitted by Muslim religious groups.  On February 17 and on July 5, Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs authorities granted house-of-prayer permits to two separate Sunni Muslim religious groups, in central Athens and the district of Marousi, respectively.  On March 19, a religious group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, Thrace, was granted its first house-of-prayer permit.  A Muslim religious group based in the district of Peristeri, western Athens, was authorized on April 16 to operate a house of prayer.  The remaining permits were granted to a group of evangelical Christians in Glyfada, Athens, on February 10, a group of Pentecostals in Komotini on March 5, and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Athens on March 17.  On March 23, the government also approved plans for the construction of a new church for evangelical Christians in Porotsani.

On June 16, authorities certified the lawful operation of an Old Calendarist Christian church operating in the district of Nea Smyrni in southern Athens.  The church was constructed before 1955, at a time when building permits were not required.  The certification allowed the church to overcome bureaucratic obstacles, such as not having a building permit, which for years had prevented it from filing petitions for building restoration, repairs, or expansion.  Authorities issued another 25 similar certifications involving 13 synagogues throughout the country and 12 Catholic churches.

Turkish-speaking members of the Muslim minority in Thrace continued to object to the government’s appointment of members entrusted to oversee endowments, real estate, and charitable funds of the Islamic Community Trust (waqf), an Islamic endowment, stating the Muslim minority in Thrace should elect the members in accordance with the Lausanne and other treaties.

Muslim leaders continued to state that a lack of Islamic cemeteries outside Thrace obliged Muslims to transport their dead to Thrace for Islamic burials.  Leaders cited cases in which local government bodies refused to establish burial sites designated for Muslims only.  Government officials said that by law, local authorities administered cemeteries and that cemeteries could not be established or privately managed by faith-based groups, except for some Islamic cemeteries in Thrace that dated back to the Ottoman era.  Muslim leaders outside Thrace also continued to state that municipal cemetery regulations requiring the exhumation of bodies after three years due to a shortage of space contravened Islamic law.  At least three sites – on Lesvos Island, in Schisto (in the Athens metropolitan area), and near the land border with Turkey, in Evros – served unofficially as burial grounds for Muslim migrants and asylum seekers.

On October 26, the Council of State ruled that a ministerial decree issued in 2017 allowing the ritual killing of animals during Muslim and Jewish ceremonies without anesthesia was unlawful and contrary to the constitution and European and domestic legislation.  According to the ruling, which came in response to an appeal filed by the Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation, the issuing authority, the Ministry of Development and Foods, “did not try to strike a balance between its obligation to protect the animals… and the religious freedom of practicing Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”  The council annulled the decree on grounds that it violated laws regarding the welfare of animals and called on the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food “to regulate slaughtering in a way that safeguards the protection of animals from hardship but safeguards religious freedoms for practicing Muslims and Jews living in Greece.”  The government did not issue a new decree by year’s end.  Jewish and Muslim community leaders reported that once the government issued a new decree, they would decide on a legal strategy to challenge it.  According to Abdulhalim Dede, founder of the Greek branch of the European Halal Certification Center and member of the World Halal Council, the decision to outlaw ritual slaughter eroded religious freedom, hurt local halal-related businesses, and increased the risk of unauthorized private, in-house animal slaughtering.

In accordance with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923, the government reported that it operated a total of 115 bilingual secular primary schools in 2020-21 in Thrace, compared with 123 in 2019-20.  Some minority representatives reported lower numbers of 115 (for the period 2019-20) and 103 (for the period 2020-21).  Although the government operation of bilingual secondary schools, grades seven to 12, is not required under the treaty, the government operated two.  Turkish-speaking representatives of the Muslim minority continued to state that the two bilingual middle schools – grades seven to nine – were insufficient to meet their needs and that the government continued to repeatedly ignore their formally submitted request to privately establish an additional minority secondary school and a private bilingual preschool, the latter covering children ages four to six.  The same representatives said the number of primary minority schools – grades one to six – continued to decrease, which the government attributed to the decreasing number of students, particularly in rural areas.  As per government statistics, there were 4,103 Muslim students attending primary education schools, 1,531 attending secondary-level minority schools, and 192 students enrolled in the two Islamic religious schools.  Government officials also noted that in 2017, both minority secondary schools, in Xanthi and in Komotini (both in the region of East Macedonia and Thrace), expanded with additional classrooms.

The government continued to fund a Chair of Jewish Studies at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki and Holocaust education training for teachers, but government-funded educational trips for students, including to the Auschwitz concentration camp, remained suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs continued to promote Holocaust education in schools, based on IHRA recommendations, as well as in cooperation with other countries, such as the United States, Israel, and North Macedonia.  The ministry, in cooperation with the Olga Lengyel Institute and the Jewish Museum of Greece, continued providing scholarships to 10 schools annually for implementing Holocaust-related educational projects.  Through these scholarships, beneficiary schools covered material needs, including for purchasing laptop computers and video recording equipment.

On April 25, in the context of Greece’s chairmanship of IHRA, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Museum and Memorial and Yad Vashem, coorganized a webinar for 100 teachers from Greece, the United States, and Israel on the subject of IHRA recommendations for teaching and learning about the Holocaust.  The Secretariat General for Religious Affairs, under the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, distributed a free version in Greek of the book Five Chimneys from the Olga Lengyel Institute to schoolteachers attending Holocaust-related educational seminars.

On various occasions, on social and other media, some individuals objected to what they said was the government’s allowing or tolerating some religious gatherings, including a processional on October 18 by Pakistani Muslim immigrants in Athens to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, while banning processionals by Orthodox Christians, citing COVID-19 restrictions.  Individuals made similar comments online on August 19, when authorities permitted Shia Muslims to proceed with an Ashura processional in the port city of Piraeus.

Some religious groups and human rights organizations continued to advocate for an equal length of required mandatory alternative service for conscientious objectors and required military service, stating any discrepancy was discriminatory.  In June 2020, the Council of State heard an appeal filed by five conscientious objectors challenging a decree by the Ministry of Defense establishing alternative service requirements longer than the military service requirement.  A decision remained pending at year’s end.  During the year, the government increased from nine to 12 months the basic military service requirement without altering the duration of the alternative service, which remained at 15 months.

Just after his August 31 appointment as Minister of Health, Thanos Plevris apologized for antisemitic comments he made in 2009.  This came after several groups, including KIS, called on him to apologize for pro-Nazi views expressed in the past and to condemn Holocaust deniers.  Plevris said he made the comments in his capacity as defense counsel for his father, Konstantinos Plevris, a Holocaust denier and leader of neo-Nazism in the country but stated he did not personally believe them.  In his apology, Plevris said, “My respect for the victims of the Holocaust of the Jews is absolute.  I am sure that my actions as health minister will alleviate even the slightest doubt about my beliefs, and my critics will realize that I harbor no antisemitic feelings.”

In early January, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos said during an interview on OPEN TV that Islam was not a religion, but a political movement.  Later in the same month, Ieronymos clarified that he was referring to the “perversion of the Muslim religion itself by extreme fundamentalists, who sow terror and death throughout the Universe,” and not to Islam overall.

According to Jewish leaders, the government continued to help the Jewish community of Thessaloniki in its efforts to recover archives found by Soviet troops in a castle in Lower Silesia, formerly part of Germany, following Germany’s defeat at the end of World War II.  On several occasions throughout the year, Alternate Foreign Minister Varvitsiotis publicly urged the return of these archives, now held in Moscow.  In his December 8 meeting with Prime Minister Mitsotakis, President Putin announced that Russia would initiate the process for returning these archives to KIS.

The government announced in a September 10 decree that it would distribute a total of 4.5 million euros ($5.1 million) to the Orthodox Church of Greece; KIS; waqf administrations overseeing licensed mosques in Thrace, Rhodes, and Kos; and to religious groups with the status of a known religion or religious legal entity.  The funds would be distributed in lump sums, offered as nontaxable assistance for addressing the pandemic’s negative impact, including reduced income and monetary contributions offered by the faithful to religious leaders and places of worship.  The funds, exceeding 1,000 euros ($1,100) in all cases, would be allocated in proportion to the number of places of worship operated by each group, with a minimum contribution of 1,000 euros per religious group.

The government continued to provide direct support to the Greek Orthodox Church, including funding clergy salaries, estimated at 200 million euros ($226.76 million) annually, the religious and vocational training of clergy, and religious instruction in schools.  The government provided the support in accordance with a series of legal agreements with past governments and as compensation for religious property expropriated by the state, according to Greek Orthodox and government officials.  The government also provided direct support to the three muftiates in Thrace, including salaries for the three official muftis and for teachers contracted to teach an optional class on Islam in local public schools.  The government also paid the salary of the imam of the new Athens public mosque and the salaries of Catholic teachers at the state schools of Tinos and Syros islands.

Government officials publicly denounced the vandalism of Jewish sites, including a mural in Thessaloniki commemorating the Holocaust vandalized in March.  In a statement issued on March 18, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the damage while expressing its “abhorrence of any actions that insult the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarity” and underscoring “the importance of rejecting racism, hatred and fanaticism, and the need to defend moral values.”

On May 24, parliament approved legislation allowing for an exchange of land between the Railway Organization and the Municipality of Thessaloniki to pave the way for the construction of a Holocaust Memorial Museum.  The board of the city of Thessaloniki approved the exchange on June 4.

On June 23, through a joint initiative by KIS and the Ministries of Defense and Culture, a commemorative plaque was placed at “Block 15” of the Haidari concentration camp in western Attica, where Jews, in addition to prisoners of war and communists, were incarcerated and tortured during the Nazi occupation of Greece.  The plaque reads, “Thousands of Greek Jews from Athens, Arta, Thessaloniki, Corfu, Kos, Leros, Patras, Preveza, and Rhodes were imprisoned and tortured here until their deportation to Auschwitz and the other Nazi extermination camps in 1944.  Some of them took their dying breath here.”

On October 14, Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Costas Karamanlis unveiled a reconstructed monument to the Jews whom the Nazis sent to slave labor on the railway network of the Lianokladi-Karya area in the central region of the country.  The new monument, rebuilt by the Hellenic Railways Organization in cooperation with KIS, was located at a prominent place at the Lianokladi station dock.  The original monument – erected in 1988 – was probably destroyed during the renovation of the Lianokladi railway station, according to KIS.  In his remarks, Karamanlis stated, “It is our duty to honor the memory of our Jewish compatriots.  And of course, in our daily lives, it is our duty not to allow any national, religious, racial or other identity to divide us.  Everyone proudly bears their identity, but we always respect each other.  And all together, we create for the present and the future of our country.”

On January 27, Minister for Education and Religious Affairs Niki Kerameus issued a statement to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Referring to the importance of remembering the Holocaust, including through education, she said, “Armed with our knowledge, we ensure the historical memory and the thorough study and teaching of these events, so that no crack is ever left open again, which will [would] allow the revival of fascism, Nazism, antisemitism, intolerance.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a tweet on the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah): “We join everyone marking Yom HaShoah to remember the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust.  We honor the victims by keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and by continuing to learn and educate younger generations so that humanity never again experiences such atrocities,”

Greece assumed the IHRA chairmanship on April 1.  In a November interview with Greek diaspora newspaper The National Herald, IHRA Chair Ambassador Chris Lazaris said the central theme of the country’s chairmanship was “teaching and learning about the Holocaust:  education for a world without genocide ever again,” supplemented by the theme of “Combating Holocaust Denial and Distortion on the Internet.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to statistics issued by the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) on acts of discrimination and violence in 2020, the most recent available, 74 of the 107 incidents recorded targeted migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers on the grounds of ethnicity, religion, or skin color, compared with 51 cases of the 100 incidents recorded in 2019.  Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as solely or primarily based on religious identity.

In the same report, RVRN reported that police received 31 reports of accusations of violence sparked by religion, compared with 36 in 2019.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Greece said they had negative feeling toward Jews.  Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (45 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (58 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (40 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (36 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (44 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (33 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (37 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (46 percent).

In October, the Piraeus First Instance Court sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Aspropyrgos, Attica.  The court ruled that the crime was motivated by hate.  The man was convicted of issuing threats and insults and committing bodily harm.

On January 15, police in the northern city of Drama arrested the perpetrator of an act of vandalism carried out in December 2020 at a local Jewish monument.

At least three instances of antisemitic graffiti and vandalism were widely reported.  In addition to damage to a portion of a 115-foot mural at the Thessaloniki New Train Station honoring Holocaust victims a few days after the mural was created, vandals on August 5 opened a grave and destroyed its headstone in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina in Epirus.  KIS issued a statement condemning this “shameful act.”  In a March 18 statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “abhorrence of any actions that insult the memory of the victims of Nazi barbarity.”  “We once again underscore the importance of rejecting racism, hatred and fanaticism, and the need to defend our moral values,” the statement concluded.  According to media reports, local artists and social activists worked together to restore the mural.  On September 10, a different grave was vandalized at the same cemetery.  Similar incidents at the same cemetery occurred in previous years.

On January 10, unidentified vandals sprayed red paint on the facade of the Orthodox Christian cathedral in Heraklion, Crete, according to media reports.  Police launched investigations in all cases but made no arrests.

On April 1, KIS addressed a letter to the mayor of Xanthi, writing that unknown individuals had removed a commemorative plaque, placed in 2001 outside a tobacco warehouse to mark the location where local Jews began their transfer to concentration camps in World War II.  KIS underscored the importance of collective memory in a city that lost 99 percent of its Jewish population.

KIS continued to express concern regarding political cartoons and images in which political controversies were illustrated with Jewish sacred symbols or comparisons to the Holocaust.  On January 18, KIS issued a statement protesting a sketch that showed the entrance to the Auschwitz concentration camp in a political cartoon opposing an education bill on universities.  KIS called the cartoon, which appeared in the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton on January 16, “a hideous and vulgar instrumentalization of the Holocaust for political purposes.”

On March 9, KIS issued a statement denouncing columnist Elena Akrita for comparing life in an Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II to life in contemporary Greece, drawing parallels between attacks against protesters opposed to pandemic restrictions and the Holocaust.  KIS, in a statement, noted that “Greek Jews … will never stop denouncing any attempt to denigrate and instrumentalize the Holocaust, which leads to the oblivion and distortion of history.”

According to a report published on January 13 by the Ministry of Education and Religion, there were 404 cases of vandalism/theft/desecrations against religious sites in the country in 2020, with most (374) targeting the Orthodox Church, seven the Catholic Church, four the True Orthodox Christians (Old Calendarists), 10 categorized as antisemitic, and nine targeting Islamic sites.  This number represented a decrease from 524 incidents reported in 2019.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador and embassy and consulate general representatives discussed the country’s chairmanship of the IHRA and religious freedom issues with Deputy Prime Minister Pikrammenos, as well as with officials and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and Deputy Minister Andreas Katsaniotis, Civil Governor for Mount Athos Athanasios Martinos, and Secretary General for Religious Affairs George Kalantzis.  The U.S. officials discussed the ability of minority religious communities to exercise their rights to religious freedom, government initiatives affecting the Muslim minority in Thrace and Muslim immigrants, the operation of the first public mosque in Athens, government action regarding the planned Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights in Thessaloniki, initiatives promoting interreligious dialogue, and possible joint action, including in the context of the country’s IHRA chairmanship.  Embassy officials also worked with the Prime Minister’s Office and with the Minister of Culture on a project involving the retrieval of personal items belonging to Jewish refugees from the 1946 Athina shipwreck off Astypalea Island that were to be displayed in the museum’s permanent exhibition.

In outreach and meetings with government officials, U.S. government officials raised concerns regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric in the country.  U.S. officials also denounced vandalism of religious sites, including the desecration of graves in the Jewish cemetery of Ioannina.

On February 3, the Ambassador discussed with Deputy Prime Minister Pikrammenos developments regarding construction of the Holocaust Museum in Thessaloniki.

In outreach and meetings with leaders of religious groups, including the Greek Orthodox Church, U.S. government officials expressed concerns regarding antisemitic and anti-Muslim acts and rhetoric in the country.

Senior embassy officials and the Consul General in Thessaloniki met with religious leaders, including metropolitans from the Greek Orthodox Church, official muftis in Thrace, representatives from a religious group of Bektashi (Sufi) Muslims in Evros, and members of the Catholic, Baha’i, and Jehovah’s Witnesses communities to promote interfaith dialogue, religious tolerance, and respect for diversity.  The embassy monitored the ability of minority religious groups to freely practice their religion and the extent of societal discrimination, including physical violence and verbal harassment against both members of indigenous minority religious groups and members of newly arrived minority religious groups.

Three individuals working on religious issues in the country took part in digital U.S. government exchange programs on interfaith dialogue and religious freedom and on countering Holocaust distortion and denial.

The embassy and consulate promoted religious tolerance and the right of religious freedom on social media, emphasizing regularly that religious freedom is a U.S. government priority.  In November, following his meeting with a metropolitan, the Ambassador tweeted the U.S. government’s commitment to protecting religious freedom.

 

Hungary

Executive Summary

The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of religion, including freedom to choose, change, or manifest religion or belief, cites “the role of Christianity” in “preserving nationhood,” and values “various religious traditions.”  The Law prohibits religious discrimination and speech violating the dignity of any religious community and stipulates the autonomy of religious communities.  There are four tiers of religious groups, all of which may receive state funding and income tax allocations from taxpayers, provided they have concluded cooperation agreements with the state.  In January, the government informed the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) that it was “no longer possible” to pay restitution for heirless Jewish property.  The WJRO and the government resumed discussions on the issue in October.  The Church of Scientology (COS) said the Data Protection Authority (DPA) raided its office in Budapest and confiscated its files, and the National Tax Authority (NAV) raided the homes of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud.  The Constitutional Court rejected a COS appeal related to the seizure of documents from the COS office in 2017.  In June, a court ordered a newspaper to pay a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Christian Democratic People’s Party compensation and issue an apology for publishing a satirical cartoon of the government’s chief medical officer and the crucified Jesus.  The newspaper published the apology but said it had asked the Supreme Court to review the decision.  Senior government officials, including Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban, continued to make statements in defense of what they called a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration.  In September, Orban said present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe.  Other politicians made antisemitic and anti-Muslim statements.

The Action and Protection Foundation, which monitors antisemitism, reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, compared with 35 incidents in the previous year. These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 13 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Hungary said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Muslim leaders said that physical assaults against Muslims were rare, but verbal insults were frequent, and there were cases of anti-Muslim discrimination.  In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.”  In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.

In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated for restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups.  In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of over 62,000 Hungarian Jews.  The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns.  During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 9.7 million (midyear 2021). According to the 2011 national census (the 2021 census was postponed because of COVID-19), which included an optional question on religious affiliation, of the 73 percent of the population that responded, 51 percent identified as Roman Catholic, 16 percent as Hungarian Reformed Church (Calvinist), 3 percent as Lutheran, 2 percent as Greek Catholic, and less than 1 percent as Jewish; 23 percent reported no religious affiliation; and 2 percent said they were atheists.  Other religious groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Greek Orthodox, the Faith Congregation (a Pentecostal group), the COS, Russian and other Orthodox Christian groups, other Christian denominations, Buddhists, Muslims, and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness.  The Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship (MET or the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood) has approximately 8,500 members, according to a 2013 news report, and the Hungarian Pentecostal Church approximately 9,300 members, according to the 2011 census.  Local Jewish organizations estimate approximately 100,000 citizens with Jewish heritage live in the country, primarily in Budapest.  Other religious groups are distributed throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The Fundamental Law, the country’s constitution, provides for freedom of conscience and religion, including freedom to choose or change religion or belief, and freedom – alone or in community with others and in public or in private – to manifest religion or belief through religious acts or ceremonies, or in any other way, in worship, practice, and observance.  It prohibits religious discrimination, as well as speech “aimed at violating the dignity” of any religious community.

The constitution’s preamble states, “We recognize the role of Christianity” in preserving the nation and “value the various religious traditions” in the country.  The constitution stipulates separation between religious communities and the state, as well as the autonomy of religious communities.  According to the constitution, the state may, at the request of religious communities, cooperate with them on community goals.  A 2020 constitutional amendment states that children must be guaranteed an “upbringing based on values stemming from our country’s constitutional identity and Christian culture.”

Per a 2019 amendment to the 2011 law on religion, the law establishes a four-tier system of, in descending order, “established (or incorporated) churches,” “registered churches” (also called “registered II”), “listed churches” (also called “registered I”), and “religious associations.”  The term “church” in the law refers to any religious community, not just Christian ones, and religious groups in any category may use “church” in their official names.  All previously incorporated religious groups retained their status in the first tier of the system as established churches.  Parliament must approve recognition of churches as established.  The Budapest-Capital Regional Court has jurisdiction to rule on applications for registration within the other three categories.  Religious groups in all four tiers have legal personality, which grants them legal rights, such as the right to own property.

Religious entities that do not apply for legal status in one of the four tiers are still able to function and conduct worship but are not eligible to receive state funding or income tax contributions from taxpayers.  The law states constitutional protection of freedom of religion also applies to unregistered groups.

To qualify for established church status, a religious group must first have registered status and then conclude a comprehensive cooperation agreement with the state for the purpose of accomplishing community goals.  The government submits the comprehensive agreement to parliament, which must approve it by a two-thirds majority vote.  A registered church becomes an established church from the day parliament approves the comprehensive agreement.  Established churches are eligible to benefit from significant state subsidies for the performance of public service activities.

To qualify for registered church status, a religious group must have received tax allocations from an average of 4,000 persons per year in the five-year period prior to the application.  This status also requires that the group either have operated as a religious association for at least 20 years in the country, or at least 100 years internationally, or have operated as a listed church for at least 15 years in the country or at least 100 years internationally.

To qualify for listed church status, a religious group must receive tax allocations from an average of 1,000 persons per year in the three-year period prior to the application for status and have operated as a religious association for at least five years in the country or for at least 100 years internationally.

To qualify for religious association status, a religious group must have at least 10 members.

The law allows the government to negotiate individual cooperation agreements with all four tiers of religious groups for the performance of public service activities and support of faith-based activities.  The agreements’ duration depends on the status of the religious community, ranging from a five-year maximum for religious associations to 10 and 15 years for listed and registered churches, respectively, and unlimited duration for established churches.  These agreements may be prolonged.

Religious groups that agree not to seek state (including personal income tax allocations) or European Union (EU) funding for their religious activities may qualify as registered or listed churches without fulfilling the requirement regarding the number of personal income tax allocations.  The applicant religious community must perform primarily religious activities and may not be a criminal defendant or have been convicted of a crime during the previous five years, under sanction for “repeated violation of accounting and management rules,” or considered a national security threat.  The court decides whether to grant status as a registered or listed church based on an examination of the criteria above.  In reviewing these applications, the court may consult church law, church history, or ecclesiastical or academic experts, and may also seek the opinion of the national security services.

Religious groups that agree not to seek government or EU funding but accept financial support at a later stage must report it to the court within 15 days of the disbursement of the aid.  To avoid losing its status or a reclassification to the lower association tier, the religious group has eight days to declare to the court that it has returned the funds, requested cancellation of its religious registration status, or complied with the individual tax allocation requirement to become a registered or listed organization.  The religious group or prosecutor’s office may appeal the court’s decision on the status of the group to the Budapest-Capital Court of Appeal.

The law stipulates the minister responsible for church issues, based on information received from the court, shall manage an electronic database of religious groups with legal status, accessible to the public free of charge.  The database is publicly accessible at the government’s central webpage, kormany.hu.

The law allows taxpayers to allocate 1 percent of their income taxes to any religious community in any of the four tiers, starting with the 2020 tax year. Religious groups may use these funds as they wish.  Only established and registered churches (the two highest tiers) are eligible to receive a state subsidy supplementing the 1 percent tax allocations.

According to the law, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court may dissolve a religious community with legal status – with the exception of established churches – if its activities conflict with the constitution or law or if the court rules its registration should have been denied.  Parliament may dissolve an incorporated church if the Constitutional Court finds it is operating in violation of the constitution.  If a religious community is dissolved without a legal successor, its assets, after satisfying creditors, become the property of the state and shall be used for public interest activities.

Thirty-two churches have established (previously known as “incorporated”) status.  These include the Roman Catholic church; a range of Protestant denominations; a range of Orthodox Christian groups; other Christian denominations such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Salvation Army; three Jewish groups, the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), and the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Jewish Community; two Muslim organizations; a Buddhist umbrella organization; and the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness, the sole Hindu group registered as a church.

By law, the state may neither operate nor establish any institution for controlling or monitoring religious groups.  Their doctrines, internal regulations, and statutes are not subject to state review, modification, or enforcement.  Copyright law protects their names, symbols, and rites, while criminal law protects buildings and cemeteries.

The constitution establishes a unified system for the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights (ombudsperson).  The ombudsperson investigates cases related to violations of fundamental rights – including religious freedom – and initiates general or specific measures for their remedy.  These measures do not have the force of law.

Treaties with the Holy See regulate relations between the state and the Roman Catholic Church, including financing of public services and religious activities and settling claims for property seized by the state during the Communist era.  These treaties serve as a model for regulating state relations with other religious groups, although there are some differences in the rights and privileges the state accords to each of the religious groups with which it has agreements.  The state has also concluded formal agreements with the Hungarian Reformed Church, Hungarian Lutheran Church, Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), and four Orthodox churches.

According to the law, established, registered, and listed churches may perform pastoral services in prisons and hospitals.  Other laws indicate religious associations may also have the right to provide services at these facilities.

Military and law enforcement personnel may freely practice their religion in private and also at their workplaces if their religious practice does not violate their mandatory service duties.  The Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches, and Jewish congregations (which the government generally calls “historical churches”) may provide chaplain services to the military without seeking permission.  Other religious groups must seek permission to offer such services.

Penitentiaries generally allow inmates free practice of religion and provide them with special diets, such as kosher, vegetarian, and pork-free meals.  Historical churches may provide pastoral services in prisons without special permission, but other religious groups may do so only within official visiting hours as outlined in individual agreements and with permission from the penitentiary.  Similarly, historical churches receive automatic access to patients in hospitals to provide pastoral services, while other groups may do so only under certain conditions, such as providing services only during visiting hours.

One hour per week of education in faith and ethics or general ethics is mandatory through the first eight grades of public school.  Parents and students choose between the faith and ethics class offered by an established church of their choosing or a secular ethics course taught by public school teachers.  Other religious groups are not entitled to provide religious education as part of the mandatory curricula in public schools but may offer extracurricular, optional religious education in public schools at the request of parents or students.  Private schools are not required to offer faith and ethics or general ethics classes.

All religious groups registered in one of the four categories have the right to open their own schools.  The state provides a subsidy, based on the number of students enrolled, for employee salaries at all such schools.  Only established churches automatically receive a supplementary subsidy for the schools’ operating expenses.  Other religious groups may apply for a supplementary operational subsidy, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (MHC) may sign an individualized contract with them to cover these costs.

The law also affords all religious groups with legal status the right to assume operation of public schools if more than 50 percent of the parents and adult students enrolled at the school sign a petition to do so and the MHC approves the change.  In these cases, the state may continue to fund the schools.  Whether newly established or converted from public status, religious schools are free to conduct their own religious teaching without government input and to make faith education mandatory and not substitutable with an ethics class.  The state inspects both religious and public schools every two years to ensure they conform to legal standards.

The constitution prohibits speech that violates the dignity of any religious community.  The law prohibits both incitement to violence and incitement to hatred against a religious community or its members, punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.  The law provides a maximum punishment of three years in prison for impeding others through violence or threats from freely exercising their religion or abusing individuals because of their religious affiliation.

Assault motivated by the victim’s actual or presumed religious affiliation is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.  Violence against a member of the clergy is classified as violence against an “individual providing public service” and is also punishable with a prison sentence of one to five years.  Any person who engages in preparation for the use of force against any member of a religious community is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years.

The law prohibits public denial, expression of doubt, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes against humanity committed by the National Socialist or Communist regimes, punishing such offenses with a maximum sentence of three years in prison.  The criminal code makes wearing, exhibiting, or promoting in public the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, or the symbol of the Arrow Cross – a fascist, antisemitic party that allied with Nazi Germany – in a way that harms the human dignity or the memory of Holocaust victims a misdemeanor, punishable by five to 90 days’ detention.

The law provides for the lifting of official immunity of an MP who incites hatred against religious groups or publicly denies crimes of the Communist or National Socialist regimes.  No MP has been the subject of such a proceeding.

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

Government Practices

During the year, the government provided 134 billion forints ($410.64 million) to established churches (compared with 216.4 billion forints – $663.15 million – during 2020), of which 91 percent – 122.3 billion forints ($374.79 million) – went to the four historical churches.  The Roman Catholic Church received 80 billion forints ($245.16 million), the Reformed Church 34.1 billion forints ($104.50 million), the Evangelical Church 5.2 billion forints ($15.94 million), Mazsihisz 2.2 billion forints ($6.74 million), EMIH 524 million forints ($1.61 million), and the Jewish Orthodox community 260 million forints ($797,000).  The religious groups that received the bulk of the government’s financial support used the funds for such activities as building maintenance; public educational and social services; religious instruction and cultural activities; community programs and investments; employee wages, and faith-based activities for citizens living abroad.

According to statistics the tax authority published on September 13, 136 churches and religious groups received 1 percent personal income tax allocations during the year.  As in previous years, the churches receiving the most allocations were the Roman Catholic Church, with 740,326 persons contributing 4.3 billion forints ($13.18 million); Hungarian Reformed Church, with 309,825 persons contributing 1.8 billion forints ($5.52 million); and Lutheran Church, with 82,701 persons contributing 508 million forints ($1.56 million).  The Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness ranked fourth, with 73,890 persons contributing 472 million forints ($1.45 million).  MET, which collected 1 percent personal income tax allocations for the first time since the 2011 modification of the religion law, ranked fifth, with 39,815 persons contributing 315 million forints ($965,000). Among Jewish groups, Mazsihisz received the largest allocation.

According to the PMO, during the 2021-2022 school year, churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 19.6 percent of elementary and secondary schools (compared with 17.1 percent in 2019-20), and religious associations operated 0.4 percent.  Churches or church-run higher educational institutions operated 9.2 percent of preschools (with students aged three to seven), compared with 10 percent run by incorporated churches in the previous year, and religious associations operated 0.2 percent.  There were 217,169 students – 52.6 percent of whom were in Catholic schools – studying at preschools and elementary and secondary schools operated by churches and religious organizations, compared with 222,944 in the previous year.

Independent media reported in August that the government provided 10 billion forints ($30.64 million) to the preschool development program of the Roman Catholic Church during the year.  The government also allotted an additional 3.5 billion forints ($10.73 million) for educational development projects of the Reformed Church and the Catholic Churches.

For the school year beginning in September, the MHC withdrew complementary funding from MET’s educational institutions, attended by approximately 2,200 mostly Roma children.

Works of writers widely viewed as antisemitic, including member of the Arrow Cross Party Jozsef Nyiro and convicted war criminal Albert Wass, remained mandatory reading material in elementary and secondary public schools.

In a program broadcasted by public Kossuth Radio in March, a historian discussed the Numerus Clausus Law of 1920 and stated the law was not about the deprivation of rights, but only the limitation of rights.  The law, enacted under Regent Miklos Horthy, capped the number of Jews allowed to attend universities and is regarded by the Jewish community as the first antisemitic law in the country’s interwar period.  (Horthy was the leader of the World War II-era Hungarian state.  He allied the country with Nazi Germany and deported more than 400,000 Jews to Nazi death camps.)

In January, the first instance Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected a complaint filed by MP and deputy faction leader of the Christian Democratic People’s Party Imre Vejkey regarding a cartoon by Gabor Papai published by the daily independent Nepszava in 2020.  The cartoon showed the chief medical officer, who oversaw the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response, looking at Jesus on the cross and saying, “his underlying conditions caused” his death.  According to media commenters, the cartoon satirized what critics viewed as the chief medical officer’s attempt to minimize the number of deaths in the country that were attributable to COVID-19.  The appeals court stated on June 3 that the cartoon infringed the plaintiff’s right to human dignity as a member of the Christian community.  The ruling also ordered the newspaper to pay 400,000 forints ($1,200) plus court costs to Vejkey and to publish an apology on the front page. The newspaper published the apology on June 25, but it announced on July 2 that it had requested the Supreme Court (Curia) to review the lower court’s decision.  At year’s end, there was no information on whether the Supreme Court had agreed to review the case.

On February 5, the Constitutional Court ruled in a seven-year-long case involving the cover page of independent weekly newspaper HVG, entitled “Nagy Haracsony” (a play on words with the terms “Great Christmas” and “great grab-all”).  The Constitutional Court ruled that the cover was protected by freedom of speech and was not intended to offend the Christian community.

In February, media reported a local municipality in Budapest did not extend a property use agreement with the town’s only Jewish broadcaster, Heti TV (Weekly TV).  The municipality said that due to financial difficulties, it intended to make the space available to bidders.  Station founder Peter Breuer criticized the move and the station continued to operate at a new location.

In March, Deputy PM Zsolt Semjen signed a cooperation agreement with the Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (Zsima), a Jewish organization established in October 2020.  The agreement entailed state funding in the amount of 51 million forints ($156,000) annually until 2025.

The COS reported that on April 28, the DPA raided the storage facility of its Budapest mission and seized one-third of its religious files on its members.  The DPA confiscated the remaining folders on May 26.  These raids were the continuation of the DPA’s 2017 investigation into the COS’s alleged criminal abuse of personal data, in which the DPA seized COS documents at the group’s offices in in Budapest and Nyiregyhaza and fined the COS 40 million forints ($123,000).  The Constitutional Court rejected the appeals petition of the Nyiregyhaza COS mission of the DPA’s 2017 seizure of its documents, while a similar appeals petition of the Budapest COS mission remained pending at year’s end.

On May 27, the NAV raided the homes of dozens of COS members in a criminal case involving alleged tax fraud.  The NAV took four persons to its headquarters in handcuffs.  The COS also reported that the NAV put a lien on the building of the Central Church.  According to the COS, its appeals of government decisions to revoke the residence permit of a Russian Ukrainian missionary couple in 2019 and expel a Kazakh missionary in 2020 were unsuccessful and the decisions became final.

The list of religious associations and listed churches was available at a dedicated webpage maintained by the PMO.  Court decisions regarding the registration process for registered churches, listed churches, and religious associations were available at the central website of the courts, birosag.hu.

The PMO reported that some religious groups were eligible for a simplified registration procedure.  Under the simplified procedure, religious groups did not need to establish the number of persons making income tax allocations to them in prior years or allocations from before 2012, the year when the religion law entered into force.  A total of 15 groups reapplied under the simplified procedure.  At year’s end, there were 234 groups registered as religious associations and 12 listed as churches, including 10 groups which had had applications pending before the amendment to the religion law entered into force in 2019.  According to the PMO, the Budapest-Capital Regional Court rejected two applications, and one remained pending.  The two rejected religious groups were registered as religious associations.  The number of established churches remained unchanged at 32.

The PMO also stated no religious groups qualified for registered church status during the year because they could not meet the requirement of receiving income tax allocations from an average of at least 4,000 persons per year in the previous five years, a period which could only begin in 2019 or later.  The number of registered churches therefore remained zero.  MET appealed the Budapest-Capital Regional Court’s decision to register it as a listed church and requested classification as a registered church.  That appeals process was ongoing at year’s end.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU) – or TASZ in Hungarian – an NGO that represented some religious groups deregistered following the 2011 adoption of the religion law that established a new reregistration process and a tiered system for churches, reported it would not continue domestic or international legal challenges after the Constitutional Court in 2020 rejected its petition that the amended religion law was discriminatory and did not sufficiently address concerns related to its 2011 version.

The HCLU continued the monitoring of, and international advocacy for, the enforcement of the 2014 European Court of Human Rights ruling that the religion law violated freedom of religion and caused monetary damages to the deregistered churches.  The 2014 judgment required the government to reach an agreement with the applicant churches on the restoration of their status and on just compensation for any damages.  The HCLU said it was also assessing whether state financing for certain churches led to their overrepresentation in educational and social institutions, thereby compromising the state’s neutrality in religion.

In February, the NAV debited MET’s bank account for what it said were tax and social security arrears in the amount of approximately 250 million forints ($766,000).  MET’s leader, Pastor Gabor Ivanyi, stated MET would be able to pay its outstanding bills if the state would compensate it for damages sustained in 2016-2019 stemming from the group’s loss of church status.  The pastor added that losing its established church status had also made MET ineligible to receive a government supplement matching the 1 percent personal income tax allocations from Church members.  Separately, in September 2020, MET concluded an agreement with the state-owned utility company to delay payment of outstanding bills until April.  The company had threatened to disconnect MET’s institutions from the gas network in 2020 due to nonpayment.  MET stated that its deregistration as a state-recognized church in 2011 and state administrative measures against the Church in 2020 and 2021 were a retaliation for MET’s leader and Pastor Ivanyi’s public criticism and questioning of PM Orban’s claims that he governed by Christian principles.

The government concluded a research project it had been conducting for several years regarding the value of Jewish heirless and unclaimed property, but in January, in a letter addressed to the WJRO, the government stated for the first time that its 2007 settlement with the WJRO represented “definitive satisfaction of compensation claims” and that under the constitution adopted by the government in 2011, it was “no longer possible to pay restitution for any abandoned Jewish property, whether in or outside Hungary.”  The WJRO disagreed with the government position and sought further negotiations.  Discussions between the government and the WJRO on the compensation issue resumed in October, but by year’s end, the government had not proposed a negotiation roadmap or target date.

In April, Mazsihisz announced that two Orthodox Jewish groups, EMIH and the Hungarian Orthodox Jewish Community, had requested the revision of the government-paid restitution annuity for confiscated Jewish properties, and sued Mazsihisz at the Jerusalem Supreme Rabbinical Court.  In June, the court (which holds no legal jurisdiction in Hungary), in a nonbinding injunction, called on the government to freeze the payments until new criteria for the division of the annuity were defined.  At year’s end, the government had not changed the distribution of the restitution annuity.

According to the COS, the Csongrad County Government Office again failed to act on a certificate of occupancy application by the COS for its headquarters in Budapest.  The application had remained pending since 2017, despite a 2017 Budapest Administrative and Labor Court ruling that the county office process the COS’s application by March 2018.  The COS said it had received no explanation for the continued delay.  An extant court order allowed the COS to continue to use the building.

The Organization of Muslims in Hungary (OMH) reported that the municipality-owned Budapest Funeral Institute provided cemetery space for Muslims, but that Islamic burials required a permit issued by the Hungarian Islamic Community (HIC), the other Muslim organization, for which the HIC charged a fee of approximately 50,000 forints ($150).  OMH members expressed concerns about this practice.  Other than in the capital, OMH reported there was a limited amount of cemetery space in the city of Pecs.  The restoration of the state-owned Yakovali Hasan Mosque in Pecs, ongoing since 2019, remained pending, which prevented the local Muslim community from using the mosque as a place of worship.

On June 10, the renovated Rumbach Synagogue in Budapest – which served as a Jewish deportation point in 1941 – reopened as a place of worship and culture for the first time since the 1950s.  The government supported the renovation with 3.2 billion forints ($9.81 million).  Senior officials of the World Jewish Congress attended the opening ceremony.

On August 29, a ceremony marked the completion of the renovation of a Mazsihisz-operated Jewish hospital in Budapest.  Minister of Human Capacities Miklos Kasler stated at the opening ceremony that the government provided five billion forints ($15.32 million) for the reconstruction of the hospital as part of its efforts to ensure that hospitals run by faith-based groups played a significant role in the national healthcare system.  The facility was the only Jewish hospital in the country and served both Jewish and non-Jewish patients, some of whom were Holocaust survivors.

According to the OMH, Muslims serving prison sentences continued to receive meals containing pork meat or pork fat regularly, despite complaints that it violated their religious dietary practices.

On May 1, Fidesz cofounder and media personality Zsolt Bayer wrote in the government-aligned newspaper Magyar Nemzet that the U.S. Secretary of State, who has Hungarian ancestry, was a “rootless Hungarian” and a “rootless American,” which many interpreted as a classic antisemitic trope.  Bayer has a long history of antisemitic writings and statements.  He has high profile platforms on government-aligned media outlets and received a prestigious government award in 2016.

In June, Laszlo Toroczkai, president of the Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) Party, which is widely described as extreme right and has seats in parliament and in local municipalities, wrote that European nations should stand on their own feet and needed “neither Jews nor Palestinians.”  In August, he commemorated the members of Ragged Guard, a paramilitary unit active in the interwar period, whose leader Ivan Hejjas was responsible for killing and robbing hundreds of Jews.  On his social media channel, he said in October that certain influential businessmen and politicians with Jewish roots were using the COVID-19 pandemic to create a new world order.  In February, the deputy president of the Mi Hazank Party, Elod Novak, gave a speech at an event commemorating Regent Horthy.

In September, the Hungarian Baptist Church signed a cooperation agreement with the government to carry out religious, educational, social, and cultural activities.

On September 12, Prime Minister Orban met with Pope Francis, who celebrated the closing Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress, a week-long gathering of the Roman Catholic Church held in Budapest.  Following their meeting, PM Orban wrote on his Facebook page, “I asked Pope Francis not to let Christian Hungary perish.”

At an international conference on antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance on October 13 in Sweden, Minister for Family Affairs Katalin Novak said that [Holocaust] remembrance was “extremely important” for the government.  She called for a continuous fight against manifestations of antisemitism.

Government officials continued to make statements in defense of a “Christian Europe” and against Muslim immigration.  On September 1, PM Orban stated at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia that present-day migrants were “all Muslims” who changed the cultural identity of Europe.  On September 9, he said at the opening of the academic year at the Mathias Corvinus Collegium, a private educational institution, that during the “Muslim flood [of immigrants],” the West was unable to confront its own historical mission.  On September 27, Orban stated at a church consecration, “Hungarians can only survive as Christians, and each new church is a bastion in the nation’s struggle for freedom and greatness.” He added that since 2010, there had been 150 new churches built and more than 3,000 churches renovated in the country and in the Carpathian basin (former Hungarian territories currently inhabited by ethnic Hungarians).

On October 14, head of the PMO Gergely Gulyas stated at a government-sponsored conference organized in the framework of the country’s Council of Europe presidency, “In Western Europe, we can no longer speak of Christian democracy in its original and Central European sense.”

In October, Peter Barnabas Farkas, deputy mayor in the town of Ozd and member of the Jobbik Party, resigned from his position after two photos of him from 2018 emerged in which he appeared to be giving a Nazi salute in front of the Holocaust Museum in Poland.  Farkas later apologized and visited the Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest.

On October 23, the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, PM Orban accused the opposition of competing to represent the interests of a certain Jewish-American financier and the EU, who were aiming to “take Hungary from the hands of Mary and place it at the feet of Brussels.”

In November, the Chief Rabbi of EMIH, Slomo Koves, told press that the House of Fates, a proposed new Holocaust museum and education center in Budapest owned by EMIH, would likely be ready to open by 2024.  Leading Jewish groups and Holocaust scholars have criticized the museum concept as an attempt to obscure the role of the World War II-era Hungarian state and its leader, Miklos Horthy, in the Holocaust.

In a report on the instrumentalization of antisemitism in European politics issued in February, the Anti-Defamation League, an international NGO, stated the government used coded antisemitism in campaigns – beginning at the end of 2015 – against EU migration policies, following the arrival of more than a million migrants from the Middle East.  The report cited what it described as the government’s demonization of a well-known Jewish-American financier of Hungarian origin.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In January, the independent online news outlet 444.hu published a documentary about the crimes committed by a group of Hungarian Arrow Cross Party members against Jewish inhabitants of Budapest’s twelfth district during World War II, and about the controversial turul statue erected in the district in 2005.  While the statue officially commemorates civilian victims of the Allied bombing and the Soviet siege of Budapest in 1944-45, experts have stated that the turul bird (a large, mythical bird of prey) was a well-known symbol of right-wing extremist groups during the interwar period and that the statue continued to serve as a gathering place for such groups.  Historians said in 2019 that the names carved into the statue contain at least 22 Arrow Cross gang members who massacred Jews in Budapest, including current Fidesz district mayor Zoltan Pokorni’s grandfather.  In a press conference on February 1, Pokorni, who in 2020 had ordered that his grandfather’s name be removed from the statue, rejected historians’ suggestion that the memorial be turned into one for fallen World War I soldiers.  He proposed that the statue remain but that it should include “a very detailed guide” to the turul symbol.

In September, the Brussels-Based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 25 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-25 in Hungary said they had negative feeling toward Jews.  Thirty-six percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements regarding Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (34 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (39 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (28 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (30 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (27 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (16 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (31 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (39 percent).

The Foundation reported 30 antisemitic incidents in 2020, the most recent data available, compared with 35 in the previous year.  These were six cases of vandalism, one threat, one case of discrimination, and 22 cases of hate speech.

In July, Mazsihisz president Andras Heisler presented the results of a 2019-2020 survey prepared by Median independent public opinion pollster and commissioned by Mazsihisz.  Heisler stated that while the number of physical attacks and vandalism cases was low compared with Western Europe, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and antisemitism in public life increased between 2019 and 2020, and the Mi Hazank Party, widely described as extreme right, was among the most common perpetrators of antisemitic incidents and hate speech.  According to the survey, there were 70 antisemitic incidents in 2020, up from 53 in the previous year.  Citing 2019 data, head of the Median public opinion pollster Endre Hann said that 36 percent of Hungary’s adult population could be characterized by some degree of antisemitism, including antisemitic prejudice and attitudes toward Jews.

Muslim organizations stated they did not collect statistical data because, according to one member, they lacked the capacity to do so.  However, OMH reported that while physical assaults were rare, verbal insults and hateful emails and phone calls were frequent, in particular against persons wearing headscarves or who had darker skin and spoke a foreign language.  For instance, according to OMH, individuals often referred to Muslims as “terrorists” and told them to “get out of here.”

OMH also reported a higher number of online insults on social media during the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.  According to OMH, the majority of the population regarded Muslims with suspicion.

As in previous years, domestic and international extreme-right and neo-Nazi groups marked the anniversary of the breakout attempt by Hungarian and German troops on February 11, 1945, during the Soviet Red Army’s siege of Budapest.  Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, approximately 100 persons took part in an organized reenactment hike along the route of the attempted siege-breakers in Budapest.  The Hungarian chapter of the international neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor organized the event.  Ahead of the event, one of its organizers published an opinion piece in the government-aligned media outlet Magyar Nemzet entitled “Glory to the Heroes.”  In the article, the author compared Hungarian and German soldiers who attempted the breakout to the great heroes of Hungarian history.

In June, a soccer fan affiliated with Kispest, a Budapest Honved football club, posted a photo on social media with a text that ended, “Heil Hitler.”  In September, independent media reported that Kispest Youth, also called Militant Jugend Kispest, painted swastikas and 88 (a common symbol for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet) onto buildings in the Kispest district and wore red-white-black shirts with swastikas on photos that were posted on social media.

In July, TEV reported that swastikas were painted on a company’s building in Szeged and on the pavement in Szolnok.  Also in July, a private property in Leanyfalu displayed a picture of Hitler with the text “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.”  Police initiated an investigation.  In 2020, an SS flag was hung from the facade of the same house.  Police first dismissed that case, but the prosecutor’s office reopened it as involving public use of a totalitarian symbol.  In June, a passerby told two Jewish teenagers in Budapest to “go to Auschwitz,” and in May, a guard at a drugstore in Budapest was fired for calling a customer a “filthy Jew.”

According to press reports, a team of international volunteers was working to restore the neglected Kozma Street Cemetery in Budapest, one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, with an area of 77 hectares (190 acres) and containing approximately 300,000 graves.  At midyear, the volunteers had reportedly cleaned up 20 percent of the cemetery.

In October, the Christian-Jewish Council, an informal platform for discussion among Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Baptist Churches and Jewish groups, held a conference on the role of families in religion, with the participation of members of Christian and Jewish groups.

During a visit to the country in September, Pope Francis met with representatives of Christian churches and Jewish communities and said that antisemitism is a “fuse which must not be allowed to burn.”

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings and discussions with the government, including officials from the PMO in charge of church and Jewish issues, the Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives advocated restitution of heirless Jewish property seized during the Holocaust and discussed provisions of the religion law, including the registration process for religious groups.

The Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials also discussed heirless property restitution with the WJRO.

In June, the Charge d’Affaires dedicated a room in the embassy building to the memory of Carl Lutz, credited with saving the lives of more than 62,000 Hungarian Jews.  As a Swiss vice consul, Lutz operated out of the building, likely from the room where the ceremony was held, while Switzerland looked after U.S. property and interests between 1942 and 1945.  Members of the Jewish community attended the event, which the embassy also highlighted on its social media accounts.

In August, the Charge d’Affaires delivered a speech at an event commemorating the birth of Swedish diplomat and honorary citizen of the United States Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews while serving in Budapest between 1944 and 1945.  His speech emphasized the importance of education about the Holocaust and the rejection of antisemitism, and the embassy highlighted it on its social media accounts.  In November, the Charge d’Affaires joined the global initiative of the International March of the Living, an international educational program on the history of the Holocaust, to call attention to the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, the 1938 Nazi pogrom.  In his remarks delivered in front of the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, he highlighted the U.S. commitment to Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, racism, and intolerance.

Embassy officials also facilitated cooperation between U.S. and Hungarian authorities regarding proper handling of Jewish historic artifacts stolen from Jewish communities in the country during World War II, including from Hungary, that were set to be auctioned in the United States.

The embassy maintained regular contact with leaders of various religious communities, including the four historical groups, as well as Muslims, the COS, and religious groups that lost incorporated church status in 2011, such as MET, Bet Orim, and Sim Shalom, to understand their concerns.  During these discussions, embassy officials discussed the effects of the religion law, antisemitism, and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Ireland

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion.  It references Jesus Christ and God and stipulates the state shall respect religion.  From January until May, the government prohibited all in-person religious services as a COVID-19 mitigation measure and opened gradually thereafter until October, when it lifted all restrictions.  Church representatives generally supported the ban, although some individuals said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain essential businesses open.  There were continued reports that some school authorities in national Catholic schools continued to give preferential treatment to students for participating in religious activities and told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes.  Thirteen government-funded multidenominational national schools opened during the year.  In April, the government introduced a bill, pending before parliament at year’s end, that would make provision for hate crimes and impose a heavier penalty for offenses committed with a hate element based on, among other things, the religious identity of the victim.  In November, a member of parliament, referring to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)’s Working Definition of Antisemitism, said in the Dail (parliament) that Ireland should not sign up to a definition of antisemitism that did not allow for questioning Israel’s right to exist, when it was a “racist apartheid state.”  In January, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin and other senior government officials participated virtually in the National Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.

The NGO Irish Network Against Racism recorded 334 incidents of hate speech related to race and religion in 2020, of which 69 targeted Muslims and 23 targeted Jews.  In October, a researcher published a report documenting antisemitic content posted online by members of parliament and members of the public, and recommended the government adopt the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.  The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), an independent statutory body, reported it received 30 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion or belief in 2020, compared with 36 complaints in 2019.  On July 20, approximately 500 Muslims performed prayers at an interfaith celebration to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park.  Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government, attended.

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and integration of religious minorities into the community with the government.  Embassy officials met with religious groups, secularist advocates, and NGOs to discuss their concerns over religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.2 million (midyear 2021).  According to the 2016 census, the most recent, the population is approximately 78 percent Roman Catholic, 3 percent Church of Ireland (Anglican), 1 percent Muslim, 1 percent Orthodox Christian (including Greek, Russian, and Coptic Orthodox), 1 percent unspecified Christian, and 2 percent other religious groups, while 10 percent stated no religious affiliation, and 3 percent did not specify their religion.  There are small numbers of Presbyterians, Hindus, Apostolic Pentecostals, Pentecostals, and Jews.  The census estimates the Jewish population at 2,500.  The number of Christians and Muslims from sub-Saharan Africa, Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, Muslims and Hindus from South Asia, and Orthodox Christians from Eastern Europe continues to grow, especially in larger urban areas.  NGOs such as Atheist Ireland and the Humanists Association of Ireland said the census overestimates religious affiliation by asking “What is your religion?” which they said was a leading question.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free profession and practice of religion, subject to public order and morality.  The constitution references “the Most Holy Trinity” and “our divine Lord, Jesus Christ,” and stipulates the state shall hold the name of God in reverence and honor and respect religion.  The constitution requires the President, judges, and members of the Council of State to swear a religious oath, which begins with a reference to “Almighty God.”  It prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and states, “The State guarantees not to endow any religion.”

The constitution stipulates every religious denomination has the right to manage its own affairs, own and acquire property, and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes.  It prohibits the diversion of property of any religious denomination except for necessary works of public utility and upon payment of compensation.  The constitution states legislation providing for government aid to schools shall not discriminate among schools under the management of different religious denominations nor affect the right of a child to attend any school receiving public money without attending religious instruction at that school.

A “statement of truth” may be used in civil proceedings in place of affidavits and statutory declarations sworn on a religious oath.  The document must contain a statement that the person making the statement of truth has an honest belief that the stated facts are true.  Religious oaths and affirmations are still required when a witness is giving oral evidence in court.  The statement of truth may not be used in criminal proceedings.

The law forbids incitement of others to hatred based on religion, among other categories, and carries a maximum penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of 25,400 euros ($28,800).  The law does not address or define hate crimes other than incitement of others, although a hate motive is an aggravating factor that judges may take into account on a discretionary basis at sentencing for any criminal offense.

There is no legal requirement for religious groups to register with the government, nor is there any formal mechanism for government recognition of a religious group.  Religious groups may apply to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners (the tax authority) as a charity to receive tax exemptions, and the groups must operate exclusively for charitable purposes, which under the law may include “the advancement of religion.”  The law requires all charitable organizations carrying out activities in the country to register with and provide certain information relating to their organization to the Charities Regulator, a government-appointed independent authority.  The regulator maintains a public register of charitable organizations and ensures their compliance with the law.  Organizations must apply their income and property solely toward the promotion of their main charitable object, as set out in their governing instruments (such as a constitution, memorandum and articles of association, deed of trust, or rules).

Under the law, individual medical professionals may opt out of participating in certain legal procedures, such as abortion, on conscience grounds; however, institutions may not refuse to perform such procedures.

Under the constitution, the Department of Education provides funding to privately owned and managed primary schools – most of which are affiliated with religious groups, particularly the Catholic Church – referred to as “national schools” or simply as primary schools.  Most children receive their elementary-level education at these privately owned schools.  The government pays most of the building and administrative costs, teachers’ salaries, and a set amount per pupil.

Denominational schools are under the patronage of a single religious community.  They provide religious education according to traditions, practices, and beliefs of the specified religious community.  Interdenominational schools are under the patronage or trusteeship of more than one faith community.  Such schools provide for a variety of religious education opportunities.  There are also two types of multidenominational schools at the primary school level:  schools that do not provide religious education as formation during the school day, but do provide education about religions and beliefs (parents/guardians may arrange for denominational religious education outside school hours in such schools); and schools that provide education about religions and also provide some faith formation for different denominations, depending on parental requests, during the school day.

Ninety percent of all national schools are Catholic, 6 percent Church of Ireland, 2 percent multidenominational, 1 percent other religious groups, and 1 percent not religiously affiliated.  Patrons, who are usually members of the religious groups and affiliated with religious organizations with which the school is associated, manage the schools themselves or appoint a board of management to do so.  Patrons often provide land for schools and contribute to building and administrative costs.

By law, Catholic national schools are not allowed to discriminate on religious grounds when making admissions decisions.  According to the law, national schools under the patronage of other religious groups may discriminate in admissions on religious grounds to preserve their distinct religious identities, but only in schools that are oversubscribed.  The law prohibits discrimination in admissions based on religious beliefs in secondary schools.

In funding schools, the constitution stipulates the state shall have due regard “for the rights of parents, especially in the matter of religious and moral formation.”  The government permits but does not require religious instruction, faith-based classes, or general religion classes in national schools.  Although religious instruction is part of the curriculum of most schools, parents may exempt their children from such instruction.  Religious schools teach about their religion while multidenominational schools generally teach about religion in a broader context.  Students may opt out and sit in a classroom where religious instruction is not being conducted.  The Catholic Church certifies teachers of religion classes in Catholic schools.

Approximately half of secondary schools are religiously affiliated.  The government funds religiously affiliated secondary schools.

Vocational schools are state run and nondenominational.

The WRC hears cases of reported workplace discrimination, including claims based on religion.  The WRC may refer cases for mediation, investigate these cases, or decide the case itself.  If the adjudicating officer finds there has been discrimination, he or she can order compensation for the effects of discrimination and/or corrective action.  Litigants may appeal WRC decisions in the courts.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is an independent public body accountable to parliament whose stated purpose is to protect and promote human rights and equality and to build a culture of respect for human rights, including religious freedom.  The commission works at the policy level to review the effectiveness of human rights and equality law, as well as public policy and practice.  It also works with communities, including religious and other civil society groups, to monitor and report on the public’s experience of human rights, religious freedom, and equality.

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

Government Practices

From January until May, the government suspended all in-person religious services as part of COVID-19 mitigation measures that also applied to nonreligious venues, although churches remained open for private prayer, and up to 25 attendees were allowed for weddings and funerals.  Church representatives generally supported the ban, although some said it was inconsistent to ban religious services but keep certain businesses open.  Media reported that on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell in a homily called on authorities “to give assurance that the legitimate desire of people to gather responsibly and within reasonable guidelines to exercise their constitutional right to worship will be prioritized in the easing of restrictions.”  In March, police fined a priest 500 euros ($570) for holding a public Mass in violation of restrictions on public gatherings.

Media reported that on April 15, Taoiseach Micheal Martin met Catholic bishops to discuss COVID-19 mitigation measures, which retired Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin described as “draconian.”  As of May 10, up to 50 persons could attend religious events, and as of September 6, religious ceremonies could take place with 50 percent of normal capacity.  On September 10, the Irish Times reported Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, head of the Catholic Church of Ireland, expressed “deep frustration” with the “dismissive manner” in which the government announced restrictions during the summer.  On October 22, the government lifted all restrictions on attendance.

School patrons, generally affiliated with religious denominations, continued to define the ethos of schools and to determine the development and implementation of the religious education curriculum in primary schools.  Curricula varied by school and could include teaching about the patron’s religion, the religious history of the country, or an overview of world religions.  Atheist Ireland continued to criticize the government for primarily delivering moral formation through religion and not offering students moral education outside of religion classes.

Atheist Ireland and the media continued to report incidents of school authorities giving preferential treatment, such as homework exemptions, to students in national Catholic schools that engaged in activities such as singing in religious choirs or performing altar services in church.  There were continued reports that some school authorities told parents that, contrary to law, their children could not opt out of religion classes.

The government facilitated patrons’ efforts to open more schools with multidenominational patronage.  Thirteen new multidenominational national schools opened during the year as part of the government’s plan, announced in 2018, to facilitate the establishment of 42 schools – 26 primary and 16 secondary – from 2019-2022.  The Department of Education said it considered parental preferences and projected demand when deciding which patrons would be allowed to sponsor the new schools.  A separate process, the “Schools Reconfiguration for Diversity,” continued, with the aim of accelerating the creation of multidenominational and nondenominational schools in the country, in line with parental preference and the government’s stated commitment to having a total of 400 multidenominational or nondenominational schools by 2030, out of approximately 3,300 public schools in the country.

In accordance with a 2011 government initiative to create more diversity and inclusiveness in the primary school system through a combination of divestment and construction of new schools, eight transfers of patronage took place during the 2019/2020 school year – three schools from Catholic patronage, two from Church of Ireland patronage, and three multidenominational Steiner (aka Waldorf) schools.  All were transferred to the Education and Training Board (ETB).  The ETB manages and operates coeducational, multidenominational national schools, post-primary schools, and further education colleges.

In rural areas, parents continued to report finding non-Catholic national schools was difficult.

Catholic religious orders remained affiliated with 20 of the country’s 45 hospitals.

Several state agencies, including IHREC, WRC, and the police’s National Diversity and Integration Unit (GNDIU), continued to enforce equality legislation and work on behalf of minority religious groups.  According to GNDIU representatives, GNDIU’s liaison officers continued to engage regularly with immigrant minority religious groups to inform them of police services and to educate them on their rights.  These groups included the Cavan Cross Cultural Community, Dublin City Interfaith Forum, Federation for Victim Assistance, Garda Traveller advisory group, and Immigrant Council of Ireland.

Police continued to implement the 2019-21 Diversity and Integration Strategy, with the stated aim of protecting all minorities and diverse groups (including religious groups) in society, although sources said progress was hampered by COVID-19 restrictions.  The strategy focused on improving the identification, reporting, investigation, and prosecution of hate crimes.  It introduced a working definition of hate crime for the police; emphasized human rights as a foundation for providing policing services; and initiated diversity, integration, and hate crime training within the police.  The strategy defined a hate crime as “any criminal offense which is perceived by the victim or any other person to, in whole or in part, be motivated by hostility or prejudice, based on actual or perceived age, disability, race, color, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender.”  The police’s official website further clarified, “Religion includes ‘non-believers’.”

NGOs, including the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Immigrant Council of Ireland, Anti-Racism Network Ireland, National Steering Group Against Hate Crime, and European Network Against Racism Ireland, as well as IHREC, again advocated better monitoring of hate crimes, including religiously motivated incidents, legislation against hate crimes, more stringent laws against hate speech, and action to ensure authorities took prejudice into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing criminals.

In April, the government introduced hate crime legislation, which was pending before parliament at year’s end, to establish a category of hate crimes and impose a heavier penalty on an offender whose commission of a relevant offense was accompanied by a hate motive against an individual based on numerous factors, including religion.  There was broad support for the legislation among NGOs.

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

In November, parliamentarian Boyd Barrett from the People Before Profit Party representing Dun Laoghaire, referring to the IHRA’s non-legally binding Working Definition of Antisemitism, said on the floor of the Dail that while “we must absolutely commemorate the Holocaust and insist that it never ever happens again,” Ireland should not sign up to a definition of antisemitism that was not allowed to question Israel’s right to exist, when it was a “racist apartheid state.”  He added it was unacceptable that those who “question the right of… an apartheid state to exist” were labeled antisemites.  Thomas Byrne, Minister of State for European Affairs, afterwards urged parliamentarians to avoid injecting the Israel-Palestinian conflict into discussions of antisemitism.

On January 24, Taoiseach Martin and other senior government officials participated in the national Holocaust Day Memorial commemoration.  In his remarks, Martin affirmed “unequivocally and publicly, Ireland’s absolute commitment to Holocaust remembrance and to fighting the ugly scourge of antisemitism and racism.”  Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin, said people in the city “feel privileged to be among survivors of the Holocaust and descendants of survivors who have made Dublin and Ireland their home.”  The NGO Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, in association with the Department of Justice, Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration, and Dublin City Council, organized the virtual event, which included readings, survivors’ remembrances, and music, as well as the lighting of six candles symbolizing the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

The NGO Irish Network Against Racism recorded 334 incidents of hate speech involving race and religion in 2020, of which 69 targeted Muslims and 23 targeted Jews.  In one case, housemates subjected one Muslim man to theft, abuse, and harassment over a period of months.  The principal at one community college used explicitly anti-Muslim slurs against Muslim students.  The NGO recorded nine incidents of discrimination against Muslims in access to goods and services but did not give details.  It stated that most victims of religious discrimination and racist incidents did not report them to the police.

In October, researcher David Collier published a report on antisemitism in the country that documented antisemitic content posted online by members of the Dail and members of the public.  The author stated that most of this content occurred in the context of criticizing Israeli policies, but it also contained Holocaust denial and antisemitic tropes about Jews controlling world finance.  The report included numerous examples of politicians and members of the public sharing social media posts from other sources that contained Holocaust denial, “Zionist” conspiracy theories, and antisemitic tropes.  In his report, Collier stated, “It seems accurate to suggest that antisemitism is driving their [politicians’ and anti-Israel activists’] obsessive anti-Israel activity.”  Collier recommended that Ireland, which is a member of the IHRA, adopt IHRA’s non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism.

The WRC reported it received 30 complaints of employment discrimination based on religion or belief in 2020, compared with 36 in 2019.

On July 20, approximately 500 Muslims performed prayers to mark Eid al-Adha in Dublin’s Croke Park.  Shaykh Umar al-Qadri, chair of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, organized the event, which, as in 2020, was held outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions, in cooperation with the Gaelic Athletic Association.  Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish community leaders, as well as members of government, attended.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials discussed issues of discrimination and the integration of religious minorities into the community with the government.  Embassy officials also met with representatives of religious groups, secularist advocates, and NGOs to discuss their concerns regarding religious tolerance, secularism, and religion in the national school system.

Italy

Executive Summary

The constitution protects freedom of religion and the right of religious communities to establish their own institutions.  It specifies the state and the Roman Catholic Church are independent, with their relations governed by treaties, including a concordat granting the Church a number of specific privileges and benefits, and financial support.  Twelve other religious groups have accords granting many of the same benefits in exchange for a degree of government monitoring.  Unregistered religious groups operate freely and are eligible for some of the benefits that registered groups receive, but they must apply separately for them.  According to the Ministry of the Interior’s website, during the year, the government expelled at least 46 persons, mostly due to links with what the ministry stated were violent extremist Islamist groups.  Muslim groups, none of which has an accord, again experienced difficulties acquiring permission from local governments to construct mosques and provide dedicated areas appropriate for Islamic burials.  Some local governments granted permission to build mosques or temporary prayer centers and to allow or expand plots for Islamic burials, but not enough to meet growing demand.  Politicians from several political parties again made statements critical of Islam or antisemitic in nature.  On August 28, League Party leader Matteo Salvini said the Quran and Islam were incompatible with civil and democratic rights.  On September 9, the Court of Cassation (the country’s highest court of appeals) ruled that hanging a crucifix in classrooms was legal.  The court also stated that each public school should take into consideration the beliefs of all when deciding whether to hang a crucifix and that all schools should promote coexistence.

There were again reports of antisemitic incidents, including physical assaults, verbal harassment, discrimination, hate speech, and vandalism, as well as expressions of anti-Muslim sentiment and vandalism of Christian churches.  Press reported that in March, in Rome, a food delivery person stabbed a Jewish colleague several times, after screaming antisemitic insults.  The victim, whose wounds required hospitalization, was the son of a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.  In August, a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are assassins!”  The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Anti-Semitism Observatory of the Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center Foundation (CDEC) recorded 220 antisemitic acts during the year, compared with 230 in 2020 and 251 in 2019.  Of the incidents, at least 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet.  Press reported examples of antisemitic graffiti and posters, including depictions of swastikas on walls, antisemitic stereotypes, and praise of neo-Nazi groups in cities such as Rome, Perugia, and Arezzo.  Experts monitoring antisemitism said they believed the number of antisemitic incidents was vastly underreported.  According to Milena Santerini, the National Coordinator for the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, Facebook had removed only a small percentage of the Facebook posts containing antisemitic material.  The independent NGO Vox Diritti reported that during the year, 65 percent of all tweets mentioning Islam (165,297) contained negative messages against Muslims, compared with 59 percent (67,889) in 2020.  In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey, which found that 11 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Italy said they had negative feelings towards Jews.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy and consulates general met with national and local government officials to encourage respect for religious freedom and equal treatment for all faiths throughout the year.  They also discussed efforts to integrate new migrants – many of whom were Muslim, Orthodox, or Hindu – and second-generation Muslims living in the country.  Embassy officials additionally expressed support for a proposed accord between the government and the country’s Muslim communities.  U.S. government officials met with religious leaders and civil society representatives to promote interfaith dialogue and awareness, to encourage religious groups to be more effective in interfaith outreach, and to help young faith leaders become more visible and accepted by elderly religious leaders at the grass roots level.  In September, embassy officials met with the national coordinator for the fight against antisemitism, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI), and the president of the Rome Jewish community to discuss how to support their efforts to counter antisemitism.  The embassy and consulates continued to utilize social media platforms to acknowledge major Christian, Muslim, and Jewish holidays, as well as to amplify initiatives that promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue at the grass roots level.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 62.4 million (midyear 2021).  A 2020 study by the independent research center The Center for Studies of New Religions (CESNUR) estimates 67 percent of the population is Catholic, 24 percent atheist or agnostic, 5 percent non-Catholic Christian, 4 percent Muslim, and 1 percent followers of other religions.  Non-Catholic Christian groups include Eastern Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, the Methodist and Waldensian Churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ), the Union of Pentecostal Churches, and several other smaller Protestant groups, including other evangelical Christian groups.  According to the national branch of the Church of Jesus Christ, there are approximately 26,000 adherents in the country.  CESNUR also estimates that non-Christian religious groups that together account for less than 10 percent of the population include Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Sikhs, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Ananda Marga Pracaraka Samgha, an Indian spiritual movement.  According to a 2020 study conducted by SWG, an independent research center, 50 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, 25 percent identifies as atheist or agnostic, 17 percent other religious groups and 8 percent unaffiliated.

The UCEI estimates that the Jewish population numbers 28,000.  According to the legal counsel of the Italian Federation of Progressive Judaism, the organization has between 500 and 600 members.

According to CESNUR, approximately 1.76 million foreign Muslims and 500,000 Italian Muslims – almost 4 percent of the population – live in the country.  According to the Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the National Agency for Statistics (ISTAT), most growth in the Muslim population comes from large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, the majority of whom live in the north.  Muslims with Moroccan and Albanian roots make up the largest established groups, while Tunisia and Bangladesh are increasingly prominent sources of Muslims arriving as seaborne migrants.  The MOI reports Muslims in the country are overwhelmingly Sunni.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states all citizens are equal before the law regardless of religion and are free to profess their beliefs in any form, individually or with others, and to promote and celebrate rites in public or in private, provided they are not offensive to public morality.  According to the constitution, each religious community has the right to establish its own institutions according to its own statutes if these do not conflict with the law.  The constitution stipulates the state may not impose special limitations or taxes on the establishment or activities of groups because of their religious nature or aims.  The constitution specifies the state and the Catholic Church are independent of each other, and treaties, including a concordat between the government and the Holy See, govern their relations.

The country’s penal code contains an unenforced article on blasphemy, classifying public insults against religions or against religious followers as administrative offenses punishable by a fine ranging from 51 to 309 euros ($58-$350).  The penal code punishes other public offenses to religion, such as offenses against objects used for religious rites or offenses expressed during religious ceremonies, with a fine of up to 5,000 euros ($5,700) or a prison sentence of up to two years.  Those who destroy or violate objects used for religious ceremonies may be punished with up to two years in prison.

The constitution states all religious groups are equally free, and relations between the state and non-Catholic groups, including state support, are governed by agreements (“accords”) between them.  Relations between the state and the Catholic Church are governed by a concordat between the government and the Holy See.  Representatives of a non-Catholic faith requesting an accord must first submit their request to the Office of the Prime Minister.  The government and the group’s representatives then negotiate a draft agreement, which the Council of Ministers must approve.  The Prime Minister then signs and submits the agreement to parliament for final approval.  Twelve groups have an accord:  The Confederation of Methodist and Waldensian Churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans, Church of Jesus Christ, Orthodox Church of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Italian Apostolic Church, Buddhist Union, Soka Gakkai Buddhists, and Hindus.

The law provides religious groups with tax-exempt status and the right to recognition as legal entities once they have completed the registration process with the MOI.  Legal registration is a prerequisite for any group seeking an accord with the government.  A religious group may apply for registration by submitting to a prefect (the local representative of the MOI) an official request that includes the group’s statutes; a report on its goals and activities; information on its administrative offices; a three-year budget; certification of its credit status by a bank; and certification of the Italian citizenship or legal residency of its head.  To be approved, a group’s statutes must not conflict with the law.  Once approved, the group must submit to MOI administrative monitoring, including oversight of its budget and internal organization.  The MOI may appoint a commissioner to administer the group if it identifies irregularities in its activities.  Religious groups that are not registered may still operate legally as cultural associations and obtain tax-exempt status, legal recognition of marriages, access to hospitals and prisons, and other benefits, but those benefits are more easily obtained if a group has an accord with the government.  The Catholic Church is the only legally recognized group exempted from MOI monitoring in accordance with the concordat between the government and the Holy See.

An accord grants clergy automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks, allows for civil registry of religious marriages, facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals, and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays.  Any religious group without an accord may request these benefits from the MOI on a case-by-case basis.  An accord also allows a religious group to receive funds collected by the state through a voluntary 0.8 percent of personal income tax set-aside on taxpayer returns.  Taxpayers may specify to which eligible religious group they would like to direct these funds.

National law does not restrict religious face coverings, but some local authorities impose restrictions.  Regional laws in Liguria, Veneto, and Lombardy prohibit the wearing of burqas and niqabs in public buildings and institutions, including hospitals.

The concordat with the Holy See provides for the Catholic Church to select teachers, paid by the state, to provide instruction in weekly “hour of religion” courses taught in public schools.  The courses are optional, and students who do not wish to attend may study other subjects, or in certain cases, leave school early with parental consent.  Church-selected instructors are lay or religious, and the instruction includes material determined by the state and relevant to both Catholics and non-Catholic religious groups.  Government funding is available for only these Catholic Church-approved teachers.  If a student requests a religion class from a non-Catholic religious group, that group must provide the teacher and cover the cost of instruction; it is not required to seek government approval for the content of the class.  Some local laws provide scholarship funding for students to attend private, religiously affiliated schools, usually but not always Catholic, that meet government educational standards.

Schools are categorized as state-owned, state-equivalent, or private.  The “state-equivalent” category includes public (municipal, provincial, regional, or owned by another public entity) and some private schools, which may be religiously affiliated.  All state-equivalent schools receive government funding if they meet criteria and standards published every year by the Ministry of Education.  The funding is released through the ministry’s regional offices.  Religious entities operate most private schools, and private schools may not issue certificates or diplomas.  Private school students must take final annual exams in state-owned or state-equivalent schools.

A 2019 Lombardy regional law prohibits local authorities from dividing burial plots by religious belief, although local authorities have at times made exceptions.

According to law, hate speech, including instances motivated by religious hatred, is punishable by up to four years in prison.  This law also applies to denial of genocide or crimes against humanity.

All missionaries and other foreign religious workers from countries that are not European Union members or signatories of the Schengen Agreement must apply for special religious activity visas before arriving in the country.  An applicant must attach an invitation letter from his or her religious group to the application.

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

Government Practices

According to the MOI, during the year, it expelled at least 46 persons, reportedly mostly because of what the ministry stated was their violent extremist opinions and their efforts to radicalize Muslims.  On August 30, press reported that the MOI expelled a Tunisian preacher, Mohammed Bezaraa, for expressing extremist views during his sermons in several Islamic cultural centers in Vicenza.  A member of the local Muslim community said he agreed with Bezaraa’s expulsion, stating that some of the Islamic cultural centers in the country had “provided platforms for false imams to spout nonsense without meaning and without any theological basis.”

According to leaders of the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, the government once again did not make significant progress on reaching an accord with the Muslim community, despite dialogue underway with various Islamic religious entities.  The MOI continued to recognize only the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, which administers the Great Mosque of Rome, as a legal religious entity, making it the only Islamic entity eligible to sign an accord with the government.  The government continued to recognize other Muslim groups as nonprofit organizations.

On May 29, the Senate Extraordinary Committee to Fight Intolerance, Antisemitism, and Hate Crimes launched an investigation into the nature and the root causes of hate speech.  The committee said it would recommend legal measures and policies to prevent hate crimes against religious minorities.  During a parliamentary hearing, Amnesty International presented the results of a 2020 study of 36,269 tweets, showing that 55 tweets contained hate speech and 2,117 had offensive or discriminatory content against religious minorities.

Regional governments and Muslim religious authorities continued to recognize five mosques, one each in Colle Val d’Elsa (in Tuscany), Milan, and Rome, and two in the Emilia-Romagna Region, in Ravenna and Forli, respectively.  In addition, local governments continued to recognize many sites as Islamic places of worship, although Muslim authorities stated these were not considered full-fledged mosques because they lacked minarets or other key architectural features such as domes.

According to weekly magazine Panorama, there were also an estimated 800 to 1,200 unofficial, informal places of worship for Muslims in 2019 (the most recent figure), known colloquially as “garage” mosques.  According to press reports, authorities allowed most to operate, but they did not officially recognize them as places of worship.

According to media reports, Muslim leaders stated they continued to experience difficulty obtaining permission from local governments to construct mosques.  Local officials continued to cite lack of zoning plans allowing for the establishment of places of worship on specific sites as a reason for denying construction permits, rather than anti-Muslim sentiment.  Some Muslim leaders, however, stated they believed some local authorities were using all possible legal means to block the construction of new mosques in their regions.

According to media reports, informal mosques, including in warehouses, continued to operate in Milan, and worshippers did not adhere to government mandated COVID-19 restrictions limiting public gatherings.  In 2020, the European Court for Human Rights had ruled as admissible the appeal of Abu Hanif Patwery, president of the Bangladesh Cultural and Welfare Association, against the city of Milan for the association’s having contracted a company to convert a storage site into a place of worship.

Media reported that on April 15, the city of Pisa authorized the construction of a mosque.  The decision followed the July 2020 ruling of the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court to annul city council plans in 2019 that prevented the Pisa Islamic Association from building a mosque on land it had purchased.  Pisa city officials had stated at the time that the lot was not large enough for the planned building, while a local imam said the city council had always been hostile to the mosque’s construction.  In July, the Pisa Islamic Association launched a crowdfunding campaign to build the facility.

On April 20, the city of Fermignano modified its zoning plan to officially recognize the headquarters of the local Islamic Cultural Association as a place of worship.  On May 6, Fermignano mayor Emanuele Feduzi stated that the decision “was a sign of civilization; we couldn’t disregard the request of the Muslim community.  Local authorities were also the first in the province [of Pesaro e Urbino] to grant cemetery spaces to religious minorities during the pandemic, a decision that has been a source of inspiration for several other cities.”

On May 6, the city of Florence signed an agreement with the local Muslim community providing two venues to be used as temporary places of worship for five years.  Local authorities also requested the religious community specify the location where it intended to build a permanent mosque, after which the city would review the application.

On July 20, the Council of State (the highest administrative court) ruled that a warehouse bought by the Islamic Association Assalam in Cantu in 2014 could not be used as a place of worship because of zoning restrictions that did not allow religious services.  The ruling was final, and no further appeal was possible.  On June 8, local authorities in Sesto San Giovanni, a municipality in Milan, approved a provision of the zoning plan banning the construction of a mosque proposed by the local Muslim community.

In September, local press reported that the Italian Islamic Confederation had purchased a facility from the city of Turin.  According to a confederation representative, the facility would be restructured to host a mosque, to provide community services open to all regardless of religious affiliation, and to include classrooms to be made available to two local universities.

According to media, on September 1, the Council of State overruled a 2020 ruling by the Veneto Regional Administrative Court that had invalidated the Monfalcone Municipality’s decision to block the conversion of a supermarket into a mosque.  The municipality had concluded that the building was inappropriate for religious services because the building, located in a seismically vulnerable area, was structurally unsound, and the Council of State agreed with the regional court.  A local Muslim association had purchased the facility in 2017 and requested authorization to convert it into a mosque in 2019; however, the city stated that the property had been condemned and the requirements for construction had not been met.

Local governments continued to rent out public land at discounted rates to non-Muslim religious groups, usually Catholic, for constructing places of worship.  Government funding also helped preserve and maintain historic places of worship, which were almost all Catholic.  In September, Vicenza municipal authorities transferred a municipal facility to a Catholic parish for its use for nine years, with an annual rent of 120 euros ($140).

Approximately 60 local governments maintained dedicated burial spaces for Muslims.  Muslim associations reported there were insufficient spaces to meet the needs of Muslim communities in Lombardy, Lazio, and other regions.  The associations said that during the COVID-19 lockdown in place from March through May of 2020, the bodies of several Muslims could not be moved to their countries of origin, placing additional stress on the limited dedicated Islamic burial spaces in Italian cemeteries.

In March, despite a regional provision in Lombardy forbidding the separation of burial plots according to religious belief, municipal authorities dedicated burial plots to the local Muslim community in Desio.

On May 18, the president of the Madni Dar Ul-Islam Muslim cultural association requested local authorities in Brescia to authorize the construction of an Islamic burial space.

In September, the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court overturned a decision by the city of Magenta that denied a Muslim association’s request for space to establish an Islamic cemetery.  Despite the ruling, local authorities did not provide dedicated spaces to the local Muslim community by year’s end.  On September 12, a group of Islamic cultural associations urgently requested additional dedicated burial areas for Muslims in Monza.

On September 9, the Court of Cassation ruled that the constitution neither prohibits nor requires the hanging of a crucifix in classrooms.  The court had censured a school principal in Terni who had ordered the hanging of a crucifix in a public school classroom in 2008 and 2009 as requested by the assembly of students.  The court ruled, “The school community should evaluate and autonomously decide to hang [a crucifix], respecting the beliefs of all, hanging other religious symbols [when requested] and pursuing reasonable arrangements to promote the coexistence of diversities.”

Politicians from several parties, including the League and Brothers of Italy, and from representatives of Casa Pound, a political association widely considered to be far-right, again made statements critical of Islam.  During a rally in the town of Pinerolo on August 28, League Party leader Salvini stated, “The literal implementation of the Quran is incompatible with our democratic society.  Also the Bible?  No, we, as Christians and Catholics, we ended with stakes and the Inquisition some centuries ago.”  He concluded, “The Quran and Islam are incompatible with our civil and democratic rights.”

On February 18, a Turin prosecutor opened an investigation of municipal councilor Monica Amore of the Five Star Movement for possible defamation motivated by racial hatred.  Amore had published a cartoon depicting a collage of newspapers of the Gedi media conglomerate and the drawings of two Jews with caricatured noses, kippahs, and the Star of David on social media.  On March 30, the Jewish community withdrew the complaint after receiving a letter of apology from Amore and other parliamentarians of the Five Star Movement.

On January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Sergio Mattarella hosted a ceremony to commemorate the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp and stressed “the need to remember as a duty of civilization and as a foundation of the constitution.”

In a January 27 Facebook post, Milan mayor Beppe Sala wrote, “Being a community means remaining vigilant against a common enemy that threatens our society.  We will never turn our back in front of hate.”

On September 30, Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Senator-for-Life and Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre visited the Holocaust Memorial in Milan.  Draghi thanked Segre “in the name of the Italian government and all Italians for her commitment in defense of truth and humanity.”  He stated, “Remembering isn’t a passive act,” but rather “a commitment for the present.  We must act on the deep roots of racism and antisemitism and fight their violent manifestation and stem every form of Holocaust denial.”  Segre remarked, “Indifference leads to violence because indifference is already violence.”

The city of Rome continued its support of collaboration and understanding among the Jewish community, the Waldensian Evangelical Church, Eastern Orthodox communities, the Islamic Cultural Center of Italy, the Italian Hindu Union, and the Italian Buddhist Maitreya Foundation through the Tavolo Interreligioso (interreligious table) interfaith network.  In-person cultural events and presentations in public schools to increase awareness of religious diversity significantly dropped compared with previous years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  On March 22, the Tavolo Interreligioso, promoted by municipal authorities, organized an online event dedicated to funeral ceremonies during the pandemic.  On February 1, the Tavolo celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week, which the UN General Assembly designated as an annual event in 2010.

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

During the year, the CDEC recorded 200 incidents of antisemitism, compared with 224 incidents in 2020 and 251 in 2019.  Of these, at least 117 involved hate speech on social media or the internet.  Reports of antisemitic incidents published on CDEC’s website included discrimination, verbal harassment, particularly at soccer matches and other sporting events, online hate speech, and derogatory graffiti.  Internet and social media hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of antisemitic incidents according to the CDEC, which continued to operate an antisemitism hotline for victims of, and witnesses to, antisemitic incidents.  According to Milena Santerini, the National Coordinator for the Fight Against Anti-Semitism, the number of antisemitic incidents was vastly underreported.  Santerini also reported that Facebook had removed only a small percentage of posts containing antisemitic material.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that 158 cases of grave desecration and 47 attacks on places of worship occurred in the country in 2020, compared with 152 and 42 cases, respectively, in 2019.  The national police’s Observatory on Security against Acts of Discrimination (OSCAD) reported 448 crimes of discrimination in 2019, the most recent available data, of which 92 were based on religious affiliation and 216 on ethnicity, compared with 360 crimes of discrimination in 2018.  OSCAD defined crimes of discrimination as crimes motivated by ideological, cultural, religious, or ethnic prejudices.

In September, the Brussels-based NGO Action and Protection League issued the results of its European antisemitism survey based on data from December 2019-January 2020.  According to the survey, 11 percent of 1,000 respondents ages 18-75 in Italy said they had negative feelings towards Jews.  Thirteen percent said they would be “totally uncomfortable” or “uncomfortable” with having Jewish neighbors.  The survey cited stereotypical statements about Jews and asked respondents the degree to which they agreed or disagreed.  The proportion who responded “strongly agree” or “tend to agree” with the following statements were:  “the interests of Jews in this country are very different from the interests of the rest of the population” (20 percent); “there is a secret Jewish network that influences political and economic affairs in the world” (16 percent); “Jews have too much influence in this country” (13 percent); “Jews will never be able to fully integrate into this society” (15 percent); “Jews are more inclined than most to use shady practices to achieve their goals” (9 percent); “many of the atrocities of the Holocaust were often exaggerated by the Jews later” (7 percent); “Jews are also to blame for the persecutions against them” (9 percent); “Jews exploit Holocaust victimhood for their own purposes” (12 percent).

The private research center STATISTA reported that an estimated 15.6 percent of the population believed the Holocaust never happened.  In its Italy 2020 Report, the private Eurispes Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies reported nearly 16 percent of respondents believed the Holocaust was a myth, while 16 percent of respondents said the number of Holocaust victims had been “exaggerated.”  Of those sampled, 47.5 percent considered recent acts of antisemitism in the country to be a “dangerous resurgence of the phenomenon,” while 37.2 percent viewed the recent acts as “bravado carried out for provocation” or as a “joke.”

Press reported that on March 21 in Rome, a food delivery person stabbed a Jewish colleague several times after screaming, “Damn Jews, I [expletive] hate you.”  The victim, whose wounds required hospitalization, was the son of a Holocaust concentration camp survivor.  On April 7, authorities arrested the suspected assailant and recovered the knife used in the attack.

On August 31, a Bangladeshi migrant attacked an Israeli tourist in Pisa, beating him in the face with a souvenir statue, yelling “Jews are assassins!”  Media widely covered the case, and at year’s end according to the MOI, the assailant remained in the country.

In its periodic review of social media posts, Vox Diritti reported 5.2 percent of all monitored tweets (797,326) contained antisemitic messages during the year, compared with 8 percent of all tweets monitored in 2020 (104,347).  Many antisemitic tweets came from accounts based in Rome, Milan, and Florence.  The NGO said spikes in tweet traffic correlated with the national celebration of the Liberation from the Fascist regime and a series of attacks against synagogues in Germany.

Press later reported that on June 7, police announced an investigation of the Roman Aryan Order, which investigators and the judge presiding over the case considered to be a far-right criminal association using Nazi symbols.  Twelve members of the association in Cagliari, Cosenza, Frosinone, Latina, L’Aquila, Milan, Rome, and Sassari were accused of ethnically and religiously motivated hate crimes, based on their publication of numerous racist and discriminatory posts on social media.

According to media, on July 2, police arrested four self-characterized neo-Nazis in Milan on suspicion of having established a criminal association to commit hate crimes and violence based on the ethnicities and religions of the victims.  They had reportedly been planning an attack on a Muslim activist.

On September 16, police in Turin announced an operation to dismantle an association of four persons under investigation for incitement to commit crimes and discriminate on the grounds of race, ethnicity, and religion.  Investigators had found posts on social media containing antisemitic insults and promoting hate against foreigners.

On January 27, UCEI President Noemi Di Segni said, “Fascism is a poison orchard for the whole Italian society of which the bitterness and latency have not yet been understood.  We still do not have any knowledge of truth and extent.”  She added, “Knowing the roots of this Italian evil is necessary to understand those who today repeat mottos and wear its symbols.  Crimes and offenses against Italy, not only to its Jews then and today, constitute threats too often underestimated and dismissed.”

According to the most recent Pew Research Center study published in October 2019, 55 percent of Italians had negative opinions of Muslims and 15 percent had negative opinions of Jews.  Negative opinions of Muslims were prevalent among the least educated (57 percent) and elderly (66 percent).

Vox Diritti reported that during the year, 65 percent of all tweets mentioning Islam (165,297) contained negative messages against Muslims, compared with 59 percent (67,889) in 2020.  Most anti-Muslim tweets originated in northern regions.

According to press reports, on January 10, a highly organized group of individuals interrupted the online Zoom launch of a book about the Holocaust, shouting antisemitic epithets, including “Jews, we’ll burn you in ovens, the Nazis are back, we will burn you all, you must all die.”  The virtual action, which also included portraits of Hitler and swastikas, occurred during the presentation of a book entitled, “The Generation of the Desert” by Lia Tagliacozzo, a Jewish author born to Holocaust survivors.

In February, press reported that following Holocaust survivor Liliana Segre’s attempts to encourage other older adults to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, several antisemitic comments appeared in social media.  On October 15, during an anti-COVID-19 vaccination rally in Bologna, a self-described far-left organizer, Gian Marco Capitani, took the stage and stated that Segre “brings shame to her history …She should disappear.”  National press widely interpreted the words as antisemitic.  Numerous “no-vax” rallies featured demonstrators wearing Stars of David, equating the “persecution” they faced from the government to the persecution the Jews suffered under the Nazis.  Capitani later said he regretted his use of the word “disappear,” given Segre’s history.  Capitani said his comment that Segre brought shame to her history was in reference to Segre’s personal story as a Holocaust survivor and his view that she had a special responsibility to fight persecution because of her background.

On October 26, police announced an investigation into incidents in eight cities and the identification of an adult and seven minors suspected of having interrupted three online commemorations of Holocaust Remembrance Day, livestreamed on Zoom.  Authorities accused the individuals of cybercrimes, violence, and hate crimes for having disrupted the occasion, insulted Jews, and lauded Benito Mussolini.

As in previous years, press reported examples of antisemitic and anti-Christian vandalism, including depictions on walls of swastikas, antisemitic stereotypes, and praise for neo-Nazi groups.  These appeared in Rome, Milan, Busto Arsizio, and other cities.  On September 12, local press reported the presence of graffiti equating the Star of David with swastikas on multiple buildings in Pisa.  In May, members of the Lazio soccer club displayed an antisemitic banner in response to news that rival soccer club Roma had hired a Jewish Brazilian as its new team manager.  On June 24, authorities found graffiti stating “Lazio football supporter Stolperstein” in Rome.  A Stolperstein, or stumbling stone, is a concrete cube bearing a brass plate inscribed with the name and date of birth and death of each victim of Nazi extermination or persecution.

On December 19, in a church in the town of Fiumicino, unidentified individuals vandalized a Nativity scene.  They threw statues of a shepherd and a donkey on the ground and mutilated them, cutting off the shepherd’s hands and one of the donkey’s ears.  Local media reported that it was not the first time the church had been targeted; previously vandals stole a statue of the baby Jesus.  On December 28, authorities in the town of Montemurlo called police after unknown persons hung 10 Christmas tree ornaments with Hitler’s face on them on a Christmas decoration outside the town council’s office.  The mayor of Montemurlo called the incident “an extremely serious episode that offends the values on which the Italian Republic was born, as well as our democracy.”

In January, the Catholic Church marked the 32nd annual Day of Jewish and Christian Dialogue with a focus on the first verse of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement