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Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section II. Status of "Government" Respect for Religious Freedom

"Government" Practices

There were reports of detention of persons with alleged ties to “FETO” and the deportation to Turkey of Turkish citizens purportedly affiliated with “FETO.”

Authorities granted improved access to Greek Orthodox places of worship compared to the previous year.  Contrary to reports in earlier years, Apostolos Andreas, St. Barnabas, and St. Mamas Churches required advanced notification to conduct religious services.  The three churches, however, were open for prayers throughout the year, as they had been in previous years.  During the year services took place for the first time since 1974 at 10 Greek Orthodox churches, according to the “MFA.”

UNFICYP reported the “MFA” approved 90 of 123 requests it received to facilitate religious services at churches in the northern part of the island during the year, compared with 67 approvals of 112 requests in 2017.  The “MFA” reported it approved 118 of 153 total requests (including both UNFICYP-facilitated requests and requests submitted directly to the “MFA”) to hold religious services during the year, compared with 83 approvals of 133 requests in 2017.  A Greek Orthodox Church representative said Turkish Cypriot authorities typically denied access requests without explanation.  Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox representatives said the “MFA” frequently approved applications with insufficient time before the dates of requested religious services, resulting in cancellations.  A Greek Orthodox representative stated 63 religious sites remained inaccessible due to being located within Turkish military zones or the buffer zone.

Heavy police escorts continued to accompany visiting Greek Orthodox and Maronite worshippers.  Turkish Cypriot authorities said the escorts were to provide security; Greek Orthodox and Maronite officials expressed concern they also surveilled worshippers.

In April after a two-year restriction, Turkish Cypriot authorities allowed Greek Orthodox Church members to hold Good Friday church services at St. George Church in Famagusta.

In June Greek Cypriots received permission to hold a two-day religious ceremony at St. Barnabas Monastery.  Local press reported large crowds at the Mass and extensive security measures around the monastery, which a Greek Orthodox official said ensured the service took place without incident.

According to a representative of the Maronite community, the Turkish military increased restrictions on access to Maronite churches located within Turkish military zones.  Maronite representatives reported that, since January, they had been required to submit a list of persons planning to attend Sunday services by the preceding Tuesday, and the Turkish military had refused access to some members.  Previously the Maronite community had not had to seek permission to hold Sunday services at the Maronite Church of Archangelos Michael in the village of Asomatos/Ozhan, which was located within a Turkish military zone.  The Turkish military again allowed Maronites to celebrate Mass once a year in the Church of Ayia Marina and denied Maronites access to the Church of Marki near Kormakitis/Korucam.

Armenian Orthodox representatives said limitations on access imposed by Turkish Cypriot authorities prevented them from fully renovating and maintaining the Sourp Magar Monastery.

The TSPA again reported police visited the association on a monthly basis and that some of its members were afraid to attend religious services due to police monitoring; TSPA representatives visited homes where members held services instead.  The TSPA reported police requested a list of attendees at a prayer service held with Greek Cypriot Protestants in the buffer zone.  The TSPA reported it successfully opened an office in Famagusta after authorities prevented it from doing so the previous two years.

The Alevi Culture Association said the “government” provided six million Turkish lira ($1.14 million) to build a cemevi (house of worship) and Alevi cultural complex outside Nicosia.  Construction began in August, and the association expected it to be completed by July 2019.  The Alevi Culture Association continued to say it perceived favoritism in “state” funding toward the Sunni Muslim population through financing of mosque construction and administration.

In January a group of teachers at Hala Sultan Religious High School filed a complaint with the “MOE” stating vocational teachers from Turkey were putting religious pressure on students, including by encouraging students to attend prayers at the mosque and promoting religious camps in Turkey.  The “MOE” assigned an inspector to investigate the claims, but a union representative said the “MOE” had not announced the findings of the investigation.

In June several parents objected to the “MOE director’s” decision not to sign Hala Sultan Religious High School student diplomas that included photos of students wearing headscarves in accordance with “MOE regulations.”  According to a teachers’ union representative, the “MOE director” ultimately signed the diplomas and the teacher-parent association at Hala Sultan Religious High School subsequently held a second diploma ceremony for the affected students.

The “Religious Affairs Department” continued to appoint and fund imams at the 192 Sunni mosques in the northern part of the island.

A representative of the Church of Cyprus again stated some religious sites, to which Church officials had little or no access, were deteriorating.  In August local press reported Ayia Pareskevi Church located in the open area of Maras/Varosha collapsed due to neglect.

Greek Orthodox religious groups continued to complain authorities placed religious items, including icons, in storage rooms or displayed them in museums, against the wishes of the communities to whom they were sacred.  In October local press reported that Greek Orthodox icons stored in the Kyrenia Castle were deteriorating due to improper preservation.

Costa Rica

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

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

The place of religion in the political process was a subject of much public discussion during the election season.  In January, one month before national legislative elections and the presidential primary, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights (IACHR) issued an advisory opinion recommending the country legalize same-sex partnerships, making this a central issue of public debate.  The Catholic Church and the Evangelical Alliance stated their opposition to same-sex partnerships and urged their followers to vote in line with their moral values.  In response to the groups’ public statements near the time of the election, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued a directive in February ordering religious groups to refrain from influencing the vote of their parishioners, in line with a constitutional prohibition on the involvement of religious groups in political activities.  The Episcopal Conference of Costa Rica and Evangelical Alliance appealed the TSE’s directive on freedom of expression grounds, which the TSE denied.

After the election, same-sex partnerships continued to be a topic of public debate, as officials considered whether, and if so, how to implement the IACHR decision.  In August the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the Family Code definition of marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.  The chamber gave the National Assembly 18 months to take action before the law would be automatically repealed by the court.  This would legalize same-sex partnerships de facto.  At year’s end, two bills were pending in the National Assembly:  one that would recognize same-sex civil unions and another that would give same-sex couples full marriage rights.  The Catholic Church, the Evangelical Alliance, and legislators of the evangelical National Restoration Party (PRN) opposed any recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Abortion was also a frequent topic of public debate involving religious groups during the year.  In the National Assembly, members of the Citizens’ Action Party sought to legalize abortion in limited cases, such as when the mother’s life is in danger.  PRN legislators presented a bill penalizing abortion as homicide.  The director of the Evangelical Alliance and the president of the Catholic Conference of Bishops supported PRN efforts and criticized any legislation that would permit abortion.

Côte d’Ivoire

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Local authorities in Abidjan arrested Imam Aguib Toure, a Muslim preacher, on July 4 for two videos he had published on a popular social media site.  In the first one, he discouraged Muslim parents from enrolling their children in Christian schools.  In the second video, he criticized the increase in the cost of the Hajj since President Alassane Ouattara took office in 2010, as well as evictions of destitute persons in Abidjan.  He was charged on July 9 with xenophobia, discrimination, inciting hatred, and issuing an apology for terrorism.  The Higher Council of Imams of Cote d’Ivoire (COSIM), the principal organization of imams in the country, requested a diligent investigation and fair trial on July 18.  On August 6, the court granted the imam provisional release.

Authorities in Abidjan arrested evangelical preacher Israel N’Goran on August 1 while he was live on a social media site delivering what the authorities stated were xenophobic and tribalistic messages targeting the Dioula ethnic group and foreigners including Lebanese and Moroccans.  N’Goran said he considered them to be dangerous to society, and compared the Dioula to gangrene.  He was released from detention after receiving amnesty from the president on August 6.

Minister of Defense Hamed Bakayoko, who is Muslim, attended a Catholic church service in an impoverished neighborhood of Abidjan where he was seeking an electoral seat during the campaign for municipal elections on September 30.  He spoke about interreligious dialogue, his plan for the district, and his actions.  A significant number of Catholics stated they did not believe the church was the proper location for electoral discourse.  Archbishop of Abidjan Cardinal Jean Pierre Kutwa later apologized to the congregants.

The government continued to supervise and organize Hajj pilgrimages for Muslims and fund pilgrimages to Israel, Portugal, Spain, and France for Christians, as well as fund local pilgrimages for members of independent African Christian churches.  The government organized and transported 6,800 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj compared to 4,200 the previous year and funded pilgrimages for 942 Christians to Europe and Israel.  The government also assisted 2,155 Christians and adherents of traditional religions in their pilgrimages in the country and elsewhere in Africa.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 288.2 million kuna ($45.67 million) during the year for the Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 299.5 million kuna ($47.46 million) in 2017.  The government offered funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools, as well as the operation of private religious schools.  The government provided 21.4 million kuna ($3.39 million) to these groups.

Some minority groups said the Catholic Church continued to enjoy a special status in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government and in part because of its cultural and political influence as the majority religion.

Atheist, Jewish, and Serbian Orthodox organizations said that although the law allows students to opt out of religious education, in practice most public schools did not offer viable alternatives to Catholic catechism.  They also said public schools did not take adequate steps to prevent bullying of nonparticipating children.  The press covered several specific instances of such bullying during the year.  Atheist groups said 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.  The courts have not ruled on this question to date.

NGOs and international organizations reported incidents of border police using religious epithets in interactions with migrants and subjecting migrants to situations that conflicted with their religious values.  For example, one NGO said border police conducted a strip search of a Muslim woman in the presence of Muslim men.  Ministry of Interior authorities denied all such reports.

The ombudsperson reported continued obstacles encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses regarding their right to health care in accordance with their religious beliefs.  During the year, the ombudsperson stated that in 2017, the latest year for which figures were available, there were 24 cases in which state healthcare institutions denied surgery to Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused blood transfusions because of their religious beliefs.  Of the 24 cases, 15 patients eventually received adequate medical care in private hospitals in the country.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses community reported again having to use its own finances to send patients to different hospitals for procedures, including hospitals outside of the country.  The ombudsperson’s report on 2017 recommended the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Pension System improve hospital procedures and policies to provide adequate health care to patients in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The ombudsperson’s 2017 report said Jews faced frequent online hate speech, threats, and accusations, e.g., that Jews undermined Croatian society, democracy, and financial institutions; Jews should leave the country; and the extermination of the Jewish people during WWII should have been completed.  Jewish groups said the government did not take adequate steps to prevent or punish such speech.

Following a September meeting with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Mufti Aziz Hasanovic, leader of the Islamic Community of Croatia, publicly described cooperation between his community and the government as excellent and a positive example for other countries in Europe.  Hasanovic cited as an example his cooperation with the government to provide religious and cultural instruction to soldiers before they deployed to Muslim countries, particularly Afghanistan.  The mufti accompanied President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on state visits to majority-Muslim countries.

Following an April meeting with Prime Minister Plenkovic, Metropolitan Porfirije Peric, leader of the SOC, publicly stated he was satisfied with the legal status of the Church.

On April 22, the government held its official annual commemoration of victims killed by the WWII-era Ustasha regime at Jasenovac concentration camp.  The Jewish community, along with the Serb National Council and the Alliance of Anti-Fascist Fighters, boycotted the official commemoration for the third year in a row, instead holding their own commemorations.  Members of Jewish groups said the boycott was necessary to condemn what they said was the government’s lack of response to Holocaust revisionism and failure to address Holocaust-era property restitution.  Observers said the government made no significant progress on such issues during the year.

Representatives of the SOC reported the government resolved three outstanding property restitution cases related to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, although several others remained unresolved.

On the same day the government commemorated victims of Jasenovac, and again on May 6, police prevented members of the extra-parliamentary Autonomous Croatian Party of Rights (A-HSP), described widely in both media reports and academic analyses as far right, from entering Jasenovac Concentration Camp Memorial Site to hold a meeting.  Prior to both attempts, A-HSP President Drazen Keleminec sent the media an online invitation that included the WWII-era Ustasha salute “Za Dom Spremni” (“For the Homeland Ready”).

In June Jasenovac Memorial Site released a statement criticizing state-owned television (HRT) for airing an interview with Igor Vukic, author of a book published during the year minimizing the crimes committed at Jasenovac during the Holocaust.  The officials said taxpayer-funded state-owned television should not be a platform for what they termed Holocaust revisionism.

Jewish community leaders said some government officials made statements downplaying the country’s role in the Holocaust.  For example, they highlighted as problematic President Grabar-Kitarovic’s March statement in Buenos Aires that, “After World War II, many Croats found a space of freedom in Argentina where they could testify to their patriotism,” saying that some Croats who settled there after the war were Ustasha fleeing prosecution for war crimes.

On February 28, a special government-appointed council tasked with examining the use of totalitarian symbols made a nonbinding recommendation to legalize limited use of such symbols for commemorative or ceremonial purposes.  Many civil society organizations criticized this recommendation, believing it would allow for continued use of symbols from the country’s WWII-era Ustasha regime by some veterans groups and nationalist political organizations who minimize the country’s role in the Holocaust.

The Office of the President continued to maintain a special advisor for Holocaust issues, who was involved in developing and implementing religious freedom projects, including a film festival on religious tolerance and a competition to choose an architect for a new Holocaust memorial in downtown Zagreb.

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


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Many religious groups said that despite constitutional provisions providing for freedom of conscience and religion and prohibiting discrimination based on religion, the government used threats, detentions, and other coercive tactics to restrict certain religious groups and leaders’ activities and applied the law in an arbitrary and capricious mannerAccording to a known human rights activist, Christian rights activist Mitzael Diaz Paseiro, in prison since November 2017, staged a hunger strike in July and August, demanding his rights as a political prisoner and protesting repression and harassment of his family.  According to Radio Television Marti, on September 20, police arrested his wife, Ariadna Lopez Roque, also a political activist, in Santa Clara for demonstrating publicly against the government, calling for the government to respect freedom of conscience in the draft constitution, and burning a copy of the draft constitution.  Police detained her for five days.  On November 28, 2017, Diaz Paseiro was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

According to CSW and other sources, on February 28, police arrested and detained Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, a regional coordinator in Santa Clara for the Patmos Institute, a religious freedom advocacy organization.  According to CSW, the Provincial Unit for Investigations in Santa Clara held him without charge and released him on March 2.  CSW reported Rodriguez Alonso was returning home to Santa Clara from the town of Caibarien, where he met with human rights defenders to discuss how to respond to a series of religious freedom violations affecting loosely affiliated, unregistered Apostolic churches in the central and eastern areas of the country.  Rodriguez Alonzo said police officer Erik Francis Aquino Yera notified him the government would not allow him to travel to Geneva to denounce the lack of religious freedom in the country.  According to CSW, Reverend Mario Felix Lleonart Barroso, a founder of the Patmos Institute, said Aquino Yera told members of Rodriguez’ family that the government considered the Patmos Institute a counterrevolutionary organization.

According to the CSW annual report, in late July national and local security agents threatened one pastor with eviction and prison because he had distributed pamphlets related to the government’s campaign to adopt a new constitution.  Authorities previously denied the same pastor permission to travel abroad.

Police continued their repeated physical assaults against members of the Ladies in White, a rights advocacy organization, on their way to Mass as reported by CSW and the news services Agency EFE, Marti Noticias, and Diario de Cuba.  The group’s members typically attend Mass and then gather to protest the government’s human rights abuses.  Throughout the year, Berta Soler Fernandez, the group’s leader, reported regular arrests and short detentions for Ladies in White members when they attempted to meet on Sundays.  The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported 224 arbitrary arrests of individuals in September, more than half of whom were women, mostly Ladies in White members.  According to CCDHRN, police briefly arrested Berta Soler Fernandez, the group’s leader, on September 30.  CCDHRN also stated police harassed and were physically aggressive toward individuals who were not detained.

According to the CSW annual report, prisoners, including political prisoners, reported authorities denied the right to pastoral visits and the right to meet with other prisoners for worship, prayer, and study.  CSW stated many also reported that authorities repeatedly confiscated Bibles and other religious literature, sometimes as punishment and other times for no apparent reason.  According to CSW, prison authorities blocked Eduardo Cardet, whom Amnesty International has identified as a “prisoner of conscience,” from receiving visits from a pastor and confiscated his Bible as punishment at different points throughout the year.

According to CSW, in February authorities physically blocked Pastor Barbaro Guevara from visiting Ariadna Lopez Roque at her home while she was on a hunger strike to protest how prison authorities were treating her husband Mitzael Diaz Paseiro.

In spite of the legal requirement for all men to perform military service, the authorities allowed conscientious objectors to perform alternative service.

Several religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, continued to await a decision from the MOJ on pending applications for official registration, some dating as far back as 1994.  These groups reported they had to seek the authorities’ permission to conduct religious activities, hold meetings, receive foreign visitors, make substantial renovations to their facilities, and send representatives abroad.  They also said state security continued to monitor their movements, telephone calls, visitors, and religious meetings.  According to CSW, Berean Baptist pastor Daniel Josue Perez Naranjo, based in the province of Las Tunas, has been waiting for the reregistration of his denomination since submitting the request in 1997.

According to representatives of several religious organizations that had unsuccessfully sought legal registration, the government continued to interpret the law on associations as a means for the ORA and the MOJ to deny the registration of certain religious groups.  If the MOJ decided a group was duplicating the activities or objectives of another, it denied registration and advised Apostolic churches to join other registered churches.  In some cases, the MOJ delayed the request for registration or cited changing laws as a reason why a request had not been approved.  Toward the end of the year, MOJ officials notified the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that under the draft constitution it should be able to legally register as a recognized religious entity, but as of the end of the year was unable to do so.

According to EchoCuba, the ORA approved some registration applications, but it took as many as two to three years from the date of the application.  Other applications received no response or were denied without explanation, while some groups continued to wait for up to 25 years for a response.  EchoCuba said Apostolic churches repeatedly had their attempts to register denied, forcing these churches to operate without legal status.

In October leaders of Apostolic churches including Bernardo de Quesada, Alain Toledanos, and Marco Antonio Perdomo, issued an official statement on behalf of nonregistered groups, which they said are “in practice discriminated against,” urging the government to establish a new statute formally defining and granting the right to, and laying out procedures for, legal registration of religious organizations by the MOJ.  The ORA and the MOJ did not announce any progress on revising the law on associations, announced in August 2017.

In March the New Apostolic Church, not affiliated with the many loosely affiliated Apostolic churches, registered with the MOJ.

According to CSW’s annual report, authorities continued to rely on two 2005 government resolutions to impose complicated and repressive restrictions on house churches.  Religious groups said the government applied these laws in an arbitrary manner and sometimes used them to target specific churches or religious groups.

According to members of Protestant denominations, some groups were still able to register only a small percentage of house churches in private homes; however, some unregistered house churches still could operate with little or no government interference.  According to an EchoCuba report, several religious leaders, particularly those from smaller, independent house churches or Santeria communities, expressed concern that the government was less tolerant of groups that relied on informal locations, including private residences and other private meeting spaces, to practice their beliefs.  They said the government monitored them, and, at times, prevented them from holding religious meetings in their spaces.  CSW said in other cases the government and Cuban Communist Party officials harassed leaders of house churches and owners of homes where house churches met.  Many house church leaders also reported frequent visits from state security agents or Cuban Communist Party officials.  Some reported warnings from the agents and officials that the education of their children, or their own employment, could be “threatened” if the house church leaders continued with their activities.

According to CSW, in March Bernardo de Quesada said government officials in Camaguey interrupted Bible studies held in private homes and attempted to intimidate the homeowners into stopping their religious activities.  De Quesada said government inspectors from the Physical Planning Department also attempted to enter his family’s property, where his church meets, while he was abroad.  According to CSW’s annual report, in August a government official visited several house churches associated with one pastor in central Cuba and pressured the homeowners to stop using their homes for religious activities.  The official threatened one owner, an elderly woman, with criminal charges if more than 10 persons met in her home at any one time.

According to the CSW annual report, in February two MOJ officials entered a prayer meeting at an unregistered house church and tried to intimidate approximately 50 persons in attendance, primarily teenagers and children.  At the same time, police stationed three cars outside the property.  The same week, security agents visited the property, demanded documents from the owners, and pressured them to stop hosting prayer meetings in their home.

According to an NGO, in May an official from the Provincial Directorate for Physical Planning entered a ranch to deliver a summons and investigate a church that meets on the property.  He threatened to demolish the building and prohibit the church from meeting within the property.  Reportedly, in October another pastor was fined and the official threatened to demolish his house for conducting religious services at home.

According to the CSW annual report, reports of harassment of religious leaders increased in parallel with churches’ outspokenness regarding the draft constitution.  A coalition of evangelical Protestant churches, Apostolic churches, and the Catholic Church continued to request that the government, particularly during the constitutional reform’s consultation process, pass reforms to facilitate the registration of religious groups, legalize ownership of church property by certain groups, and permit construction of new churches.  In September the AG, Methodist Church, Western and Eastern Baptist Conventions, Evangelical League, and other Pentecostal and evangelical Protestant churches (representing approximately 405,000 members in all) delivered a joint petition to the government entitled “Proposal of Modifications of Some Articles of the Draft of the Constitution.”  The petition called for the reinstatement of freedom of conscience and of individual and collective rights to manifest one’s religions and beliefs both in private and in public.

The AG reported the ORA opposed the AG collecting signatures in support of its campaign to oppose some aspects of the draft constitution and reported the government pressured AG leadership and supporters to abstain from signing the petition.  The AG stated authorities had warned it that “collecting signatures was forbidden.”  The Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCB) reported no government reaction to its letter on the draft constitution issued on October 24 that called on believers and nonbelievers to express their political opinions freely during the national consultation process on constitutional reform.

According to the CSW annual report, in February a religious leader who had organized a cross-denominational evangelical event fled the country after state security officials threatened to charge him with “acting against the independence or territorial integrity of the State,” which carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison under the penal code.

According to the CSW annual report, Christian leaders from all denominations said there was a scarcity of Bibles and other religious literature, primarily in rural areas.  Some religious leaders continued to report government obstacles preventing them from importing religious materials and donated goods, including bureaucratic challenges and arbitrary restrictions such as inconsistent rules on computers and electronic devices.  In some cases, the government held up religious materials or blocked them altogether.  Several groups, however, said they continued to import large quantities of Bibles, books, clothing, and other donated goods.  The Catholic Church and several Protestant religious group representatives said they continued to maintain small libraries, print periodicals and other information, and operate their own websites with little or no formal censorship.  The Catholic Church continued to publish periodicals and hold regular forums at the Varela Center that sometimes criticized official social and economic policies.

By year’s end, the government had not granted the CCB’s public requests to allow the Catholic Church to reopen religious schools and have open access to broadcasting on television and radio.  The ORA continued to permit the CCB to host a monthly 20-minute radio broadcast, which allowed the council’s messages to be heard throughout the country.  No other churches had access to mass media, which are all state-owned.  Several religious leaders continued to protest the government’s restriction on broadcasting religious services over the radio or on television.

According to the CSW annual report, the government continued to impose harsh restrictions on the construction of new church buildings.  All requests, even for minor building repairs, needed to be approved by the ORA, which awarded permits according to the inviting association’s perceived level of support for or cooperation with the government.  According to an EchoCuba report, the difficulty of obtaining approval to build new churches, together with the fact that it remained illegal to organize religious activities in buildings not registered for religious use, meant that many communities had no legal place to meet for church services.  According to the report, this situation particularly affected worshippers in more remote rural areas.  Members of the AG said the government prevented them from expanding their places of worship, including carrying out construction.  Instead, they stated, the government threatened to dismantle or expropriate some of their churches because they were holding illegal services.  The Berean Baptist Church, whose request for registration has been pending since 1997, has been unable to repair existing church buildings because as an unregistered group it could not request the necessary permits.

According to media sources, construction was completed of the Catholic Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Sandino, Pinar del Rio – the country’s first new Catholic church since 1959.  The church was one of three new Catholic churches the government authorized as part of its agreement with the Vatican.  St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa, Florida financed the construction of the church.

According to EchoCuba, the government continued to apply its system of rewarding churches that were obedient and sympathetic to “revolutionary values and ideals” and penalizing those that were not.  Similarly, the government continued to reward religious leaders who were cooperative with the government and threatened revocation of those rights for noncooperative religious leaders.  EchoCuba reported that, in exchange for their cooperation with the government, CCC members continued to receive benefits other nonmember churches did not always receive, including building permits, international donations of clothing and medicine, and exit visas for pastors to travel abroad.  EchoCuba said individual churches and denominations or religious groups also experienced different levels of consideration by the government depending on the leadership of those groups and their relationship with the government.

According to EchoCuba, the government continued to single out religious groups critical of the government, such as the unregistered Apostolic Movement, for particularly severe persecution, destroying their churches, confiscating properties, and banning travel of their pastors.  In contrast, the government allowed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also unregistered, to operate with little intervention because the Church continued to maintain a close relationship with the government and did not question the country’s laws.  Some religious leaders said the government continued to grant permits to buy properties for use as house churches, including in some cases when the titleholder to the property did not plan to live there.  Other religious groups said securing permission for the purchase or construction of new buildings remained difficult, if not impossible.

According to the CSW annual report, a number of cases of arbitrary confiscation of church property remained unresolved – including land owned by the Western Baptist Convention the government confiscated illegally in 2012 and later handed over to two government companies.  The report said that many believed the act was retaliation for the refusal of the Convention to agree to various demands by the ORA to restructure its internal governance and to expel a number of pastors designated by the ORA.  One denomination reported that the Ministry of Housing would not produce the deeds to its buildings, which were required to proceed with the process of reclaiming property.  The ministry stated the deeds had all been lost.  The Methodist Church of Cuba said it continued to struggle to reclaim properties confiscated by the government, including a theatre adjacent to the Methodist church in Marianao, Havana.  According to the report, the Methodist Church submitted all the paperwork to recuperate the building and government officials told them that the Church’s case was valid; however, the government took no action during the year.

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

According to the CSW Annual Report, some nonaccredited seminaries, especially those affiliated with registered non-CCC denominations, reported government interference in their activities, including frequent threats of eviction made by Housing Ministry officials and other government inspectors, which were often followed up with citations and burdensome fines.  They also said state security agents regularly posed as students in an attempt to infiltrate the seminaries.

Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders continued to state they found the requirements for university admission and the course of study incompatible with the group’s beliefs since their religion prohibited them from political involvement.

Some religious leaders said the government continued to restrict their ability to receive donations from overseas, citing a measure prohibiting churches and religious groups from using individuals’ bank accounts for their organizations and requiring individual accounts to be consolidated into one per denomination or organization.  Reportedly, it continued to be easier for larger, more organized churches to receive large donations, while smaller, less formal churches continued to face difficulties with banking procedures.

The CSW annual report stated that, according to a Cuban legal expert, immigration offices targeted religious travelers and their goods and informed airport-based intelligence services of incoming and outgoing travel.  CSW stated the government continued to block some religious leaders and activists from traveling, including preventing an Apostolic church leader from attending the Summit of the Americas in Peru in February.  According to the CSW annual report, in March and September the government blocked leaders from the Afro-Cuban Free Yoruba Association from traveling outside the country to attend a religious freedom event.  In December the state security sector chief reportedly summoned and interrogated a pastor regarding his upcoming trip abroad.  The pastor said he was allowed to travel, but upon his return was detained for four hours as security officials interrogated him about where he stayed and what contacts he made with churches abroad.

According to the CSW annual report, the ORA and immigration officials continued to withhold or deny visas for foreign religious visitors, depending on the relationship of the inviting organization with the government, and that the government increased its scrutiny of visiting foreign religious leaders.  Groups such as the Apostolic churches were not able to request religious visas because of their unregistered status.  According to CSW, the ORA withdrew visas for a U.S.-based pastor and his team to visit at the invitation of AG leadership.  According to AG leadership, ORA leaders said they revoked the visas because the U.S. pastor “has access to the media, can gather multitudes of individuals, and could influence public opinion.”  CSW also reported two cases involving the harassment of religious travelers by immigration officials in March.  In one case, immigration officials reportedly summoned a group of pastors from the United States for visiting an “illegal church.”  In another, Canadian missionaries were reportedly harassed and summoned by immigration officials and accused of distributing food and medication.  The group was also threatened for visiting an “illegal church.”  CSW stated some religious groups, mostly members of the CCC, reported few or no problems inviting foreign visitors or traveling abroad.

According to EchoCuba, government agencies regularly refused to recognize a change in residence for pastors and other church leaders assigned to a new church or parish.  A decree continued to place restrictions on internal movement and migration, making it difficult, if not impossible, for pastors and their families to register their new place of residence if they transferred to a church that lost its pastor due to death or retirement.  To engage with even the smallest of bureaucratic details, pastors refused the right to reregister needed to travel to wherever they were officially registered and submit the paperwork there.  Legal restrictions on travel within the country also limited itinerant ministry, a central component of some religious groups.  According to EchoCuba, the application of the decree to religious groups was likely part of the general pattern of government efforts to control their activities.  Some religious leaders said the decree was also used to block church leaders from travelling within the country to attend special events or meetings.  Church leaders associated with the Apostolic churches regularly reported they were prevented, sometimes through short-term detention, from travelling to attend church events or carry out ministry work.

Religious groups continued to report the government allowed them to engage in community service programs and to share their religious beliefs.  International faith-based charitable operations such as Caritas, Sant’Egidio, and the Salvation Army maintained local offices in Havana.  Caritas helped gather and distribute hurricane relief items, providing humanitarian assistance to all individuals regardless of religious belief.

Some religious groups reported a continued increase in the ability of their members to conduct charitable and educational projects, such as operating before- and after-school and community service programs, assisting with care of the elderly, and maintaining small libraries of religious materials.

According to the CSW annual report, local governments and Cuban Communist Party officials and police frequently encouraged communities to harass religious leaders and their congregations.  CSW stated authorities in Sancti Spiritus allowed loud parties to take place outside a church and pastor’s home and refused to stop participants from harassing church members and disrupting services.

In December a pastor reported the ORA threatened to demolish his church and that local communist officials visited some church members in their homes where they warned them not to participate in church activities.  Another pastor reported several instances of drones hovering outside his church after services.  He said he believed the surveillance was an effort to intimidate members of his church.

According to the CSW annual report, in February a church leader in the central part of the country was threatened after he put up posters in front of his church advertising a Christian concert he was organizing.  CSW stated the MOJ prevented the concert from taking place.

There were reports of cases of government harassment and intimidation of church leaders who called for changes to the proposed constitution.  In October a local Cuban Communist Party summoned several pastors.  When an ORA official entered the room, she shouted accusations about “mercenary pastors” who received funds from antigovernment organizations, calling this behavior an act of treason against the Cuban state.  One of the pastors said he believed the accusations were due to their involvement in the nationwide campaign calling for more religious freedom in the new constitution.  In another case that same month, a pastor reportedly hosted a meeting with other church leaders to discuss the changes to the constitution.  The pastor and his family received death threats from the government and were under surveillance.

In November ORA reportedly summoned a pastor and told him his trips outside the country had been monitored and there was concern about outside groups “manipulating” pastors in Cuba.  An ORA official told him he must support the draft constitution and instruct his congregation to vote “yes” on the referendum.  He said ORA threatened him with expulsion from his denomination, denial of permits for his church, and being transferred to another part of the country.  In December a pastor said buses serving churches involved in the constitutional debate were confiscated and the drivers detained and threatened with incarceration because of their relationship with these churches.

The annual Instituto Patmos report mentioned several cases of local police refusing to investigate or even file reports of threats and harassment against Jews.  According to Patmos, in December authorities expelled a Jewish group from a hospital during a post-circumcision ceremony.  They had to leave the hospital even though the children were still in need of medical care.  In another case, police interrupted a Jewish ceremony, entering the property with police dogs without a warrant and harassing members of the congregation.  Police officers said they were investigating a reported robbery, but no member of the congregation had reported a robbery.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Muslim community leaders stated the government continued to allow the community access for religious services to only six of 19 mosques located on 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 facilities for ablutions.  The government again failed to respond to the Muslim community’s long-standing 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.  Bayraktar and Dhali Mosques had no ablution facilities and no bathrooms, and the government again removed temporary bathrooms installed during Ramadan at Dhali Mosque.  Although the government approved architectural plans for ablution and bathroom facilities at Dhali Mosque in 2016, construction had still not begun by year’s end.  The Ministry of Interior (MOI) stated the local imam did not approve the plans and instead requested that ablution facilitates be built at his nearby house.  A survey found structural problems in the house that prevented construction, and the MOI continued to evaluate alternatives at year’s end.  The Ministry of Communications and Works’ Department of Antiquities reported it provided bathroom facilities at a distance of approximately 330 feet from Bayraktar Mosque.  Authorities said the mosque was part of the medieval Venetian wall of the city, making it impossible to install sewage pipes.

Authorities closed Kato Paphos Mosque, which was the only functioning mosque in the city of Paphos and served approximately 1,500 Muslims, from October 2017 to May due to a construction project to upgrade the surrounding area.  According to the ombudsman, the Department of Antiquities rejected the local Muslim community’s request to use the nearby Grand Mosque as an alternative because it lacked hygiene facilities and because of scheduled restoration works.  After examining a complaint submitted by the executive coordinator of the RTCYPP, the ombudsman on May 11 called on the minister of interior, the mayor of Paphos, and the director of the Department of Antiquities to take immediate action to provide a suitable place of worship.  Authorities reopened the mosque on May 15 to allow the community to use the mosque for Ramadan, and it remained open during the rest of the year.

The only one of the eight functioning mosques not open for all five daily prayers was Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque, the most important Islamic religious site in the country.  The Department of Antiquities continued to keep it open during standard museum hours only, limiting access to the mosque to two of the five daily prayer times.  The mosque’s imam had to ask permission of the MOI and Department of Antiquities to keep the mosque open after 5 p.m. in the autumn/winter months and after 7:30 p.m. in the spring/summer months; the imam said the authorities routinely granted permission.

The government continued to waive visa requirements for the movement of non-Turkish Cypriot pilgrims south across the “green line” to visit Hala Sultan Tekke to conduct prayers and services on special occasions.  To cross the “green line” without identification checks to visit religious sites, Turkish Cypriots and foreign nationals residing in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots were required to submit requests to UNFICYP, which then facilitated the approval process with the government.  On June 20, 884 pilgrims crossed into the government-controlled area for a pilgrimage to Hala Sultan Tekke on Eid al-Fitr.  On August 28, police escorted approximately 300 Turkish Cypriots, Turks, and other foreign nationals to Hala Sultan Tekke for prayers on Eid al-Adha.  On November 20, 655 pilgrims crossed into the government-controlled area to attend prayers at Hala Sultan Tekke on Mawlid al-Nabi.

On June 11, in response to a request facilitated by the RTCYPP, the government allowed Mufti of Cyprus Atalay to attend an iftar with the Muslim community at Kato Paphos Mosque.  It marked the first time in more than four decades the mufti visited and prayed with the Muslim community of Paphos during Ramadan.

A representative of the Buddhist community reported it no longer encountered difficulties operating a place of worship in an apartment in Nicosia.  A 2015 criminal case against a Buddhist priest for unlicensed alterations and additions to a building in Pera that the community had previously used as a temple was resolved during the year; the priest complied with the building regulations and in June paid three fines of 250 euros ($290) each.  A Buddhist community representative said two of the fines were for unlicensed alterations to the building made by the previous owner, a Cypriot national, who was never prosecuted.

Representatives of the Jewish community reported authorities continued to perform autopsies on deceased members of the community for deaths that were not suspicious, a practice they said violated Jewish religious beliefs.  They stated that, despite raising the issue repeatedly with the relevant government authorities, the issue remained unresolved.  Jewish representatives also said local Department of Veterinary Services officials initially prevented them from performing religious animal slaughter, despite granting exemptions from the requirement to stun animals before slaughter in previous years.  A Department of Veterinary Services official said the department no longer granted exemptions for religious slaughter.  A Jewish community representative said, after engaging local government officials, the officials ultimately allowed the community to perform the slaughter without prior stunning.  The Muslim community said it had not encountered problems in carrying out ritual slaughter.

Jewish representatives said the government had not responded to their long-standing request to grant the Chief Rabbinate of Cyprus the right to officiate documents such as marriage, death, and divorce certificates.

A Jehovah’s Witnesses representative said the community was not allowed to bury its dead in municipal cemeteries, which were often managed by local Greek Orthodox churches.  The representative also said local police fined some of its members for “peddling without a license” for distributing free pamphlets in Ayia Napa.  He said the community had been unsuccessful in resolving the issue with municipal authorities, and that he had written letters to the minister of interior, the chief of police, Ayia Napa municipality, and the ombudsman about the incidents.  The MOI responded in December that, provided there was space available, municipalities were legally bound to provide burial space in municipal cemeteries regardless of the deceased person’s religion.  The chief of police replied the Ayia Napa incidents were under the purview of municipal police, and Ayia Napa municipality had not responded by year’s end.  The ombudsman was examining the case at year’s end.

The Cyprus Humanists Association stated the MOE and public schools took actions that discriminated against atheist students.  In January the MOE posted a presentation on its official website advising rejection of atheism and describing atheists as materialistic and immoral.  By April the MOE had removed the presentation from its website.  The Cyprus Humanists Association also reported in December 2017 that a public primary school invited Greek Orthodox priests to hear confessions of students during school time.  The association submitted a complaint to the ombudsman about the incidents, but there was no information available as to whether the ombudsman had examined the complaint.

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.

Czech Republic

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

In June the MOC registered two religious groups – the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X and Theravada Buddhism – both of which had applied in 2016.  Registration applications by the Community of Baptist Congregations, which applied in January, and Ecclesia Risorum, which applied in March, remained pending at year’s end.

In March the Municipal Court in Prague, ruling on an appeal by the Cannabis Church, overturned the MOC’s December 2016 decision to halt that group’s registration application.  The court ordered the MOC to reopen the registration procedure.  The MOC asked the Cannabis Church to supplement the registration application with additional information.  The Cannabis Church’s application remained pending at year’s end.  An appeal filed in 2017 with the Municipal Court in Prague by the Lions of the Round Table – Order of the Lands of the Czech Crown, whose registration application the MOC rejected in 2016, remained pending at year’s end.  In January the Municipal Court confirmed with the PGJ its wish to continue its legal appeal against the MOC, which twice rejected the group’s application in 2017.  PGJ’s lawsuit against the government’s Office for Personal Data Protection, alleging an interrogative and abusive investigation of the PGJ’s registration application in 2017, remained pending at year’s end.

According to local news media, on October 11, the High Court in Olomouc upheld the January conviction in absentia by the Regional Court in Zlin of PGJ leader Jaroslav Dobes and PGJ member Barbora Plaskova on one count of rape and sentenced them to prison terms of five and five and a half years, respectively, and ordered them to pay the victim 60,000 koruna ($2,700).  The high court voided convictions by the Zlin Regional Court of Dobes and Plaskova on seven other counts of rape and remanded the cases back to the Zlin court for retrial.  In January the Zlin Regional Court had sentenced Dobes and Plaskova to seven and a half years in prison each after convicting them in absentia on eight counts of rape involving six women.  Defense lawyers had appealed the verdict to the High Court in Olomouc.  On December 21, according to PGJ representatives, the Zlin Regional Court dismissed the remaining seven charges of rape against Dobes and Plaskova and halted all criminal proceedings.  Dobes and Plaskova reportedly remained in immigration detention in the Philippines.

The government provided 17 second-tier religious groups with approximately 3.3 billion koruna ($150.4 million), 1.2 billion koruna ($54.69 million) as a subsidy and 2.1 billion koruna ($95.71 million) as compensation for communal property in private and state hands that would not be returned.  Five of the 22 second-tier groups declined all state funding.  While accepting the state subsidy, the Baptist Union opted not to accept the compensation for unreturned property.  The MOC provided 2.8 million koruna ($128,000) in grants for religiously oriented cultural activities in response to applications from a variety of religious groups.

Throughout the year, the Communist Party (a supporter of the coalition government but not an official coalition member and holding no ministries) supported legislation (which it introduced in 2017) to tax the remaining portion of financial compensation for property that could not be returned, estimated at approximately 46 billion koruna ($2.1 billion).  The draft legislation, which some parliamentarians said they opposed, was scheduled to be voted on in 2019.

The government reported that, between January and September 2017, the most recent period for which data were available, it settled 446 claims with religious groups for agricultural property and 192 claims for nonagricultural property.  (An earlier government report had incorrectly cited a higher number of settled claims for agricultural and nonagricultural property in the first three months of 2017.)  At the end of this period, 66 agricultural and 89 nonagricultural property claims had not been adjudicated, and 1,318 lawsuits filed by religious groups in the courts to appeal government restitution decisions were pending.

In August the Supreme Court upheld the 2017 ruling by the South Moravian Regional Court in Brno that overturned a decision by the Brno Municipal Court earlier that year holding that the Brno Jewish Community (BJC) had legal title to a property in possession of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.  The Supreme Court and the South Moravian Regional Court both held the property belonged to the ministry.  The BJC had filed its claim in 2013 based on church restitution legislation, and the ministry had rejected the claim in 2014.

The city of Prostejov continued to oppose the restoration of a former Jewish cemetery by the Kolel Damesek Eliezer Foundation, a U.S. charity, and the FJC.  The cemetery, which along with its remaining tombstones the MOC designated as a cultural monument, was destroyed by the Nazis and later converted into a park.  Vladimir Spidla, who was an adviser to former Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, continued to mediate the dispute.

In July a district court in Prague convicted former SPD Party Secretary Jaroslav Stanik of hate speech after he stated publicly in November 2017 that Jews, Roma, and homosexuals should be shot right after birth.  The court issued a criminal order allowing for a suspended sentence up to one year or a fine if the defendant did not appeal it.  Stanik appealed the criminal order.  The Prague 1 District Court indefinitely postponed an appeals hearing scheduled for September for reasons of Stanik’s health.

In October President Zeman bestowed the Medal for Merits to the director of a state nursing school in Prague for “fighting intolerant ideology,” widely seen as a reference to Islam, after she barred a Somali student from wearing a hijab at school.

During municipal and senate elections in October, the SPD Party and its leader Tomio Okamura ran on an anti-Islam platform, posting notices on billboards reading “No to Islam, No to Terrorists.”  The party did not win any senate seats and attained 155 out of 61,892 seats in municipal assemblies.

In February the government granted asylum to eight Chinese Christians and rejected asylum applications of 70 others.  The Chinese Christian applicants had all applied in 2016 on the grounds of religious persecution in China.  Fourteen other applicants withdrew their applications before the government announced its decisions.  The 70 applicants whom the government rejected remained in the country at year’s end while they appealed their cases.

In April then-Deputy Chairman (later Chairman) of the Senate Jaroslav Kubera again sponsored and participated in an annual march and concert against anti-Semitism.  The march opened the government-funded 15th annual Culture against Anti-Semitism Festival.  Festival-goers signed a petition against anti-Semitism initiated by Senator Daniela Filipiova.  Approximately 600 people attended the event.

The government funded religiously oriented cultural activities, including the Night of Churches held in several cities, the annual National Pilgrimage of St. Wenceslaus, KRISTFEST (a festival of seminars, workshops, and musical performances on religious themes), the Concert in Memory of Holocaust Victims, the annual Hussite Festival (commemorating the religious teaching of reformation leader Jan Hus), and the Romani Pilgrimage, organized by the Catholic Diocese of Olomouc.

The MOI said it continued to cooperate with the Jewish community on protection of Jewish sites in Prague and across the country, but did not provide details.

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


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

During the year, the government added seven new individuals, including two Americans, to a “hate preachers” list that barred those individuals from entering the country.  The Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated these individuals threatened the nation’s values and public security.

In April Minister of Justice Soren Pape Poulsen stated the government enacted the law banning face coverings because concealing the face was antithetical to the social interaction and coexistence that was crucial in a society.  According to a 2010 survey by the University of Copenhagen, an estimated 150 to 200 women in the country wore a niqab and three wore a burqa.  Widespread media reporting portrayed the ban as targeting Muslim women.  Poulsen called the niqab “incompatible with the values in Danish society,” while Martin Henriksen, the immigration spokesperson for the Danish People’s Party, one of the country’s largest political parties, called the vote a “statement from parliament that the burqa and niqab do not belong in Denmark.”  Religious groups and several human rights groups protested the ban.  Amnesty International said the law “essentially criminalizes women for their choice of clothing, making a mockery of the freedoms Denmark purports to uphold.”

In August an estimated 1,300 Muslims and non-Muslims wearing veils marched from Norrebro, a neighborhood in Copenhagen with a high concentration of immigrants, to a local police station to protest the law banning face coverings.  Ministry of Justice officials declined to prosecute protesters, stating wearing a burqa or niqab in this instance was an act of protest and protected as freedom of expression.

In the first six months of the ban, 109 violations were filed with the National Police, resulting in 22 charges and 13 fines; 31 other cases resulted in a warning, with the person either removing the face covering or leaving the public space.  Eight other inquiries were dismissed because the violation was in connection with a demonstration.  Media reports stated the first fine involved a woman who wore a niqab in a shopping complex.  She received a 1,000 kroner ($150) fine, and authorities asked her to remove the veil or leave the public space; she chose to leave.  The Muslim community reported one family emigrated because of the law.

According to the a November 15 executive order from the minister of church affairs, the religious community law that entered into force in January incentivized individual congregations within a religious community to formally register with the government in order to receive tax benefits.  Some religious groups also anticipated that under the new law, individuals would be able to make tax-deductible donations to specific congregations rather than to the broader religious community to which the congregation belonged.  As such, the total number of registered religious communities and congregations was expected to increase.

In June parliament debated a citizen-driven petition to ban circumcision of individuals younger than 18.  Although the petition proposed banning circumcision of minors of both sexes, the law already prohibited female circumcision.  The petition acquired the necessary signatures pursuant to a new law requiring petitions with more than 50,000 signatures to be debated in parliament.  According to a January poll by research firm Megafon, 83 percent of persons expressed public support for the ban.  Advocates of the ban led by NGO INTACT Denmark stressed their concern for the rights of children, but Muslim and Jewish communities opposed it and formed an interreligious working group to lobby the government against it.  The debate on banning circumcision also played out on social media.  For example, individuals posted anti-Semitic comments – such as “bloody child abuse is part of Jewish rituals” – on INTACT Denmark’s Facebook page.  On July 11, Rabbi Melchior of the Jewish Society said, “The opponents of circumcision are not anti-Semites, but if they succeed in convincing the politicians into banning it, it will be an anti-Semitic act.”  Finn Rudaizky, a former leader of the Jewish Society of Denmark, stated in June that, “In addition to children’s welfare activists, many others use the situation to show that they are against Jews, Muslims, and they can express anti-Semitism and xenophobia without admitting to it.”

In October Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen linked the country’s historical rescue of the Jews in 1943 to the debate on circumcision, vowing to protect the Jews once again.  A majority of parliamentarians came out against the ban on its first reading in November, and at year’s end, the bill sat with the Health and Elderly Committee for further study before a final parliamentary vote scheduled for the spring of 2019.

In January the government announced a new action plan to eliminate “parallel societies” emerging from what it called “ghetto” communities.  Part of the government’s definition of “ghetto” community was a non-Western majority population, which media widely interpreted to mean Muslims.  Initiatives parliament enacted during the year included doubling of penalties for crimes committed in ghetto-designated communities and mandatory enrollment of children in day care or loss of child benefits.  The Muslim community expressed concerns about the compulsory day care, which had a component of 25 hours per week of instruction, including religious teaching about Christmas and Easter.

In February Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg wrote an article titled “The Sad Truth about Islam” for the BT newspaper and also posted on social media.  Stojberg stated Danes had “lost” and “become scared by a religion [Islam] whose fanatics have threatened us to silence.”  She said, “[I]t is primarily the followers of the so-called religion of peace, Islam, which actually engages [sic] with weapons, violence, and terror.”  Citing the play The Book of Mormon, which had recently opened in Copenhagen, in the article, Stojberg said performing a similar play in the country about Islam was “unthinkable.”  Stojberg has had round-the-clock police protection since 2015 due to numerous threats against her.

In May Stojberg called for Muslims fasting during Ramadan to take time off from work because she believed they were unable to perform their jobs safely.  Colleagues from her own Liberal (Venstre) Party called for Stojberg to provide evidence to support her statement; she did not respond.

On December 20, parliament enacted into law a proposal introduced by the Conservative and Danish People’s Parties requiring persons obtaining Danish citizenship to shake hands during naturalization ceremonies.  Critics said the law, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019, targeted Muslims, who declined on religious grounds to shake hands with members of the opposite sex.  Media reported some of the mayors who conducted naturalization ceremonies objected to the law, which they called awkward and irrelevant to an applicant’s qualifications.  Mayor of Sonderborg Erik Lauritzen announced he would overlook the handshake requirement if applicants showed respect for authorities another way; Mayor of Aabenraa Thomas Andresen stated he would not feel comfortable reporting a noncompliant applicant and urged the national government to administer the ceremony rather than the municipality.  Imam Falah Malik from Nusrat Djahan Mosque called on applicants to show respect another way but, if a handshake was required between members of the opposite sex, to skip the ceremony.  Parliamentarian and spokesperson on immigration for the Danish People’s Party Henriksen said of the law, “If one can’t do something that simple and straightforward [shake hands], there’s no reason to become a Danish citizen.”

In September TV2 Ostjylland reported the municipality of Horsens would offer citizens a chance to specifically opt out of halal or kosher meat at municipal institutions starting in January 2019.  Horsens city councilor from the Danish People’s Party Michael Nedersoe said, “This is an offer for those people who don’t want a Muslim prayer over their food or think halal slaughter is on the edge of animal abuse.”  The Danish People’s Party had called on municipal authorities to try to ban halal meat from municipal institutions during local elections in November 2017.  Henriksen, the party’s immigration spokesperson, said at the time, “It’s wrong when the food in public institutions is blessed by an imam.”  Opponents in Horsens to the originally proposed ban on halal meat, such as Horsens city councilor Saliem Bader from the Social Democratic Party, stated the new proposal did not ban halal meat but rather offered people a chance to opt out of eating it.

The government continued to provide armed security, consisting of police and military, for Jewish sites it considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue and community center and schools.  Officials from the Jewish Society reported continued good relations with police and the ability to communicate their concerns to authorities, including the minister of justice.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

The Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs continued its efforts to implement a 2014 decree executing a law on state control of mosques, which converted the status of imams, including refugee imams, to civil service employees of the ministry and transferred ownership of mosque properties and other assets to the government.  Government officials reiterated a decree aimed at eliminating political activity from mosques, providing greater government oversight of mosque assets and activities, and countering foreign influence.  Although imams were under the direction of the government, mosques’ properties continued to be controlled by individual congregations, since the government department designated to manage these assets was not yet operational.  The ministry’s High Islamic Council sent instructions on and closely vetted all Friday prayer service sermons.  The ministry reported no serious incidents of extremist views within mosques.  During the year, however, it issued several warnings to imams for polarizing speech.  Almost all mosques in the country had an imam who was a civil service employee.

The government continued to permit registered non-Islamic groups, including Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches, to operate freely, according to Christian leaders.  No other Christian groups had legal recognition from the government.  The government subsidized the cost of utilities at church properties of registered non-Islamic groups, since it considered some church properties to be part of the national patrimony.  Religious groups not registered with the government, such as Ethiopian Protestant and non-Sunni Muslim congregations, operated under the auspices of registered groups.  Smaller groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’is, were not registered with the government but operated privately without incident, according to Christian leaders.  Observers stated these groups and other religious minorities hosted worship gatherings in private housing and usually at night.  The groups coordinated loosely with the country’s security forces, who impose curfews and noise restrictions.

The government continued to allow non-Islamic religious groups to host events and proselytize on the groups’ private property; in practice, groups refrained from proselytizing in public spaces, such as hotels or street corners, due to cultural sensitivities and the threat of government intervention.  Government officials noted that any violation of the law forbidding public proselytizing would summon the police.  The government continued to permit a limited number of Christian missionaries to sell religious books and pamphlets at a bookstore in Djibouti City.

The government granted the request of the Christian community to allot plots of land on the outskirts of Djibouti City to build a second Christian cemetery.  The Christian coalition, composed of Catholic Christians, Protestants, and Ethiopian Orthodox, also requested permission to build an adjoining church, to which the government did not respond.

The government continued to issue visas to foreign Islamic and non-Islamic clergy and missionaries but required they belong to registered religious groups before they could work in the country or operate nongovernmental organizations.  Departing from past years’ practice, the government required foreign religious leaders to regularize their status by purchasing a residency card for 24,000 Djiboutian francs ($140).

Local public schools continued to observe only Islamic holidays, but under the direction of the Ministry of Education, schools in refugee camps for the first time permitted students to miss class for their respective religious holidays.  The ministry also launched an initiative to highlight religious tolerance in national civic education.  Government officials began to implement changes to curriculum that encouraged religious inclusivity.

In May the Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs organized logistics for 1,500 individuals to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca.  As part of the official mandate, the ministry applied for visas, gathered information for health cards including arranging vaccination appointments, and coordinated with travel agencies to organize food and lodging.


Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

Rastafarians continued to press the government to legalize marijuana use.  Representatives of the Rastafarian community reported authorities did not enforce the law against using marijuana when they used it in their religious rites.  Members of the Rastafarian community stated their relationship with the government had improved significantly.  Rastafarian leaders said their children were not eligible to attend public schools because the schools required immunizations for all students, and the Rastafarians did not vaccinate their children due to their religious beliefs.  There were no reports of police arrests of Rastafarians during the year in connection with marijuana for religious use.

Members of the Christian community reported they had a positive working relationship with police.  The Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, Family, and Gender Affairs collaborated with the Christian community’s Interdenominational Committee on Crime and Violence in its work to reduce crime and provide opportunities for youth.

The government subsidized teacher salaries at all private schools run by religious organizations, including those affiliated with the Catholic, Methodist, and Seventh-day Adventist Churches.

At public schools, teachers, principals, and students continued to lead nondenominational prayers during morning assemblies, but students were not required to participate.

Republic of the Congo

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Government Practices

As in previous years, the government granted Christians and Muslims access to public facilities for special religious events.  For example, on September 12, the country’s Muslim community celebrated Eid al-Adha in Saint-Denis at a stadium located on the grounds of the presidential residence.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future