Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution stipulates the separation of state and religion and equality of all religions and all individuals regardless of belief. It protects freedom of religion, including the right of individuals to profess, individually or together with others, any religion, or to profess no religion, and to express and spread religious beliefs. It also provides for the freedom to carry out religious rituals, provided they do not violate public order or public morality. The constitution states no one may be required to profess his or her religious beliefs or be persecuted for them; the law prohibits forced expressions or demonstrations of religious faith.
The law requires religious organizations – termed “associations” in the country’s legal code and encompassing religious groups, communities, and individual congregations of a denomination – to register with the government through the SCWRA. The SCWRA manages the registration process and may appeal to the courts to suspend a religious group’s activities. A religious community’s registration is tied to the physical site where the community is located, as stated in its application. A subsequent move or expansion to other locations requires reregistration. Registration allows a religious organization to hold meetings, maintain a bank account, rent property, act as a legal entity, and receive funds from the government.
To register, a religious organization must submit to the SCWRA a notarized application signed by at least 50 of its members, a charter and founding documents, the names of the organization’s founders, and the organization’s legal address and bank information.
By law, the government must rule on a registration application within 30 days, but there are no specified consequences if the government fails to act by the deadline. Authorities may deny registration of a religious organization if its actions, goals, or religious doctrine contradicts the constitution or other laws. Authorities may also deny registration if an organization’s charter and other establishment documents contradict the law or if the information provided is false. Religious groups may appeal registration denials to the courts.
The Caucasus Muslim Board (CMB) is registered by the SCWRA as a foundation and oversees the activities of registered Islamic organizations, including training and appointing clerics to lead Islamic worship, periodically monitoring sermons, and organizing pilgrimages to Mecca. Muslim communities must receive an approval letter from the CMB before submitting a registration application to the SCWRA.
The law bans activities by unregistered religious groups, which are punishable by fines or imprisonment.
While the law prohibits the government from interfering in the religious activities of any individual or group, there are exceptions for suspected extremist or other illegal activity. The law states government entities and citizens have rights and responsibilities to combat “religious extremism” and “radicalism,” referring to other criminal, administrative, and civil provisions of the law in prescribing punishments. The law defines religious extremism as behavior motivated by religious hatred, religious radicalism (described as believing in the exceptionalism of one’s religious beliefs), or religious fanaticism (described as excluding any criticism of one’s religious beliefs). According to the law, this behavior includes forcing a person to belong to any specific religion or to participate in specific religious rituals. It also includes activities seeking to change by force the constitutional structure of the country’s government, including its secular nature, or setting up or participating in illegal armed groups or unions, and engaging in terrorist activities. The law penalizes actions that intend to change the constitutional order or violate the territorial integrity of the country on the grounds of religious hatred, radicalism, or fanaticism, with prison terms from 15 years to life.
The law also specifies circumstances under which religious organizations may be dissolved, including if they act contrary to their founding objectives; cause racial, national, religious, or social animosity; or proselytize in a way that degrades human dignity or contradicts recognized principles of humanity, such as “love for mankind, philanthropy, and kindness.” Other grounds for dissolution include hindering secular education or inducing members or other individuals to cede their property to the organization.
The law allows foreigners invited by registered religious groups to conduct religious services, but it prohibits citizens who received Islamic education abroad from leading religious ceremonies unless they have received special permission from the CMB. Penalties for violating the law include up to one year’s imprisonment or fines from 1,000 manat ($590) to 5,000 manat ($2,900). A longstanding agreement between the government and the Holy See allows foreigners to lead Catholic rituals.
The law restricts the use of religious symbols and slogans to inside places of worship.
According to the law, the SCWRA reviews and approves all religious literature for legal importation, sale, and distribution. Punishment for the illegal production, distribution, or importation of religious literature can include fines ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 manat ($2,900 to $4,100) or up to two years’ imprisonment for first offenses, and fines of 7,000 to 9,000 manat ($4,100 to $5,300) or imprisonment of between two and five years for subsequent offenses. There is no separate religious component in the curriculum of public or private elementary or high schools; however, students may obtain after-school religious instruction at registered institutions. Students may take courses in religion at higher educational institutions, and the CMB sponsors some religious training abroad. Individuals wishing to participate in state-supported religious education outside the country, whether supported by the national or foreign governments, must obtain permission from, or register with, the SCWRA or the Ministry of Education. If religious education abroad is not supported by the national or foreign governments, individuals are not required to obtain advance permission from authorities. Individuals who pursue foreign government-supported or privately funded religious education abroad without permission from the government are not allowed to hold official religious positions, preach, or lead sermons after returning to the country.
Although the constitution allows alternative service “in some cases” when military service conflicts with personal beliefs, there is no legislation permitting alternative service, including on religious grounds, and refusal to perform military service is punishable under the criminal code with imprisonment of up to two years or forced conscription.
The law stipulates the government may revoke the citizenship of individuals who participate in terrorist actions; engage in religious extremist actions; undergo military training abroad under the guise of receiving religious education; propagate religious doctrines in a “hostile” manner, which the law does not further define; or participate in religious conflicts in a foreign country under the guise of performing religious rituals.
According to the constitution, the law may restrict participation of “religious officials” in elections and bars them from election to the legislature. By law, political parties may not engage in religious activity. The law does not define “religious officials.” The law prohibits religious leaders from simultaneously serving in any public office and in positions of religious leadership. It proscribes the use of religious facilities for political purposes.
The constitution prohibits “spreading of propaganda of religions humiliating people’s dignity and contradicting the principles of humanism,” as well as “propaganda” inciting religious animosity. The law also prohibits threats or expressions of contempt for persons based on religious belief.
The law prohibits proselytizing by foreigners but does not prohibit citizens from doing so. In cases of proselytization by foreigners and stateless persons, the law sets a punishment of one to two years in prison.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In July a resident attacked and wounded the then mayor of the city of Ganja, and subsequently another local assailant stabbed two police officers to death during a related demonstration against local government authorities. In response to these events, security forces conducted operations in the cities of Ganja, Shamkir, Sumgait, and Baku that resulted in the arrest of more than 60 individuals and the deaths of five. The government said the individuals were part of a Shia Muslim “extremist conspiracy” to destabilize the country, and that those killed had resisted arrest. The Muslim Unity Movement and other civil society activists disputed the government’s recounting of the events and stated the five individuals whom security forces killed had not resisted arrest, and that security forced targeted them.
On April 30, family members of imprisoned deputy head of the Muslim Unity Movement Abbas Huseynov said that several days prior, Huseynov had been severely beaten by prison authorities and left chained in an isolation cell for three days. He was subsequently chained to an iron post in the prison yard and exposed to the elements from morning until night on May 10. This followed media and human rights lawyers’ allegations in August 2017 of Huseynov’s torture in the same prison. Authorities denied the allegations.
Authorities continued to arrest and incarcerate individuals with links to Islamic groups, such as the Muslim Unity Movement, that they asserted mix religious and political ideology. Charges against these individuals included drug possession, incitement of religious hatred, terrorism, and attempted coup d’etat. Human rights defenders stated the charges were pretexts, and the incarcerations were meant to prevent political activity by Islamic groups. According to data collected by the Working Group on a Unified List of Political Prisoners in Azerbaijan and other NGOs, the estimated number of religious activists incarcerated at the end of the year was 68, compared with 80 in 2017.
On February 13, the Garadag District Court in Baku added two and one-half months to the 20-year prison term of Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada for possession of the Quran and religious music on electronic media in his prison cell.
On March 6, the Baku Grave Crimes Court found Muslim Unity Movement activist Ahsan Nuruzade guilty of drug possession and sentenced him to seven years in prison. On April 8, the Baku Court of Appeal upheld the verdict. Nuruzade and others in civil society stated authorities prosecuted him for criticizing the government and publicly supporting the imprisoned leadership of the Muslim Unity Movement.
On July 14, the Baku Court on Grave Crimes sentenced Muslim Unity Movement members Ebulfez Bunyadov to 15 years’ imprisonment and Elkhan Isgandarov to 14 years on charges that included inciting religious hatred and terrorism. The Baku Court of Appeals upheld the verdicts on September 26. Activists stated the court convicted the two for their affiliation with the Muslim Unity Movement at the time of the 2015 police operation in the village of Nardaran against Taleh Bagirzada, Abbas Huseynov, and 16 other members of the Muslim Unity Movement.
On March 1, the Supreme Court rejected the appeals of Muslim Unity Movement leader Taleh Bagirzada as well as Abbas Huseynov and 16 others on charges stemming from the 2015 police raid in Nardaran to disrupt alleged planning for a coup. Human rights defenders said authorities ordered the operation and subsequent sweeping arrests to prevent the spread of Islamic political activism in the country. On April 4, the Baku Court of Appeals upheld the December 2017 conviction of 12 other members of the Muslim Unity Movement in a related case. Human rights defenders stated the government fabricated all charges in the cases to halt the spread of an Islamic political opposition in the country.
On February 13, the Supreme Court upheld the verdicts of the Masalli District Court and the Shirvan Court of Appeal sentencing theologian Sardar Babayev to three years in prison for performing Namaz (ritual prayers) after having studied Islam outside the country. He was the only individual ever prosecuted under this law. Following Babayev’s arrest, parliament passed legislation allowing the CMB, the same body that had originally appointed him as imam in Masalli and whose members all received religious education outside Azerbaijan, to waive the law’s requirements for specific individuals.
On December 20, the Khazar District Court sentenced Telman Shiraliyev to an additional five months and 18 days in prison for alleged possession of a weapon in his prison cell. Prosecutors filed the new charge days before the conclusion of his six-year prison term for protesting against a ban on schoolgirls wearing headscarves. Human rights defenders said the new charge was fabricated by authorities to prevent Shiraliyev’s release.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the government continued to withhold alternative military service to conscientious objectors despite being required to do so by the constitution. On July 6, the Barda District Court convicted Jehovah’s Witness Emil Mehdiyev for criminal evasion of military service and sentenced him to one year of probation. On September 6, the Agdam District Court convicted Jehovah’s Witness Vahid Abilov on the same charge and also sentenced him to one year of probation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that in January, 10 police officers raided a home in Lankaran where several families of Jehovah’s Witnesses were gathered. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, police believed the meeting was religious in nature, but it was actually a social gathering. Police searched the home, seized personal literature, and took statements from those present. Authorities required the men to report to a police station to give their statements while they took statements from the women at their homes.
On April 5, authorities released three individuals – Tarlan Agadadashov, Rovshan Allahverdiyev, and Ilham Hatamov – who participated in a 2012 protest seeking to abolish the ban on wearing the hijab in secondary schools who completed their six-year term of imprisonment. On May 24, authorities pardoned and released Davud Kerimov and Elshad Rzayev for their participation in the same protest.
Unregistered Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups considered nontraditional by the government reported authorities continued to impede their activities and subject them to harassment and fines. Some Protestant leaders reported their continued inability to obtain legal registration prevented them from openly conducting worship services or advertising their locations to bring in new members. Leaders of unregistered home-based churches continued to report they kept their activities discreet to avoid unwanted attention from the authorities.
On January 17, police and SCWRA officials raided the shop of Ruhiyya Mehdiyeva in Baku’s Sabunchu District and seized 400 unapproved religious books. On February 1, the Sabunchu District Court found Mehdiyeva guilty of disseminating unauthorized religious materials and fined her 2,000 manat ($1,200).
On January 28, Ganja police raided the home of Adalat Sariyev during a meeting of 100 members of the unregistered Star in the East Pentecostal Church. Police dispersed those present but did not file charges.
Numerous religious communities continued to report frustration at the requirements for government registration. Many groups, including Baptist communities in Zagatala and Baku, complained the government requirement to have a minimum of 50 members to register was unreasonable.
Some religious community leaders also reported the SCWRA continued its policy of applying pre-2009 registration status for such communities only to the physical structures mentioned in their pre-2009 registration forms. While the SCWRA continued to state the religious activities of these communities in locations not covered under their pre-2009 registration status was prohibited, it occasionally granted exceptions upon request.
The SCWRA reported it continued to provide letters authorizing previously registered communities to operate, based on their pre-2009 registration. Some of the religious communities unable to reregister reported police did not accept SCWRA letters as evidence of prior registration and stated only communities listed on the SCWRA website as currently registered were allowed to operate.
On November 8, the SCWRA reregistered the Baku community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
During the year, the SCWRA registered 90 religious communities, of which 86 were Muslim and four Christian. The total number of registered communities at the end of the year was 909, of which 32 were non-Muslim: 21 Christian, eight Jewish, two Baha’i, and one the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. The SCWRA also reported 2,250 mosques, 14 churches, and seven synagogues were registered.
On March 27, President Ilham Aliyev allocated 6.1 million manat ($3.59 million) to the newly established Moral Values Promotion Foundation (MVPF), under the purview of the SCWRA. Created in October 2017, the MVPF institutionalizes the payment of salaries for imams and other mosque staff who previously subsisted primarily from local community donations. The tax-free allowance ranged from 200 to 400 manat ($120-$240) depending on position, and the MVPF began disbursements in May.
On February 9, President Aliyev issued an executive order to establish the Azerbaijan Institute of Theology under the SCWRA. The institute was intended to gradually replace the Baku Islamic University, which operated under the purview of the CMB since 1991. Experts stated the establishment of the MVPF and the Institute of Theology signified a diminishment of the authority of the CMB and a tightening of SCWRA control over the Islamic education and practice in the country.
In February the SCWRA prohibited publication of the book Things Not Existing in Islam by Muslim theologian Elshad Miri, which enumerated ideas and practices alleged to have no theological basis in Islam, such as the use of magic and child marriage. The SCWRA stated the book could have a negative influence on religious stability in the country and thus was not suitable for publication. Miri submitted a legal challenge to the prohibition, and on September 18, a Baku court ruled in favor of the SCWRA and prohibited publication of the book.
The SCWRA reported that in the first half of the year, it prohibited the importation of 19 books out of 483, and the publication of 22 books out of 104.
On January 31, the Constitutional Court informed Baptist Pastor Hamid Shabanov that it would not consider the appeal of a 1,500 manat ($880) fine for a 2016 gathering in the village of Aliabad of his unregistered Baptist community. Human rights defenders stated there were multiple violations of law and process in the case, such as the court’s failure to provide a Georgian language interpreter and requiring Shabanov to sign documents he could not read.
The SCWRA announced on its website that on April 23 it raided a home mosque in Baku’s Qaradag District in a joint operation with the State Security Service and local police. In its statement, the SCWRA noted its concern about youth participation in the unauthorized gathering.
On September 17, regional officials of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, officers of the State Security Service secret police, and officials of unspecified other state agencies raided the home of Vugar Mammadov in Agsu. Officials found Mammadov and two guests, Rauf Majidov and Qanbar Zeynalov, meeting for religious purposes. Officials then charged them for violating legislation on holding religious meetings, marches, and other religious ceremonies. On September 21, Judge Tahir Ismayilov of Agsu District Court found all three individuals guilty. The court fined Zeynalov 2,000 manat ($1,200) and fined the two guests 1,700 manat ($1,000) and 1,500 manat ($880).
On August 6, Sheki District Court fined Samad Alikhanov 2,000 manat ($1,200) for offering religious literature for sale without state permission. Alikhanov appealed his fine to Sheki Appeal Court, but Judge Rafail Aliyev rejected the appeal on September 4.
On March 6, Judge Arif Ismayilov of Zaqatala District Court fined Adil Zinkiyev 1,750 manat ($1,000) for offering 19 religious and historical books and 16 pamphlets for sale outside a mosque in the village of Car on February 16. The Islamic publications were in Avar, Russian, and Arabic; had not undergone the compulsory state censorship; and were not marked with the required State Committee sticker. Zinkiyev appealed the fine, but on May 18, Judge Rafail Aliyev of Sheki Appeal Court rejected the appeal.
On April 12, President Aliyev attended the opening of the new Haji Javad Mosque in Baku that was constructed to replace the mosque of the same name demolished by authorities in July 2017 to construct a new road. Prior to demolition, a group of Muslim practitioners had unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the government’s action.
On June 11, President Aliyev signed a decree allocating one million manat ($588,000) to the CMB for the needs of Muslim communities, and 250,000 manat ($147,000) each to the Baku Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church and the religious community of Mountain Jews. The decree also allocated 100,000 manat ($58,800) each to the European Jewish community, the Albanian-Udi community, and the Catholic Church of Baku.
Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors
The government did not exercise control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Some religious groups and NGOs reported continued restrictions on religious activities by the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, but information on specific abuses remained unavailable.
Jehovah’s Witnesses reported the de facto authorities allowed them to worship in the region without hindrance but denied them registration as a religious group as well as the right to conscientious objection to military service.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Following the July attack on the then head of the Ganja Executive Committee and subsequent killing of two police officers, government-controlled media outlets published articles supporting the narrative that operations by security forces were needed to prevent Islamic extremism. The Ganja events and government media campaign spurred debate in social media in which some users questioned the government’s recounting of the facts, stating criminals, not religious radicals, perpetrated them. Others stated the threat of religious extremism was real and would fill the vacuum created by the government’s clampdown on civil society.
Local experts on religious affairs and civil society representatives stated the country’s historical societal tolerance continued with regard to traditional minority religious groups such as Jews, Russian Orthodox, and Catholics, but many persons viewed groups considered nontraditional, such as Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, with suspicion and mistrust.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The federal constitution states, “every person has the right to profess and practice his religion,” but gives federal and state governments the power to control or restrict proselytization to Muslims. The constitution names Islam as the “religion of the Federation,” and gives parliament powers to make provisions regulating Islamic religious affairs. Federal law allows citizens and organizations to sue the government for constitutional violations of religious freedom. Federal and state governments have the power to “control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.” The constitution identifies the traditional rulers, also known as sultans, as the “Heads of Islam” within their respective states. Sultans are present in nine of the country’s 13 states and are the highest Islamic authority; in the remaining four states and the Federal Territories, the highest Islamic authority is the king. Islamic law is administered by each state. The office of mufti exists in every state to advise the sultan in all matters of Islamic law. Sultans oversee the sharia courts and appoint judges based on the recommendation of the respective state Islamic religious departments and councils who manage the operations of the courts. In states with no sultan and in the Federal Territories, the king assumes responsibility for this process.
Federal law has constitutional precedence over state law, except in matters concerning Islamic law. A constitutional amendment provides that civil courts have no jurisdiction with respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the sharia courts. In a January Federal Court ruling in a case involving conversion of minors, however, the court held it had jurisdiction over the procedures of the sharia administrative authority in the case, and that such jurisdiction could not be abrogated by a constitutional amendment by parliament.
The Shariah Judiciary Department (JKSM) is the federal agency charged with coordinating the sharia courts. The federal Department of Development of Islam (JAKIM) is the permanent secretariat of the federal Fatwa Committee, which consists of 14 muftis, one from each state and one representing the Federal Territories. The Sharia and Civil Technical Committee within the Attorney General’s Chambers oversees the process of sharia lawmaking at the federal level. A 1996 fatwa, supported by state laws, requires the country to follow only Sunni teachings of the Shafi’i school and prohibits Muslims from possessing, publishing, or distributing material contrary to those teachings.
Muslims who seek to convert to another religion must first obtain approval from a sharia court to declare themselves “apostates.” Sharia courts seldom grant such requests, especially for those born a Muslim, and are reluctant to allow conversion for those who had previously converted to Islam. Penalties for apostasy vary by state. In the states of Perak, Melaka, Sabah, and Pahang, apostasy is a criminal offense punishable by a fine or jail term. In Pahang, up to six strokes of the cane may also be imposed. The maximum penalty for apostasy in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu is death. These laws have never been enforced, and their legal status remains untested. Nationally, civil courts generally cede authority to sharia courts in cases concerning conversion from Islam. In some states, sharia allows one parent to convert children to Islam without the consent of the second parent.
A minor (under the age of 18, according to federal law) generally may not convert to another faith without explicit parental permission; however, some states’ laws allow conversion to Islam without permission after age 15. In January the Federal Court, the country’s highest, unanimously overturned a 2015 Court of Appeal ruling that had previously upheld the unilateral conversion of children by a sharia court without the consent of both parents. The judgment said civil courts had jurisdiction to exercise supervisory powers over administrative decisions of state Islamic authorities.
Sedition laws regulate and punish, among other acts, speech considered hostile to ethnic groups, which includes speech insulting Islam. Convictions can result in prison sentences of three to seven years, or up to 20 years if there is physical harm or damage to property. The law also bars speech that “promotes ill will, hostility, or hatred on the grounds of religion.”
Under sharia, which differs by state, individuals convicted of “deviant” religious activity face up to three years in prison or a 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) fine for “insulting” Islam.
JAKIM and state Islamic authorities prepare Friday sermons for congregations as well as oversee and approve the appointment of imams at mosques. JAKIM and state Islamic officials must formally approve all teachers of Islam before they may preach or lecture on Islam in public.
There is no legal requirement for non-Muslim religious groups to register, but to become approved nonprofit charitable organizations, all groups must register with the government’s Registrar of Societies (RoS) by submitting paperwork showing the organization’s leadership, purpose, and rules, and paying a small fee. These organizations are legally required to submit annual reports to the RoS to remain registered. The RoS may inspect registered organizations and investigate those suspected of being used for purposes “prejudicial to public peace, welfare, good order, or morality.”
Tax laws allow a tax exemption for registered religious groups for donations received and a tax deduction for individual donors. Donors giving zakat (tithes) to Muslim religious organizations receive a tax rebate. Donors to government-approved charitable organizations (including some non-Muslim religious groups) may receive a tax deduction on the contribution rather than a tax rebate.
Under sharia, caning is permitted in every state. Offenses subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, include consensual same-sex sexual relations, prostitution, kidnapping, rape, and robbery.
The law forbids proselytizing of Muslims by non-Muslims, with punishments varying from state to state, and including imprisonment and caning. The law allows and supports Muslims proselytizing others. The law does not restrict the rights of non-Muslims to change their religious beliefs and affiliation. A non-Muslim wishing to marry a Muslim must convert to Islam for the marriage to be officially recognized.
State governments have exclusive authority over allocation of land for, and the construction of, all places of worship, as well as land allocation for all cemeteries.
All Islamic houses of worship – including mosques and surau (prayer rooms) – fall under the authority of JAKIM and corresponding state Islamic departments; officials at these departments must give permission for the construction of any mosque or surau.
Islamic religious instruction is compulsory for Muslim children in public schools; non-Muslim students are required to take nonreligious morals and ethics courses. Private schools may offer a non-Islamic religious curriculum as an option for non-Muslims.
Sharia courts have jurisdiction over Muslims in matters of family law and religious observances. Non-Muslims have no standing in sharia proceedings, leading to some cases where sharia court rulings have affected non-Muslims who have no ability to defend their position or appeal the court’s decision, most frequently in rulings affecting custody, divorce, inheritance, burial, and conversion in interfaith families. The relationship between sharia and civil law remains largely unresolved in the legal system. Two states, Kelantan and Terengganu, have symbolically enacted hudood (the Islamic penal law) for Muslims, although the federal government has never allowed the implementation of the code. The states may not implement these laws without amendments to federal legislation and the agreement of the sultan.
The legal age of marriage is 16 for Muslim females and 18 for Muslim males, except in Selangor State, where Muslim females must be 18. Sharia courts may make exceptions for marriage before those ages with the permission of their parents. Non-Muslims must be 18 to marry but may marry as young as 16 with the approval of their state’s chief minister. In September the Selangor State legislature raised the minimum age to marry for both male and female Muslims to 18.
National identity cards specify religious affiliation, and the government uses them to determine which citizens are subject to sharia. The cards identify Muslims in print on the face of the card; for members of other recognized religions, religious affiliation is encrypted in a smart chip within the identity card. Married Muslims must carry a special photo identification of themselves and their spouse as proof of marriage.
JAKIM coordinates the pilgrimage (Hajj), endowment (waqaf), tithes (zakat), and other Islamic activities.
The country is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In January police charged a man with kidnapping and extortion in the February 2017 abduction of Christian Pastor Raymond Koh. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) then suspended its public inquiry into the matter following a request from the inspector general of police, who cited a law that SUHAKAM may not investigate any complaint that is the subject of a court proceeding. Some civil society members said the arrest was an attempt by police to stop SUHAKAM’s public inquiry. SUHAKAM reopened its investigation in August, stating the subject matter of the inquiry and the police investigation were different. Media reported SUHAKAM ended its inquiry on December 7, after hearing the testimonies of 16 witnesses. The inquiry panel was expected to present its findings and recommendations to parliament in 2019.
In May the wife of Amri Che Mat, a Muslim social activist accused of spreading Shia teaching, filed a police report after she said a police officer told her members of the Royal Malaysian Police Special Branch’s Social Extremism Division (E2) were involved in her husband’s disappearance in 2016 as well as Pastor Koh’s. The retired E2 official named by Mat’s wife said he was not involved. Throughout the year, SUHAKAM continued investigating the case as well as that of Christian Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, who also disappeared in 2016.
In September two Muslim women were publicly caned after the Terengganu State sharia court found them guilty of attempting same-sex relations. In September Terengganu’s sharia court sentenced a thirty-year-old woman to be caned and a six-month jail term for prostitution.
Legal experts said the January Federal Court ruling on conversion of minors reaffirmed civil courts’ oversight role in administrative affairs, including the administrative acts of state Islamic religious authorities. The Registrar of Muallafs (Converts) in Perak State had issued certificates of conversion for the minors in 2009 to their father without fulfilling the mandatory statutory requirements, thus “misconstruing the limits of its power and acting beyond its scope,” according to the court’s judgment. The decision came as part of a suit brought by Indira Gandhi, a Hindu, whose ex-husband converted to Islam and unilaterally converted their three minor children, and then successfully petitioned a sharia court for sole custody. As part of its decision, the Federal Court declared both parents must consent to the conversion of a minor child and found the children’s conversion to be “null and void.” In doing so, the court overruled a 2015 Court of Appeal decision in favor of the father and upheld a 2009 High Court decision setting aside the certificates of conversion.
Despite calls from the court for police to locate Indira Gandhi’s ex-husband and their youngest child, whom he abducted in 2009, both remained missing at year’s end. An Islamic nongovernmental organization (NGO), the Muslim Scholars Association of Malaysia, said religious violence could break out were police to continue their search for the ex-husband and child. A coalition of Islamic NGOs later filed an application to review the Federal Court ruling, arguing that only a sharia court could determine whether someone is Muslim or non-Muslim; the case remained undecided at year’s end.
According to media reports, critics of the Indira Gandhi ruling included the Muftis of Perak and Pahang and the Malaysian Islamic Organization Consultative Council. The council said the decision conflicted with the views of the majority of ulama and undermined the provision of the constitution that stipulated the jurisdiction of a sharia court could not be disputed. Supporters of the ruling included the Women’s Aid Organization and the Malaysian Human Rights Society, which said the decision resolved issues in cases where the nonconverting spouse had been left without remedy in the civil courts.
Citing the Indira Gandhi decision, a lower court ruled in October that the unilateral conversion of two minor children by their mother, who converted to Islam after their birth, was invalid. Despite the court decisions, some members of civil society said questions surrounding unilateral conversions of minors would remain outstanding until the federal parliament clarified the issue through legislation.
It remained difficult for those registered as Muslims to have their religious identification changed by the authorities. In April the Court of Appeal dismissed an application made by a woman born out of wedlock to a Muslim-Buddhist couple and raised by her Buddhist mother to be declared a non-Muslim and therefore to remove “Islam” from her national identity card.
In a case involving conversion by adults, the Federal Court dismissed in February an appeal by four individuals from Sarawak State who wished to have their cases considered in a civil court, ruling the state’s sharia court was the proper court for apostasy cases.
Lawyers, civil liberty groups, and non-Muslim religious leaders said that when civil and sharia jurisdictions intersected, civil courts continued largely to give deference to sharia courts, creating situations where sharia judgements affected non-Muslims.
In June a 41-year-old Muslim Malaysian man married an 11-year-old Muslim Thai girl in Thailand and moved back with her to Malaysia. Despite public outrage over the matter, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the Malaysian government was powerless to act, as Islamic courts have jurisdiction over the issue of marriage between Muslims. The prime minister, deputy prime minister, and other government officials said they would work to increase the minimum age of marriage to 18 years for all men and women. By year’s end, Selangor State changed the official age of marriage to 18 years.
In July the minister for religious affairs said the government planned to present three new bills – the Anti-Discrimination Act, National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Act, and Religious and Racial Hatred Act – to parliament that would criminalize “humiliating religion and race” and impose penalties of up to seven years in jail and a fine up to 100,000 ringgit ($24,200). By year’s end, the government had not introduced the bills for parliamentary consideration; some civil society groups expressed concern the legislation could curtail lawful free speech.
The Pakatan Harapan coalition government, which took power for the first time following federal elections in May, indicated that it would continue to enforce a 1996 fatwa declaring Shia teachings “deviant.” Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of religious authorities arresting Shia Muslims for observing Ashura. Media reported, however, that religious authorities in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor State increased monitoring of Shia individuals to prevent Ashura gatherings and distributed leaflets condemning “deviant practices.” Officials in Kelantan State raided a Shia religious center in August and detained 10 individuals. When the federal minister for religious affairs stated publicly that the constitution protects the rights of minority communities, including Shia, Zahid Hamidi, president of the opposition United Malays National Organization (UMNO), said his party would oppose the spread of Shia teachings.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told the Associated Press in August, “Anti-Semitic is a term that is invented to prevent people from criticizing the Jews for doing wrong things.” In October he repeated his statement from the 1970s that Jews are “hook-nosed” and that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was not six million.
JAKIM continued to implement established federal guidelines concerning what constituted deviant Islamic behavior or belief. State religious authorities generally followed these guidelines. Those differing from the official interpretation of Islam continued to face adverse government action, including mandatory “rehabilitation” in centers that teach and enforce government-approved Islamic practices. The government forbade individuals to leave such centers until they completed the program, which varied in length, but often lasted approximately six months. These counseling programs continued to be designed to ensure the detainee adopted the government’s official interpretation of Islam.
State Islamic religious enforcement officers continued to have the authority to accompany police on raids of private premises and public establishments, and to enforce sharia, including for violations such as indecent dress, distribution of banned publications, alcohol consumption, or khalwat (close proximity to a nonfamily member of the opposite sex). An officer from the Federal Territory Islamic Affairs Religious Department testified in court in March that warrants were never produced during any of the raids in which he was involved on such issues. In October The Star reported the minister for religious affairs indicated the government was not interested in what went on behind closed doors, but only what happened in the “public sphere.” The government, however, subsequently demanded an apology from The Star for reporting the government would stop “khalwat raids.”
According to some state laws, Muslims could be fined 1,000 ringgit ($240) if they did not attend “counseling” after being found guilty of wearing what authorities deemed to be immodest clothing. The Kelantan State Islamic Affairs Department issued notices to more than 300 individuals from January through June for wearing clothing deemed un-Islamic, such as women wearing tight clothing, and behaving indecently in public. The notices required the individuals to attend counseling sessions; however, a representative of the Islamic Affairs Department said only 20 percent complied with the order. The representative said the department would pursue legal action if the accused did not attend a counseling session after receiving a second notice. In July media reported the Kota Baru municipal council in Kelantan would consider employees’ adherence to Islamic dress codes when evaluating food outlets’ cleanliness.
In March a woman said Kota Baru municipal council officials stopped her from working as a master of ceremonies during a children’s event, saying that Muslim women could not speak into microphones because a woman’s voice should not be heard by unrelated men.
In October the Terengganu State tourism department issued 11 guidelines for music and dance events, including segregation of male and female performers and audience members and the requirement that female performers only sing and dance in front of an all-female audience in a closed venue. In response to the announcement, the NGO Sisters in Islam (SIS) said, “The government’s readiness to resort to guidelines that impose their archaic worldview endangers the progress of all Malaysian women and their right to participate fully and equally in this country’s socioeconomic development and public life.”
Civil society activists said the government selectively prosecuted speech allegedly denigrating Islam and largely ignored criticisms of other faiths. In April a court fined a woman 5,000 ringgit ($1,200) after she was convicted under the Sedition Act for posting a picture of a pork dish on social media during Ramadan in 2013 with a caption that said “Happy breaking of the fast.” Weeks before federal elections in May, then Minister of Federal Territories Tengku Adnan warned voters against voting for a largely ethnic Chinese party because many of its members were evangelical Christians. “If they are Catholics I would believe them, but when they are evangelists, new Christians, this is the problem,” he said. The same month, the Mufti of the Federal Territories said Islam permitted voting for non-Muslims but said voters must ensure “that the country’s top posts, such as prime minister, Islamic affairs [minister], and national defense [minister], remain to be held by qualified Muslims only.”
During a speech in February, then Prime Minister Najib Razak promised supporters “all of you will be able to perform the Hajj” if they returned his party to power in upcoming elections.
Some politicians, Islamic leaders, and NGOs opposed the government’s plan to sign the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), saying it would strip away ethnic Malay privileges and threaten Islam’s position as the country’s official religion. The president of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) said, “We must oppose (it) because it is compulsory for Muslims to say that Islam is correct. We can give rights to other religions but to say that other religions are the same as Islam is unacceptable.” Following opposition from Islamic and ethnic Malay groups, the government announced in November it would not ratify the convention. As many as 50,000 individuals rallied in downtown Kuala Lumpur on December 8 to celebrate the government’s rejection of ICERD. Referring to opposition parties, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said some Malaysians appeared “allergic” to the idea of human rights, according to Al Jazeera.
Officials at the federal and state levels oversaw Islamic religious activities, distributed all sermon texts for mosques to follow, used mosques to convey political messages, and limited public expression of religion deemed contrary to Sunni Islam. In March media reported sermons in Selangor State no longer included language referring to Shia Islam as “deviant,” although officials said the decision was to shorten the length of the sermons and represented no change in policy.
During the year, Islamic authorities in the states of Perak and Johor banned several Muslim preachers from delivering sermons because they were deemed “divisive.” One of the banned preachers had questioned the Sultan of Johor for publicly criticizing a laundromat that did not allow non-Muslim customers.
In May members of PAS criticized the Sabah State government’s decision to revive construction of a statue of the Taoist and Chinese Buddhist goddess Mazu, saying such a statue would challenge “the sensitivities of the [Muslim] community.”
The government continued to maintain restrictions on religious assembly and provisions, which denied certain religious groups the ability to register as charitable organizations. Many churches and NGOs continued to find registration difficult, with the RoS denying or delaying many applications without explanation or for highly technical reasons. Representatives of religious groups continued to say the registrar had no consistent policy or transparent criteria for determining whether to register religious groups. In cases in which the government refused to register a religious group, the group could pursue registration as a company. Religious groups reported that registering as a company was generally relatively quick and provided a legal basis for conducting business, did not limit the group’s religious activities, and allowed the organization certain activities such as holding a bank account and owning property, but did not give the organization tax-exempt status or government funding. Examples of groups that continued to be registered as companies included Jehovah’s Witnesses and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Federal and state governments continued to forbid religious assembly and worship for groups considered to be “deviant” Islamic groups, including Shia, Ahmadiyya, and Al-Arqam. While Ahmadi Muslims in the country reported generally being able to maintain a worship center, government religious authorities did not allow them to hold Friday prayers as these could only be performed in an officially registered mosque. The High Court ruled in July that the Selangor State religious authorities did not have jurisdiction over the Ahmadiyya community because they were not recognized as Muslims. Ahmadiyya community leaders expressed optimism about the ruling, seeing it as a new protection of their freedom to worship without harassment by the state’s Islamic authorities. Some civil society members, however, expressed concern that the Ahmadiyya community’s recognition as a non-Muslim group could have symbolic and practical implications. The Selangor State Islamic Department appealed the decision and the case remained pending at year’s end. Local authorities have permitted billboards proclaiming “Ahmadis are not Muslims” to be placed in front of the group’s headquarters for the past several years.
In September the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (JAWI) investigated a public awareness campaign event in Kuala Lumpur organized by “Who Is Hussain?” – a UK-based organization JAWI said was proselytizing Shia teachings. No one was arrested in connection with the event, which involved the distribution of free donuts to commuters at a train station.
Restrictions remained on the use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims. An appeal by the Sidang Injil Borneo, an evangelical Christian church based in Sabah and Sarawak, for the right of the church and its Malay language-speaking congregation to use the word “Allah” in Bibles and other religious publications remained ongoing.
The government continued to ban books for promoting Shia beliefs, mysticism, and other beliefs the government determined “clearly deviated from the true teachings of Islam.” In April the government announced it had banned six publications “deemed to contain elements that cause confusion among the people and are contrary to Islam’s Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Sunni) teachings.” In January the Court of Appeal ruled a 2015 ban on three books by novelist Faisal Musa violated the author’s freedom of speech. The previous government appealed the decision, but in October the new government withdrew the appeal and instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to remove the titles from its list of banned publications.
Non-Muslim groups continued to report regular difficulties in obtaining permission from local authorities to build new places of worship, leading many groups to use buildings zoned for residential or commercial use for their religious services. Observers said this practice remained largely tolerated, but left the religious groups vulnerable. In December Minister for Housing and Local Government Zuraida Kamaruddin said the government was preparing to register all existing houses of worship and their location. According to The Straits Times, the minister said houses of worship located on land not belonging to them would have to move. The ministry was drafting regulations to make it compulsory for all proposed houses of worship to acquire government approval before building.
In February at the 69th session of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a delegate from the Attorney General’s Office and other Malaysian delegates said female circumcision was and should be observed by Muslims per a 2009 decision by the national fatwa committee, although there was an exception for health reasons. NGOs said the procedure practiced in Malaysia qualified as Female Genital Mutilation according to the UN CEDAW definition.
Some government bodies, including the federal Department of National Unity and Integration, were tasked with encouraging religious harmony and protecting the rights of minority religious groups. Many faith-based organizations, however, continued to state they believed that none had the power and influence of those that regulated Islamic affairs, citing the large footprint and budget for JAKIM, compared to the more limited funding for the Department of National Unity and Integration. The Department of National Unity and Integration’s annual budget was approximately 275 million ringgit ($66.59 million), while 1 billion ringgit ($242.13 million) was marked for the development of Islam, including 811 million ringgit ($196.37 million) for JAKIM.
During the year, JAKIM continued to fund a wide variety of Islamic education and mosque-related projects. There were no specifically allocated funds in the government budget for non-Muslim religious groups, although some religious groups reported continuing to receive sporadic funding for temple and church buildings and other activities.
At public school primary and secondary levels, student assemblies frequently commenced with recitation of an Islamic prayer by a teacher or school leader. Particularly in the peninsula of the country, community leaders and civil liberties groups said religion teachers in public schools pressured Muslim girls to wear the tudong (Islamic head covering) at school. Some private schools required Muslim girls to wear veils covering their faces, except for their eyes. Homeschooling remained legal, but some families continued to report difficulty in obtaining approval from the Ministry of Education.
A civil liberties activist called attention to the contents of an Islamic studies supplementary book for secondary school students that promoted death for apostates.
In August a judge on the Court of Appeal who had disagreed with that court’s 2015 decision allowing unilateral conversion of children to Islam said he was reprimanded by a senior judge and was ostracized and not assigned to certain cases as a result of his view.
The government continued not to recognize marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and considered children born of such unions illegitimate. The government continued its appeal of a 2017 ruling by the Court of Appeal that the National Registration Division was not bound by edicts issued by the National Fatwa Committee, a religious body, regarding when a child conceived out of wedlock could take his or her father’s name. Implementation of the court’s decision remained stayed pending the appeal. The 2003 edict declared children illegitimate, and therefore unable to take their father’s name, if they were born fewer than six months after the marriage of their parents.
On June 5, the government announced Tommy Thomas as the new Attorney General, the first non-Muslim, non-Malay to hold the post. In July a member of PAS said the government’s appointment of non-Muslims to senior positions, including to the positions of attorney general, chief justice, and minister of legal affairs, would weaken sensitivity to legal matters involving Islam and Muslims. The prime minister responded, “We will establish a government that upholds the laws and the constitution of the country and we will not do anything contrary to Islam.” In September PAS stated it would focus on advocating for “Islamic leadership” given what it said was the low number of Muslims in parliament.
In November police in Kedah State arrested and later deported four foreign nationals for allegedly distributing religious materials that contained excerpts from the Bible. The individuals were investigated for causing disharmony or ill will and violating the conditions of their visas. Authorities in Penang State arrested five foreign nationals earlier in the month for similar offenses.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Local human rights organizations and religious leaders again said society continued to become increasingly intolerant of religious diversity. They cited some Muslim groups’ continuing public condemnation of events and activities they said were “un-Islamic,” as well as heavily publicized statements targeting non-Sunni Muslims and non-Muslim groups. In August UMNO’s youth chief called on Minister of Defense Mohamad Sabu to explain his presence at a ceremony allegedly held at a Shia religious center in southern Thailand. Some Islamic groups accused the minister of being a closeted adherent of Shia teachings. In May the chief minister of Melaka State faced similar accusations. In November Islamic leaders, including the Mufti of Pahang State, defended the 1996 fatwa banning Shia teachings in the country as justified after a social activist called for the fatwa’s repeal. The mufti called Shia practices “deviant” and “destructive to the purity of Islam.”
On November 26, violence broke out near Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple in Subang Jaya, Selangor, after as many as 200 masked individuals, who temple devotees said were hired by a real estate developer claiming ownership of the land, entered the temple and attempted to forcibly remove devotees. According to The Straits Times, at least a dozen individuals were injured and 20 vehicles torched. A fireman later died from injuries sustained while responding to the incident. In total 83 individuals were arrested. As video of the event went viral online, speculation of a riot between the two groups emerged, but police and government officials later characterized the matter as a local land dispute and initiated legal action against those responsible.
In October a member of parliament received death threats after she urged the government to ratify the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. In response, Malay rights group Perkasa said it would ask police to investigate her for sedition, and Ismaweb said her actions promoted apostasy. A Sarawak State legislator received online death threats in February related to his work representing four individuals who sought to convert from Islam to another religion.
In January police arrested a 24-year-old man suspected of involvement in a fire that destroyed 40 percent of a Buddhist temple in Negeri Sembilan State. CCTV footage reportedly showed the suspect stealing money from the temple’s office before the fire started. The same month, police arrested a man for suspected involvement in two acts of vandalism at a church and Hindu temple in Kelantan State. Three people were injured in a “water bomb” attack at a church in a Kuala Lumpur suburb following a New Year’s Eve prayer session, although police later said in a statement, “It is believed that the incident has nothing to do with any form of religious hatred.”
Religious converts, particularly those converting from Islam, sometimes faced severe stigmatization. In many cases, converts reportedly concealed newly adopted beliefs and practices from their former coreligionists, including friends and relatives.
In November the NGO Islamic Renaissance Front said Shia and Ahmadi Muslims faced more restrictions than non-Muslims, and urged the new government to move away from a “right-wing and supremacist” narrative to one based on universal human rights.
Religious identities continued to affect secular aspects of life. Muslim women who did not wear the headscarf or conform to religious notions of modesty were often subject to shaming in public and on social media. In January police arrested a man who admitted to assaulting a woman at a bus stop because he was angry that she was not wearing a head scarf.
Some Muslim groups criticized the minister of defense after media published a photo of him shaking hands with the U.S. Ambassador, a woman, arguing that Islam forbids unrelated men and women from touching.
A group of men raided a convenience store in the Perak State in May and demanded the owners stop selling alcohol, as the majority of the community’s residents were Muslim. The group reportedly threatened strong action against the store’s owners if their demands were not met. Police opened an investigation into the incident and encouraged the public to refrain from taking action in such cases and instead to file a police report.
In October Islamic groups, including PAS members, pressured the government to ban Oktoberfest events saying the events were offensive to Muslims. At least two state governments announced they would not issue permits for Oktoberfest activities, although later they said they did not receive any applications for such events.
Malls and other commercial venues said they scaled back on decorations celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year, which in 2018 was associated with the zodiac symbol of a dog, for fear of offending Muslims who may see dogs as unclean animals. Some businesses admitted they removed images of dogs from their advertising. In a statement, the director of JAKIM said, “Even though Chinese New Year uses an animal as a symbol, all quarters should respect this and maintain racial harmony.”
In November pieces of what was believed to be pork were thrown into two surau (prayer rooms) in Malacca State. Police investigated the incident under the penal code, which outlaws injuring and defiling a place of worship with the intent to insult.
Religious groups hosted interfaith and intercultural celebrations throughout the year. In June Muslims at the Al-Faizin mosque in Kuala Lumpur invited individuals of all faiths to share in the spirit of Ramadan for the first time since the mosque’s establishment. In December the Petaling Jaya Sri Sithi Vinayagar Temple held an interfaith cultural celebration with representatives from 22 religious organizations attending.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The constitution prohibits discrimination on religious grounds and provides for the freedom of individuals to profess their religion or belief, individually or in community with others, without affecting their responsibilities under the law. The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs outside of buildings or enclosed spaces to protect health, ensure traffic safety, and prevent disorder.
The law makes it a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred and provides a penalty of imprisonment for up to two years, a fine of up to 8,100 euros ($9,300), or both. To qualify as hate speech, statements must be directed at a group of persons; the law does not consider statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” (as opposed to “Muslims,”) as criminal hate speech.
The law does not require religious groups to register with the government. If the tax authorities determine the groups meet specific criteria, they grant them exemptions from all taxes, including income, value-added, and property taxes. Under the tax law, to qualify for tax exemptions such groups must be “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contribute to the general welfare of society, and be nonprofit and nonviolent.
On June 26, the government approved a ban on full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings. The government did not implement the ban during the year; it expected to do so in 2019 after agreeing on implementation procedures. Individuals violating the law will first be asked to remove the face covering or leave the building. Those refusing to cooperate may be fined 410 euros ($470).
The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector. Members of religious communities for whom the Sabbath is not Sunday may request similar exemptions.
The Council of State and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR) are responsible for reviewing complaints of religious discrimination. The Council of State is the highest administrative court in the country, and its rulings are binding. The NIHR serves as the government’s independent human rights watchdog, responsible for advising the government and monitoring and highlighting such issues, including those pertaining to religion. The NIHR hears complaints of religious discrimination, often involving labor disputes, and issues opinions that do not carry the force of law but with which the addressed parties tend to comply.
Local governments appoint antidiscrimination boards that work independently under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. These local boards provide information on how to report complaints and mediate disputes, including those pertaining to discrimination based on religion. Acceptance of mediation decisions by parties involved in disputes is voluntary.
The government provides funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions have to meet government educational standards as well as minimum class size and healthcare requirements. The constitution stipulates that standards required of religious or ideology-based (termed “special”) schools, financed either in part or fully by the government, shall be regulated by law with due regard for the freedom of these schools to provide education according to their religion or ideology.
The constitution stipulates public education shall pay due respect to the individual’s religion or belief, and the law permits, but does not require, religious education in public schools. Specialist teachers teach religion classes in public schools that offer them, and enrollment in these classes is optional. All schools are required to familiarize students with the various religious movements in society, regardless of the school’s religious affiliation. Religion-based schools, which are also government-funded, are free to shape religious education, as long as the education inspectorate agrees that such education does not incite criminal offenses. Approximately 71 percent of government-funded schools have a religious, humanist, or philosophical basis. The Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science is responsible for setting national curriculum standards that all schools must comply with and monitoring compliance.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Local governments continued to provide security to mosques and Islamic institutions, as required. Separately, the national government continued to address security issues with representatives of the Muslim community, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, and local authorities, through a special working group established in 2017. Local governments, in consultation with the national government, also continued to provide security to all Jewish institutions. The Foundation for Life and Welfare, an NGO that advised the Jewish community on security and protection, stated in its annual report in July that the Jewish community was exposed to substantial threats. It emphasized the importance of maintaining rigorous security measures and expressed regret over the city of Amsterdam’s 2017 decision to replace manned police booths at Jewish institutions with camera surveillance.
Ron van der Wieken, president of the Central Jewish Council (CJO), which advocated for the rights and interests of the Jewish community in the country, said that when the CJO met in February with a government delegation that included Prime Minister Mark Rutte, it requested the establishment of a Dutch anti-Semitism coordinator. At year’s end the government had not yet taken a position on whether to appoint such a coordinator.
Proponents of the law banning full-face coverings in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings, which included most political parties (132 out of 150 members of parliament voted in favor of it) argued the law had nothing to do with religion, and was necessary for individuals to integrate into an open democratic society. Opponents, which included the D66 Party, the Green Party, and the DENK Party, stated the legislation targeted devout Muslim women and religious freedom and was largely symbolic, since the number of women wearing a niqab or burka in the country was very small.
Regional Muslim organizations, including SIOHR (the Alliance of Islamic Organizations in The Hague region), SMBZ (the Alliance of Mosque Boards in Brabant and Zeeland), and SPIOR (the Foundation Platform of Islamic Organizations in the Rotterdam Region) also protested the ban. Authorities said they expected to begin enforcing the ban beginning in summer 2019 after coming to agreements on the logistics of enforcement with the leaders of sectors to which the ban applied. The mayors of Amsterdam and Rotterdam said they would give no priority to enforcing the ban.
Freedom (PVV) Party leader Geert Wilders announced in May he would hold a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in November in his party’s offices in parliament. The government, including National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism Dick Schoof, distanced itself from the event but said it was prepared to provide security in order to protect freedom of expression. In August Prime Minister Rutte said the contest was “not respectful,” but the government “stands firmly by freedom of expression.” He called it “a provocation.” On August 27, police arrested a Pakistani man in The Hague after the man posted a video on Facebook stating he planned to attack the organizer of the cartoon contest or the parliament. Shortly thereafter, Wilders cancelled the contest because of what he said were threats against him and others. He stated the response to the contest had proven his point that Islam was violent and intolerant.
In March the PVV campaign produced a television commercial with the text reading, “Islam equals discrimination, violence, terror, misogyny, hatred of gays, hatred of Jews, hatred of Christians, subjugation, forced marriage, honor killing, totalitarianism, death of apostates, sharia, animal suffering, injustice, slavery, and is lethal.” Several organizations, including the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, filed a complaint with police for inciting discrimination of, and violence against, Muslims. On May 1, the prosecutor’s office announced the video did not constitute a criminal offense, as it was directed against a religion, and not against people, and did not incite discrimination or violence against Muslims.
In September Forum for Democracy (FVD) Party leader Thierry Baudet, whose party had two seats in parliament, stated in media interviews that Islam posed a threat to society. He said “the radicalization of Muslims [was] increasing” and the construction and architecture of mosques in the country was intentionally provocative. He also stated mosques were “a breeding ground for anti-Dutch sentiments and behavior,” Islamic schools were a problem, and Christianity was superior to Islam.
On February 14, the discrimination officer at the prosecutor’s office decided that a January statement by a local PVV politician, Henk van Deun, did not constitute hate speech or incitement to commit criminal offenses. Van Deun said in a radio interview about a particular mosque, “We prefer if it was burned down, so to speak. We are truly against mosques. We do not recognize Islam as a religion. It is an ideology.”
In its most recent report, covering 2017, the NGO Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) reported half a dozen anti-Semitic statements by politicians from the DENK party and local Hague Unity Party. In October 2017, CIDI said DENK had queried the cabinet about what it said was a slander campaign by the “Israeli lobby” against a minister married to a Palestinian. At the same time, according to the CIDI report, DENK posted on Facebook a picture suggesting that Israel or Jews controlled politics in the country and alluding to the anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” In May CIDI filed a complaint with police against a tweet by Hague Unity Party council member Arnoud van Doorn saying, “May Allah destroy the Zionists.”
In September the prosecutor’s office said it had initiated an investigation into whether spokespersons for the Muslim NIDA and Unity Parties broke the law with anti-Semitic statements during a pro-Palestinian rally in Rotterdam in 2017. The investigation continued at year’s end.
The government continued to monitor the foreign funding of Dutch mosques and Islamic institutions and said it was examining whether it was legally possible to obligate foreign countries or organizations to be transparent about their donations.
Spokespersons for Christian political parties such as the Political Calvinist Alliance (SGP) and Christian Democratic Appeal said political parties that were part of the secular majority in parliament regularly presented proposals to ban religion from public spaces and eliminate what it called privileges of religious communities, such as the right to conduct religious slaughter, tax advantages, and death notification services (when the government informs churches of the deaths of citizens.) These proposals failed to gain sufficient support to move forward in parliament. Representatives of religion-based parties in parliament, such as SGP leader Kees van der Staaij, stated in October that true democracy reflected respect for minorities, which included persons of religious belief.
On July 12, the Amsterdam District Court convicted Saleh Ali, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, of vandalism and theft and sentenced him to a six-week prison term. It also ordered him to undergo treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. In December 2017, Ali waved a Palestinian flag and smashed the windows of a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam. According to his attorney, he carried out the attack out of frustration over Israeli policy toward Palestinians and President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus reacted to the attack by saying, “discrimination of population groups in whatever form … is unacceptable.” According to The Times of Israel newspaper, Vice President of CJO and former head of CIDI Ronny Naftaniel said Ali’s sentence “does not constitute any deterrence” for those contemplating anti-Semitic crimes. On social media, CIDI expressed concern that “someone who constitutes such a risk can walk about freely.”
Government ministers, including Prime Minister Rutte, regularly spoke out against anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment in speeches, such as at the annual Auschwitz and Kristallnacht commemorations. At the National Holocaust Commemoration in Amsterdam on January 28, Rutte stated, “Contemporary anti-Semitism still frightens people. There is always fear. Not daring to go outside wearing a yarmulke, and the surveillance at synagogues, Jewish schools, and shops. We must remain alert in the fight against the big evil that may always raise its head again.” On April 13, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus said in parliament, “There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, honor killings…inciting hatred and violence against those with different opinions and minorities.”
On September 11, two parliamentarians, Gert-Jan Segers (Christian Union Party) and Dilan Yesilgoz (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), organized a roundtable in parliament on anti-Semitism at which Jewish organizations highlighted proposals they believed would help combat anti-Semitism. Proposals included explicit condemnation of anti-Semitic offenses by public officials, heavier penalties for hate crimes, adoption of the European working definition on anti-Semitism drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and Holocaust education initiatives.
In its annual report issued in April and covering 2017, the NIHR said that in November of that year the National Police had discriminated against a police officer by not allowing her to wear a headscarf with her uniform. The police, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus, and politicians from various political parties, however, stated police must convey a neutral and uniform image, and said that was the basis for the ban on wearing any visible and recognizable sign of religion in combination with a uniform. According to Grapperhaus, the National Police disregarded the NIHR’s finding and continued with a policy of not allowing personnel to wear headscarves.
According to several religious community leaders, the government continued its policy of not allowing religiously affiliated organizations to proselytize at asylum centers. The government agency charged with overseeing asylum centers, the Central Body for Accommodating Asylum Seekers, again said it had instituted this policy to avoid inflaming tensions among different religious groups housed together in an already sensitive environment. Some members of religious groups said they continued to have difficulty gaining access to the centers, even as volunteers.
In August Said Bouharrou, spokesman for the Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, said the government had not properly communicated the stricter requirements on ritual slaughter that it introduced in 2017, and thereby caused significant unrest within the Muslim community. Richard de Mooij, spokesman for the Association of Slaughterhouses, said the new rules were not unclear, but the procedure had become more cumbersome due to the requirement of having a veterinarian present. According to attorney Herman Loonstein, who represented the only kosher butcher in the country, the stricter rules created some initial problems, but they were resolved after consultations between the communities and the local authorities.
PVV leader Wilders presented draft legislation on September 19 to close mosques and schools teaching Islamic ideology, and to ban the Quran and the wearing of a burqa or niqab in public. The bill proposed substantial financial penalties. Wilders tweeted “Islam is no religion but an ideology – totalitarian-like fascism. Let us treat Islam as such and not grant it constitutional protection anymore.” Other parties did not support the bill, and at year’s end parliament had not taken it up for debate.
Wilders unsuccessfully tried in the spring and fall to void his December 2016 court conviction for inciting discrimination and making insulting racial remarks about Moroccans at a 2014 rally. Wilders argued that the 2016 trial was politically motivated and that his statements were protected free speech. The court did not void the conviction, and Wilders’ formal appeal was scheduled to proceed in spring 2019.
Following the release of a 2017 government report stating that Salafist organizations were growing in the country and promoting intolerance towards others, the government issued a policy paper in October citing its commitment to religious freedom for the wide variety of religious communities in the country. The policy paper stated Dutch society had room for “a huge diversity of [religious] doctrines, opinions, and value systems,” but that within the Salafist movement there were those who promoted intolerance, incited hatred, and rejected government authority. The paper added that religious freedom had limits, and that, while the government did not interfere with religious aspirations, “it must act against those who aim to limit the freedom of people with different views.”
On February 8, Prime Minister Rutte, three deputy prime ministers, Minister of Justice Grapperhaus, and security officials met with the Jewish community to discuss matters of concern, such as security, anti-Semitism, and ritual slaughter. The CJO, Netherlands-Jewish Congregation, Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, Contact Body for Jews, Christians and Muslims, and CIDI attended the meeting. The mayors and responsible aldermen in the larger cities, such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, also met with the Jewish community to discuss security issues and other topics of interest to the Jewish community. These city governments supported a range of projects, such as educational projects to teach primary schoolchildren about the Holocaust and to counter prejudice about Jews. Amsterdam, with the largest Jewish population in the country, was particularly active in such programming and sponsored visits of school children to the Westerbork Holocaust commemoration center.
On April 26, the government presented the annual update of its National Action Plan against Discrimination, which included specific measures to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment. Among the government-funded projects the report cited were several to train teachers to deal with such issues. The University of Amsterdam developed teaching material to address current and historical relations between Jews and Muslims. Other programs trained leading figures from the Jewish and Muslim communities to serve as constructive societal leaders and encouraged interfaith dialogue through a project titled Building Bridges, which established local networks of persons from different religious communities. In April the government presented a comprehensive manual for local governments on developing a local antidiscrimination policy, including religiously motivated discrimination.
In May the government appropriated two million euros ($2.29 million) of additional funding to expand two sites located at former concentration camps in Amersfoort and Vught currently used for Holocaust education programs for schoolchildren. The camps received growing numbers of visitors, including many school classes. “It is good that these sites keep the memories alive and that stories are not forgotten,” State Secretary for Health, Welfare, and Sport Paul Blokhuis said regarding Holocaust remembrance.
Also as part of the action plan, the government continued to work with the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association, local authorities, police officials, the prosecutor’s office, soccer clubs, and the Anne Frank Foundation NGO on ways to counter anti-Semitic chanting, salutes, and other behavior directed against religious groups during soccer matches. According to the plan, as soon as anti-Semitic chanting occurred, soccer clubs asked supporters to stop immediately. If they did not, the clubs suspended the match. Participants agreed on measures to prosecute offenders or ban them from stadiums. With government funding, the Anne Frank Foundation organized government-sponsored projects such as the “Fan Coach” project that sought to counter anti-Semitic chanting by educating soccer fans on why their actions were anti-Semitic. Another Anne Frank Foundation initiative, the “Fair Play” project, promoted discussion about countering discrimination, including religious discrimination.
Among the elements of the action plan designed to counter discrimination against Muslims were projects examining how to better enable reporting of discrimination complaints against Muslims, and improve security at mosques. As part of this effort, authorities conducted regional meetings in which representatives of local governments, police, antidiscrimination bureaus, and Muslim communities discussed ways to improve collaboration. Representatives of the Muslim community, National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, national government, local authorities, and police together drafted the Safe Mosque Manual, containing information, recommendations, and best practices for mosques, local authorities, and the police on how to deal together with concrete tension and incidents around mosques.
In the run-up to the March local elections, all major political parties except the DENK and Bij1 Parties, which had a significant number of migrant members, signed an accord in which they pledged to protect the Jewish community in Amsterdam. The signatories to the accord offered support and guidance to schools and teachers that had trouble discussing the Holocaust in the classroom. As a part of the accord, the city of Amsterdam added programs to its existing Holocaust education curriculum for schoolchildren.
In March CIDI called on the government to pay specific attention to anti-Semitism in efforts to combat discrimination; adopt the working definition on anti-Semitism of the IHRA; monitor anti-Semitism on social media; issue heavier penalties for anti-Semitic crimes of violence; make anti-Semitism part of the government’s integration and radicalization policy; bar foreign terrorist fighters from the country; and improve Holocaust education at all schools.
In late November a majority of parliamentarians supported a nonbinding motion to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, per the European Parliament’s 2017 call to EU member states. Foreign Minister Stef Blok stated the government accepted the IHRA definition, although it was not legally bound by it. On December 12, parliamentarians expressed concern over the findings of a survey by the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) that Jews perceived anti-Semitism to be on the rise in Europe and the Netherlands. GreenLeft Party Parliamentarian Kathalijne Buitenweg said she would call Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus to parliament to inquire what was being done to counter anti-Semitism.
The government continued to require asylum seekers seeking to obtain a residence permit to sign a statement of participation in civic integration. The statement informed immigrants of their rights and obligations and of fundamental values, including freedom of religion.
The government continued to require imams and other spiritual leaders recruited from abroad to complete a course on integrating into Dutch society before preaching in the country. This requirement did not apply to clergy from EU countries, or to approximately 140 Turkish imams appointed by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate. The government also sponsored leadership courses intended to facilitate imam training in Dutch, free of foreign influence.
The government is a member of the IHRA.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were reports of violence, threats, discrimination, verbal abuse, and vandalism against Muslims and Jews. Agencies collecting data on such incidents stated many occurrences went unreported. Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
On August 31, an Afghan man stabbed two persons at Amsterdam Central Station. The suspect told police he believed the Dutch had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, Islam, and the Quran. He cited PVV leader and opposition parliamentarian Geert Wilders as a motivating factor.
CIDI reported 113 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, compared with 109 in the previous year. These included four physical assaults, 28 incidents of vandalism, 24 incidents of hate speech on the internet, four violent incidents, and 18 incidents of cursing. In one incident, two Israeli tourists who, according to CIDI, were recognizably Jewish, were beaten up and stabbed. In another incident, a Jewish Syrian refugee was physically assaulted several times. Police did not make any arrests in either incident.
CIDI stated the large number of anti-Semitic incidents demonstrated that Jews were disproportionately targeted for discrimination, given the small number of Jews in the country. CIDI also continued to maintain that persons who were recognizable as Jewish because of dress or outward appearance, for instance wearing a yarmulke, were sometimes targets of confrontations. CIDI concluded in its annual report on anti-Semitism that, compared with neighboring countries such as Belgium, France, and the UK, the country was doing well, but concerns about anti-Semitism remained.
Police registered 192 incidents, including harassment, verbal abuse, and vandalism, against Muslims in 2017, the most recent year for which data were available, a decrease of 45 percent compared with 352 reports in 2016. Antidiscrimination boards registered 190 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, compared to 250 in 2016.
The police reported 284 incidents of anti-Semitic discrimination in 2017, a decline of 15 percent compared with the 335 recorded in 2016. Many incidents occurred in the immediate living environment of those targeted, often involving neighbors using insults and drawing swastikas or writing anti-Semitic graffiti and threats on walls, mailboxes, or personal property. Approximately 75 percent of anti-Semitic incidents involved shouted slurs. Persons frequently shouted at police officers, in particular by calling them “Jew.”
According to the National Expertise Center for Discrimination, a part of the prosecutor’s office dealing exclusively with cases of discrimination, the bulk of anti-Semitic speech in 2017 was soccer-related, consisting of soccer fans making anti-Semitic statements, mostly directed at Amsterdam soccer team Ajax, which has been identified throughout its history as a “Jewish” club. CIDI called for more specific measures to stop discrimination and anti-Semitic chanting during soccer matches.
“We are not afraid but we are worried,” said CJO President van der Wieken in a May interview on anti-Semitism in the country. “The Netherlands is still in the top three countries with a favorable climate, but we have the impression that anti-Semitism is on the rise, and we are concerned where this may end.”
In December EU-FRA released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 1,202 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents of the Netherlands responded to the online survey. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they had witnessed other Jews being physically attacked, insulted, or harassed in the previous 12 months, and 35 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Twenty-seven percent said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 90 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
CIDI Director Hanna Luden expressed skepticism about the results of the FRA report, stating the results did not match her own experience. She also criticized the survey for not querying a random sample of Jews.
On April 23, two Dutch historians presented the results of a study they conducted in 2016-17 on anti-Semitism and immigration in the country. They found the number and intensity of anti-Semitic incidents tended to vary directly with Israeli military operations and that most incidents consisted of verbal or written statements, often on the internet; assaults, arson, vandalism, and graffiti against Jews were rare. While the majority of those who carried out anti-Semitic incidents did not belong to any single ethnic or religious minority, Dutch Moroccans and, to a lesser extent, Dutch Turks were significantly represented among the perpetrators. Extreme right-wing activists were responsible for a few cases of anti-Semitism. The report did not find evidence that refugees or recent immigrants were responsible for anti-Semitic incidents or held anti-Jewish attitudes. Nevertheless, according to the report, a number of representatives of Jewish communities expressed concern about the immigration of large numbers of persons who might harbor anti-Semitic or “jihadist” opinions or intentions.
While the report focused on anti-Semitism, it found anti-Muslim sentiment was prevalent in schools. According to research from 2014, nearly two-thirds of teachers said they had witnessed incidents in class they regarded as discriminatory against Muslims, and 61 percent stated students harassed or made hostile comments towards Muslims. It said in secondary schools discrimination against Muslims was more prevalent than anti-Semitism (36 percent, according to a 2015 study) or discrimination against Christians (30 percent, according to the same study). It also cited another 2015 study that found young non-Muslims were “much more Islamophobic” than young Muslims were anti-Semitic.
The NIHR reported receiving 13 requests for rulings on religious discrimination in the workplace in 2017, compared to 24 requests in 2016, and ruled in eight cases. The NIHR had not yet published its report on 2018 at year’s end. Among the NIHR rulings the 2017 report cited were that a Christian school did not discriminate when it refused to hire a female teacher who did not subscribe to the school’s religious views; a Christian clothing shop did discriminate when it refused to hire a non-Christian shop assistant; and a public school did not discriminate when it denied an internship to a Muslim woman who would not shake hands with men.
Mohamed Ajouaou, theologian and teacher of Islamic studies at the Free University of Amsterdam, said on September 7, “As [a] Muslim in Europe, you are probably best off in the Netherlands. There is freedom of religion, respect for Islamic rituals, and mosques may be built. But the same as in the rest of Europe there is plenty of prejudice about Islam…”
On June 7, the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) published a major study on Muslims living in the country, particularly the two largest Muslim groups, those with a Turkish and Moroccan background. It found religiosity among both these groups of Muslims was increasing. For many Muslims, including youth, religion was an important part of their lives, and approximately 40 percent of both groups visited a mosque at least once a week. Women of Moroccan origin increasingly wore a headscarf (78 percent), and 87 percent of Muslims with a Moroccan background fasted every day during Ramadan. A large segment of Muslims usually ate halal food. According to the study, 84 percent of Muslims with a Moroccan background and 45 percent of those with a Turkish background were strictly practicing Muslims. Except for the small group of secular Muslims, all Muslim groups believed the social climate in the country was not always welcoming and sometimes hostile towards Muslims. None of the Muslim groups strongly endorsed the use of force for their faith.
The PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) movement regularly staged protests against Islamic institutions. On March 10, PEGIDA members placed crosses at a mosque construction site in Enschede and said the crosses stood for victims killed in attacks by Muslim terrorists. In May during Ramadan, PEGIDA planned a series of pork barbecues near mosques in a number of cities during Friday prayers.
The government-sponsored, editorially independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MIND) registered 101 inflammatory statements made against Muslims in 2017, compared with 251 in 2016. Some Muslims said that, increasingly, members of their community would not bother to file reports of such incidents, even though they continued to occur.
MIND reported 236 instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet in 2017, compared to 162 in 2016. The center said criticism of Israel’s policies and appeals to boycott the country readily turned into anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, and expressions of wishing Jews dead.
Although MIND did not cite specific examples, CIDI described numerous instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric and other content on the internet. For example, CIDI stated that Rachid el Hajoui of Tilburg tweeted anti-Semitic language and was fined 250 euros ($290). According to CIDI, Dutch speakers posted a number of YouTube videos with anti-Semitic themes, including Holocaust denial.
On September 12, The Hague District Court convicted a man for inciting hatred and violence against Jews by shouting anti-Semitic chants at a pro-ISIS rally in The Hague in 2014. The court sentenced him to two weeks in prison.
CIDI registered 28 incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2017, the highest number since 2007. On August 23, The Hague District Court convicted a man for vandalizing a Jewish monument in The Hague and sentenced him to 20 hours of community service.
On January 17, a decapitated puppet was attached to the gate of the Emir Sultan mosque in Amsterdam with the text “Islam is inextricably linked to brutal decapitations. The Islamization must stop. No Diyanet mega mosque in Amsterdam-north tied to dictator Erdogan.” A few weeks later, the police arrested a man who confessed and said he was “driven by ideological motives.” At year’s end his case had not come to trial.
In May vandals repeatedly smashed the windows of the Ram Mandir Hindu temple in The Hague. Temple President Attry Ramdhani stated he believed Muslim youth had carried out the attack during Ramadan because they wanted to drive the temple away from the predominantly Muslim Schilderswijk neighborhood. Police initiated an investigation, which was ongoing at year’s end.
Throughout the year, the Security Pact Against Discrimination, a movement established by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian organizations to combat anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and other forms of discrimination, organized events to promote mutual solidarity. The group’s membership included the Council of Churches and a number of NGOs such as the Turkish Islamic Cultural Federation and the Humanist Alliance. The group’s events included a gathering after the attack on the Emir Sultan Mosque, another meeting after an attack on the HaCarmel Jewish restaurant in Amsterdam in December 2017, and a program in response to PEGIDA’s pork barbecues.
CIDI continued to conduct programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities in schools, working with a network of teachers to improve education on the Holocaust. CIDI invited 25 teachers for an annual visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for a seminar on how to teach students about the Holocaust, and it continued to lead anti-Semitism workshops for police and prosecutors at the police academy.
Jewish community leaders, such as CJO’s Ron van der Wieken and Albert Ringer of the Netherlands Alliance of Progressive Judaism, emphasized the need to develop a more robust education curriculum to teach about the Holocaust and World War II. They also advocated more interfaith dialogue to increase tolerance and suggested greater oversight to ensure a uniform curriculum, including antidiscrimination content, in schools.
The Liberal Jewish Community of Amsterdam continued with its youth outreach “Get to Know Your Neighbors” project, which invited students into a synagogue to explain Jewish practices. The project received two awards from local NGOs for its work.
Multiple groups continued with existing initiatives to foster Muslim and Jewish dialogue. These included the Mo&Moos (Mohammed and Moshe) program of the Amsterdam-based Salaam-Shalom NGO and SPIOR that again brought together young Muslim and Jewish professionals; a website by the NGO INS Platform, where citizens could meet “ordinary” Muslims; and ongoing meetings in Amstelveen between Jewish and Muslim groups, local authorities, and political parties to discuss issues of safety, religion, education, and discrimination involving Jews and Muslims.
Bertien Minco, who created Salaam-Shalom, said that, despite these efforts, “The fact is that the Jewish community is very small. That makes it hard to reverse the picture among a million Muslims because we barely meet each other.”
In a September 14 newspaper interview, Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht Wim Eijk stated the Catholic Church was disappearing rapidly from the country. Eijk referred to a total population of 3.5 million Catholics, but said the vast majority of them never went to church. On average, 173,500 persons attend Mass on any given weekend, according to figures from the Nijmegen Kaski Institute, a think tank specializing in religion and society at the Catholic Radboud University of Nijmegen. Eijk said he expected that in the Archdiocese of Utrecht, which covers a third of the country and currently oversees 280 Catholic churches, there would only be 10 to 15 churches left in another 10 years. Eijk also expressed concern about calls by secular political parties such as D66 and the Animal Rights Party to remove religion from the public square: “If we are a truly tolerant society, we should give people the opportunity to express what they believe,” Eijk said, adding, “Don’t force anyone to profess his belief only behind his front door.”