The constitution stipulates equal treatment for all citizens regardless of religion and guarantees freedom of conscience, manifested in “a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect,” and of religious worship. It states religious groups may organize and operate according to their own statutes, independent from the state. The constitution prohibits all actions instigating religious hatred and “any manifestation of discord” between religious groups. The constitution stipulates the state shall support religious worship, including facilitating religious assistance in the army, hospitals, penitentiaries, nursing homes, and orphanages.
The law states every person has the right to belong or not belong to a religion, to have or not have individual beliefs, to change religion or beliefs, and to practice religion or beliefs independently or as a group, in public or in private, through teaching, religious practices, or rituals. According to the law, religious freedom may be restricted only if necessary to ensure public order and security, to protect public health and morality, or to protect a person’s rights and freedoms. The law also prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation.
The law stipulates that the state recognize the “exceptional importance and fundamental role” of Orthodox Christianity, particularly that of the MOC, in the life, history, and culture of the country.
The law allows religious groups to establish associations and foundations. It permits local religious groups to change their denominational affiliation or dissolve themselves. The law exempts registered religious groups from paying real estate and land taxes.
In January a law came into force that allows individuals, but not companies or other legal entities, to redirect 2 percent of their income tax to NGOs or religious organizations. Religious groups wanting to benefit from the new provisions must register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), and use the amounts received only for social, moral, cultural, and/or charitable activities. The law exempts religious organizations from registration fees and from paying tax on the income received as donations under the 2 percent law.
The law provides for a registration process in which a religious group must present to the MOJ a declaration including its exact name, fundamental principles of belief, organizational structure, and scope of activities, financing sources, and rights and obligations of membership. The law also requires a group to show it has at least 100 founding members. A religious group must present proof of having access to premises where it can conduct its religious activities, but the law does not specify that the group must own this property. The MOJ is required by law to register a religious group within 30 days if the registration request is made according to law. The applicant may request this term to be extended if the government determines the documentation submitted is insufficient. At the request of the MOJ, a court may suspend the registered status of a religious group if it “carries out activities that harm the constitution or laws,” or “affects state security, public order, [or] the life and security of the people.” The law also provides for suspension or revocation of a religious group’s registration in case of violation of international agreements or for political activity.
The law does not require registration, but only registered religious groups possess status as legal entities allowing them to build churches, own land in cemeteries or other property, publish or import religious literature, open bank accounts, or employ staff. Registration also exempts them from land taxes and property taxes. Individual churches or branches of registered religious groups are not required to register with the MOJ as long as they do not carry out legal transactions and do not receive donations as local legal entities. The parent organization must exercise authority in those areas for unregistered local branches.
The law allows all religious groups to hold services at state facilities, including prisons, orphanages, hospitals, schools, and military and police institutions, at the request of individuals in such institutions, provided they obtain the approval of the institution’s administration.
Through an agreement with the MOJ, MOC chaplains have free access to detention facilities for religious assistance without prior approval of the prison administration. In addition, the MOC has a separate agreement with the Ministry of Defense, which allows MOC priests to preach to army units, bless military personnel prior to their deployment in peacekeeping missions, and distribute religious literature to libraries within the army.
The law bans religious entities from engaging in political activity and prohibits “abusive proselytism,” defined as the action of changing religious beliefs through coercion.
Although the law provides for restitution of property confiscated during the successive fascist and Soviet regimes to politically repressed or exiled persons, the provision does not apply to property confiscated from religious groups. Under previous agreement between the Ministry of Culture and the MOC, the government transferred control of most confiscated churches and monasteries to the MOC. Property disputes between the MOC and BOC churches have not been resolved. The Ministry of Culture is responsible for the remaining churches and monasteries not under the control of the MOC. Local authorities working through the Ministry of Culture may arrange with local parishes to return or lease those churches or monasteries to religious groups. Property restitution continued to be a problem for the Jewish community, and there is no law to address it.
The constitution provides for freedom of religious education and stipulates the state educational system “shall be of a lay nature.” According to the law, religion classes in state educational institutions are optional. Students submit a written request to the school’s administration to enroll in a religion class. Religion classes are offered in grades one through nine. No alternative classes are offered for those who choose not to enroll in religion classes. The religion curriculum offers two types of courses: one for Orthodox denominations and Roman Catholics, and the second for evangelical Christians and Seventh-day Adventists. The religious curriculum for Orthodox and Catholic groups derives from instructional manuals developed by the Ministry of Education with input from the MOC and includes teaching guidelines developed with the support of the BOC. Teachers and Orthodox priests teach these optional courses, which focus on Orthodox Christianity. Teachers and representatives of the Evangelical Christian Church teach the second course, which is based on translated religious manuals and literature from Romania, the United States, and Germany. Both courses teach religious doctrine as well as moral and spiritual values.
The law mandates immunization of all children before they may enroll in kindergarten. It does not provide an exception for religious reasons.
The Anti-Discrimination Council, established by law, is an independent institution charged with reviewing complaints of discrimination, including discrimination of a religious character or based on religious affiliation. Parliament chooses members through a competitive process, appointing them to five-year terms. The council does not have sanctioning powers; however, it can determine if an act of discrimination took place, offer advice on how to remedy the situation, and send requests to prosecutors to initiate criminal proceedings. It can also suggest pertinent legislative amendments or participate in working groups authoring legislative initiatives.
According to the law, citizens ages 18 to 27 have the right to choose civilian over military service if the latter runs counter to their religious beliefs. The standard duration of both alternative civilian and military service is 12 months; university graduates may choose six months of civilian service or three months of military training. Those who choose civilian service may complete it at public institutions or enterprises specializing in such areas as social assistance, health care, industrial engineering, urban planning, roads and road construction, environmental protection, agriculture or agricultural processing, town management, and fire rescue. There are no blanket exemptions for religious groups from the civilian service alternative, but higher-ranking clergy, monks, and theology students are exempted from alternative service. Refusal to enroll in civilian service is punishable by a fine up to 32,000 lei ($1,900) or between 100 and 150 hours of community service.
The law defines as “extremist” and makes illegal any document or information justifying war crimes or the complete or partial annihilation of a religious or other kind of societal group as well as any document calling for or supporting activities in pursuit of those goals.
Foreign missionaries may submit work contracts or volunteer agreements to apply for a temporary residency permit and may reside and work in a paid status or as unpaid volunteers. Only missionaries working with registered religious groups may apply for temporary residency permits. Foreign religious workers with these permits must register with the National Agency for the Occupation of the Workforce, the Bureau for Migration and Asylum, and the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications. They must present documents confirming the official status of the registered religious group for which they will work, papers confirming their temporary residence, and proof of valid local health insurance. Other foreign missionaries belonging to registered religious groups may remain for 90 days on a tourist visa.
In separatist Transnistria, Transnistrian “law” affirms the special role of the Orthodox Church in the region’s culture and spirituality. The de facto law “recognizes respect” for Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and other religious groups historically present in the region. All religious groups, whether registered or not, officially have freedom to worship, but the law permits restrictions on the right to freedom of conscience and religion “if necessary to protect the constitutional order, morality, health, citizens’ rights and interests, or state defense and security.” Foreign citizens also have the freedom to worship. The prosecutor’s office oversees implementation of the law on religious freedom.
In March amendments to the Transnistrian “law” on religion entered into effect, prohibiting proselytizing in persons’ homes and limiting distribution of religious literature to houses of worship and special premises designated by the “authorities.”
The same “law,” passed in 2009, requires the reregistration of religious groups to operate legally in the region. The region’s self-declared “Ministry of Justice” registers religious groups and monitors their adherence to the goals and activities set forth in their statutes. Registration provides a number of advantages to religious groups, including the ability to own and build places of worship, open religious schools, and publish literature.
To register, a local religious group must present proof of activity in the region for at least 10 years; a list comprising at least 10 members ages 18 years or older with permanent residence in one of the seven administrative-territorial units in the region and Transnistrian “citizenship”; a list of founders and governing members and their personal details; the group’s charter, statutes, and minutes of its constituent assembly; basic religious doctrine; contact details of its governing body; and a receipt indicating payment of the registration fee. Local religious groups may also register as part of a centralized religious organization, which must consist of at least three local religious groups that have previously registered separately as legal entities. In that case, their application must additionally include a copy of the registration papers of the centralized organizations. The central religious organizations must inform the registration authority on a yearly basis about intentions to extend their activities.
The de facto authorities must decide to register a religious group within 30 days of the application. If they decide to conduct a religious assessment, which is a law enforcement investigation of the group’s background and activities, registration may be postponed for up to six months or denied if the investigating authorities determine the group poses a threat to the security or morality of the region, or if foreign religious groups are involved in its activities.
Foreign religious groups may not register or undertake religious activities. Foreigners may only worship individually; they may not be founders or members of religious groups.
Religious groups disband on their own decision or upon a “court’s” decision. The “prosecutor’s office” or the region’s de facto executive, city, or district authorities can request the courts to disband or suspend a religious group on multiple grounds, including disturbing public order or violating public security; conducting extremist activities; coercing persons into breaking up their families; infringing on citizens’ identity, rights, and freedoms; violating citizens’ morality and well-being, including the use of psychotropic substances, drugs, hypnosis, or perverse activities during religious activities; encouraging suicide or the refusal of medical treatment for religious reasons; obstructing compulsory education; using coercion for alienation of property to the benefit of the religious community; and encouraging refusal to fulfil civic duties.
The “law” allows the use of private homes and apartments to hold religious services. It does not, however, allow religious groups to use homes and apartments as their officially registered addresses. The “law” also allows such groups to hold religious services and rituals in public places such as hospitals, clinics, orphanages, geriatric homes, and prisons.
The authorities screen and may ban the import and export of religious printed materials, audio and video recordings, and other religious items.
According to the “law,” citizens have the right to choose alternative civilian service over military service if the latter contradicts an individual’s religion and beliefs. Alternative civilian service may be performed only at organizations under the Transnistrian authority or “other military forces,” and at institutions subordinate to the “executive bodies of the state or local administration.”
The de facto authorities do not allow religious groups to participate in elections or other political party activities or to support NGOs involved in elections.
Moldova is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Summary paragraph: Religious minorities reported various difficulties such as lack of tolerance, verbal abuse, and discrimination when renting or purchasing property or building houses of worship. They stated that in general the central authorities were more supportive but they often encountered opposition from local authorities. In a July 3 meeting with 100 MOC priests to discuss the impact of religion on society, President Igor Dodon said, “Orthodoxy is the force uniting the majority of ethnic minorities. Consolidation of Moldovan society is only possible through a moral-spiritual foundation like the Christian Orthodox faith.” In September the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Jewish community by dismissing the claim lodged by the Agency of Public Property and upholding the Court of Appeals decision that rejected the Agency of Public Property’s claim on the Rabbi Tsirilson Synagogue and Magen David Yeshiva ruins, both purchased by the Jewish community in 2010.
The Unification Church reported no developments in the case of their two leaders’ arrest in 2015 and later release on judicial control on human trafficking charges, which remained pending at year’s end. Authorities had arrested Mihai Calestru and Oleg Savencov on human trafficking charges, saying they had recruited, transported, and harbored persons for labor exploitation. They also charged that the Church was founded as an organized criminal group. While under judicial control, the church leaders had no restrictions on worship or practice, and they moved freely throughout the country.
The MOJ registered 38 religious entities during the year, consisting of religious groups as component parts of existing religious denominations, including the Baptist Church, Old Rite Church, MOC, BOC, Evangelical Church, Seventh-day Adventists, and Union of Pentecostal Churches. It did not reject any registration applications.
During the year, 46 religious groups received 1.65 million lei ($96,800) from redirected income tax.
The Falun Gong associations’ two complaints to the European Court of Human Rights filed in 2015, after they exhausted all national court proceedings facing charges of violating the law on extremist activity by the Falun symbol incorporating five swastikas based on Buddhist and Chinese tradition, were pending at year’s end. They also had a pending case in the courts on the liquidation of the organization.
Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders reported opposition from local authorities in acquiring properties for building houses of worship. Most of their requests were slowed by refusal of local authorities to issue permits, urban building certificates, or authorizations for construction; long court proceedings; and residents protesting their presence. Police failed to prosecute individuals who threatened or verbally abused members of Jehovah’s Witnesses in rural localities, such as the failure to prosecute a priest who verbally threatened three Jehovah’s Witnesses with physical violence in Vulpesti.
In September the Ciorescu Village Council banned religious preaching and distribution of religious literature in the territory of Ciorescu, calling it “propaganda.” Following this decision, police charged two Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives with distributing religious literature in the territory on December 15. The police officer testified he was forced to fine them, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives; the Jehovah’s Witnesses then filed a complaint with the court.
In March the Union of Pentecostal Churches filed a complaint with the court against the MOJ, Falesti local administration, and the court bailiff requesting compensation for nonmaterial losses suffered, due to the failure to reasonably enforce a 2010 court ruling. In 2010, after five years of litigation with the local administration in the city of Falesti, the Supreme Court issued a final ruling ordering the local mayor to change the designation of the building from a private home to a church. Local administration officials, however, refused to follow the court ruling. The case was pending at year’s end.
In September, after three years of dispute, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Jewish community by dismissing the claim lodged by the Agency of Public Property and upholding the Court of Appeals decision that rejected the Agency of Public Property’s claim on a synagogue and yeshiva. In 2010 the Jewish community had purchased the Rabbi Tsirilson Synagogue and Magen David Yeshiva ruins, later claimed by the Agency of Public Property.
Through an earlier agreement with the Ministry of Labor, Social Protection, and Family, the MOC continued to develop a network of social assistance, including opening day care centers and temporary shelters within churches and monasteries.
The authorities continued to grant greater freedom to the MOC, compared to other religious groups, to import religious materials and privileges pertaining to the restitution of church property. In addition, the government also continued to grant privileges, such as invitations to officiate at state-sponsored events, national holidays, and blessing ceremonies at schools, to MOC clergy it did not grant to other religious groups.
In August an online petition by a civic group requested the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research to ban blessing services during an opening ceremony of the school year. The ministry declined to intervene, stating it was in the local authorities’ power to decide on the issue. The MOC decided blessing services during school opening ceremonies should be no longer than five minutes.
On July 3, President Igor Dodon met with 100 MOC priests to discuss the impact of religion on society, making a donation of 8,000 books to be used for studying Orthodox Christianity in schools. A press release quoted President Dodon as stating, “Orthodoxy is the force uniting the majority of ethnic minorities. The Christian Orthodox faith is the only moral-spiritual basis able to strengthen Moldovan society.”
The Seventh-day Adventists Reform Movement continued to report problems enrolling children in preschools as a result of their refusal to have children immunized. In response to an appeal sent to the Ministry of Health in September, the minister of education stated the refusal of mandatory immunization of children for religious reasons should not be an impediment to their enrollment in schools. According to the Ministry of Education, a health certificate should be sufficient to allow enrollment. A working group created in 2016 by the ministry tasked with ensuring access to educational facilities to children whose parents refused them immunization for religious or philosophical reasons continued to meet during the year but made no recommendations.
Representatives of the Union of Pentecostal Churches continued to report problems with the customs office, including its raising artificial barriers, as well as imperfect legislation, restricting imports of humanitarian assistance.
Minority religious groups, including Baptists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims, reported local authorities were often reluctant to allocate land for the construction of houses of worship. Jehovah’s Witnesses stated local mayors or councilors were pressured by Orthodox priests to discriminate against Jehovah’s Witnesses, and local public officials and priests serving as local councilors refused to execute court orders allowing use of facilities by Jehovah’s Witnesses for worship.
On June 7, an appeals court overturned a 2016 lower court decision in a permit case for a building owned by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The lower court ruled in favor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, allowing for construction to go forward. The appeals court referred the case back to the lower court on the grounds that the lower court had not conducted proper due diligence to verify the validity of the building permit. The case was pending at year’s end. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the case began in 2016 when the mayor and local councilors in Olanesti refused to grant a zoning change that would allow the community to use its completed Kingdom Hall, for which they said they had completed all bureaucratic formalities and provided all necessary documentation.
NGOs and advocacy groups noted the government had no laws or mechanisms in place to address Holocaust-era claims of communal property restitution and reported the government had made no progress on resolution of these claims, including for foreign citizens.
The Jewish Community of Moldova continued to report state authorities failed to respond to anti-Semitic acts, including vandalism and hate speech. Community leaders continued to state police were reluctant to take action or allowed the perpetrators to escape prosecution.
In May the government approved an action plan for 2017-19 on the implementation of parliament’s 2016 endorsement of the Elie Wiesel Commission’s Report on the Holocaust. The action plan provides for a number of specific actions, including a commitment to establish a National Holocaust Museum in Chisinau; special one-hour sessions of the parliament and government to commemorate Holocaust victims on January 27, including a nationwide moment of silence; developing an optional curriculum for high schools and a general schools course: The Holocaust: History and Lessons; developing content on the Holocaust for history textbooks; and organizing guided tours to Holocaust memorial sites. The Jewish community reported limited government progress in fulfilling this plan.