An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and prohibits discrimination based on religious belief. On September 15, government security forces shot and killed 36 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers belonging to a Christian movement critical of the president of Burundi. The Burundians were protesting the forcible deportation of some members of their community to Burundi. On December 31, state security forces in Kinshasa arrested Catholic priests and parishioners, blocked citizens from entering church, and used teargas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disrupt peaceful protests organized by Catholic leaders in support of credible elections. At least five people were killed. During the year, religious organizations and leaders, most prominently from the Catholic Church, were subjected to intimidation, harassment, and in some cases violence due to their support for credible elections and implementation of the December 2016 St. Sylvester Agreement between the government and opposition parties. In May Ne Mwanda Nsemi, the leader of the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) spiritual, political, and separatist movement, escaped from prison and in August BDK members attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa, resulting in 40 deaths. In April Catholic leaders publicly denounced violence and harassment toward clergy following efforts by the Council of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) to implement the December 2016 Agreement. In the Kasai regions, several Catholic leaders were threatened, often by unidentified assailants, after criticizing the government’s failure to implement the December 2016 Agreement and abuses perpetrated by Kamuina Nsapu militia (Nsapu) and government security forces.

Nsapu militia members vandalized, attacked, and in some cases burned numerous Catholic churches, schools, and buildings. In North Kivu, unknown assailants abducted two Catholic priests at gunpoint and disappeared.

The U.S. Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials met regularly with the government, religious leaders, and civil society organizations to discuss religious freedom issues, such as government relations with religious organizations, violence in Kasai and in the east, the country’s ongoing political crisis, and interfaith peacebuilding efforts. In October the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations met with CENCO representatives in Kinshasa.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 83.3 million (July 2017 estimate). The last national census was performed in 1981, and many existing demographic statistics vary in estimates and reliability. The Pew Research Center estimates 95.8 percent of the population is Christian, 1.5 percent is Muslim, and 1.8 percent report no religious affiliation (2010 estimate). Of the Christian groups, 48.1 percent are Protestant, including evangelical Christians and the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth through the Prophet Simon Kimbangu (Kimbanguist), and 47.3 percent are Catholic. Other Christian groups include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and the Greek Orthodox Church. There are small communities of Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Bahais, and followers of indigenous religious beliefs. Muslim leaders estimate their community to be approximately 5 percent of the population, rather than the 1.5 percent reported by Pew.

A significant portion of the population combines traditional beliefs and practices with Christianity or other religious beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of religion and the right to worship subject to “compliance with the law, public order, public morality, and the rights of others.” It stipulates the right to religious freedom cannot be abrogated even when the government declares a state of emergency or siege.

The law regulates the establishment and operation of religious groups. According to the law, the government may legally recognize, suspend recognition of, or dissolve religious groups. The government grants tax-exempt status to recognized religious groups. Nonprofit organizations, including foreign and domestic religious groups, must register with the government to obtain official recognition by submitting a copy of their bylaws and constitution. Religious groups must register only once for the group as a whole, but nonprofit organizations affiliated with a religious group must register separately. Upon submission, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MOJ) issues a provisional approval and, within six months, a permanent approval or rejection. Unless the ministry specifically rejects the application, the group is considered approved and registered after six months even if the ministry has not issued a final determination. Applications from international headquarters of religious organizations must be approved by the Presidency after submission through the MOJ. The law requires officially recognized religious groups to operate as nonprofits and respect the general public order. It also permits religious groups to establish places of worship and train clergy. The law prescribes penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 200,000 Congolese francs ($130) for groups which are not properly registered but receive gifts and donations on behalf of a church or religious organization.

The constitution allows public schools to work with religious authorities to provide religious education to students in accordance with students’ religious beliefs if parents request it. Public schools with religious institution guardianship may provide religious instruction, but government-owned schools may not mandate religious instruction.

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

Government Practices

Because religious and political issues overlap, it was difficult to categorize some incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On September 15, government security forces shot and killed 36 Burundian refugees and asylum seekers in Kamanyola outside of Bukavu in the eastern part of the country. The Burundians were Christian followers of Eusebie Ngendakumana, who said she had visions of the Virgin Mary in Burundi. The followers were critical of the Burundi president and were killed while protesting the forcible deportation of some of their members back to Burundi. The motive for the killings was unclear. Since 2015, over 2,000 Burundian members of this movement have sought refuge in the country.

In March authorities arrested Ne Muanda Nsemi, the leader of the BDK separatist political-religious group, which calls for the secession of Kongo Central, after a series of clashes between Nsemi and government forces. Nsemi, who is believed by his followers to have religious or mystical powers, used women and children as human shields during the standoff to keep government security forces from raiding his compound. In May Nsemi escaped from jail, along with as many as 4,000 other prisoners, when unknown assailants attacked Kinshasa’s Makala Prison. On August 7, BDK members attacked police and civilians in Kinshasa, killing several. According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights, government security forces killed an unspecified number of civilians during the ensuing security force response.

On December 31, government security forces used teargas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition to disrupt peaceful protests in Kinshasa organized by Catholic Church leaders calling for credible elections and implementation of the CENCO-mediated December 2016 Agreement between the government and opposition parties. Church leaders and civil society organizations reported that state security forces arrested priests and churchgoers, encircled at least 134 parishes in Kinshasa, interrupted Mass in five churches, blocked access to two churches, forcibly entered at least 18 churches, and deployed tear gas in 10 others. At least five people were killed and as many as 92 were injured. More than 100 people were arrested, some of whom were held incommunicado. Some of those who were severely injured were shot by live ammunition or rubber bullets while inside church compounds. Security forces shot at least one person in the head at point blank range and then shot with rubber bullets a priest who was carrying the injured parishioner.

Catholic Church leaders reported acts of violence and intimidation against Church officials in response to Church support for elections and implementation of the December 2016 Agreement, which called for elections by December, prevented President Joseph Kabila from seeking a third presidential term or changing the constitution, and called for the release of political prisoners and an end to politically motivated prosecutions. For instance, Catholic seminaries were targets of vandalism in February and March in what CENCO said was retaliation for its mediation of the December 2016 Agreement and support for its implementation. On February 12, unknown assailants vandalized Saint Dominique’s Church in Kinshasa. On February 18, assailants ransacked and burned part of a seminary in Malole in the town of Kananga in Kasai Central Province. On February 19, assailants vandalized a Catholic church in Kinshasa’s Limete neighborhood. According to Church leaders, assailants “overturned the tabernacle, ransacked the altar, smashed some of the benches, and attempted to set fire to the church.” On February 21, unidentified individuals broke into the parish of St. Mary in Lukalaba of Kasai Oriental, breaking windows and stealing liturgical books and other objects. That same day in Lubumbashi, unidentified individuals vandalized the St. Jean parish building and attempted to break into the parish of St. Kizito. Following these incidents, Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, the Archbishop of Kinshasa, said in a public statement that the Catholic Church was “being targeted deliberately in order to sabotage her mission of peace and reconciliation.” Catholic clergy were also threatened after CENCO released a statement on April 21 expressing concern about the government’s failure to implement the December Agreement as written.

Catholic leaders and institutions were also threatened after Church leaders expressed concern over violence they attributed to government security forces and the Kamuina Nsapu militia in Kasai. According to the UN Joint Office of Human Rights, on February 4-5 in Luiza territory, government security forces killed 49 civilians including 39 children who had taken refuge at a Catholic mission. In June the Catholic Church reported that as many as 3,383 people had been killed in Kasai since August 2016. The Apostolic Nunciature also reported that from October 2016 to June 2017, 232 Catholic Church buildings and schools in Kasai were attacked amid fighting between government security forces and the Nsapu militia. Church leaders also stated that some Catholic officials in Kasai who publicly denounced the behavior of government security forces were subjected to government harassment and attacks against their congregations. Catholic Bishops in Luiza and Luebo sought refuge in Kinshasa after receiving death threats from both Nsapu militia and members of government security forces.

The MOJ again did not issue any final registration permits for religious groups and has not done so since 2014, reportedly due to an internal investigation into registration practices resulting in fraud. The government, however, continued its practice that groups have been presumed to have been approved and have been permitted to organize. Unregistered domestic religious groups reported they continued to operate unhindered. The MOJ previously estimated that more than 2,000 registration applications for both religious and nonreligious NGOs remained pending and 3,569 associations with no legal authorization continued to operate. Foreign-based religious groups reported they operated without restriction after applying for legal status. Under existing law, which was under review, nonprofit organizations could operate as legal entities by default if a government ministry gave a favorable opinion of their application and the government did not object to their application for status. According to 2015 registration statistics, the latest year for which the MOJ had statistics, there were a total of 14,568 legally registered nonprofit organizations, 11,119 legal religious nonprofit organizations, and 1,073 foreign nonprofit organizations. Religious nonprofits that were legally operating and registered included 404 Catholic, 93 Protestant, 54 Muslim, and 1,322 evangelical nonprofits, the latter including those belonging to the Kimbangu Church.

The government continued to rely on religious organizations to provide public services such as education and healthcare throughout the country. According to the Ministry of Education, approximately 72 percent of primary school students and 65 percent of secondary school students attended government-funded schools administered by religious organizations. The government paid teacher salaries at some schools run by religious groups depending on sectors, areas, and needs.

Muslim community leaders said the government did not afford them some of the same privileges as larger religious groups. The government continued to deny Muslims the opportunity to provide chaplains for Muslims in the military, police force, and hospitals, despite a complaint filed in 2015 with the president and his cabinet.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Nsapu militia members attacked and targeted Catholic Church property, schools, and clergy, according to Church sources. In Kasai, Kasai Central and Kasai Oriental Provinces, the Catholic Church reported that threats and attacks against the Church by Nsapu, other armed groups, and government forces prevented several churches from freely administering services. On February 18, Nsapu ransacked and set the Malole Catholic Seminary on fire, and then prevented the evacuation of 25 seminarians, forcing them to be airlifted to safety by UN peacekeepers. Nsapu members also robbed parishes along the road from Tshimbulu to Luiza in Kasai Central Province, making the area insecure for travel and forcing schools to close. Clergy in these areas reported receiving threats from Nsapu members and said members kidnapped four priests. Numerous Catholic schools were burned, attacked, or closed due to lack of security. In many instances, observers stated it was not clear whether government forces or Nsapu members perpetrated the attacks.

Some religious leaders reported continued tensions between Christian and Muslim communities in the eastern part of the country linked to the government’s ongoing fight against the Allied Democratic Forces and other armed groups in North Kivu Province. On April 2, armed men reportedly assaulted three priests in Paida after attacking their parish. According to news reports and a statement by the local Catholic diocese, two Catholic priests in North Kivu were kidnapped by unidentified individuals in July. As of the end of the year, neither priest had been released.

In South Kivu Province, Muslims in the Katana area said they had not received funds to rebuild their mosque after it was burned down in October 2016, despite a promise in November 2016 from the former governor of South Kivu to provide funds to rebuild the mosque.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Charge d’Affaires and embassy officials met regularly with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations to discuss religious freedom issues, such as government relations with religious organizations, violence in the Kasais and in the east, and the country’s ongoing political crisis. The discussions included numerous meetings with CENCO on the electoral process and implementation of the December 2016 St. Sylvester Agreement. The Charge d’Affaires and embassy representatives regularly urged the government and other community and political leaders to refrain from violence and respect the rights of civil society, including religious groups, to assemble and express themselves freely.

The embassy also discussed these issues with religious leaders and human rights organizations, particularly in the eastern part of the country and Kasai, and used social media to highlight religious freedom issues and promote tolerance. Embassy officials, for instance, met with members of religious communities in Kasai, Kinshasa, and in the eastern region of the country, among other places, to discuss their respective groups’ ability to practice their faith freely.

In addition, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations met with CENCO in October in Kinshasa, and in November a representative of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with director the Episcopal Justice and Peace Commission.

Denmark

Executive Summary

The constitution guarantees the right of individuals to worship according to their beliefs. It establishes the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) as the national church, which has privileges not available to other religious groups. Other religious groups must register with the government to receive tax and other benefits. In June parliament repealed a blasphemy law that, according to various media reports, citizens had largely seen as limiting freedom of speech. Prosecutors invoked the blasphemy law for the first time in 46 years when they charged a man for inciting mockery of religion after he burned a Quran and posted a video of it online. In October a proposal for a parliamentary resolution calling on the government to ban masks and full-body clothing generated significant public discussion and commentary. In May the government added six individuals to a “hate preachers” list that prevented those individuals from entering the country.

There were reports of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-Christian incidents in major cities and asylum centers, including assaults, threats, demonstrations, attacks against property, harassment, and language denigrating religious groups. In January the Muslim and Jewish communities expressed concern about public pressure to ban male circumcision. In March an imam gave a sermon at the Al-Faruq Mosque in which he called for the killing of Jews. In May a young woman was sentenced to six years in prison for planning a terrorist attack against a Jewish school in 2016; charges against her alleged accomplice were dropped. In November, after an appeals process, her sentence was increased to eight years in prison. In March five or six men attacked a couple for eating pork. In separate incidents, a woman was fined for insulting Muslims, and unknown individuals vandalized Muslim graves.

U.S. embassy officials regularly met with representatives from government, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations to stress the importance of religious tolerance and diversity and to share best practices and new ideas to promote religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, including identifying programs and objectives at the local level. After meeting with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, the embassy met with government officials on several occasions to discuss the religious practice of male circumcision among other issues that affected those communities. The embassy met regularly with Muslim and Jewish religious communities to discuss interreligious dialogue and cooperation.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population is 5.6 million (July 2017 estimate). According to Statistics Denmark, the government statistical office, as of July 1, 76 percent of all citizens are members of the ELC.

According to the Aarhus University’s Center for Contemporary Religion, Muslims constitute 5.1 percent of the population. Muslim groups are concentrated in the largest cities, particularly Copenhagen, Odense, and Aarhus. There has been an increase in Muslim immigrants in recent years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates that other religious groups, each constituting less than 1 percent of the population, include, in descending order of size, Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews, Baptists, Buddhists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Pentecostals, and nondenominational Christians. Academics and polling institutions estimate that up to 12-20 percent of the population, some of whom are classified as members of the ELC, identify as atheist. Although estimates vary, the Jewish Society, also known as Mosaiske, estimates the Jewish population at approximately 5,500 to 7,000, most of whom live in the Copenhagen metropolitan area.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares the ELC as the established Church, which shall receive state support and to which the reigning monarch must belong. The constitution also states individuals shall be free to form congregations to worship according to their beliefs, providing nothing “at variance with good morals or public order shall be taught or done.” It specifies that “rules for religious bodies dissenting from the Established Church shall be laid down by statute.” It stipulates that no person may be deprived of access to the full enjoyment of civil and political rights because of religious beliefs, and that these beliefs shall not be used to evade compliance with civic duty. It prohibits requiring individuals to make personal financial contributions to religious denominations to which they do not adhere.

The law prohibits hate speech, including religious hate speech that is directed at individuals or groups; the maximum penalty for hate speech is a fine or two years’ imprisonment. On June 2, parliament repealed, effective June 9, a blasphemy law, which had prescribed a maximum of four months in prison and a fine for those who mocked or insulted a legally recognized religion.

The law permits the government to prevent religious figures who are foreign nationals and do not already have a residence permit from entering the country if the Ministry of Immigration determines their presence poses a threat to the public order. In such cases the ministry places the individuals on a national sanctions list and bars them from entry into the country for a two-year period, which may be renewed.

The ELC is the only religious group that receives funding through state grants and voluntary taxes paid via payroll deduction of its members. Members receive a tax credit for their donations to the ELC. The voluntary taxes account for an estimated 86 percent of the ELC’s operating budget; the remaining 14 percent is provided through a combination of voluntary donations by congregants and grants from the government. Members of other recognized religious communities may donate to their own community voluntarily and receive a credit towards their personal income tax liability. The ELC and other state-sanctioned religious communities carry out registration of civil unions, births, and deaths for their members.

The Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs has responsibility for granting official status to other religious groups in addition to the ELC through recognition by historic royal decree or through official registration. According to the Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs, there are a total of 314 religious groups and congregations: 205 Christian groups, 66 Muslim groups, 15 Buddhist groups, nine Hindu groups, three Jewish groups, and 16 miscellaneous groups and congregations including the Bahai Faith, the Alevi Muslim community, and followers of the indigenous Norse belief system, Forn Sidr. Of this number, some groups are officially recognized while others are affiliated with recognized groups.

Recognized religious groups have the right to perform legal marriage ceremonies, name and baptize children with legal effect, issue legal death certificates, obtain residence permits for foreign clergy, establish cemeteries, and receive tax-deductible financial donations and various valued-added tax exemptions. For religious communities that do not perform baptisms, paper forms provided on the citizen services website are filled out and delivered to the clergy member or office of the religious community, who in turn registers the child in the population register. Individuals unaffiliated with a registered religious group may opt to have birth and death certificates issued by the health authority.

Groups not recognized by either royal decree or a government registration process, such as the Church of Scientology, are entitled to engage in religious practices without any kind of public registration, but members of those groups must marry in a civil ceremony in addition to any religious ceremony. Unrecognized religious groups are not granted fully tax-exempt status, but they have some tax benefits; for example, contributions by members are tax-deductible.

In order for a religious community to be registered, it must have at least 150 members, while a congregation, which the Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs considers as a group within one of the major world religions (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam), must consist of at least 50 adult members to be approved. For congregations located in sparsely populated regions, such as Greenland, a lower population threshold is used. The threshold number varies, depending on the total population of a given area. The guidelines for approval of religious organizations require religious groups seeking registration to submit a document on the group’s central traditions; descriptions of its most important rituals; a copy of its rules, regulations, and organizational structure; an audited financial statement; information about the group’s leadership; and a statement on the number of adult members permanently residing in the country. Groups must also have formal procedures for membership and make its teachings available to all members. The Ministry of Justice makes the final decision on registration applications after receiving recommendations from a group consisting of a lawyer, a religious historian, a sociologist of religion, and a nonordained theologian.

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

All public and private schools, including religious schools, receive government financial support. Public schools must teach Evangelical Lutheran theology; the instructors are public school teachers rather than provided by the ELC. The religion classes are compulsory in grades 1-9, although students may be exempted if a parent presents a request in writing. No alternative classes are offered. The curriculum in grades 1-6 focuses on life philosophies and ethics, biblical stories, and the history of Christianity. In grades 7-9, the curriculum adds a module on world religions. The course is optional in grade 10. If the student is 15 years old or older, the student and parent must jointly request the student’s exemption. Private schools are also required to teach religion classes in grades 1-9, including world religion in grades 7-9. The religion classes taught in grades 1-9 need not be about ELC theology. Noncompulsory collective prayer in schools is allowed if it does not include proselytizing. Prayers are optional at the discretion of each school. They may consist of ELC, other Christian, Muslim, or Jewish prayers, and students may opt out of participating.

Military service is compulsory, but there is an exemption for conscientious objectors, including for religious reasons. Those who do not want to serve in the military may apply for either alternative civilian service or not to serve at all. The period of alternative service for a conscientious objector is the same as the period required for military service. An individual must apply to perform service as a conscientious objector within eight weeks of receiving notice of military service. The application must go to the Conscientious Objector Administration and must show that military service of any kind is incompatible with the individual’s conscience. The alternative service may take place in various social and cultural institutions, peace movements, organizations related to the United Nations, churches and ecumenical organizations, and environmental organizations throughout the country.

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

A law that came into force on May 1 requires clergy members with legal authorization to officiate at marriages to complete a two-day course on family law and civil rights, administered by the Ministry of Culture and Ecclesiastic Affairs. The law also includes a requirement that religious workers “must not behave or act in a way that makes them unworthy to exercise public authority.” Religious workers perceived as not complying with the new provisions may be stripped of their right to conduct marriage ceremonies.

According to European Union legislation, companies are allowed to fire employees for wearing religious symbols if their conditions of employment preclude employees from wearing such symbols.

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

Government Practices

Prosecutors invoked the country’s blasphemy law on February 22 for the first time in 46 years over a 2015 incident in which a man burned a Quran and posted a video to a Facebook group called “Yes to Freedom – No to Islam.” The individual’s lawyer stated the burning was in “self-defense” of potential Muslim aggression and cited the precedent of individuals who were not prosecuted for burning Bibles. He was charged on the grounds of inciting “public scorn or mockery of religion.” Prosecutors dropped the case as a result of the repeal of the blasphemy law in June.

The government continued to provide armed security for Jewish sites it considered to be at high risk of terrorist attack, including Copenhagen’s synagogue, community center, and schools as it had since terrorist attacks in 2015. During the summer, the military began assisting the police in protecting Jewish sites in Copenhagen.

In October the Danish People’s Party (DPP) proposed a resolution that parliament instruct the government to draft legislation making it illegal to wear masks or total body-covering clothing, for example, burqas and niqabs, in public. The resolution cited as possible penalties for wearing these items fines, jail, and/or an obligatory course on national values, drawing on similar legislation in Belgium and France. By year’s end, the resolution had not passed, and no draft legislation had been produced, although parliamentarians from the governing coalition and the Social Democratic Party voiced support for the DPP resolution. Members of smaller political parties expressed concerns that if the ban were adopted, it would appear to target specific religious groups and make it harder to integrate immigrants belonging to those groups.

A Social Democratic Party councilman on the Ishoj Town Council, Seyit Ahmet Ozkan, resigned in August after he stated on Facebook that Zionists, and not radical Muslims, were behind ISIS. In a later interview, Ozkan said he did not equate Zionists with Jews. Local Social Democratic Party representatives insisted on having his name removed from the ballot for the November 21 local election. Another councilman in Ishoj, Niels Roskov from the Unity List Party, stated it was commonly known Zionists were heavily involved in ISIS. According to radio and television news reports, the Unity List Party leadership said there was nothing to substantiate Roskov’s claim, but the Unity List Party declined to take any further action.

In May the government barred six religious figures, including a pastor and an imam who were U.S. citizens, from entry into the country for a two-year period. The Ministry of Immigration and Integration deemed these individuals threats to the nation’s values and public security.

In February Aarhus Municipality ended gender-segregated swimming at its pools, despite the popularity of the segregation policy within the Muslim community.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In March a group of five or six men attacked a man and a woman outside a pizzeria. The couple said that the assailants had shouted, “You’re not supposed to eat pork on your pizza” and physically assaulted them. Police were investigating the incident but had not identified any suspects by year’s end.

In May a 17-year-old was sentenced to six years in prison by Holbaek District Court for her role in planning a terrorist attack in 2016 against two schools, including a Jewish private school in Copenhagen. After the defendant and prosecutor appealed, in November the Eastern Division of the High Court upheld a guilty verdict and raised the sentence to eight years in prison. Authorities dropped charges against her alleged accomplice, a 24-year-old who had recently returned from Syria.

In January the Jewish and Muslim communities worked together to engage society on the topic of ritual circumcision and counter public comments by the Danish Medical Board that the practice should be outlawed. Leaders from the two communities stated they believed the proposed ban was specifically targeted at their respective communities. Although opinion polls indicated public support for a ban on circumcision, no major party in parliament publicly expressed support for prohibiting the practice.

In May the Jewish community called on police to investigate a possible case of incitement to hatred after an imam at the Al-Faruq Mosque in a Copenhagen suburb appeared to call for the killing of Jews during a sermon in March that was posted on social media. According to a translation of the Arabic transcript of the sermon, the imam said, “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them.” Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg described the imam’s address as “horrible, antidemocratic, and abominable.” Police investigated the incident but filed no charges.

In January a court in Glostrup ordered a woman to pay 20 fines of 250 Danish kroner ($40) each for writing insulting content about Muslims on a closed Facebook group for “like-minded” persons. The woman posted the content in 2014 and 2015. The group had a few hundred members but reportedly had earlier had more than 6,000.

In February unknown individuals vandalized eight Muslim graves in Vestre Kirkegard (Western Cemetery) in Copenhagen, breaking the tombstones on all eight graves. Police investigated the incident but identified no suspects.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

After meeting with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, embassy officials, including the Ambassador, met several times with government officials, including cabinet members as well as foreign ministry officials, to raise Jewish and Muslim concerns over proposals to ban male circumcision and other issues of concern to those communities.

Embassy officials met with various religious leaders from the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities throughout the year. In January embassy officials met with Jewish community leaders from Mosaiske to discuss the community’s sense of safety after the government and the community implemented changes in security. Embassy officials also met with the Muslim Council to discuss circumcision, access to halal meat, and its general views regarding religious freedom and tolerance in the country.

In May embassy officials met with international representatives from the Jewish and Muslim communities in Aarhus to discuss tolerance and mutual cooperation there.

In September embassy officials met with the chief rabbi of Mosaiske to discuss religious freedom and collaboration between the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Djibouti

Executive Summary

The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but mandates equality for persons of all faiths. The government maintained its authority over all Islamic matters and institutions, including assets and personnel of all mosques. Non-Muslim groups register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which conducts lengthy background checks as part of the registration process. The government continued to implement a decree for state control of mosques, and the Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs’ High Islamic Council closely vetted all Friday prayer service sermons, reportedly dismissing imams for sermons deemed extremist.

Norms and customs continued to discourage conversion from Islam.

Embassy officials met with Ministry of Education personnel to request that they permit youth refugees to observe their respective religious holidays, since this was the first year the ministry integrated refugee students into the national education system; previously the Ministry of Education has permitted students to observe only Islamic holidays. U.S. embassy officials also shared the Secretary of State’s Ramadan and Eid al-Adha messages on the importance of religious freedom with government and civil society leaders, including at embassy-hosted iftars and on the embassy’s Facebook page.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 865,000 (July 2017 estimate), of which 94 percent is Sunni Muslim. Shia Muslims, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Jews, Bahais, and atheists constitute the remaining 6 percent. Non-Muslims are generally foreign-born citizens and expatriates, highly concentrated in Djibouti City.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the registered refugee population at approximately 27,700, of whom 48 percent are from Somalia, 16 percent from Yemen, 32 percent from Ethiopia, and 4 percent from Eritrea. No data exists on the religious affiliations of refugees, but they engage in both Muslim and non-Muslim worship.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Islam is the religion of the state, according to the constitution. The constitution mandates the government respect all faiths and guarantees equality before the law, regardless of one’s religion. The law does not impose sanctions on those who do not observe Islamic teachings or who practice other religious beliefs. The constitution prohibits religiously based political parties.

The Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs has authority over all Islamic matters and institutions, including mosques, religious events, and private Islamic schools. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs and the Ministry of Education jointly oversee the school curricula and teacher certification of approximately 40 Islamic schools. The public school system is secular.

The president swears an Islamic religious oath.

Muslims may bring matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance either to family courts, whose code includes elements of civil and Islamic law, or to civil courts. Civil courts address the same matters for non-Muslims. In legal matters, citizens are officially considered Muslims if they do not specifically identify with another religious group.

The government requires all foreign and domestic non-Muslim religious groups to register by submitting an application to the Ministry of Interior, which conducts a lengthy background investigation of the group. Domestic and foreign Muslim religious groups must inform the Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs of their existence and intent to operate and are subject to neither registration nor investigation by the Ministry of Interior. Muslim and non-Muslim foreign religious groups must also gain approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to operate in the country. Once approved, every foreign religious group signs a one-year agreement detailing the scope of its activities. Foreign religious groups must submit quarterly reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and renew their agreements every year. The quarterly report details activities, origin of funding for activities, and scope of work completed, and it identifies beneficiaries. Non-Muslim religious groups may not operate in the interim while awaiting registration.

The government is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The government has declared a reservation regarding proselytizing in open public spaces.

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 under the ministry and transferred ownership of mosque properties and other assets to the government. The ministry’s High Islamic Council sent instructions on and closely vetted all Friday prayer service sermons, reportedly dismissing imams for sermons deemed extremist. Government officials stated the decree aimed to eliminate political activity from mosques, provide greater government oversight of mosque assets and activities, and counter foreign influence. Virtually all mosques in the country had an imam who was a civil service employee.

In November the Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs organized its fifth annual forum of ulemas (Muslim scholars) from East Africa, including ulemas from Djibouti, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Comoros, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. President Ismail Omar Guelleh opened the forum, noting the main theme was a review of “religious conceptions and cultural perceptions” to change “mentalities and behaviors.” Participants in the three-day forum discussed strategies of leveraging social media in East Africa to engage youth, promote tolerance, and mitigate violent extremism.

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. For registered non-Islamic groups, the government subsidized the cost of utilities at church properties, since it considered some church properties to be part of the national patrimony. Religious groups not independently 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 Bahais, were not registered with the government but operated privately without incident, according to Christian leaders.

The government continued to recognize legal Islamic marriages conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and civil marriages conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Interior for non-Muslims and interfaith couples. The government also recognized non-Islamic religious marriages, when documentation from the religious organization performing the ceremony was provided.

The Ministry of Islamic and Cultural Affairs continued to sponsor a program in which religious leaders visited public schools for one-hour sessions to answer students’ questions about religion. Participation in these weekly sessions, designed to broaden students’ knowledge of world religions, was not mandatory.

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. The government continued to permit a limited number of Christian missionaries to sell religious books and pamphlets at a local bookstore.

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.

Local public schools continued to observe only Islamic holidays, but schools permitted refugee students to miss class for their respective religious holidays.

In response to a violent ISIS attack on Christians in Egypt on April 9 (Palm Sunday), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent messages of condolence condemning the attack and expressing its solidarity with the victims’ families. The government-run newspaper, La Nation,published the ministry’s message.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Societal norms and customs discouraged conversion from Islam, but conversions reportedly still occurred, particularly for marriages with non-Islamic partners. Christian groups reported continued discrimination in employment and education against converts to Christianity who changed their names.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

With the government integrating refugee youth into the national education system for the first time during the year, embassy officials requested that the Ministry of Education permit students in the refugee camps to observe their respective religious holidays, given the religious diversity of the refugee population.

Embassy personnel shared the Secretary of State’s Ramadan message on the importance of religious freedom with government, religious, and civil society leaders, including at an embassy-hosted iftar.

Dominica

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of thought, freedom to practice one’s religion, and freedom from oaths contrary to one’s beliefs. Rastafarians continued to disagree with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use. Members of the Rastafarian community said police and immigration officials continued to subject them to scrutiny because of the community’s use of marijuana for religious rituals. According to reports by both the police and members of the Rastafarian community, persons of other religions were not subject to such scrutiny. Members of the Rastafarian community stated, however, that their relationship with the government had improved and the number of police stops and searches of Rastafarians had declined.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

U.S. embassy representatives engaged representatives of the government, including the chief welfare officer of the Ministry of Social Services, Family, and Gender Affairs. Embassy representatives emphasized the importance of freedom of religious expression and issues of discrimination based on religious affiliation, including harassment and discrimination issues that Rastafarians said they faced. Embassy representatives also engaged civil society leaders, including members of the Rastafarian community, members of the Dominica Christian Council, the resident Catholic bishop, and members of the Evangelical Association of Dominica on religious freedom issues, including freedom of religious expression and discrimination based on religion.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 74,000 (July 2017). According to data from the 2011 census, approximately 53 percent of the population is Roman Catholic. Evangelical Protestants comprise approximately 20 percent of the population. The largest evangelical Protestant groups are Pentecostals with 6 percent, Baptists with 5 percent, and the Christian Union Mission with 4 percent. Seventh-day Adventists comprise 7 percent of the population. Other smaller religious groups include Anglicans, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and Rastafarians. Nine percent of the population professes no religious affiliation.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, including freedom of thought, freedom to practice one’s religion, and freedom from taking oaths contrary to one’s beliefs. By law, the government may make exceptions to constitutionally required provisions in the interests of public order and morality if the exceptions are for activities “shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.”

Religious groups seeking nonprofit status must register with the Attorney General’s Office. They must submit a letter signed by five executives of the religious group and provide the official name of the religious group with an address identifying the place of worship. The registration fee is 25 Eastern Caribbean dollars ($9). The Attorney General’s Registry Office reviews and approves applications. Any organization denied permission to register has the right to apply for judicial review. By law, religious groups must also register buildings used to publish banns of marriage (announcements of marriage) or used as places of worship.

The constitution grants religious groups the right to establish and maintain private schools and to provide religious instruction. Public schools may hold nondenominational prayers. Parents may homeschool their children.

The government imposes no legal regulations on foreign missionaries beyond the standard immigration laws for entering and remaining in the country.

The government prohibits the use of marijuana for any purpose, including for religious purposes.

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

Government Practices

The government continued to enforce its ban on any type of marijuana use. Government officials and members of civil society, including Rastafarian associations, stated that Rastafarians continued to disagree with the government’s prohibition of marijuana use because Rastafarians believe marijuana is integral to their religious rituals. Members of the Rastafarian community said police and immigration officials continued to subject them to scrutiny because of the use of marijuana in the Rastafarian community. According to reports by both the police and members of the Rastafarian community, persons of other religious groups were not subject to such scrutiny. Some 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 because of their religious beliefs. Members of the Rastafarian community stated, however, that their relationship with the government had improved and the number of police stops and searches of Rastafarians had declined. There were no reports of police arrests of Rastafarians during the year in connection with marijuana for religious use.

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.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials raised religious freedom subjects with the government, including with the chief welfare officer of the Ministry of Social Services, Family, and Gender Affairs. They discussed issues of police and immigration harassment of Rastafarians, the inability for unvaccinated Rastafarian children to enter school, and the importance of media messaging to encourage religious diversity and tolerance.

Embassy officials engaged religious groups and civil society leaders, including the Rastafarians, Catholic Church, Christian Council, and Evangelical Association, in a series of discussions on the issues of religious freedom and discrimination as a means to encourage tolerance and respect for religious diversity. The embassy also used Facebook to promote messages about the importance of religious freedom and respect for religious diversity across the Eastern Caribbean.

Ecuador

Executive Summary

The constitution grants individuals the right to choose, practice, and change religions; it prohibits discrimination based on religion. The law requires all religious groups to register with the government; failure to do so can result in the group’s dissolution and liquidation of physical property. On October 23, President Lenin Moreno, who became president on May 24, replaced two restrictive executive decrees regarding civil society issued by former President Rafael Correa with a new decree regulating how civil society organizations, including religious organizations, must register to obtain or maintain legal status. The new decree relaxes or eliminates some aspects of the registration process. The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights, and Worship (MOJ) and the National Secretary for Policy Management (NSPM) trained religious groups on the registration process. Evangelical Christian and Catholic groups said that before the new decree, they faced lengthy delays, high costs, and excessive requests for membership information. According to the MOJ, approximately 4,000 religious groups operated in the country, but only half had registered with the government due to the previous registration procedures. A case involving the construction of a Jehovah’s Witnesses assembly hall in an indigenous community was still pending before the Constitutional Court more than three years after it had been accepted for review. The case focused on whether the constitutional right to self-determination of the indigenous community, which opposed the construction, took precedence over the free practice of religion. The Constitutional Court found another Jehovah’s Witness case requesting a “special action of protection” to be inadmissible after two courts previously upheld a gated community’s right to ban proselytization.

Jewish, Muslim, and Mormon representatives said they engaged with other religious groups through social work projects and occasional discussions through interfaith groups about promoting religious values among youth and ways to enhance respect for different belief systems. The interfaith group Religions for Peace organized dialogues between representatives from monotheistic religions and also promoted greater respect for different traditions within the Anglican, evangelical Christian, and Catholic communities. Some religious leaders said they were concerned about what they considered an erosion of traditional religious values but did not state concerns about the ability to express their religious beliefs.

Embassy officials discussed issues facing religious groups, including difficulties with the registration process, with the MOJ and the NSPM. The Ambassador hosted roundtables with religious leaders on February 9 in Guayaquil and March 29 in Quito to discuss challenges facing their communities. Leaders from the Bahai, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and Muslim communities attended the events. Participants raised concerns about the registration process for religious groups, while noting a general lack of public knowledge about non-Catholic religious traditions.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 16.3 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a 2012 survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Census, the most recent government survey available, approximately 92 percent of the population professes a religious affiliation or belief. Of those, 80.4 percent is Roman Catholic; 11.3 percent evangelical Christians, including Pentecostals; and 1.3 percent Jehovah’s Witnesses. Seven percent belongs to other religious groups, including Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, Bahais, spiritualists, followers of Inti (the traditional Inca sun god), and indigenous and African faiths. There are also practitioners of Santeria, primarily resident Cubans.

According to Mormon and Muslim leaders, their communities are growing due to conversions, especially in coastal areas. A Muslim leader said there were concentrations of Muslim communities in Cuenca, Guayaquil, and Quito.

Some groups, particularly those in the Amazon jungle and Choco regions, combine indigenous beliefs with Catholicism. Pentecostals draw much of their membership from indigenous people in the highland provinces. There are Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country, with the highest concentrations in coastal areas. Many evangelical Christian churches are not affiliated with a particular denomination.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution grants all individuals the right to practice and profess publicly and freely the religion of their choice, and prohibits discrimination based on religion. It states the government has a responsibility to “protect voluntary religious practice, as well as the expression of those who do not profess any religion, and will favor an atmosphere of plurality and tolerance.” Individuals have the right to change their religion. The constitution also grants the right of self-determination to indigenous communities, including provisions granting freedom to “develop and strengthen their identity, feeling of belonging, ancestral traditions and form of social organization.”

On October 23, President Moreno repealed past executive decrees regarding civil society, issued by former President Correa, and issued a new decree explaining how civil society organizations, including religious organizations, must register to obtain and maintain legal status. The new decree relaxes or eliminates some aspects of the registration process, including certain requirements for religious organizations to collect, organize, and retain information. Additionally, the new decree removes some subjective justifications for dissolving organizations and eliminates the authority of public officials, at their sole discretion, to impose changes to the bylaws of civil society organizations. Under the new decree, civil society organizations are no longer required to extend membership to any person, even against the will of the other members.

Under the new registration decree, the government requires individual religious congregations and organizations to conduct this registration process through the MOJ. The NSPM’s Office of Planning maintains a national database of legally recognized civil society organizations. Registration provides religious groups with legal and nonprofit status. An officially registered organization is eligible to receive government funding and exemptions from certain taxes. To register, a religious group must present to the government a charter signed by all of its founding members and provide information on its leadership and physical location. Three experts in religious matters appointed by the ministry evaluate the application, in consultation with religious organizations already legally established within the country; the evaluation process may be revised under the new registration decree. The decree does not specify the criteria for selection of religious experts. The registration process is free. Failure to obtain legal status through registration can result in the dissolution of the group and liquidation of its physical property by the government.

The law prohibits public schools from providing religious instruction, but private schools may provide religious instruction. There are no legal restrictions specifying which religious groups may establish schools.

Foreign religious missionaries and volunteers must apply for a temporary residence visa to work in the country and present a letter of invitation from the sponsoring organization to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The letter must include a commitment to cover the applicant’s living expenses and details the activities to be conducted by the applicant. Applicants also must provide a certified copy of the bylaws of the sponsoring organization and the name of its legal representative as approved by the government.

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

Government Practices

While Mormon and Muslim groups said they did not have difficulties with the registration process before President Moreno issued the new registration decree on October 23, some other religious groups stated the registration process had been onerous and disruptive to their activities at times. Evangelical Christian leaders noted their legal representatives often had to travel to Quito to complete processing because satellite registration offices could not handle the final processing of the registration forms, resulting in significant administrative costs and delays. For example, Guayaquil’s registration office had to send documents to Quito for processing, which frequently resulted in a lengthy back and forth to correct simple administrative errors. An evangelical Christian leader said the delays led many groups not to apply for registration. Without a legal representative, groups were unable to open bank accounts or engage in formal land transactions. According to evangelical Christian representatives, unregistered groups often met in private homes or ad hoc structures on the private land of a group member.

Some religious leaders said the government’s enforcement of its decrees under former President Correa was unequal and arbitrary. A Catholic representative said the government requested a complete membership list for his congregation, even though the governing presidential decree required groups to provide only a list of the organization’s founding members. The representative stated it was difficult to comply with the request given the size of the congregation and the fact that its members did not necessarily participate in regular gatherings.

Evangelical Christian leaders said that the Correa government disqualified many of their pastors from serving as the recognized legal representative for their congregations, citing a requirement that legal representatives be citizens with permanent residence in the country and extensive legal knowledge. They said dividing a community’s moral and legal authority complicated decision making and weakened their pastors’ standing within their communities. They stated the MOJ’s Office of Policies for the Regulation and Promotion of the Freedom of Religion prohibited them from naming religious leaders to serve as legal representatives in the city of Ambato.

The NSPM provided training on the old registration process to civil society organizations, including religious groups, throughout the country. The MOJ also provided training to religious groups to help them navigate the registration process. According to the ministry, roughly 4,000 religious groups operated in the country, but only half actually registered with the government. The MOJ provided no public information on specific groups that were denied registration. No religious organizations were dissolved during the year for failure to register.

In January the Constitutional Court found a Jehovah’s Witnesses case filed in June 2016 requesting “special action of protection” to be inadmissible. Jehovah’s Witness representatives stated they were analyzing the case to determine if they could present it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had filed their initial complaint before a lower court after a gated community near Guayaquil banned proselytization by Jehovah’s Witnesses following complaints from community residents. The court ruled against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing the community’s right to prevent trespassing on private property. In May 2016 the judicial court of Guayas Province rejected the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ appeal of the decision.

As of the end of the year, another case filed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses and accepted for review in September 2014 remained pending before the Constitutional Court. The case involved a conflict in the northern town of Iluman between Jehovah’s Witnesses who wanted to build a new assembly hall and indigenous residents who opposed it. Two lower courts had previously ruled in favor of the residents, concluding that their right to self-determination was a valid rationale for preventing the practice of religion. Representatives of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they hoped to set a legal precedent with the case, which they said would establish that an indigenous community’s constitutional right to self-determination could not violate individuals’ right to practice freely the religion they chose. The Jehovah’s Witnesses said they regularly requested information from the MOJ but did not receive an explanation for why the case remained pending more than three years after the Constitutional Court had accepted it for review.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Jewish, Muslim, and Mormon representatives reported they engaged with other religious groups through social work projects and occasional discussions through interfaith groups to enhance understanding and respect among different faiths. A local representative from the interfaith group Religions for Peace said that religious groups did not face societal discrimination or persecution in the country. Many religious leaders said that society exhibited a general lack of knowledge about religious traditions and practices outside of Catholicism. For example, Muslim leaders said members of society asked them about traditional Muslim dress and names. Some religious leaders expressed concerns about what they considered an erosion of traditional religious values and a rise in secularism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Prior to the release of the new registration decree in October, Embassy officials discussed with the MOJ and NSPM the inability of numerous religious groups to register because of difficulties with the process. Government officials provided information to embassy officials about the registration process and about their plans to improve religious groups’ understanding of the governing decrees. Following President Moreno’s issuance of the new registration decree, embassy officials engaged the government on its plans to implement the new registration procedures.

The Ambassador hosted roundtables with religious leaders on February 9 in Guayaquil and March 29 in Quito to discuss challenges facing their communities. Leaders from the Bahai, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon, and Muslim communities attended the events. Embassy officials also spoke with a representative from the interfaith group Religions for Peace to encourage the continuation of interfaith and ecumenical dialogue.

The embassy and consulate used social media platforms in Quito and Guayaquil to highlight their efforts to promote social inclusion and religious diversity. Separately, embassy and consulate officials met with leaders of the Buddhist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jewish, Mormon, and Muslim communities to discuss challenges associated with the government’s registration process for civil society organizations and societal respect for religious diversity.

Egypt

Executive Summary

The constitution describes freedom of belief as “absolute” and specifies Islam as the state religion. It also enshrines the principles of sharia as the primary source of legislation, which local lawyers stated creates potential legal ambiguities with regard to the freedom of belief guaranteed in the constitution. The constitution only provides adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism the right to practice their religion freely and to build houses of worship. The government continued not to recognize and restrict Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Bahais. According to multiple sources, authorities continued to detain and physically mistreat former Muslims. Irrespective of religion, authorities also did not apply equal protection to all citizens and sometimes closed churches, in violation of the law, according to multiple sources. Courts charged citizens, including Muslim clerics, with “denigration of religions.” Christians reported discrimination by authorities, especially in rural areas. The government completed rebuilding 78 churches and other church-owned properties which had been destroyed or damaged in mob violence in 2013 and repaired Saints Peter and Paul Church in Cairo after a December 2016 suicide bombing that killed 29 people. It also issued an unprecedented civil marriage license to a Bahai couple with no religious affiliation designated on their national identity card. The government continued its efforts to preserve the nation’s Jewish heritage, including starting work to renovate and protect a historic synagogue in Alexandria. There were incidents of official anti-Semitism and public anti-Semitic statements by Al-Azhar, the country’s primary institution for spreading Islam and defending Islamic doctrine. According to religious leaders, educators, and families, the Ministry of Education made progress in removing language from school textbooks that it said could engender hate toward non-Muslims or promote the view that Islam was superior to other religions. The government-supported Islamic institutions Al-Azhar and Dar al-Ifta, the country’s fatwa issuing authority, continued to debate reforms to Islamic jurisprudence which mandates the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.

Societal violence connected with religion, including terrorist attacks, continued. An attack against a Sufi mosque in Rawda village in northern Sinai by armed gunmen carrying the ISIS flag killed 311 persons, 27 of whom were children, followed warnings not to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, according to press reports, and ISIS’s published threats against Sufis in December 2016. ISIS claimed responsibility for multiple attacks, including suicide bombings at two churches during Palm Sunday services that killed 45 people, the killing of 28 passengers on a bus carrying Christian pilgrims to a desert monastery, and numerous killings of Christians in northern Sinai and elsewhere. Muslims opposed to church construction or renovation, even when legally authorized, continued to commit violence against churches and Christian-owned properties in various locales. Victims of sectarian violence continued to be pressured to drop charges in the spirit of “reconciliation” – a practice which human rights groups and Christians said regularly failed to hold the perpetrators accountable or provide justice to victims and their families. Muslims who openly left Islam were subjected to violence, threats, and abuse. Christians continued to face societal discrimination in their daily lives. Reports of incitement to violence against Jews and other anti-Semitic remarks, as well as defamatory speech against other minority religious groups, continued during the year.

U.S. representatives at multiple levels, including the Ambassador and Charge d’Affaires, visiting delegations from Washington, and embassy and consulate general officials met with government officials to underscore the importance of religious freedom and equal protection of all citizens before the law. In meetings with high-level officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education, Justice, Awqaf (Islamic Endowments), and Interior, embassy officers and visiting U.S. officials emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of cases, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Bahais and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia Muslims to perform religious rituals publicly, and the discrimination and religious freedom violations resulting from official religious designations on national identity and other official documents. In December the embassy hosted a digital video conference with the State Department Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Central Asia for a discussion about religious freedom in the country. The embassy also promoted religious freedom on social media throughout the year. Embassy and consulate general officers regularly engaged with human rights advocates, religious leaders, and community members on questions of religious freedom, for example, on the rights of all citizens to choose their religion, build houses of worship, and practice their religious rituals, as well as the government’s responsibility to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian attacks. President Trump condemned the lethal attacks on the Rawda mosque in north Sinai and on the Mar Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Helwan, south of Cairo, and phoned President al-Sisi on both occasions, offering condolences and reiterating, “The United States will continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism.”

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 97 million (July 2017 estimate). Most media reports state that approximately 90 percent of the population is officially designated as Sunni Muslims and approximately 10 percent is recognized as Christian (estimates range from 5 to 15 percent). Approximately 90 percent of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Christian leaders.

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

Anecdotal estimates of the number of atheists range from one million to ten million. Absent official figures, sources consistently report that the number is increasing steadily. Estimates of the number of former Muslims who have quietly converted to other faiths – most often Christianity – range from 50,000 to four million.

Estimates regarding the number of Shia Muslims range from 800,000 to 2 million, according to media reports. There are also small groups of Quranist Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims.

The Jewish community is believed to number fewer than 25 persons, according to members of the community. According to a local Jewish nongovernmental organization (NGO), there are six Jews in Cairo (all female). There are between 2,000 and 3,000 adherents of the Bahai Faith, according to media estimates.

There are many foreign resident adherents of various religious groups, including Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons. There is also a small Dawoodi Bohra Community, numbering approximately 550, mostly comprising Indian nationals, according to a member of the community.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the primary source of legislation. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and makes “incitement to hate” a crime. It describes freedom of belief as absolute. The constitution limits the freedom to practice religious rituals and establish places of worship to adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The constitution prohibits the exercise of political activity or the formation of political parties on the basis of religion.

The constitution states that Al-Azhar is “the main authority in theology and Islamic affairs” and is responsible for spreading Islam, Islamic doctrine, and the Arabic language in the country and throughout the world. The president appoints the grand imam for life, choosing from among the institution’s Council of Senior Scholars, but lacks the authority to dismiss him. While the constitution declares Al-Azhar an independent institution, its core funding comes from the government which is required by the constitution to provide “sufficient funding for it to achieve its purposes.” Sources report that Al-Azhar’s donor funding – particularly from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – dwarfs the funding it receives from the government.

The constitution also stipulates that the canonical laws of Jews and Christians form the basis of legislation governing their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders. Individuals are subject to different sets of personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.), depending upon their official religious designation. The Ministry of Interior issues national identity cards that include official religious designations. Designations are limited to Muslim, Christian, or Jewish or a dash for citizens whose parents and grandparents were not members of those religions. Since the first use of the dash subsequent to a 2009 court order, Bahais are identified by a dash. The minister of interior has the authority to issue executive regulations determining what data should be provided on the card.

Neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit apostasy from Islam or efforts to proselytize Muslims. The law states individuals may change their religion. The government does recognize conversion from Islam for individuals who were not born Muslim but later converted to Islam, according to a Ministry of Interior decree pursuant to a court order. Reverting to Christianity requires presentation of a document from the receiving church, an identity card, and fingerprints. After a determination is made that the intent of the change – which often also entails a name change – is not to evade prosecution for a crime committed under the Muslim name, a new identity document will be issued with the Christian name and religious designation. In those cases in which Muslims not born Muslim convert from Islam, their minor children, and in some cases adult children who were minors when their parents converted, remain classified as Muslims.

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

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

The law generally follows sharia in matters of inheritance; a Muslim female heir generally receives half the amount of a male heir’s inheritance, and Christian widows of Muslim husbands have no inheritance rights. On January 3, however, an appellate court ruled that applying sharia to non-Muslims violated the section of the constitution stating that the rules of the Christians and Jewish communities govern in personal status matters.

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

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

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

The government appoints and monitors imams who lead prayers in licensed mosques and pays their salaries. According to the law, penalties for preaching or giving religious lessons without a license from the Ministry of Awqaf or Al-Azhar include a prison term of up to one year and/or a fine of up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($2,800). The penalty doubles for repeat offenders. Ministry of Awqaf inspectors also have judicial authority to arrest imams violating this law. A ministry decree prevents unlicensed imams from preaching in any mosque, prohibits holding Friday prayers in mosques smaller than 80 square meters (861 square feet), bans unlicensed mosques from holding Friday prayer services (other prayer services are permitted), and pays bonuses to imams who deliver Friday sermons consistent with Ministry of Awqaf guidelines. Any imam who fails to follow the guidelines loses the bonus and can be subject to disciplinary measures, including potentially losing his preaching license. The ministry also issues prewritten sermons, but use of them by imams is voluntary.

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

The law delegates authority to approve requests for church building and renovation permits to governors, rather than the president. The governor is to respond within four months; any refusal must include a written justification. The law does not provide for review or appeal of a refusal; nor does it specify recourse if a governor fails to respond within the required timeframe. The law also includes provisions to legalize existing unlicensed churches and rescinds preconditions established in the 1930s. It stipulates that, while a request to license an existing building for use as a church is pending, the use of the building to conduct church services and rites may not be prevented. Under the law, the size of new churches depends on a government determination of the “number and need” of Christians in the area. New churches must also meet stringent land registration and building codes not required for mosques or for commercial or residential property.

Under a separate law governing the construction of mosques, the Ministry of Awqaf approves permits to build mosques. The law does not stipulate any government role in reviewing the number or size of mosques based on its assessment of the number of Muslims in the area, but a 2001 cabinet decree includes a provision requiring that new mosques built after that date must be a minimum distance of 500 meters (1600 feet) from the nearest other mosque. The law does not require Ministry of Awqaf approval for mosque renovations.

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

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

The government recognizes only the marriages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims with documentation from a cleric. Since the state does not recognize Bahai marriage, married Bahais are denied the legal rights of married couples of other religious beliefs, including those pertaining to inheritance, divorce, and sponsoring a foreign spouse’s permanent residence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: Local officials sometimes did not apply equal protection to all citizens. Judges often cited sharia when ruling to restrict religious freedom, particularly for persons born to at least one Muslim parent. Authorities continued to deny individuals the right to change their official religious designation from Muslim to another religion and sometimes arrested those who had left Islam, according to multiple sources. Local authorities closed some churches because of threats of which church leaders said they were unaware, and others in response to attacks by Muslim neighbors. Local authorities also closed churches on the grounds that they were unlicensed, despite provisions in the law guaranteeing Christians the right to use the buildings for worship pending licensure. Two such churches were subsequently reopened. Government officials sometimes failed to protect minority victims of sectarian violence from intimidation by perpetrators demanding that the victims drop charges in a spirit of “reconciliation” rather than pursue justice through the court system. The government continued to prosecute individuals, including religious leaders, on charges of denigration of religions. The government also restricted the ability of citizens to carry out worship, marriage, educational, and other life activities of their choice. Dar al-Ifta and Al-Azhar undertook efforts to re-examine centuries-old Islamic jurisprudence mandating the death penalty for those who leave Islam. The Ministry of Education removed some language from school textbooks that was perceived as promoting hate and the superiority of Islam above all other religious beliefs and developed an all-new curriculum for a 12-year rollout beginning in fall 2018. Al-Azhar University admitted its first non-Muslim student. For the first time, the government issued a civil marriage license to a Bahai couple. A court ruling permitted a Christian family to divide an inheritance according to Christian practices.

On August 21, National Security Service (NSS) officials arrested two atheists after their manager at La Poire, a pastry shop in New Cairo, notified authorities of a private message passed between the two that was critical of religion. The officials beat the two arrestees, according to sources familiar with the case, and then told inmates to beat them further.

On December 23, NSS officers arrested a 29-year-old man on charges of denigration of religions for allegedly administering a Facebook page entitled “Al Mulhedeen” (“The Atheists”) with more than 34,000 followers, according to press reports. The page, which allegedly questioned some Quranic verses and promoted the “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe, was no longer available after the arrest. North Giza Court subsequently ordered the man detained for 15 days pending investigation. Discussions about the rise of atheism in society continued through year’s end, both in parliament and in Islamic institutions, according to press reports.

In July a man who allegedly had converted from Islam to Christianity was brought to police by family members who said that he was an apostate from Islam and thereby guilty of denigration of religions, according to sources familiar with the case. Police reportedly interrogated him for four hours, then released him and told him to “disappear.” The man immediately relocated to a different residence. Some months later, a representative of the NSS summoned him to NSS headquarters where they detained and interrogated him for several nights before releasing him, according to sources.

In August police arrested and interrogated a man whom they alleged had converted from Islam to Christianity. Police released him, reportedly telling him he was too old to withstand the treatment they ordinarily would give to apostates from Islam, according to sources.

In December NSS officers informed family members of two former Muslims’ conversions to other faiths but did not make arrests. According to a source familiar with the case, this put at least one of the converts at risk; upon learning from the NSS about the conversion, a member of the convert’s family reportedly threatened to kill him if news of his conversion negatively affected the family member’s government job.

Courts continued to apply the penal code to prosecute those charged with denigrating Islam. On February 27, a court sentenced Muslim preacher Mohamed Abdullah Al Nasr, popularly known as Sheikh Mizo, to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 EGP ($560) for denigration of religions based on comments he made on social media questioning literal interpretations of Islamic texts and expressing doubt about the authenticity of others. An appeals court reduced the sentence to two years in prison and a fine of 1,000 EGP ($56); subsequently the government waived the remainder of his sentence after he was included in a routine annual pardon. At year’s end, he was due for imminent release.

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

Authorities arrested and charged Bassem Abdel Malak Fahem with denigration of religions when, after terrorists attacked a bus and killed 28 Coptic Christian pilgrims in May, he posted pictures of well-known Islamic clerics on Facebook and accused them of inciting violence against Christians. Authorities arrested Abdel Malak in September, and they acquitted and released him in early November.

Also in May authorities charged former Under Secretary of the Ministry of Awqaf Sheikh Salem Abdul Galeel with denigration of religions and undermining national unity after he appeared on his television program explaining verses from the Quran which described Jews and Christians as “kuffar” (infidels). Galeel told his audience that it was a disservice to Jews and Christians to assure them that they would go to paradise because the Quran was clear that they were kuffar and therefore would go to hell. Abdul Galeel also said Jewish and Christian scriptures had been corrupted. The television station canceled Galeel’s show and the Ministry of Awqaf banned him from preaching in mosques. Subsequently, the ministry demoted and banned from preaching Sheikh Abdullah Roshdy, an Al-Azhar scholar employed with the ministry, after he defended Abdul Galeel’s position. Other Muslim clerics called for respectful debate of intellectual and doctrinal issues, rather than criminal charges. A court released Galeel on bail; subsequently the complainant dropped the case, according to press reports.

On June 16, authorities charged Coptic Orthodox priest Makary Younan with denigration of religions, discrimination against a specific group, disturbing peace and order in the country, exploiting religion to spread thoughts that aim to stir strife and insult divine religions, and harming national unity and social coherence after he stated in a sermon that, according to both Islamic and non-Islamic historical sources, the country had a Christian majority until it was defeated by a Muslim army. A court released Makary on bail; subsequently the complainant dropped the case, according to press reports. On May 16, authorities arrested three Christians in El-Zawya El-Hamra for trying to stop local authorities from carrying out a demolition order against a Coptic Church-owned building based on an anonymous complaint that it was being used as a church, according to press reports. Authorities halted demolition when Church leaders, who had been using the building for a charity clinic and other social services for local residents, presented ownership papers and stated that they intended to include the site on the list to be presented to the government for licensure in accordance with the Church Construction Law. Authorities subsequently released the three Christians.

Religious freedom and human rights activists said that government officials, courts, and prosecutors sometimes did not extend procedural safeguards and rights of due process to members of minority faiths, including by closing churches in violation of the law on church construction. According to a report by one human rights organization, there were at least 19 cases of assault or sectarian tensions relating to church buildings and the holding of church services during the year, most of which were led by security officials on the grounds the buildings being used were unlicensed. These actions led to the closure of at least eight active churches during the year, the report said. According to press reports, more than 60 churches remained closed at year’s end.

On March 5, security forces closed a church in Ezbet El-Nakhl village in Minya, telling members of the community that closing the church was a security precaution against an attack by Islamic extremists, according to news outlets. Subsequently, Minya Province Security Chief Faisal Dweidar denied that there was a threat to the church and stated that it was closed for lack of proper licensing, the same news outlet reported.

In July security forces closed a church in the town of Kidwan, Minya Province, citing alleged complaints by local residents that the church was not licensed, according to press reports. A local bishop told the press that the 1,300 Christians of Kidwan had no other place to pray and denied that Muslim neighbors had complained about the church. He further stated that at least 15 churches in the surrounding towns remained closed and some 70 towns remained without a church despite having applied for building licenses. After Christians in Kidwan appealed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the church reopened on September 10.

On August 20, security forces closed Virgin Mary Church, located in what was once a private home in the town of Ezbat al-Forn, also in Minya Province. A senior police officer told the press that security forces had intervened to disperse a clash between the town’s Muslim and Christian residents regarding some Muslims’ objections to Christians conducting worship services in the building. Christians denied that there had been clashes and conducted worship services in the street the same day and during the next two days without incident. Christians of Ezbat al-Forn appealed to President Sisi; subsequently their church also reopened on September 10.

Authorities in Minya Province closed four churches in October and assailants attacked three others there, according to media reports. Local residents reportedly pressured Christians to agree that the churches would remain closed until permits could be obtained and that no one would be held accountable for the attacks.

On October 15, Christians reopened the Church of the Virgin in the town of Sheikh Alaa in Minya Province, which had been closed by officials after it was attacked by local Muslim residents in 2015; however, security officials closed the church again on the same day due to security concerns for worshippers after local residents harassed some of them, according to a statement by the local bishop. In his statement, the bishop explained that officials did not take action to reopen the church after the first attack and routinely responded to harassment of worshippers by closing down churches.

On October 22, security officials closed a church in the town of al-Qushairy in Minya Province after four Christians were injured by people throwing stones, according to the local bishop’s statement. The authorities issued arrest warrants for 11 suspects in connection with the attacks, according to the local governor. The bishop, however, reported that since agreement had been reached between the parties, no charges were filed against the perpetrators, but the church remained closed.

Also on October 22, security officials closed Abu Sayfen Church in the town of al-Karm in Minya Province over reports of a planned attack against the church; however, the local bishop stated that there had been no complaints about the church. The governor of Minya Province subsequently affirmed that there had been no attack and no arrest warrants had been issued. On October 27, security officials closed Mar Gerges Church (Saint George) in Ezbet Zakaria, also in Minya Province, after a Christian woman was injured in an attack on the church. The attack occurred the same day that local residents were pressuring Christians to agree, in the name of “reconciliation,” that the churches would remain closed, media reported. According to the local governor, 15 suspects were arrested for the attack.

The governor of Minya affirmed in an October 29 statement to the press that security officials were closing churches because they were “unlicensed houses” which lacked authorization required to perform religious rites, in spite of a provision in the law guaranteeing Christians the right to continue using unlicensed churches pending regularization of their status. He also announced on or about November 29 that he had granted permits for 21 churches to be restored, expanded, or rebuilt. World Watch Monitor, an organization that reports on Christians under pressure for their faith, said some of the applications for those permits were reportedly submitted more than 20 years ago.

On September 26, pursuant to the law, church leaders submitted to government authorities lists of more than 3,700 unlicensed churches and other church-affiliated properties for which they desired legal recognition. According to sources, a government administrator connected with the committee to review applications for licenses rejected at least 27 of these churches on the grounds that they had been inactive for more than five years, in compliance with the law. The sources stated, however, that the reason for their inactivity was that authorities had closed them.

In September the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR) banned Dr. Sabri Abdel Raouf, Al-Azhar professor of comparative Islamic jurisprudence, from television and radio after he responded to a request for a fatwa on necrophilia by stating that, although any normal human being would find the practice repugnant, nothing in Islamic doctrine specifically prohibited “farewell intercourse” with the corpse of one’s recently-deceased wife. Al-Azhar University president Dr. Mohammed Al Mahrasawi referred Raouf for investigation and possible disciplinary actions, stating, “speaking of these types of fatwas should be limited in order to protect Al-Azhar and Islam.”

Al Mahrasawi also referred Dr. Suad Saleh, Al-Azhar professor of Islamic studies and former dean of the Women’s College, for investigation and possible disciplinary action after she appeared on television and responded to Raouf’s fatwa. Subsequently on October 17, the outcome document of a conference on fatwas hosted by Dar al-Ifta recommended adopting legislation to regulate the issuance of fatwas.

On November 15, Chairman of the SCMR Makram Mohammed Ahmed announced in a press conference at SCMR headquarters that all media outlets would be prohibited from featuring any mufti (a Muslim scholar specifically qualified to issue a fatwa) except 50 named individuals approved by Al-Azhar and Dar al-Ifta. Observers said that there were hundreds of muftis in the country authorized to issue fatwas. “Freedom of expression in religious issues is not included in religious advisory activity,” Ahmed stated.

In December the Administrative Control Authority referred Samir Hashish, a Muslim scholar affiliated with Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Complex, to court on charges of inciting sectarianism after videos circulated online of the preacher presenting what he said was longstanding doctrinal evidence that, while Islam sanctioned the death penalty for murder, it did not sanction the death penalty for a Muslim who had killed a non-Muslim because the blood of a non-Muslim was not equal to that of a Muslim.

Television host Islam El-Beheiry, who received a presidential pardon in 2016 after he was jailed for “defaming religious symbols” by criticizing traditional Islamic teachings and texts, including some which called for violence, produced and broadcast 25 television episodes during the year and continued to host a radio program entitled Free Islam. On October 29, an administrative court banned Beheiry’s previous show, Ma’a Islam, from all satellite channels, pursuant to a 2015 lawsuit filed by Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, which accused the show of violating the law on denigration of religions. The order did not ban Beheiry’s other ongoing programming.

The government did not prevent Bahais, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses from worshiping privately in small numbers. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the government engaged in surveillance and frequent home visits during which members were interrogated and sometimes threatened. The NSS also summoned members to their offices for interrogations. The government continued to ban the importation and sale of Bahai and Jehovah’s Witnesses literature and to authorize customs officials to confiscate their personally owned religious materials. In July NSS officers stopped two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Beni Suef, confiscating religious materials from the two individuals as well as from two other Jehovah’s Witnesses who arrived later.

On July 27, authorities issued a civil marriage license to a Bahai couple with no religious designation listed who had sued for that right, thus enabling them to change their marital status on national identity cards and other documentation. With the exception of that couple, national identity cards continued to list married Bahais as “single,” which some Bahai women with children said invoked a sense of embarrassment and public shame, in addition to creating difficulties obtaining proper documentation and services for their children. At year’s end, standardized procedures for issuing civil marriage licenses to couples with no religious affiliation designated had not been developed.

The government closed the tomb of Imam Al-Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, located inside Al-Hussein Mosque in Old Cairo, during the three-day commemoration of Ashura, which was described in multiple news reports as an attempt to discourage Shia Muslim gatherings. The main area of the mosque remained open; only the room containing the shrine was closed.

On January 24, President Sisi, addressing the country’s high divorce rate and its impact on families, called for an amendment of divorce laws. He called for an end to verbal divorce and suggested that divorce should come into effect only after being documented by authorized marriage officiants. Two weeks later, Al-Azhar rejected the proposed amendment as “contradicting sharia” and suggested, “those who deal lightly with divorce fatwas … had better divert their efforts to serve the people and solve their problems in real life.” Subsequently, the government dropped the proposed change.

After an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber killed 29 people in a December 2016 attack against Saints Peter and Paul Church in Cairo, the army repaired the damage in time for Coptic Orthodox Christmas on January 7, as ordered by President Sisi.

In response to this and other terrorist attacks, the government stationed security officers outside of churches. Some officers lost their lives defending churches, including seven who were killed in April when a terrorist detonated his suicide vest outside a metal detector after being refused entry into the church where, had he been granted entry, reports said he would have killed many more. Another security officer was killed defending Mar Mina Church in Helwan in a December terrorist attack which killed at least nine people. At the same time, according to sources, in some cases officers only checked national identity cards and denied entry to churches to anyone officially designated as Muslim, allegedly on the order of the Ministry of Interior. Sources said this diminished the opportunity for converts from Islam to attend church services, both by barring them entry and by requiring them to take the added risk of revealing themselves to security officers as likely converts.

In September the government announced the completion of the rebuilding, primarily at government expense, of 78 church properties throughout the country that had been damaged or destroyed by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in 2013. Construction progressed on a state-funded church in al-Our village in Minya Province in honor of 20 Copts beheaded by an ISIS affiliate in Libya.

The Ministry of Awqaf launched a program training female Muslim preachers (250 according to the most recent information), some of whom were deployed alongside Christian nuns to different communities as part of an interfaith dialogue campaign, according to ministry officials.

In response to President al-Sisi’s continuing calls for Islamic scholars to renew religious discourse and challenge the ideology of extremists, the Ministry of Education issued new textbooks for use in public and private schools. While most passages perceived as promoting hate and the superiority of one religion over all others had been removed, some passages continued to draw complaints from religious leaders, educators, and families. For example, some textbooks mandated for Arabic language class, a secular subject required for students of all religious backgrounds, contained multiple Quranic verses, generally preceded by “God the Most High says … ” Some lessons in these textbooks teach Islam; for example, a fifth-grade Arabic language textbook read, “peace will not be achieved on earth except by following God’s regime as contained in the Quran and Sunna (example) of Muhammad,” and “not following the rules of God will lead to great punishment.” Parents and educators also expressed concerns about history textbooks; however, Ministry of Education representatives stated that history curricula were being updated as well. Sources reported difficulties obtaining Al-Azhar approval for proposed updates to the curriculum used in public and private schools. Al-Azhar approval is required for all curriculum changes in all the country’s schools.

Al-Azhar also announced that it was updating classroom textbooks for use in its own K-12 school system; however, sources said that teachers continued to rely primarily on historical doctrinal texts for religious studies rather than prepared textbooks. In addition, the committee overseeing curriculum development continued to reject much of the proposed new content, according to a member of the committee who was quoted in press reports. In some cases, the content being rejected was identical to statements Al-Azhar itself had published on its website, according to press reports.

The Ministry of Education also developed a new curriculum for a rollout beginning with incoming kindergarten and first grade students in the fall of 2018 with the next year’s curriculum to be added each year. According to ministry sources, respect for human rights and religious tolerance was woven into the new curriculum. The ministry also continued to update the existing curriculum, which it expected would take 12 years to phase out completely.

All 27 of the country’s governors, appointed by the president, were Muslim. As of the end of the year, the cabinet contained one Christian, the minister of immigration and expatriate affairs. Christians remained underrepresented in the military and security services. Christians admitted at the entry level seldom were promoted into the upper ranks of government entities, according to sources.

Children of families who self-identified as Christians but legally identified as Muslims were required to attend religion classes for Muslim students, as a matter of policy. In addition, such children could not be admitted to a Christian orphanage or live with Christian foster parents. In March authorities forcibly removed a three-year-old orphan from the home of a Christian family who had taken him in from the street, according to an individual familiar with the case. Authorities placed him in an orphanage for Muslim children, stating that under sharia any child in a Muslim-majority land whose religion is unknown is presumed Muslim, even if non-Muslims live in the land, and that Muslim children were not permitted to be raised by non-Muslims. Children designated as Muslim also had no recourse to choose their religion when they reached legal age. This restricted their ability to marry; for example, young women legally designated as Muslim but self-identifying as Christian were not permitted to marry Christian men.

According to the academic community, no Christians served as presidents of the country’s 25 public universities. On December 25, Cairo University announced the appointment of a Christian dean. In September Al-Azhar University, a publicly funded institution with both religious and nonreligious programs of study, accepted its first non-Muslim student into its Department of Dentistry. The government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic language teachers, stating as its reason that the curriculum involved study of the Quran.

Reports of anti-Semitism continued, including in public statements by government-supported Al-Azhar. In a May 5 interview with television station Channel 1, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar said it was the Jews who had started the animosity with the Muslims “by rejecting the message of the Prophet Muhammad.” He stated the Jews of Medina and other towns in the Arabian Peninsula “took actual measures to thwart, kill, and bury the Islamic call in its infancy,” and, after 1,400 years, Muslims “still suffer from Zionist-Jewish interference in the affairs of the Muslims.”

A member of parliament, in arguing against requiring Muslim women to wear the niqab, told press that it was of Jewish origin, and chairman of the parliament’s Human Rights Committee Alaa Abed said that a Human Rights Watch report on torture in the country’s jails was funded by “the Zionist Lobby.”

The government generally permitted foreign religious workers in the country on condition they not proselytize to Muslims; however, some religious workers were denied visas or refused entry upon arrival without explanation, according to sources. According to community representatives, non-Muslim minorities and foreign religious workers generally refrained from proselytizing to Muslims to avoid risking legal penalties and extralegal repercussions from authorities and members of the local community.

The government continued its efforts to digitize historical records of births, marriages, deaths, and other community records of the greatly diminished Jewish community whose membership in the 1950s exceeded 75,000 people. The Ministry of Antiquities, charged with preserving the country’s heritage, continued to assess Jewish heritage sites and to catalogue their contents and to fund and oversee restoration of the large Nebi Daniel Synagogue in Alexandria. Most of the country’s other synagogues, as well as a millennium-old Jewish cemetery in Cairo, continued to deteriorate from decades of disuse and neglect.

In February the Council of Protestant Churches submitted a request to the government to permit both adoption and equal inheritance as part of the package of personal status laws applied to its members.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Summary paragraph: Lethal violence connected with religion continued. A gang of armed terrorists carrying an ISIS flag attacked a Sufi mosque in Northern Sinai during Friday prayers, killing 311 persons, including 27 children. ISIS claimed responsibility for multiple other attacks, including suicide bombings against two churches during Palm Sunday services, attacks against passengers on a bus carrying Christian pilgrims, and a spate of attacks on individual Christians in northern Sinai and elsewhere. An assailant killed a Coptic Orthodox priest in Cairo and injured another; a court sentenced the assailant to death for murder. According to press reports, three noncommissioned officers and a security guard allegedly tortured and killed a Christian police conscript. His family reported in a videotaped interview that he was “tortured and killed for his faith.” Families, employers, neighbors, local police, and national security officials subjected former Muslims, including those who became atheists as well as those who converted to other faiths, to violence, threats, and abuse. The construction of churches continued to meet societal resistance, including acts of violence and destruction of property in some cases. Reports of abductions targeting Christians, religious discrimination, and defamatory speech against Jews, Christians, and Shia Muslims continued.

On November 24, at least 25 armed assailants attacked the Sufi mosque of Al-Rawda village in North Sinai during Friday prayers, killing 311 persons, including 27 children, and injuring at least 122, according to press reports. According to a statement by government officials, the assailants opened fire at the worshippers from the mosque’s windows using automatic machine guns. The assailants then took up ambush positions and opened fire at ambulances arriving at the scene. The attackers raised the ISIS flag, according to government officials and eyewitnesses quoted in press accounts, although by year’s end no group had claimed responsibility. ISIS previously had denounced Sufis as apostates from Islam and threatened to kill them, mentioning Sufis in the town of Rawda specifically. The military launched air strikes against the gunmen’s vehicles during the attack, according to a statement by the military spokesman, and subsequently destroyed a number of terrorist hideouts.

On April 9, twin suicide bombings at Coptic Orthodox churches killed 45 people during Palm Sunday services. One struck St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Alexandria, where Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II was leading the service. The attacker detonated a bomb at the gate of the church compound after being refused entry by security. The other attack occurred in the city of Tanta in the Nile delta, where a suicide bomber detonated himself among the front pews of the church. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks and warned Muslims to avoid Christian gatherings in Egypt. The government referred 48 persons to a military court for suspected involvement in these and the December 2016 attack against a Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, as well as on suspicion of membership in ISIS terrorist cells. President al-Sisi also declared a state of emergency on April 9 after the Palm Sunday attacks and instructed all churches to cancel all activities other than regular church services for a period of three months.

On May 26, gunmen dressed in military fatigues and posing as security officers waved down a bus carrying Christian pilgrims on a highway in Minya Province and ordered the passengers to exit the bus, according to survivors of the attack. After separating the men from the women and children, they ordered the men to recite the shahada (the Islamic creed: “There is no god but God and Mohammad is the messenger of God”) and thus become Muslims. When the men refused, the gunmen opened fire, killing 28. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

On December 29, an ISIS gunman opened fire as congregants exited after services at Mar Mina Church in Helwan killing seven, including a Muslim police officer who was stationed outside the church, and injuring five, according to press reports. He also attacked a nearby shop, killing two other Christians. According to a statement by the Ministry of Interior, the attacker was wearing a suicide vest and attempted to enter the church, but was prevented by police.

Terrorists affiliated with ISIS carried out a series of attacks against Christians in northern Sinai after having issued videos and other public statements calling on pious Muslims to kill them. On January 30, masked assailants shot Coptic Christian Wael Milad in his shop, according to press reports. Eyewitnesses told media outlets that on February 11 an attacker shot Christian veterinarian Bahgat William in the head, neck, and stomach as he was leaving his clinic. Attackers killed Adel Showky on the same day in al-Arish’s Samaran neighborhood, according to press reports. On February 16, two assailants on a motorbike gunned down Coptic Christian schoolteacher Gamal Tawfiq as he was walking through a crowded marketplace between his home and school, according to press reports. On February 22, the corpses of two local Christians, Saad Hanna and his son Medhat, were found on the roadside in al-Arish. Saad’s body showed gunshot wounds; Medhat’s showed signs of having been burned alive, according to press reports. Following these attacks and additional threats, hundreds of Christians fled Sinai during the first several months of the year for other parts of Egypt, according to press and church sources. According to an international NGO, several families told human rights activists they wanted to return to their homes, but were skeptical that this would be possible. Subsequently on May 6, gunmen shot and killed Nabeel Saber Ayoub, a Copt who had fled al-Arish with his family but returned briefly to complete school paperwork for his son and to check on his house and barber shop, according to press reports.

Violent attacks against individual Christians were not limited to northern Sinai; however, it was uncertain in some cases if there was a religious motivation. In Cairo on January 16, Ishak Younan was discovered in his apartment with his throat slit. According to press, there was no sign of struggle and his wallet still contained cash. Police arrested two suspects. On January 14, an attacker stabbed Christian physician Bassam Zaki in the neck, chest, and back in his apartment in Dayrout City. On January 6, Eastern Orthodox Christmas Eve, a killer slit the throats and killed a Christian couple, Gamal Fadlallah, and his wife Nadia Amin, in their beds in the village of Tokh-Dalka in Menoufia Province. On January 3, an assailant slit the throat of Christian shop owner Youssef Lamei while the victim was sitting outside of his store in Alexandria. The assailant confessed that he had killed the shopkeeper for selling alcohol after having previously warned him that this was against Islam. On March 9, a court ordered the death sentence for the attacker; an appeal remained pending at year’s end.

On December 22, Muslim residents in Atfih, a suburb of Cairo, gathered after Friday prayer and attacked Al-Amir Tadros Church, destroying its contents, calling for the church to be demolished, and wounding three Christians after a rumor circulated that Christians intended to install a bell, according to press reports and other sources. Police dispersed the mob and arrested 15 of the attackers on charges of illegal assembly, thuggery, vandalism, assault, and using religion to stir sectarian strife. Police also arrested the 62-year-old former owner of the church building on charges of construction without a permit, according to press reports. A local rights activist reported that the church had been operating for 15 years and that church authorities had requested it be licensed in keeping with the 2016 Church Construction Law. At year’s end, all suspects remained in custody.

On July 19, Christian police conscript Josef Reda Helmy was tortured and killed at Mubarak Training Camp in Cairo, according to press reports. His family said that Helmy was killed because of Christian symbols tattooed on his arm. A military prosecutor held three noncommissioned officers and one security guard for 15 days in connection with the case. The four defendants said they had acted under the order of Officer Mohammed Tork who, as of year’s end, had not been charged.

On October 12, Semaan Shehata, a Coptic Orthodox priest from Beni Suef, was stabbed to death in the Cairo suburb El-Salaam City, and a cross was carved on his forehead. Authorities arrested Ahmed El-Sonbaty; on November 15, a court sentenced him to death for murder, according to media reports. At year’s end, the case was scheduled to be appealed. Sheikh Samir Hashish, a Muslim cleric, stated that according to longstanding Islamic jurisprudence, the blood of the kuffar was not equal to that of Muslims; therefore, the death penalty should not be imposed on the Muslim who killed the priest. Coptic Orthodox religious leaders appealed to the government to change “the culture of a nation poisoned by extremism,” media reported. During a television interview, Father Saleeb Abdel Shahid, Shehata’s father-in-law, said that these conditions for Christians could not continue, adding that priests needed to feel safe in their own country. The assailant reportedly also injured a second priest, Benjamin Moftah, during the same attack.

Societal abuses against former Muslims continued. In May a young man in Cairo committed suicide after his family locked him inside the house for more than two years for being an atheist, according to sources. In July a 20-year-old Cairo resident was forced to flee when his brother threatened to kill him after learning that he had converted from Islam to Christianity, according to sources familiar with the case. In March a young woman living in Cairo was threatened by her brother and uncle who said they would kill her for her conversion from Islam to Christianity, according to sources familiar with the case. Another young woman from northern Egypt reportedly spent three months in jail under false charges filed by her family when they discovered she had converted to Christianity, according to sources familiar with the case. Another reportedly fled and lived in hiding after her family sent her to a psychiatric ward for being “confused about religion.” Christian couples from Muslim backgrounds reported that if their children revealed to teachers, classmates, or relatives that a religion other than Islam was being practiced in the home, this could put the entire family at risk. One such couple reported that, because of this risk, they did not plan to have children.

In April Muslims in Kom al-Loufi village in Minya Province attacked the Christian community after services celebrating Holy Thursday which had been held in a Christian-owned home with the verbal approval of police, according to press reports, since the church remained closed by authorities. The assailants set fire to three Christian-owned homes and injured four persons. Police arrested 15 individuals. Subsequently Muslim residents gathered a second time and threw rocks at Christian-owned homes, in spite of the presence of security forces, according to press reports, leading to another 15 arrests. On April 21, Christian residents issued a statement that police had failed to keep a promise to allow them to use their church or, alternatively, to build a new church on land they had purchased on the outskirts of town; that pressure from extremists was impeding their access to churches in neighboring villages; and in spite of the recent arrests and presence of security, Muslim residents continued to prevent them from gathering for prayer. They demanded that the legal and constitutional rights of Christians be protected and that the perpetrators of the attacks be brought to justice, and called on President al-Sisi to intervene. In December Christian families withdrew charges against 23 suspects in a 2016 case in which assailants had attacked Christians and Christian-owned properties in the same village. Some human rights activists stated that the Christian families withdrew their complaints in fear of a backlash if the suspects were sentenced; others reported that they did so after the local Muslim community and security agencies entered into a verbal agreement to allow them to build a church on the outskirts of town.

Police responded swiftly to reports of sectarian violence on March 24 in the village of al-Mohayadet, near Luxor, when Muslims from four villages converged on a gated compound containing five Christian-owned homes, according to press reports. The crowd demanded the release of an 18-year-old woman, saying she had converted to Islam and married a 19-year-old Muslim who was unable to provide documentation of the marriage. The woman’s family had fled with their daughter ten days earlier, according to a source familiar with the case, saying the man had tried to attack their daughter. Police used tear gas to disburse the crowd; four police and seven protesters were injured in the clashes.

In contrast to preceding years, the Coptic Orthodox Church refused to participate in government-sponsored “customary reconciliation” as a substitute to the rule of law to address attacks on Christians and their churches. Human rights groups and Christians said that practice constituted an encroachment on the principles of nondiscrimination and citizenship, and effectively precluded recourse to the judicial system in most cases, as victims were regularly pressured to retract their statements and deny facts, leading to the dropping of charges. “Reconciliation” sessions had been held under the auspices of the Egyptian Family House, a body consisting of Muslim and Christian clerics.

In some cases intimidation in the name of “reconciliation” continued, however. For example, Souad Thabet, an elderly Coptic woman, and other Coptic witnesses to an attack she and other Copts suffered, retracted their testimonies under pressure and threats by local residents, sources reported. In 2016, 300 Muslim residents of the village of El-Karm in Minya Province set fire to several Christian owned homes and stripped Thabet naked after a rumor spread that her son was having an affair with a married Muslim woman. The case remained pending at the end of the year; however, government officials report a lack of evidence after the woman and witnesses retracted their testimony. Thabet’s son and the woman with whom he allegedly had an affair were each sentenced to two years in prison for adultery.

While kidnappers targeted both Muslims and Christians during the year, sources reported cases of police failing to assist Christian parents in recovering their minor daughters who had been kidnapped by or eloped with Muslim men. In one case, a girl’s parents identified the perpetrator and provided police with his address but police still took no action, according to an individual familiar with the case. One father agreed to prosecutors’ request to drop charges against a Muslim man in order to recover his 14-year-old daughter, according to a source familiar with the case. One activist stated that Christian parents often dropped charges because the court had the authority to place an underage girl in an orphanage pending investigation, which could last until the daughter’s 18th birthday. World Watch Monitor published an interview with a man who said he was a former Muslim who had convinced a series of Christian girls to elope with him. According to the article, he said he had received money for each girl from “Salafist networks” whose aim was “to strengthen Islam and weaken Christianity.” An activist who tracks abduction and elopement cases reported several cases of minor Christian girls eloping with Muslim men during the year.

On May 3, Director of Ibn Taymiyyah Academy for Theological and Epistemological Research Mohamed Soliman filed a lawsuit against the country’s theater troupe, accusing them of denigrating Islam in a play about a man from seventh century Mecca who rejected Islam. The sketch ended with the lead actor saying, “Today, wine and women. And tomorrow, we kill Muhammad, peace be upon him.” A group of actors answered, “Peace be upon him.”

On December 25, the president of Cairo University announced the appointment of a Christian as dean. Regular discrimination in private hiring continued, however, including in professional sports, according to human rights groups and religious communities. Discrimination also occurred against Muslims. In late November a Christian landlord told his tenants that their roommate had to vacate the premises by the end of the month after seeing his national identity card listing him as Muslim, according to sources. Sources also reported widespread religious discrimination in the workplace against persons officially designated as Muslim who declined invitations to participate in communal Islamic prayers or who broke the Ramadan fast.

Islamic groups continued to use discriminatory speech against Christians, and terrorists called for Christians to be killed. For example, on February 20, terrorists affiliated with ISIS released a 20-minute video claiming responsibility for the December 2016 attack on Saints Peter and Paul Church in Cairo, calling for the killing of Christians, saying they were the “favorite prey” of the mujahideen, and adding that Copts were “warriors of the Crusaders.”

In response to ISIS’ statement listing names of Muslim clerics whom they accused of apostasy from Islam and calling on pious Muslims to kill them, Al-Azhar’s Observatory, established in 2015 to monitor extremist rhetoric, issued a statement on February 21 criticizing the group for equating the blood of Muslim clerics with the blood of non-Muslims.

After the Palm Sunday church bombings in Alexandria and Tanta, Muslim preacher Wagdi Ghoneim, a Salafi imam living in exile in Qatar, broadcast a video stating that Coptic Christians “deserved” what they got, saying the bombing was punishment for Christians’ support for President al-Sisi, one of a series of videos he produced calling for the killing of Coptic Christians, condemning al-Sisi as an apostate from Islam, and calling for the overthrow of the government. A court sentenced Ghoneim to death in absentia on April 30 for “creating a terrorist cell.”

Reports of societal anti-Semitism and incitement to commit violence against Jews continued, particularly by Muslim clerics.

On March 27, Sheikh Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Maligi, a Muslim cleric, appeared on Al-Seha wa Al-Jamal TV defending female genital mutilation and said that Jews had been the first to criticize the practice because they did “not want Islam or the Muslims to be pure, developed, and civilized.” He pointed to the debunked Protocols of the Elders of Zion as support for his argument.

On July 20, Al-Azhar University professor of Islamic law Ahmed Karima appeared on Palestinian television calling for armed jihad against the “Zionist gang” who were “raised on aggression, theft, and plundering,” and encouraged armed jihad against Jews.

In videotaped sermons on August 4 and August 11, Muslim cleric Sayed Ahmed Ali cited a hadith (tradition) quoting the Prophet Muhammad saying, “Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews. The Muslims will kill them, and the Jews will hide behind trees and rocks, but the trees and rocks will call: ‘Oh, Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!’” Sayed subsequently cried out, “Oh, Allah, bring us that day of battle with the Jews! Bring us that day of battle with the Jews!”

Following the President’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some newspapers published anti-Semitic editorial cartoons suggesting Jewish and Israeli domination of U.S. policies and politics. Copies of anti-Semitic literature, including translations of Mein Kampf, were widely available for purchase.

Anti-Shia rhetoric continued as well. On February 11, cleric Muhammad Al-Zoghbi called Shia Muslims “criminal rafidites,” (a slur for Shia, meaning “rejectionists”) for killing Sunnis in Iraq and Syria in an interview televised on Al-Rahma TV. “I tell you, these are filthy people! They are nothing like the Sunnis,” he said after recounting a story he said he had heard about Ayatollah Khomeini allegedly having sex with a five-year-old girl and later justifying the act as permitted in Islam.

Sunni cleric Sameh Abdel Hameed Hamouda called on the government to demolish the Al-Hussein mosque in Cairo, the shrine believed by many to contain the head of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Al-Hussein, a revered figure for Shia Muslims. Sameh accused Shia of lying about the presence of the relic in an effort to “exploit this mosque to spread Shiism and invade Egypt with their heresies and deviations,” adding, “ignorant people come to this shrine to practice all types of polytheism and heresies.”

In December lawyer and frequent talk show guest Nabih al-Wahsh called for women to be raped if they did not comply with traditional Islamic standards of modesty. ‎The National Security Emergency Misdemeanor Court subsequently sentenced him to three years in jail on charges of threatening public order and security, as well as incitement to harm citizens.

During a televised talk show, the president of a Coptic human rights organization, Naguib Gabriel, called in and described Jehovah’s Witnesses as Zionists and called on all of the country’s Christians not to invite Jehovah’s Witnesses into their homes.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. government officials at multiple levels, including the Ambassador, the Charge d’Affaires, and other Department of State, embassy, and consulate general officials, raised religious freedom concerns with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education as well as with members of parliament, governors, and representatives of Islamic institutions, church communities, and religious minority groups. President Trump condemned the lethal attacks on the Rawda mosque in North Sinai and on the Mar Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Helwan and phoned President al-Sisi on both occasions, offering condolences and reiterating, “The United States will continue to stand with Egypt in the face of terrorism.”

In January embassy officers and visiting U.S. officials met with the Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Awqaf, and Education as well as with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, and a number of human rights activists and religious and community leaders. Washington, D.C.-based U.S. government officials visited the country to promote religious freedom in October. Issues raised included cases in which the government failed to hold the perpetrators of sectarian violence accountable; failed to protect victims of sectarian attacks from intimidation; prosecuted individuals for religious defamation; enabled religious discrimination by means of official religious designations including on national identity cards; and failed to recognize conversion of Muslim-born citizens. Embassy representatives also met with leading religious figures, including the Grand Mufti of Dar Al-Iftaa, the Coptic Orthodox Pope, other leading Christian clergy, and representatives of the Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Bahai communities as well as atheists and former Muslims who had converted to Christianity. In December the embassy hosted a digital video conference with the State Department Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South and Central Asia for a discussion about religious freedom in the country. The embassy also promoted religious freedom on social media throughout the year. The U.S. government closely monitored foreign organizations for possible terrorist activity; during the reporting period, the Muslim Brotherhood did not meet U.S. statutory criteria to be designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

U.S. officials emphasized to the country’s officials the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of cases, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Bahais and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the rights of Shia to publicly perform religious rituals, and problems resulting from government-designated religious identities listed on official documents which in some cases facilitated religious discrimination and, particularly in cases of converts from Islam, led to abuses including violence. Embassy officials maintained an active dialogue with human rights advocates, religious leaders, and community members on questions of religious freedom, for example, on combating anti-Semitism and supporting the rights of all citizens to choose their religion, build houses of worship, and practice their religious rituals as well as the government’s responsibility to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian attacks.

El Salvador

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and states that all are equal before the law. It prohibits discrimination based on religion. The constitution grants automatic official recognition to the Roman Catholic Church and states that other religious groups may also apply for official recognition through registration. On April 6, an appellate court upheld the original 30-year sentence of Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides handed down in 1992 for his role in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests. The court also upheld the 1992 acquittals of four ex-soldiers accused of participating in the killings, whom authorities had arrested in February 2016. The court stated it upheld the four acquittals because it could not retry the accused for the same crime. On August 18, the Supreme Court ruled against enforcing an INTERPOL arrest warrant for the 13 remaining individuals accused in Spain for the same crime, citing previous rulings that Spain did not have primary jurisdiction in this case.

Leaders of Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and other Christian communities continued to report that members of their churches sometimes could not reach their respective congregations in MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang-controlled territory due to fear of crime and violence. In certain sectors of the country, gang members controlled access in and around communities, and there were reports that gangs expelled or denied access to church leaders and charity groups with religious affiliations. There were also reports that gang members engaged in the extortion of organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, demanding a “tax” in order to operate in some territories. According to the Lutheran Church, interfaith groups continued to meet throughout the year and helped reinforce societal respect for the contributions of the country’s religious communities. The Religions for Peace collective, comprising representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Jewish, indigenous, and Muslim religions, worked together on the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace, focusing on reintegration programs for all prisoners regardless of religious affiliation after release from incarceration.

U.S. embassy officials discussed with the ombudsman for human rights the importance of government officials’ carrying out their official duties regardless of their religious affiliation or beliefs. In meetings with Catholic and evangelical Christian leaders, embassy officials discussed the difficulties religious groups experienced in attempting to reach followers in gang-controlled territories, stressing the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the ombudsman for human rights. Members of non-Christian groups did not raise similar concerns.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.2 million (July 2017 estimate). According to a May survey by the University of Central America’s Institute of Public Opinion, 47.5 percent of the population identifies as Roman Catholic, 35.1 percent as evangelical Protestant, and 14.5 percent have no religious affiliation. Approximately 3 percent state “other,” which includes Jehovah’s Witnesses, the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Buddhists, and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). A small segment of the population adheres to indigenous religious beliefs, with some mixing of these beliefs with other religions such as Catholicism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religion. It states all persons are equal before the law and prohibits discrimination based on religion. The ombudsman for human rights monitors the state of religious freedom in the country, including issuing special reports and accepting petitions from the public for violation of the free exercise of religion.

The penal code imposes criminal sentences of one to three years on individuals who publicly offend or insult the religious beliefs of others, or damage or destroy religious objects. The law defines an offense as an action that prevents or disrupts the free exercise of religion, publicly disavows religious traditions, or publicly insults an individual’s beliefs or religious dogma. Sentences increase to four to eight years when individuals commit such acts to gain media attention. Repeat offenders may face prison sentences of three to five years. There were no prosecutions under this law during the year.

The constitution states members of the clergy may not occupy the positions of president, cabinet ministers, vice ministers, Supreme Court justices, judges, governors, attorney general, public defender, and other senior government positions. The clergy may not belong to political parties. The electoral code requires judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and members of municipal councils to be laypersons.

The constitution allows religious groups to apply for official recognition by registering with the government. The constitution gives legal status to the Catholic Church and exempts it from registration requirements. Religious groups may operate without registering, but registration provides tax-exempt status and facilitates activities requiring official permits, such as building places of worship. To register, a religious group must apply through the Office of the Director General for Nonprofit Associations and Foundations (DGFASFL) within the Ministry of Governance. The group must present its constitution and bylaws describing the type of organization, location of its offices, its goals and principles, requirements for membership, function of its ruling bodies, and assessments or dues. DGFASFL analyzes the group’s constitution and bylaws to ensure both comply with the law. Upon approval, the government publishes the group’s constitution and bylaws in the official gazette. DGFASFL does not maintain records on religious groups once it approves their status, and there are no requirements for renewal of registration.

By law, the Ministry of Governance has authority to register, regulate, and oversee the finances of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and all religious groups except the Catholic Church, due to its special legal recognition under the constitution. Foreign religious groups must obtain special residence visas for religious activities, including proselytizing, and may not proselytize while on visitor or tourist visas. Religious groups must be registered in the country in order to be eligible for this special residence visa for religious activities.

Public education is secular. The constitution grants the right to establish private schools, including schools run by religious groups, which operate without government support. Parents choose whether their children receive religious education in private schools. Public schools may not deny admittance to any student based on religion. All private schools, religiously affiliated or not, must meet the same academic standards to obtain Ministry of Education approval.

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

Government Practices

On April 6, the First Appellate Court upheld the original 30-year sentence of Colonel Guillermo Alfredo Benavides, handed down in 1992 for his role in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests. The court also upheld the 1992 acquittals of four ex-soldiers accused of participating in the killings, whom authorities had arrested in February 2016. The court stated it upheld the four acquittals because the courts could not retry the accused for the same crime. On August 18, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled against enforcing the INTERPOL arrest warrant issued for the 13 remaining former members of the military accused in a Spanish court of the Jesuit priests’ killing, citing previous decisions in this case that Spanish courts did not have primary jurisdiction in this matter. On November 28, former Vice Minister for Public Security (1989-92) Inocente Orlando Montano was extradited to Spain from the United States for his alleged involvement in the 1989 killings. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the UN-backed Truth Commission Report characterized the killing of the Jesuit priests as a politically motivated crime carried out in the context of the civil war by military agents who believed the priests supported, or worked on behalf of, guerilla elements.

The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights again reported it had not received notice of any cases of alleged violations of religious freedom. The ombudsman stated she was receptive to the importance of protecting the rights of all individuals regardless of the person’s religious or other identity and was committed to acting accordingly.

According to the Ministry of Governance, there were 139 new requests for registration of religious groups from January through November 3. Of these, the Ministry of Governance approved 63, and 76 were pending. Religious groups did not report any excessive delays in the processing of registration applications. The ministry reported it had denied one application due to the group’s lack of required documents.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders, leaders of other Christian denominations, as well as statisticians and criminology researchers, continued to state that clergy could sometimes not reach their respective congregations in MS-13 and Barrio 18 gang-controlled territory throughout the country due to fear of crime and violence. An evangelical Protestant pastor said that he faced problems from gangs in Sonsonate and had received an increasing number of petitions from his parishioners asking for his support in moving parishes due to gang violence. In certain sections of the country, gang members controlled access in and around communities, and there were reports that they displaced church leaders and charity groups with religious affiliations. There were also reports that gang members engaged in the extortion of organizations with known funding streams, including religious groups, demanding a “tax” in order to operate in some territories.

The government enforced security legislation passed in 2016 restricting nongovernmental access to prisons, including access of priests and pastors. This legislation was a response to increasing reports of gang members who were also evangelical pastors gaining entrance to prisons and functioning as couriers between incarcerated gang leaders and gang members outside the prisons. Religious leaders, former gang members, and independent studies also noted that gang leaders would sometimes permit members to leave the gangs if they became strict adherents to a religious group; the former gang would then monitor the departing gang member’s adherence to the religion. Gang members asking permission to leave the gang for religious reasons, but later found to be in violation of the tenets of that religion, were reportedly sometimes killed by members of their former gang. For example, members of their former gang might kill a gang member who joined a Protestant church that prohibits consumption of alcohol if he continued to drink alcohol.

Religious leaders continued to participate in the government-led National Security Plan, including in the monitoring and implementation of the plan. This effort linked community leaders, law enforcement personnel, and government officials in 26 municipalities throughout the country with the highest levels of violence to prevent and reduce that violence through joint efforts to improve education, social assistance, economic development, and security. Religious leaders participated as important members of civil society, along with local leaders of the media, unions, academics, and others, in the municipal and national councils to help with efforts to improve security in their communities by addressing community needs.

On March 1, a teacher at a private, secular French school in San Salvador forced Catholic students who attended the Ash Wednesday Mass to remove the ash crosses from their foreheads. Mothers of the students demanded an apology, and on March 2, the school issued a press release underscoring that the teacher’s actions were not in keeping with the school’s values of tolerance and respect.

According to representatives of the Lutheran Church, interfaith groups continued to meet throughout the year and helped reinforce what they said was commonly held societal respect for the contributions of the country’s religious communities. The Religions for Peace collective, comprising Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Jewish, indigenous, and Muslim representatives, worked together on the Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace, focusing on reintegration programs for all prisoners, regardless of religious affiliation, after release from incarceration.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials frequently discussed with the new ombudsman for human rights the importance of government officials’ carrying out their official duties to protect the rights of all individuals regardless of the officials’ personal religious affiliation or beliefs.

Embassy officials discussed internal displacement and restriction of movement of religious groups because of gang activity with the faith-based NGO Cristosal, academic researchers, and the University of Central America’s Institute of Public Opinion, a Jesuit institution. Embassy officials stressed with religious groups the importance of filing complaints with law enforcement agencies and the ombudsman for human rights regarding the impact of gang activity on religious practice. Embassy officials also met with members of the Jewish and Bahai communities. Embassy officials also spoke with members of the interdenominational Religions for Peace collective, who discussed their joint efforts to promote tolerance throughout the year.

Equatorial Guinea

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation. The law states that the country has no national religion, but by decree and practice, the government gives preference to the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea, which are the only religious groups not required to register their organization or activities with the Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs, and Penitentiary Institutions (MJRAPI). The government provides funds to the Catholic Church and its schools for educational programming. Catholic masses remained a normal part of official ceremonial functions. The law also requires a permit for door-to-door proselytism. Authorities routinely granted permission for religious groups to proselytize and to hold activities outside of registered places of worship, but generally denied permission for religious activities not within the prescribed hours. Evangelical Christian groups continued to hold activities outside the prescribed period without government intervention.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials, including the MJRAPI director general of religion, to discuss the ability of individuals to practice any religion free of discrimination. Embassy staff members also met with the Imam for Malabo and the respective presidents of the evangelical and Pentecostal communities to discuss their experiences as nondominant religious denominations operating in country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the country’s total population at 778,000 (July 2017 estimate). The most recent local census, conducted in 2015 in collaboration with the United Nations, puts the total population at 1.2 million. According to the most recent estimate, 88 percent of the population is Roman Catholic and 5 percent is Protestant. Many Christians reportedly practice some aspects of traditional indigenous religions as well. Two percent of the population is Muslim (mainly Sunni). The remaining 5 percent adhere to animism, the Bahai Faith, and other beliefs.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship and prohibits political parties based on religious affiliation. The law states the country has no national religion and individuals are free to change religions. Christians converting to Islam are permitted to add Muslim names to their Christian names on their official documents.

Regulations establish an official preference for the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church of Equatorial Guinea. Neither group is required to register with the MJRAPI. The only religious group to receive state funding for operating educational institutions is the Roman Catholic Church.

Some long-standing religious groups such as Methodists, Muslims, and Bahais hold permanent authorizations and are not required to renew their registrations with the MJRAPI. Newer groups and denominations may be required to renew their registration annually. To register, religious groups at the congregational level must submit a written application to the MJRAPI director general of religion. Those seeking to register must supply detailed information about the leadership (e.g., curriculum vitae) and members of the group; construction plans of religious buildings; property ownership documents, accreditations, and religious mandate; and a fee of 100,000 Central African francs (CFA) ($180). The director general of religion adjudicates these applications and may order an inspection by the MJRAPI before processing. The government may fine or shut down unregistered groups. The law requires a permit for door-to-door proselytism.

An MJRAPI decree specifies that any religious activities taking place outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. or outside of registered places of worship require pre-authorization from the MJRAPI. The decree prohibits religious acts or preaching within private residences if those acts involve persons who do not live there. Foreign religious representatives or authorities must obtain advance permission from the MJRAPI to participate in religious activities. The decree exempts the Catholic Church.

The government recognizes official documents issued by authorized religious groups, such as birth certificates and marriage certificates.

The constitution states individuals are free to study religion in schools and may not be forced to study a faith other than their own. Catholic religious classes are part of the public school curriculum, but such study may be replaced by non-Catholic religious study or by a recess with a note from a leader of another religious group.

All foreigners, including foreign evangelical missionaries, are required to obtain residency permits to remain in the country.

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

Government Practices

While the government routinely granted religious groups permission for activities outside of places of worship, except in private homes, it usually denied permits to hold activities outside of the prescribed hours of 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to religious leaders. All religious groups, including a small number of Bahai and Jewish groups, were allowed to hold services as long as they finished before 9 p.m. and did not disturb the peace. Evangelical Christian groups continued to hold activities outside the prescribed period with no repercussions from law enforcement. Religious leaders said authorities routinely issued permits for proselytism and door-to-door proselytism occurred without incident.

Evangelical Christians reported residency permits were prohibitively expensive at 400,000 CFA ($700), leading some missionaries to risk the consequences of not obtaining or renewing such permits. The local police reportedly enforced the requirement with threatened deportation and requested a small bribe as an alternative. There were no deportations reported. The residency permit fee for foreign missionaries was the same as for all other foreigners; however, if the missionary coordinated with the MJRAPI, the residency permit could be obtained for free, provided missionary status could be proven and the requisite security checks were passed. The residency permits were not required for Catholic missionaries.

Protestant groups, including the Reformed Church, Seventh-day Adventists, Assemblies of God, Methodists, Baptists, and other Christians, operated primary and secondary schools. These schools had to be registered with the government and fulfill standard curriculum requirements.

Catholic masses were a normal part of all major ceremonial functions, such as National Day on October 12 and the President’s Birthday on June 5. Catholic leaders were the only religious leaders to meet publicly with government officials. Catholic and Reformed Church leaders were often seated in preferred locations at official functions.

On April 2, Minister of Justice, Religious Affairs, and Penitentiary Institutions Evangelina Filomena Oyo Ebule opened celebrations to mark the National Day of Prayer, which included representatives from all major faiths. In her speech, the minister emphasized the need of all religious faiths to continue to work together to promote peace and security.

Some non-Catholics who worked for the government continued to report that their supervisors strongly encouraged participation in religious activities related to their government positions, including attending Catholic masses. Government officials stated that it was expected that they attend the president’s birthday Mass at the Catholic Church.

Unlike in previous years, the government allowed the Islamic community to celebrate the festival of Eid al-Adha in the Malabo Stadium. Hundreds of Muslims gathered in the stadium from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on September 4.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy officials met with the director general of religion to discuss religious freedom and the ability of individuals to practice any religion free of discrimination.

The embassy also met with the Imam for Malabo, the Archbishop of Malabo, evangelical Christian pastors, Protestant leaders, and a representative of the Bahai Faith to acquire their insights as well as to discuss the need to promote mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect for all religious groups, especially for minority religious groups.

Eritrea

Executive Summary

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religiously motivated discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief as well as the freedom to practice any religion. The government recognizes four officially registered religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea. It appoints the heads of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Sunni Islamic community. International nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported that members of all religious groups were to varying degrees subjected to government restrictions. Members of minority religious groups reported instances of imprisonment and deaths in custody due to mistreatment and harsh prison conditions, and individuals observing the recognized faiths were detained without explanation. In February several NGOs reported Tsehaye Tesfamariam, a Jehovah’s Witness arrested in 2009 and imprisoned at the Me’eter Prison Camp until 2015, died in November 2016 from an illness contracted in prison that authorities reportedly refused to treat. According to Erimedrek News, on March 17, two Pentecostal Christians died after staging a hunger strike to protest their alleged abuse while imprisoned in the Wi’ia Military Camp. Their bodies reportedly showed signs of sexual abuse. In August Human Rights Concern Eritrea reported the death of Fikadu Debesai, a member of an unregistered Christian group who was reportedly arrested in May. In late October demonstrators gathered in Asmara to protest the October 27 arrest of Al Diaa Islamic School president Hajji Musa Mohamed Nur, who opposed government efforts to close the school. Security forces dispersed the demonstrators and many persons were arrested. Nur remained in prison at year’s end. Police arrested and later released the director of the Roman Catholic Medhanie Alem Secondary School and the school’s secretary. Both schools resisted government attempts to mandate the Ministry of Education curriculum. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Human Rights Watch, between May and December, the government arrested approximately 210 evangelical Christians in house-to-house raids throughout the country reportedly for belonging to an unregistered religious group and imprisoned them on Nakura Island under harsh conditions. On July16, Patriarch Antonios participated in a Mass at Enda Mariam (St. Mary’s) Orthodox Church in Asmara, his first public appearance since being placed under house arrest in 2006. According to Jehovah Witnesses, 53 of their members remained in prison for their conscientious objection to obligatory military service. Most places of worship unaffiliated with the four registered religious groups remained closed, but many of those buildings were protected and undamaged. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were stripped of citizenship in 1994 due to their refusal to vote in the independence referendum, were largely unable to obtain official identification documents. Without official identification documents, many Jehovah’s Witnesses were effectively barred from most forms of employment, government benefits, and travel. The government did not recognize a right to conscientious objection to military service, and continued to single out Jehovah’s Witnesses for particularly harsh treatment such as arrest and detention.

The government’s lack of transparency and intimidation of sources made it difficult to obtain accurate information on interfaith coordination of religious freedom issues. Government officials, religious leaders, and the faithful regularly attended celebrations organized by the recognized religious groups.

U.S. embassy officials continued to raise religious freedom concerns with government officials, including the imprisonment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, lack of alternative service for conscientious objectors to mandatory national service that includes military training, and the continued detention of Patriarch Antonios. The Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs met with visiting government officials in October and November in Washington D.C. and discussed on the subject of religious freedom. Embassy officials also met with clergy, leaders, and other representatives of religious groups, both registered and unregistered. Embassy officials further discussed religious freedom on a regular basis with a wide range of interlocutors, including visiting international delegations, members of the diplomatic corps based in Asmara and in other countries in the region, and UN officials. Embassy officials used social media and outreach programs to engage the public and highlight the commitment of the United States to religious freedom.

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 22, 2017, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. Restrictions on U.S. assistance resulting from the CPC designation remained in place.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 5.9 million (July 2017 estimate). There are no reliable figures on religious affiliation. Government, religious, and local UN sources estimate the population is approximately 48-50 percent Christian and 48-50 percent Sunni Muslim. The Christian population is predominantly Eritrean Orthodox. Catholics, Protestants, and other Christian denominations, including the Greek Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals, are less than 5 percent of the Christian population. Some estimates suggest 2 percent of the population is animist, and there is a Bahai community of approximately 200 members. Only one Jew reportedly remains in the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit religious discrimination and provide for freedom of thought, conscience, and belief and the freedom to practice any religion.

Proclamation 73/1995 calls for separation of church and state; outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, including foreign relations and social activities; establishes an Office of Religious Affairs; and requires religious groups to register with the government or cease activities. Members of religious groups that are unregistered or otherwise not in compliance with the law are subject to penalties under the provisional penal code. Such penalties may include fines and prison terms. The Office of Religious Affairs has authority to regulate religious activities and institutions, including approval of the applications of religious groups seeking official recognition. Each application must include a description of the religious group’s history in the country, an explanation of the uniqueness or benefit the group offers compared with other religious groups, names and personal information of the group’s leaders, detailed information on assets, a description of the group’s conformity to local culture, and a declaration of all foreign sources of funding.

The government recognizes and has registered four religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea (affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation). A 2002 decree required all other religious groups to submit registration applications and to cease religious activities and services until these applications were approved. Since 2002, the government has not approved the registration of additional religious groups.

The government appoints the heads of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Sunni Islamic community.

Religious groups may print and distribute documents only with the authorization of the Department of Religious Affairs, which has only approved requests from the four officially registered religious groups.

Religious groups must obtain government approval to build facilities for worship.

While the law does not specifically address religious education in public school, Proclamation 73/1995 outlines the parameters to which religious organizations must adhere, and education is not included as an approved activity. Government attempts to enforce the proclamation have been sporadic over the years, occurring in 1998, 2007, 2001, and in October.

By law, all citizens between 18 and 50 must perform national service, with limited exceptions, including for health reasons such as physical disability or pregnancy. A compulsory citizen militia requires persons not already in the military, including many who were demobilized, elderly, or otherwise exempted from military service in the past, to carry firearms and attend militia training. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involve security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training primarily involves occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures. The law does not provide for conscientious objector status for religious reasons, nor are there alternative activities for persons willing to perform national service but unwilling to engage in military or militia activities.

The law prohibits any involvement in politics by religious groups.

All citizens must obtain an exit visa prior to departure. The application requests the applicant’s religious affiliation, but the law does not require that information.

The law limits foreign financing for religious groups. The only contributions legally allowed are from local followers, the government, or government-approved foreign sources.

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

Government Practices

Summary paragraph: There were reports of deaths of members of minority religious groups imprisoned for their religious beliefs as well as physical mistreatment of persons in custody. In October the government’s enforcement of its ban on religious groups operating schools sparked demonstrations that led to the arrest of an Islamic school director and at least 40 other persons. In May international NGOs reported the government arrested approximately 210 Christians in house-to-house raids, and they remained imprisoned, reportedly under harsh conditions. The patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church made his first public appearance since 2006, and he reportedly remained under house arrest. According to international NGO Human Rights Watch, members of all religious groups, to varying degrees, continued to be subject to government restrictions. Observers stated the government continued to impose restrictions on proselytizing, accepting external funding from NGOs and international organizations, groups selecting their own religious leaders, gathering for worship, constructing places of worship, and teaching religious beliefs to others. The government’s lack of transparency and intimidation of sources continued to make it difficult to obtain accurate information on specific cases. The government did not make available information on how many registrations for religious groups were pending.

In February the Jehovah’s Witnesses news service, JW News, and Human Rights Concern Eritrea, reported that Tsehaye Tesfamariam, a Jehovah’s Witness, who was arrested in 2009 and imprisoned at the Me’eter Prison Camp until 2015, died in November 2016 from an illness contracted while in prison that authorities reportedly refused to treat.

According to Erimedrek News, on March 17, two Pentecostal Christians died after staging a hunger strike to protest their alleged abuse while imprisoned in the Wi’ia Military Camp. Their bodies reportedly showed signs of sexual abuse.

According to CSW, since May the government arrested approximately 210 evangelical Christians in house-to-house raids throughout the country, reportedly for belonging to an unregistered group, and sent them to a prison on Nakura Island, where they were reportedly imprisoned under harsh conditions. According to CSW’s June report to the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, authorities detained 122 Christians: 45 in Adi-Quala, 15 in Ghinda, and 45 and 17 in two separate incidents in Asmara. In August Human Rights Concern Eritrea reported that Fikadu Debesai, a mother of four who was among those reportedly arrested in May, died in prison. Her husband and 18-year-old son were reportedly held in the Merkel Abiet Prison and Gergera Labor Camp, respectively.

On October 27, authorities arrested Al Diaa Islamic School board president Hajji Musa Mohamed Nur, who had opposed government efforts to close the school. On October 31, demonstrators gathered in Asmara to protest his arrest. Security forces dispersed the protesters with gunfire and arrested approximately 40 persons. Nur remained in prison at year’s end. According to diaspora opposition groups, the government’s effort to close the school was part of an effort to enforce a 1995 proclamation banning religious groups from operating religious schools and an unwritten 2014 Ministry of Education policy to secularize schools and follow the ministry’s curriculum. The government issued similar orders to the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches to close the Eastern Orthodox Edna-Mariam School and the Roman Catholic Medhanie Alem Secondary School. The Edna-Mariam School complied with the order while the Medhanie Alem School refused. In response, authorities arrested and later released the Medhanie Alem School’s director, a priest, and its secretary, a nun. Other schools across the country run by religious groups did not receive such orders.

It remained very difficult to determine the number of persons imprisoned for their religious beliefs given the lack of government transparency and reported intimidation of those who might come forward with such information.

Arrests and releases often went unreported. Information from outside the capital was extremely limited. Independent observers stated many persons remained imprisoned without charge. International religious organizations reported authorities interrogated detainees about their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unregistered religious groups.

On July 17, Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Abune Antonios attended Mass at Enda Mariam Orthodox Church, his first public appearance since 2006. Authorities placed Antonios under house arrest in 2006 for protesting government interference in Church affairs and subsequently prevented him from engaging in religious activities or appearing in public. Authorities also removed him as patriarch and replaced him with a government-chosen leader. Church leaders, international NGOs, and foreign governments raised concern about his poor health and called for his release. The government refuted claims that Antonios was under house arrest, stating that church leaders imposed his seclusion from the public. CSW and other observers characterized the patriarch’s brief appearance as a government attempt to counter international concern about his detention and stated government-backed Eritrean Orthodox Church leaders and Antonios had reconciled their differences.

The government continued to detain without due process persons associated with unregistered religious groups, occasionally for long periods, and sometimes on the ground of threatening national security, according to minority religious group members.

The government continued to single out Jehovah’s Witnesses for particularly harsh treatment because of their blanket refusal to vote in the 1993 referendum on Eritrean independence and subsequent refusal to participate in National Service. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, 53 of their members were in detention as of February for their conscientious objection to military service, including three men imprisoned without charge for 22 years. Other NGO sources corroborated these reports. The government continued to hold Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious prisoners for failure to follow the law or for national security reasons. Prisoners held for national security reasons were not allowed visitors, and families often did not know where they were being held. Authorities generally permitted family members to visit prisoners detained for religious reasons only. Former prisoners who had been held for their religious beliefs continued to report harsh detention conditions, including solitary confinement, physical abuse, and inadequate food, water, and shelter.

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to report members were unable to obtain official identification documents, which meant they were generally unable to study in government institutions, find employment, or obtain an exit visa to leave the country. Authorities collectively stripped Jehovah’s Witnesses of citizenship in 1994 after their refusal to participate in the independence referendum. The government continued to withhold documents and entitlements such as passports, national identification cards (required for employment), and ration cards. The government also required all customers to present a national identification card in order to use computers at private internet cafes, where most individuals access the internet. This identification requirement rendered Jehovah’s Witness members generally unable to use the internet.

Official attitudes toward members of unregistered religious groups worshipping in homes or rented facilities differed. Some local authorities reportedly tolerated the presence and activities of unregistered groups, while others attempted to prevent them from meeting. Local authorities sometimes denied government coupons (which allowed shoppers to make purchases at discounted prices at certain stores) to Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Pentecostal groups.

Diaspora groups noted authorities controlled virtually all activities of the four formally recognized groups. The leaders of the four groups continued to state their officially registered members did not face impediments to religious practice, but there were private reports of restrictions on import of religious items used for worship. It was unclear whether authorities used these restrictions to target religious groups, since import licenses remained generally restricted. There were also reports of restrictions on clergy meeting with foreign diplomats.

Most religious facilities not belonging to the four officially registered religious groups remained publicly closed to worship. The government allowed only the practice of Sunni Islam and banned all other practice of Islam. Religious structures used by unregistered Jewish and Greek Orthodox groups continued to exist in Asmara. The government protected the historic Jewish synagogue building, maintained by an individual reported as the country’s last remaining Jew. Other structures belonging to unregistered groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists and the Church of Christ, remained shuttered. The government allowed the Bahai center to remain open, and, according to reports, the members of the center had access to the building except for prayer meetings. The Greek Orthodox Church remained open, but there were no services. There were services held in the Anglican Church building, but only under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Some church leaders continued to state the government’s restriction on foreign financing reduced church income and religious participation by preventing churches from training clergy or building facilities.

Government control of all mass media continued to restrict the ability of unregistered religious group members to bring attention to government repression against them, according to observers. Restrictions on public assembly and freedom of speech severely limited the ability of unregistered religious groups to assemble and conduct their worship, according to group members.

The sole political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) led by the president, appointed both the mufti of the Sunni Islamic community and the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, as well as some lower-level officials for both communities. PFDJ-appointed lay administrators managed some operations of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, including disposition of donations and seminarian participation in national service.

The government continued to permit a limited number of Sunni Muslims, mainly the elderly and those not fit for military service, to take part in the Hajj, travel abroad for religious study, and host clerics from abroad. The government generally did not permit Muslim groups to receive funding from governments of nations where Islam was the dominant religion on grounds that such funding threatened to import foreign “fundamentalist” or “extremist” tendencies.

The government continued to grant some visas permitting Catholic dioceses to host visiting clergy from Rome or other foreign locations. Catholic clergy were permitted to travel abroad for religious purposes and training, although not in numbers Church officials considered adequate; they were also discouraged from attending certain religious events while overseas. Students attending the Roman Catholic seminary, as well as Catholic nuns, did not perform national service and did not suffer repercussions from the government, according to Church officials. Some Catholic leaders stated, however, national service requirements prevented adequate numbers of seminarians from completing theological training in Rome or other locations, because those who had not completed national service were not able to obtain passports or exit visas.

While three ministers and at least one senior military leader were Muslims, foreign diplomats reported that individuals in positions of power, both in government and outside, often expressed reluctance to share power with Muslim countrymen and distrusted foreign Muslims.

Some Eritrean Orthodox clergy operating outside the country continued to state the government sought control over Eritrean Orthodox churches in foreign countries, including through pressure on adherents abroad designed to influence family members still inside the country.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Government control of all media, expression, and public discourse made it difficult to observe any societal actions linked to religious freedom. Churches and mosques are located in close proximity and reportedly most citizens congratulated members of other religions on various holidays and even celebrated them with neighbors and friends.

Some Christian leaders reported that Muslim leaders and communities were willing to collaborate on community projects. There were unsubstantiated reports that Christians joined the October protests of the arrest of a Muslim school board president. Others reported government pressure not to cooperate with members of other religious groups has increased over the last few years, whereas previously there had been joint events, such as common worship during church festivals. Ecumenical and interreligious committees did not exist, and while local leaders met informally, there were no public displays of ecumenism.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

U.S. embassy representatives met with government officials to raise religious freedom concerns, including advocating for the release of Jehovah’s Witnesses and alternative service for conscientious objectors refusing to bear arms for religious reasons. Embassy officials raised issues of religious freedom with a wide range of discussion partners, including visiting international delegations, Asmara- and regionally-based diplomats accredited to the government, and UN and other international organization representatives.

Embassy staff met with clergy, leaders, and other representatives of most religious groups, including unregistered groups. Staff also attended religious celebrations, weddings, and funeral ceremonies of the four registered faiths as invitees of the government or of religious leaders and on an ad hoc basis. Some Embassy requests via the government to meet with religious leaders went unanswered, however.

Since 2004, Eritrea has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom. On December 22, 2017, the Secretary of State redesignated Eritrea as a CPC and identified the following sanction that accompanied the designation: the existing ongoing arms embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act. Restrictions on U.S. assistance resulting from the CPC designation remained in place.

Estonia

Executive Summary

The constitution declares there is no state church and protects the freedom of individuals to practice their religion. It prohibits the incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. The law provides the procedure for registration of religious associations and religious societies and regulates their activities. Unregistered religious associations are free to conduct religious activities but are not eligible for tax benefits. The government continued to provide funds for the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities. Government officials participated in annual memorials for victims of the Holocaust and continued their sponsorship of programs on the best classroom practices for teaching about the Holocaust. On January 27, the government held its annual commemoration at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, during which a government representative emphasized the Holocaust’s universal relevance and the need to continue studying its lessons. The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia’s (EKRE) platform for local elections in Tallinn included a promise not to allow the construction of a mosque in the capital city.

In 2016, the latest year for which data was available, police registered six hate crime cases involving religion.

U.S. embassy officials continued meeting with government officials to promote religious tolerance and diversity. The Ambassador and embassy staff continued to support dialogue on anti-Semitism and Holocaust education in meetings with government officials, religious leaders, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.3 million (July 2017 estimate). According to the 2011 census, 29 percent of the population is religiously affiliated, 54 percent does not identify with any religion; and 17 percent does not state an affiliation. According to January 1 data from the Council of Churches, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church has 180,000 members (13.8 percent of the population), while the Estonian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP) has 170,000 members (13.1 percent). The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church has 30,000 members (2.3 percent). The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia and the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia both have over 6,000 members (0.9 percent each). Other Christian groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Methodists, and Seventh-day Adventists, and Russian Old Believers collectively constitute 1.1 percent of the population. According to the 2011 census, there are small Jewish and Muslim communities of 2,500 members and 1,500 members, respectively. Most religious adherents among the Russian-speaking population belong to the EOCMP and reside mainly in the capital or the northeastern part of the country. According to census data, most of the country’s community of Russian Old Believers lives along the west bank of Lake Peipsi in the eastern part of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares there is no state church and stipulates freedom for individuals to belong to any religious group and practice any religion, both alone and in community with others, in public or in private, unless doing so is “detrimental to public order, health, or morals.” The constitution also prohibits incitement of religious hatred, violence, or discrimination. The law states that violations are punishable by fines or up to three years in prison. The constitution recognizes the right to refuse military service for religious reasons but requires conscientious objectors to perform alternative service as provided by law.

The law regulates the activities of religious associations and religious societies. Religious associations are defined as churches, congregations, unions of congregations, and monasteries. Churches, congregations, and unions of congregations are required to have a management board; only citizens and legal residents who are eligible to vote in local council elections may be members of the board. The elected or appointed superior of a monastery serves as the management board for the monastery. Religious societies are defined as voluntary organizations whose main activities include religious or ecumenical activities relating to morals, ethics, culture, and social rehabilitation activities outside the traditional forms of religious rites of a church or congregation and need not be connected with a specific church or congregation.

The registration office of the Tartu County Court registers religious associations and religious societies.

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

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

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

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

Optional basic religious instruction is available in public and private schools, funded by the state. All schools must provide religious studies at the primary and secondary levels if students request these studies. The courses offer a general introduction to different faiths. Religious studies instructors may be lay teachers or clergy provided by religious groups. There are also private religious schools. All students, regardless of their religious affiliation or nonaffiliation, may attend religious schools. Attendance at religious services at religious schools is voluntary. The majority of students attending a private religious school are not associated with the school’s religious affiliation. Most congregations have Sunday schools.

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

Government Practices

According to the NGO register, at least two religious associations registered during the year, including evangelical Protestant groups.

The government increased its allocation of funds to the Estonian Council of Churches by approximately 50,000 euros ($60,000) to 710,000 euros ($852,000) from 646,000 euros ($776,000) in 2016. The council, which comprises 10 Christian churches – including the Lutheran Church and both Orthodox churches – continued to serve as an organization joining the country’s largest Christian communities. Funds provided by the state were given to the Council of Churches for ecumenical activities, including ecclesiastical programs aired on the Estonian Broadcasting Company, youth work by churches, activities promoting interreligious dialogue, and religious publishing. The government did not play a role in determining how the council distributed the funds.

The Conservative People’s Party of Estonia’s (EKRE) platform for local elections in Tallinn included a promise not to allow the construction of a mosque in the capital city.

A political candidate from EKRE posted a platform for the 2019 European Parliament elections that included decriminalizing Holocaust denial and implementing the “correct teaching of the history of the Third Reich.” Although his statements received coverage from international media, he received only 91 votes (0.6 percent of the total votes cast in the district in which he competed) in October local elections and was not supported by his party.

On January 27, the government held its annual commemoration for International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Rahumae Jewish Cemetery in Tallinn. Schools throughout the country also participated in commemorative activities. The Ministry of Education and Research, in cooperation with the Unitas Foundation, Estonian NATO Association, and Jewish community, sponsored a seminar for history and civics teachers from across the country to introduce them to best practices in the classroom for teaching about the Holocaust.

On September 19, the president of the parliament, Eiki Nestor, laid a wreath to commemorate approximately 1,800 to 2,000 persons, mostly Jews, killed at the Nazi concentration camp at Klooga. In his remarks, Nestor said it was necessary to continue to “commemorate the innocent people that had been murdered” and to recognize that “the evil that murdered people had not disappeared from the world.”

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

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In 2016, the latest year for which data was available, police registered six hate crime cases involving religion.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officials discussed the continued appearance of anti-Muslim sentiment on social media with officials from the ministries of internal, social, and foreign affairs and engaged the government on promoting religious tolerance.

Embassy officials met with members of the Jewish community, representatives of the Council of Churches, and NGOs to discuss religious tolerance. In January the Ambassador hosted religious group leaders to a commemoration of U.S. National Religious Freedom Day, where he urged them to engage in more interreligious dialogue to help increase religious tolerance.

In November the Ambassador hosted a follow-up meeting with religious leaders and government officials to further discuss respect for religious diversity and pluralism in honor of the International Day of Tolerance.

The embassy again joined with the Ministry of Education to fund the travel of two teachers to a summer teacher-training program on Holocaust education in the U.S. The teachers said they had incorporated what they had learned into the Holocaust education portion of the national curriculum.

Ethiopia

Executive Summary

The constitution codifies the separation of religion and the state, establishes freedom of religious choice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall any religion interfere in the affairs of the state. In August the government lifted the state of emergency (SOE) it had proclaimed in 2016 and had used to restrict organized opposition and antigovernment protests, which also affected religious activities. There were no reports of religious communities engaging in protests either before or after the lifting of the SOE. The Federal High Court in January sentenced all 13 Muslim defendants to prison for terrorism for their roles in the 2012 killing of an imam. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) investigation assigned blame to local officials and the Oromo Media Network for the dozens of deaths at the October 2016 Irreecha festival. An EHRC report documented authorities’ torture and inhumane confinement of 16 inmates, which included targeting of Muslim inmates, in a federal prison. In January a nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported the Federal High Court acquitted three Protestants who had been sentenced to nine years in prison by a lower court judge in 2014 for allegedly burning down an Ethiopian Orthodox church. According to NGO reports, in June authorities ordered a Pentecostal church in Amhara State to stop meeting in a residential area in the wake of a mob attack on the church. Some Muslim community members reported continued governmental interference in religious affairs, including a denial of access to mosques during Ramadan. Protestants reported unequal treatment by local officials with regard to religious registration and allocation of land for churches and cemeteries. There were reports government officials demolished a purportedly illegal Ethiopian Orthodox church in Oromia Region.

On July 16, a group of local Muslims attacked a Christian evangelist with machetes, according to NGO reports. Observers reported the major faith communities throughout most of the country respected each other’s religious observances and practices. There continued to be reports of some Protestants and Orthodox Christians accusing each other of heresy, which increased tensions between the groups. The Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) expressed continued concern about what it said was the increasing influence of foreign Salafist groups within the Muslim community.

U.S. embassy officers met officials from the Ministry of Federal and Pastoralist Development Affairs (MoFPDA) throughout the year for continued discussions on religious tolerance. Embassy representatives also met with the leaders from the EIASC, Catholic Church in Ethiopia, Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE), and Ethiopia Orthodox Church (EOC) to discuss how these groups could contribute to religious tolerance. Embassy officials met with members of the Muslim community and with NGOs to discuss their concerns about government interference in religious affairs.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 105.4 million (July 2017 estimate). The most recent census, conducted in 2007, estimated 44 percent of the population adheres to the EOC, 34 percent are Sunni Muslim, and 19 percent belong to Christian evangelical and Pentecostal groups. The EOC predominates in the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara, while Islam is most prevalent in the Afar, Oromia, and Somali Regions. Established Protestant churches are strongest in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, Gambela, and parts of Oromia. Groups together constituting less than 5 percent of the population include Eastern Rite and Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and practitioners of indigenous religions. There is also a Rastafarian community, numbering approximately 1,000, whose members migrated from the Caribbean in the 1950’s and reside in Addis Ababa and in the town of Shashemene in Oromia Region.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution requires the separation of state and religion, establishes freedom of religious choice and practice, prohibits religious discrimination, and stipulates the government shall not interfere in the practice of any religion, nor shall religion interfere in state affairs. It permits limitations on religious freedom as prescribed by law in order to protect public safety, education, and morals, as well as to guarantee the independence of government from religion. The law criminalizes religious defamation and incitement of one religious group against another. The law permits sharia courts to adjudicate personal status cases, provided both parties are Muslim and consent to the court’s jurisdiction.

The SOE, which was put in place in October 2016 and affected religious activities, was lifted on August 4.

Registration and licensing of religious groups fall under the mandate of the Directorate of Faith and Religious Affairs of the MoFPDA, which requires unregistered religious groups to submit a founding document, the national identity cards of its founders, and the permanent address of the religious institution and planned regional branches. The registration process also includes an application letter, information on the board members, meeting minutes, information on the founders, financial reports, offices, name, and symbols. Religious group applicants must have at least 50 individuals for registration as a church, and 15 for registration as a ministry or association. During the registration process, the government publishes the religious group’s name and logo in a local newspaper and, if there are no objections, registration is granted.

Unlike other religious groups, the EOC is not registered by the MoFPDA but obtains registration through a provision in the civil code passed during the imperial era that is still in force. Registration with the ministry confers legal status on a religious group, which gives the group the right to congregate and to obtain land to build a place of worship and a cemetery. Unregistered groups do not receive these benefits. Religious groups must renew their registration at least every five years; failure to do so may result in a fine.

Registered religious organizations are required to provide annual activity and financial reports. Activity reports must describe evangelical activities and list new members, newly ordained clergy, and new houses of worship.

Under the constitution the government owns all land; religious groups must apply to both the regional and local governments for land allocation, including for land to build places of worship.

The constitution prohibits religious instruction in schools, whether public or private, although both public and private schools may organize clubs based on shared religious values. The law permits the establishment of a separate category of religious schools under the auspices of churches and mosques. The Charities and Societies Agency, an agency of the government accountable to the federal attorney general, and the Ministry of Education regulate such religious schools, which provide both secular and religious instruction. The Ministry of Education oversees the secular education provided by religious schools.

The law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion.

The Charities and Societies Proclamation prohibits certain charities, societies, and associations, including those associated with faith-based organizations that engage in rights-based advocacy, and prevents civil society organizations from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources. Rights-based advocacy includes activities promoting human and democratic rights or equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, genders, and religions; protecting the rights of children or persons with disabilities; advancing conflict resolution or reconciliation; and enhancing the efficiency of the justice system or law enforcement services. Religious groups undertaking development activities are required to register their development arms as charities with the Charities and Societies Agency and follow legal guidelines originating from the Charities and Societies Proclamation.

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

Government Practices

On January 26, the Federal High Court found all 13 Muslim defendants guilty of crimes of terrorism for their role in the 2012 killing of an imam in Dessie, Amhara Region. The group received prison terms ranging from three years and eight months to 16 years.

In April the EHRC reported to the parliament on its investigations into the dozens of deaths at the October 2016 Irreecha festival, a large Oromo religious and cultural celebration. The commission recommended the government hold local and regional officials of Oromia accountable for failing to stop the festival in advance. The commission attributed blame for the deaths to the Oromo Media Network, a diaspora-based media outlet, for fueling the unrest leading to the incident. The government filed terrorist charges against the network (in absentia) in March for allegedly rendering support to terrorists, which was listed as a crime under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and punishable by imprisonment from 10 to 15 years. The trial continued as of year’s end.

A court-ordered EHRC report documented what it stated was the authorities’ torture of 16 inmates, which included targeting of Muslim inmates, in a federal prison. Inmates told the EHRC prison officials in Shoa Robit Prison subjected them to various forms of torture during a three-month period in 2016 and holding them in what was described by the report as inhumane conditions for five months in 2017. Muslim inmates reported the officers shouted anti-Muslim language and further harassed, threatened, and intimidated them based on their religious beliefs. Inmates criticized the EHRC for not extending its findings of torture by prison officials to cover the 176 other inmates they alleged were tortured, objected to the report’s failure to hold prison officials or Federal Police officers who carried out the torture accountable for their actions, and requested an independent investigation be conducted.

In January an NGO reported the Supreme Court had acquitted three Protestants who had been sentenced to nine years in prison by a lower court judge in 2014 for allegedly burning down an EOC church. The ruling left the three still liable for paying for the damage to the church, but a separate court order in May released them from that responsibility. According to the NGO account, the three maintained they had been falsely convicted and had offered witnesses in support of their innocence, but the lower court judge had ignored their testimony.

According to NGO reports, in June authorities ordered the Full Gospel Church in Tikil Dingaye, a Pentecostal church in Amhara Region, to stop meeting in a residential area in the wake of a mob attack on the church. The attackers had assaulted some of the church members and then destroyed the church’s meeting hall, offices, and the accommodations of a church worker. After the attack, according to the NGO, a church member was arrested for “illegal activities” that “incited religious clashes,” and when the church officials asked authorities in Gondar for protection against further attacks, they received a letter informing them they were no longer allowed to conduct religious services there. According to media accounts, the attackers were believed to be members of the student association Mahibere Kidusan, an organization established under the auspices of the EOC to support and preserve EOC traditions. Representatives of Mahibere Kidusan denied involvement in the attack, saying no members of their association had been questioned or charged by police in connection with the attack.

The SOE made protests illegal for most of the year, and there were no reports of religious communities engaging in protests either before or after the lifting of the SOE.

Muslim community members continued to assert the government had co-opted religious leaders to impose Al-Ahbash, a Sufi religious movement rooted in Lebanon and different from indigenous Islam, on local Islamic religious practice, despite government statements made in previous years saying it no longer supported a program to impose Al-Ahbash. Reports from the Muslim community suggested the government continued to arrange for the dissemination of Al-Ahbash teachings, and, consequently, Friday prayers still conformed to Al-Ahbash teachings.

In June during Ramadan, Muslims in the town of Adwa, Tigray Region, reported authorities denied them access to their mosques, alleging the community supported a movement for religious freedom for the country’s Muslims.

Muslim community members reported widespread sentiment in their community that the government exercised excessive influence over the EIASC, which remained the lead religious organization for the country’s Muslims, managing religious activities in the approximately 40,000 mosques and annual Hajj pilgrimages to Mecca. Some Muslim community members also reported continued governmental interference in religious affairs.

The Directorate for Registration of Religious Groups within MoFPDA reported it had registered 1,600 religious groups and associations as of 2016.

Members of some religious groups continued to state the EOC exemption from the registration requirement for all other religious groups constituted an unfair double standard.

Although holding religious services inside public institutions remained banned per the constitutionally required separation of religion and state, the government continued to mandate public institutions take a two-hour break from work on Fridays for workers to attend Islamic prayers. Private companies were not required to follow this policy.

Protestants continued to report local officials discriminated against them with regard to religious registration and the allocation of land for churches and cemeteries.

In July the media reported a government announcement saying it would issue national identity cards to the nearly 1,000 Rastafarians who had been living in the country for many years as stateless persons. The measure reportedly would grant the Rastafarians residency but would not give them citizenship.

Two opposition parties (the All Ethiopian Unity Party and Blue Party), in what the media characterized as an attempt to embarrass the government, reported government officials in the town of Legetafo Legedadi, Oromia, had demolished a church belonging to the EOC and confiscated sacred items on August 7. The town’s administration told the media that authorities had demolished the church because it was built illegally, thereby violating the master development plan of the town.

The MoFPDA continued to work with the EIASC and civil society groups to sponsor workshops and training of religious leaders, elders, and community members with the stated purpose of decreasing the potential for sectarian violence.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

According to NGO reports, on July 16, a group of local Muslims attacked with machetes a Christian man at his home in Hirna, a rural town east of Addis Ababa. The gang who attacked the man was reportedly angry because he was proselytizing. The gang had first attacked the local Full Gospel Church and partly damaged its roof and a wall before going to the man’s house. The man required lifesaving surgery.

In contrast with the previous year, there were no reports of attacks on places of worship in Oromia Region, although there were reports that some of the previously destroyed places of worship and affiliated facilities, such as health centers, had not been rebuilt. The annual Irreecha festival was peaceful, although the main ceremony ended much earlier than in recent years and, in a break with tradition, neither the Abba Geddas (the traditional leaders/elders who organized the event) nor government officials offered remarks or blessings.

The IRCE, an organization established by seven religious institutions and operating independently from the government throughout the country, reported the major faith communities in most of the country respected each other’s religious observances and practices while permitting intermarriage and conversion. NGOs continued to report some Protestants and Orthodox Christians accused one another of heresy and of actively working to convert adherents from one faith to the other; observers stated these mutual recriminations increased tensions between the groups.

The EIASC expressed continued concern about what it said was the influence of foreign Salafist groups within the Muslim community. The EIASC said it continued to hold these foreign groups responsible for the exacerbation of tensions between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers continued to engage with the MoFPDA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on religious tolerance. Embassy representatives held meetings with religious leaders, including the Office of the Patriarch of the EOC, the president of the EIASC, and the cardinal heading the Catholic Church in the country, to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in improving religious tolerance within society. U.S. embassy representatives observed the trial of Muslims accused of terrorism charges and attempting to overthrow the government.

Embassy officials engaged with members of the IRCE to discuss religious tolerance and attacks on places of worship in Oromia Region. The embassy’s dialogue with the IRCE sought to strengthen the IRCE’s capacity to reduce religious violence through increased dialogue among religious communities and to assist the IRCE in achieving its stated goal of creating a platform to unify disparate religious groups around common interests and promote interreligious harmony.

Swaziland

Executive Summary

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief. Although the law requires new religious groups to register, unregistered groups were able to operate freely. In January the cabinet issued a decree requiring public schools to teach only Christianity and excluding the teaching of other religions. While some Christian groups welcomed the decree, other religious groups, civil society representatives, and educators criticized the government’s order preventing the study of non-Christian faiths as an unconstitutional act that infringed on religious and educational freedoms. Muslim leaders reported disparate treatment from government inspectors who visited the Islamic Center to verify documentary requirements for animals awaiting slaughter. The Muslim community and media reported that plainclothes police officers attended and monitored Friday prayer sessions in mosques. The government protected the right of Muslim workers to close businesses in order to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions, despite government-mandated business operating hours.

Muslim communities continued to report about negative and/or suspicious views of Islam in society and reported that Christians discriminated against non-Christians, particularly in rural areas.

The Ambassador and other U.S. government representatives met with government officials to discuss the January order banning the teaching of non-Christian religions and the importance of developing and maintaining interfaith dialogue in the country. The embassy facilitated the creation of an Interfaith Working Group (IWG) in February to develop and strengthen interfaith dialogue.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 1.1 million (July 2017 estimate). Religious leaders estimate that 90 percent of the population is Christian, approximately 2 percent Muslim (of which most are not ethnic Swazi), and the remainder belongs to other religious groups, including those with indigenous African beliefs. According to anecdotal reports, approximately 40 percent of the population practices Zionism, a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship (some adherents of which self-identify as evangelical Christians), while another 20 percent is Roman Catholic. There are also Anglicans, Methodists, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and very small Jewish and Bahai communities. Zionism is widely practiced in rural areas.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution prohibits religious discrimination and provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the right to worship, alone or in community with others, and to change religion or belief. These rights may be limited by laws that are “reasonably required” in the interest of defense, public safety, order, morality, health, or protecting the rights of others. The constitution provides religious groups the right to establish and operate private schools and to provide religious instruction for their students without interference from the government.

The constitution recognizes unwritten traditional laws and customs, which are interpreted by traditional courts, granted equal status with codified laws, and protected from amendment or regulation by the parliament and/or national courts. The law requires religious groups to register with the government. In 2016 the government designated the Ministry of Home Affairs (MOHA) to be the government agency responsible for monitoring religious affairs in the country. In order to register as a religious group, Christian groups must apply through one of the country’s three umbrella religious bodies – the League of Churches, Swaziland Conference of Churches, or Council of Swaziland Churches – for a recommendation, which is routinely granted and does not impede registration, according to church leaders. The application process requires a group to provide its constitution, membership, and physical location, along with the umbrella body’s recommendation, to the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Trade, which then registers the organization. For indigenous religious groups and non-Christian religious organizations, authorities consider proof of a religious leader, a congregation, and a place of worship as sufficient grounds to grant registration. Registered religious groups are exempt from taxation, but contributions to these groups are not tax deductible.

Religious groups must obtain government permission for the construction of new religious buildings in urban areas, and permission from the appropriate chief and chief’s advisory council for new religious buildings in rural areas. In some rural communities, chiefs have designated special committees to allocate land to religious groups for a minimal fee.

Christian religious instruction is mandatory in public primary schools and incorporated into the daily morning assembly. Christian education is also compulsory in public secondary schools. There are no opt-out procedures. Religious education is neither prohibited nor mandated in private schools.

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

Government Practices

In January the cabinet issued a directive that declared Christianity the only religion in the school curriculum and banned the teaching of other religions in public schools. While the Swaziland Conference of Churches and some other Christian groups praised the order, other religious groups, including several Christian groups, educators, and civil society groups stated they believed that imposition of Christian-only education violated the constitution and infringed on religious and educational freedoms.

Muslim communities and the media reported that plainclothes police officers sometimes attended and monitored Friday prayer sessions in mosques. Swazi Muslims also said that they were required to submit to prolonged searches by immigration officials at borders. There were no reports of arrests of Swazi Muslims.

Religious leaders said the government continued to protect the right of Muslim workers to close businesses in order to attend Friday afternoon prayer sessions at mosques despite the government-mandated business operating hours. Businesses owned by members of the Bahai community were allowed to close shops in observance of Bahai religious holidays. Public schools, however, did not allow early departure for Muslim students to attend Friday prayers.

According to local religious leaders, unwritten traditional laws and customs allowed approximately 360 chiefs and their councilors to continue to restrict some rights of minority religious groups within their jurisdictions if the chiefs determined the groups’ practices conflicted with tradition and culture. Some chiefs continued to state they would not allow the operation of businesses in their jurisdictions by individuals who appeared to be associated with Islam.

According to religious leaders and civil society organizations, only voluntary Christian religious youth clubs were permitted to operate in public schools by the schools’ administration while non-Christian religious clubs were prohibited from meeting in the schools. Christian clubs conducted daily prayer services in many public schools. The schools’ administration permitted the Christian clubs to raise funds, and at times the clubs received funding from the school or from the general public. Christian clubs’ activities are normally conducted during lunch breaks, weekends, and school holidays.

Non-Christian groups reported that the government continued to provide some preferential benefits to Christians, such as free transportation to religious activities and free airtime on state television and radio. Government-owned television and radio stations broadcast daily morning and evening Christian programming. The government continued to provide each of the three Christian umbrella religious bodies and their affiliates with free airtime to broadcast daily religious services on the state-run radio station. Non-Christian religious groups stated the government continued to deny them airtime despite their repeated calls for inclusion in state-run television and radio programs.

The monarchy, and by extension the government, aligned itself with Christian faith-based groups and supported many Christian activities. The king, the queen mother, and other members of the royal family commonly attended Zionist programs, including Good Friday and Easter weekend services, where the host church usually invited the king to preach. Official government programs generally opened with a Christian prayer, and several government ministers held Christian prayer vigils (which civil servants were expected to attend) to address social issues such as crime and increases in traffic accidents.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Muslim communities continued to report negative views of Islam in society. Some members of society reportedly associated Islam with terrorist organizations such as ISIS or Boko Haram; therefore, activity conducted by Muslims was often viewed with suspicion. In February religious representatives from more than 15 groups established the IWG in order to promote interfaith dialogue and religious freedom in society.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Throughout the year the Ambassador and other U.S. government officials engaged with the government on issues such as the January order banning the teaching of non-Christian religions and the importance of developing and maintaining interfaith dialogue in the country.

In February a representative from the Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom met with religious, government, and civil society representatives to discuss the government’s education order and interfaith relations. In February the embassy hosted a religious discussion with 15 representatives of various religious groups and government representatives in a roundtable to discuss religious freedom in the country. This led to the formation of the IWG. Religious groups participating in the roundtable included the Bahai, Christian, Rastafarian, and traditional religious communities. Throughout the year the IWG and government officials met at the embassy to discuss religious freedom issues.

Embassy representatives also met with leaders of different faith-based organizations, educators, and the civil society organization Lawyers for Human Rights to discuss their concerns with respect to religious freedom, particularly the ban on teaching about non-Christian religions in public schools.

The Ambassador and other U.S. embassy personnel attended a seminar organized by the Bahai community and engaged in discussions on religious tolerance. The Bahai community hosted the event to foster a positive relationship with the embassy, government, and faith-based organizations, and also to encourage more interaction. The discussion focused on the challenges Bahais and other non-Christian groups encounter in local society.

International Religious Freedom Reports
Edit Your Custom Report

01 / Select A Year

02 / Select Sections

03 / Select Countries You can add more than one country or area.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future