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2 0 1 6 A N N U A L R E P O R T
Catholics hold a vigil for
activist Nguyen Van Dai, who
was badly beaten by unknown
attackers and was arrested for
anti-state propaganda.

Hanoi, Vietnam.


Migrants protest outside a

train that they are refusing to
leave for fear of being taken
to a refugee camp.

Budapest, Hungary.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

People attend a mass funeral A woman poses for a Girls rescued from Boko
for Rajib Haider, an architect photograph at a memorial to Haram at Sambisa Forest line
and blogger who was killed by An ethnic Uighur man passes pay tribute to the victims of up to collect donated clothes
an extremist group. by security forces. the Paris attacks. at the Malkohi refugee camp.

Dhaka, Bangladesh. Xinjiang, China. Yangon, Burma. Yola, Nigeria.

Reuters/Andrew Biraj EPA Reuters/Olivia Harris Emmanuel Arewa/AFP/Getty

A boat with Rohingya Muslim A Ahmadiyya Pakistani cries

Police arrest a protesting People pay tribute to the migrants in waters near as she leaves a detention
monk near the Chinese victims of the Hyper Cacher Koh Lipe Island. center with her family on
Embassy visa section office. kosher supermarket attack. a bus.
Kathmandu, Nepal. Paris, France. Bangkok, Thailand.
Christophe Archambault/
Reuters/Gopal Chitrakar Reuters/Yves Herman AFP/Getty Reuters/Damir Sagolj

A girl waits to receive food

provided by the United
Nations World Food
Programme (WFP) during
a visit by a European Union A man stands near a car on Sunni Muslims who fled the
delegation, at an IDP camp fire as Muslim families prepare A Crimean Tatar sits in the Islamic States strongholds of
in Azaza. to be evacuated by road. Khan Chair mosque after Hawija and Shirqat rest in a
Friday prayers. refugee center.
Blue Nile State, Sudan. Bangui, Central African
Republic. Simferopol, Crimea. Mosul, Iraq.
Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin
Abdallah Reuters/Siegfried Modola Reuters/Thomas Peter Reuters/Azad Lashkari

Dr. Robert P. George

Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser

Hon. Eric P. Schwartz
Vice Chairs

Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon

Dr. Daniel I. Mark
Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Hon. Hannah Rosenthal
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett
Dr. James J. Zogby
Ambassador David N. Saperstein, ex officio, non-voting member

A PR I L 2 016
Professional Staff
Dwight Bashir, Acting Co-Director for Policy and Research
Elizabeth K. Cassidy, Acting Co-Director for Policy and Research
Judith E. Golub, Director of Government and Media Relations
Paul Liben, Executive Writer

Sahar Chaudhry, Senior Policy Analyst

Catherine Cosman, Senior Policy Analyst
Tiffany Lynch, Senior Policy Analyst
Tina L. Mufford, Policy Analyst
Jomana Qaddour, Policy Analyst

Roy Haskins, Manager of Finance and Administration

Travis Horne, Government and Media Relations Assistant
Eric Snee, Travel and Administration Specialist

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

732 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite A714
Washington, DC 20401
2025233240 (phone)
2025235020 (fax)

INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

2016 ANNUAL REPORT OVERVIEW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

IRFA IMPLEMENTATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
IRFAs Purpose and Main Provisions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Religious Freedom Violations under IRFA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Institutional Issues. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Annual Reports . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
The CPC Mechanism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Guidance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Training. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Ensuring Funding for Religious Freedom Programming. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
The Treatment of Asylum Seekers in Expedited Removal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Multilateral Efforts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
The Role of Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22


Burma . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
China. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Eritrea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Iran. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
North Korea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Saudi Arabia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Sudan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Turkmenistan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
Uzbekistan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

TIER 1 CPCS RECOMMENDED BY USCIRF. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83

Central African Republic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Egypt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Iraq. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
Nigeria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Pakistan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Syria. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
Tajikistan* . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127
Vietnam. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133

* On April 15, 2016, after this report was finalized, the State Department designated Tajikistan as a CPC for the first time, and also
re-designated the nine countries that had been designated as CPCs in July 2014.

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 iii
TIER 2 COUNTRIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Afghanistan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Azerbaijan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Cuba. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
India. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
Indonesia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Kazakhstan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
Laos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 179
Malaysia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
Russia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Turkey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

OTHER COUNTRIES/REGIONS MONITORED. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206

Bahrain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207
Bangladesh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
Belarus. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211
Horn of Africa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
Kyrgyzstan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219
Western Europe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221

APPENDICES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 225
Appendix 1 Commissioner Biographies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
Appendix 2 Eritrean Prisoner List . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 233
Appendix 3 Boko Haram Attacks. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
Appendix 4 Muslim Leaders Imprisoned in Ethiopia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 239
Appendix 5 Azerbaijan Prisioner List. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 241
Appendix 6 Kazakhstan Prisoner List . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 249
Appendix 7 Tajikistan Prisoner List. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 253
Appendix 8 Russian Federation Prisoner List . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259

iv U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

y any measure, religious freedom abroad has sent to the harshest prisons and receive the cruelest
been under serious and sustained assault since punishments. In 2006, the government deposed Eritrean
the release of our commissions last Annual Orthodox Patriarch Antonios, who protested government
Report in 2015. From the plight of new and longstanding interference in his churchs affairs. Besides being stripped
prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the num- of his church position, he has been held incommunicado
bers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the since 2007 and reportedly denied medical care.
continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Eritreas dictatorship controls the internal affairs
Europe, and to the other abuses detailed in this report, of the state-registered Orthodox Christian and Muslim
there was no shortage of attendant suffering worldwide. communities and also bans public activities of non-reg-
The incarceration of prisoners of conscience istered groups. Religious freedom conditions are grave
people whom governments hold for reasons includ- especially for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians
ing those related to religion remains astonishingly and Jehovahs Witnesses.
widespread, occurring in country after country, and
underscores the impact of the laws and policies that
led to their imprisonment. The incarceration of prisoners of
In China, Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife, Xing conscience people whom
Wenxiang, were sentenced in Zhejiang Province in governments hold for reasons
February 2016 to 14 and 12 years in prison, respec- including those related to religion
tively, for leading a Christian congregation that was remains astonishingly widespread....
opposing a government campaign to remove crosses
atop churches. They join many other prisoners of
conscience, including Ilham Tohti, a respected Uighur In Iran, Shahram Ahadi, a Sunni cleric, was sen-
Muslim scholar, who was given a life sentence in Sep- tenced in October 2015 to death on unfounded secu-
tember 2014 for alleged separatism. rity-related charges. Iran holds many other prisoners
Over the past year, the Chinese government has of conscience including the Bahai Seven who were
stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed given 20-year sentences in 2010 for their leadership
a threat to the states supremacy and maintenance of a roles in the persecuted Bahai community. They are:
socialist society. Christian communities have borne Afif Naeimi, Behrouz Tavakkoli, Jamaloddin Khanjani,
a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous Vahid Tizfahm, Fariba Kamalabadi, Mahvash Sabet,
churches bulldozed and crosses torn down. Uighur Mus- and Saeid Rezaie.
lims and Tibetan Buddhists continue to be repressed, and Elevating its own interpretation of Shia Islam above
the Chinese government has asserted its own authority all others, Iran subjects its people from Shia, Sunni,
to select the next Dalai Lama. Falun Gong practitioners and Sufi Muslim dissenters to Bahais and Christian
often are held in black jails and brainwashing centers, converts to increasing religious freedom abuses, from
with credible reports of torture, sexual violence, psychiat- harassment to arrests and imprisonment. Some have
ric experimentation, and organ harvesting. been sentenced to death for enmity against God. Since
In Eritrea, where 1,200 to 3,000 people are impris- President Hasan Rouhani took office in 2013, the num-
oned on religious grounds, there reportedly were new ber of individuals from religious minority communities
arrests this past year. Religious prisoners routinely are imprisoned due to their beliefs has increased.

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 1
In North Korea, thousands of religious believers laws emboldens the Pakistani Taliban and individual
and their families are imprisoned in labor camps, vigilantes, triggering horrific violence against religious
including those forcibly repatriated from China. communities and individuals perceived as transgres-
Because North Korea is such a closed society, it is hard sors, most recently Christians and Muslim bystanders
even to know the names of religious prisoners. The gov- on Easter Sunday 2016 in Lahore.
ernment controls all political and religious expression In Saudi Arabia, Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi poet and
and activities and punishes those who question the artist, was sentenced to death in November 2015 for
regime. Religious freedom is non-existent. Individuals apostasy, allegedly for spreading atheism. His sentence
secretly engaging in religious activities are subject to was changed in February 2016 to eight years in prison
arrest, torture, imprisonment, and execution. North and 800 lashes. Raif Badawi, founder and editor of the
Koreans suspected of contacts with South Koreans Free Saudi Liberals web site, has been imprisoned
or foreign missionaries or who are caught possessing since 2012 on charges that include insulting Islam. In
Bibles have been executed. 2014, an appeals court increased his original sentence

More people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy
in Pakistan than in any other country in the world.

In Pakistan, Abul Shakoor was sentenced on Janu- of seven years in prison and 600 lashes to 10 years in jail
ary 2, 2016 to five years in prison on blasphemy charges and 1,000 lashes.
and three years on terrorism charges for propagating Imposing its own interpretation of Sunni Islam on the
the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith. Another Pakistani, Aasia country, Saudi Arabia bans all non-Muslim public worship
Bibi, a Catholic mother of five, has been imprisoned and continues to prosecute and imprison individuals for
since her arrest in 2009 on blasphemy charges. She dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery. During the past
remains on death row. year, the Saudi government continued to repress dissident
clerics and members of the Shia community.
In Sudan, the government prosecuted 25 Quranists
for apostasy and stiffened penalties for both apostasy
and blasphemy. The regime prosecutes Christian pas-
tors on trumped-up charges and represses and margin-
alizes the countrys minority Christian community. It
imposes a restrictive interpretation of Shariah law and
applies corresponding hudood punishments on Mus-
lims and non-Muslims alike.
In Uzbekistan, Gaybullo Jalilov, a member of the
Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, remains impris-
oned for his work on behalf of persecuted indepen-
Family members mourn the death of a relative, who was dent Muslims. Jalilov is serving an 11-year sentence
killed in a blast that happened outside a public park, in handed down in 2010. Uzbekistan enforces a highly
Lahore, Pakistan Reuters
restrictive religion law and imposes severe limits on all
independent religious activity in this overwhelmingly
More people are on death row or serving life Muslim-majority nation. The government imprisons as
sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan than in any other many as 12,800 Muslims. In addition, the Uzbek state
country in the world. Aggressive enforcement of these often brands Evangelical Protestants and Jehovahs

2 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
Migrants are escorted through fields by police and the army as A Rohingya child who recently arrived by boat has his picture
they are walked from the village of Rigonce to Brezice refugee taken for identification purposes at a shelter in Kuala Langsa, in
camp in Rigonce, Slovenia Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images Indonesias Aceh Province Reuters

Witnesses extremists for practicing religion outside Among the displaced were thousands of Rohingya
of state-sanctioned structures. Peaceful independent Muslims forced to flee their homes in Burma, joining
Muslims are likely to be victims of torture, and the other Rohingya already displaced internally. While
government often extends their sentences for minor last years general elections marked the countrys bid
violations of prison regimen just before their scheduled to emerge from its past as a military dictatorship, the
release date. government enacted four discriminatory race-and-re-
In Vietnam, Rev. Nguyen Trung Ton, a Protestant ligion bills that not only effectively disenfranchised as
minister, was detained in December 2015 and joins many as one million Rohingya, but also denied them the
other prisoners of conscience including Father Nguyen right to contest the elections. These measures reflect a
Van Ly, who has spent decades in prison for advocating legacy of their brutal persecution by both government
religious freedom, democracy, and human rights. and society, which contributed to the refugee crisis.
Despite some improvements in the decades fol- Meanwhile, military incursions in Kachin and Shan
lowing the Vietnam War, the government still controls states continued to displace and terrorize thousands,
nearly all religious activities, restricts independent including their Christian residents.
religious practice, and represses individuals and groups
viewed as challenging state authority. In order to be
considered legal, religious organizations and congrega- Among the displaced were
tions must register, sometimes at multiple government thousands of Rohingya Muslims
levels. In 2015, Vietnam proposed a new law on religion. forced to flee their homes in Burma,
However, initial drafts have not revised adequately or joining other Rohingya already
eliminated onerous registration requirements. displaced internally.
In addition to the significant number of people
imprisoned on the basis of religion, the horrific global
refugee crisis also worsened during the past year, with
religion being a factor in humanitarian crises worldwide Seeking refuge from a dictatorial government,
that have forced millions to flee. According to UNHCR, Eritreans also have fled by the thousands each month,
the UN refugee agency, 59.5 million people worldwide with an estimated half a million escaping one of the
were displaced forcibly as of the end of 2014, the highest worlds most closed nations.
on record, and this number likely exceeded 60 million Adding disproportionately to the ranks of the
in 2015. displaced were millions from Iraq and Syria, including

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 3
Yazidis, Christians, Shia Muslims, and Sunni Muslims
who do not subscribe to the barbaric interpretation of
Islam of the terrorist group ISIL (the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant, also often referred to as IS, ISIS,
or Daesh). ISILs summary executions, rape, sexual
enslavement, abduction of children, destruction of
houses of worship, and forced conversions all are part of
what our commission has seen as a genocidal effort to
erase their presence from these countries. In March of
this year, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry rightly pro-
claimed ISIL a perpetrator of genocide, which USCIRF
had recommended publicly in December. Local people carry a dead body during the funeral ceremony
for 5 Muslims killed by Christian anti-balaka militiamen in the
The governments of Syria and Iraq can be charac- capital Bangui, Central African Republic Thierry Bresillon/
terized by their near-incapacity to protect segments of Anadolu Agency
their population from ISIL and other non-state actors,
in 2015, with the most serious resulting in 77 dead and
as well as their complicity in fueling the sectarian
40,000 displaced.
tensions that have made their nations so vulnerable.
Where did all these people go? While many were
Syrias government has not only fueled these tensions
displaced to neighboring countries, a record num-
but committed crimes against humanity in its treat-
ber of refugees and migrants, more than one million,
ment of Sunni Muslims.
attempted in 2015 the perilous Mediterranean crossing
or sought other avenues to apply for asylum in an unpre-
pared Europe.
[A] record number of refugees and This mass influx fueled an already-rising tide of
migrants, more than one million, hatred and violence targeting Muslims and Jews, partic-
attempted in 2015 the perilous ularly in Western Europe.
Mediterranean crossing or sought other Anti-Muslim activity, from verbal harassment to
avenues to apply for asylum in an vandalism to violent assaults, increased in multiple
unprepared Europe. Western European nations as xenophobic national-
ist political parties and groups, including neo-Nazis,
stirred up hatred against the newcomers and older
Conditions in Nigeria have contributed to the
crisis there. Boko Haram continues to attack with
impunity both Christians and many Muslims. From
bombings at churches and mosques to mass kidnap-
pings of children from schools, Boko Haram has cut a
wide path of terror across vast swaths of Nigeria and in
neighboring countries, leaving thousands killed and
millions displaced.
In Central African Republican Republic, a 2013
coup helped create the conditions for sectarian fighting
between Christians and Muslims in which civilians were
targeted based on their religious identity. As a result, 80
percent of CARs Muslim population has fled to neighbor-
A member of the Muslim community touches burnt books in
ing countries, and 417 of the countrys 436 mosques were Saint Priest, near Lyon, a day after a fire damaged a mosque
destroyed. Sectarian and retaliatory violence continued in an attack that the French interior ministry in Paris said was
arson Philippe Merle/AFP/Getty Images

4 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
including the United States. To be effective, such action
must recognize the unmistakable fact that religious
freedom is a common thread in each of these chal-
lenges, and deserves a seat at the table when nations
discuss humanitarian, security, and other pressing
issues. The United States and other countries must fully
accord this right the respect it deserves and redouble
their efforts to defend this pivotal liberty worldwide.

A member of the Jewish community is seen at a cemetery

near the town of Colmar, close to the German border, after
more than 100 graves were daubed with anti-Semitic slogans

Jews increasingly were targeted in similar ways

by these same parties and groups, and also by Islamist
extremists who in turn sought recruits from disaffected
members of Muslim communities. The January 2015
terrorist attack on the Hyper Cacher kosher supermar-
ket in Parisalong with attacks on a Jewish museum
in Brussels in 2014 and a synagogue in Copenhagen
last yearwere among the horrific results. Despite the
increasing police protection in places where European
Jews congregate, the rise in anti-Semitism has produced
an exponential rise in Jewish emigration from Europe,
with immigration to Israel from France increasing from
less than 2,000 in 2012 to nearly 8,000 last year alone.

[A] rise in anti-Semitism has

produced an exponential rise in
Jewish emigration from Europe....

These and other terrorist attacks also have produced

backlashes against Muslims by members of the wider
society, in which Muslims often are blamed collectively.
Mosques have been given police protection in several
countries, and European Union officials have stressed the
importance of not stigmatizing all Muslims.
The incarceration of prisoners of conscience, the
increase in the number of refugees, and the spread of
anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim actions across Europe
are crises in their own right which cry out for contin-
ued action on the part of the international community,

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 5
6 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

reated by the International Religious Freedom
Act of 1998 (IRFA), the U.S. Commission on TIER 1
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is In 2016, USCIRF recommends that the Secretary
an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory of State re-designate the following nine countries
body, separate from the State Department, that moni- as CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea,
tors religious freedom worldwide and makes policy rec- Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
ommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and USCIRF also finds that eight other countries meet the
Congress. USCIRF bases these recommendations on its CPC standard and should be so designated: Central
statutory mandate and the standards in the Universal African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria,
Declaration of Human Rights and other international Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
documents. The 2016 Annual Report represents the cul-
mination of a years work by Commissioners and profes- TIER 2
sional staff to document abuses and make independent In 2016, USCIRF places the following ten countries
policy recommendations to the U.S. government. on Tier 2: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India,
The 2016 Annual Report covers the period from Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia,
February 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016, although in some and Turkey.
cases significant events that occurred after the report-
ing period are mentioned. The Annual Report addresses
31 countries around the world, plus additional countries Syria, governments are either non-existent or incapable
in two regions, and is divided into four sections. of addressing violations committed by non-state actors.
The first section focuses on the U.S. governments USCIRF has concluded that the CPC classification should
implementation of the IRFA, and provides recommen- be expanded to allow for the designation of countries
dations for specific actions to bolster current U.S. efforts such as these, where particularly severe violations of
to advance freedom of religion or belief abroad. religious freedom are occurring but a government does
The second section highlights countries that not exist or does not control its territory. Accordingly,
USCIRF concludes meet IRFAs standard for countries USCIRFs CPC recommendations reflect that approach.
of particular concern, or CPCs. IRFA requires the U.S. The third section of the Annual Report highlights
government to designate as a CPC any country whose countries USCIRF categorized as Tier 2, defined as those
government engages in or tolerates particularly severe where the violations engaged in or tolerated by the gov-
violations of religious freedom that are systematic, ernment are serious and are characterized by at least one
ongoing and egregious. In the designations in place of the elements of the systematic, ongoing, and egre-
during the reporting period (made in July 2014), the gious CPC standard.
State Department designated nine countries as CPCs. Lastly, there are brief descriptions of religious free-
In 2016, USCIRF has concluded that 17 countries meet dom issues in other countries and regions that USCIRF
this standard. monitored during the year: Bahrain, Bangladesh,
Non-state actors, such as transnational or local Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, the Horn of Africa, and Western
organizations, are some of the most egregious violators of Europe. This year USCIRF did not discuss Cyprus or Sri
religious freedom in todays world. In some places, such Lanka in this section due to progress in those countries
as the Central African Republic and areas of Iraq and on USCIRFs previous concerns.

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 7

Tier 1 CPC Countries Tier 1 CPC Countries Tier 2 Countries

Designated by Recommended by USCIRF
State Department &
Recommended by USCIRF

Central African Republic Azerbaijan
Egypt Cuba
Iraq India
Nigeria Indonesia
North Korea
Pakistan Kazakhstan
Saudi Arabia
Syria Laos
Sudan Tajikistan* Malaysia
Turkmenistan Vietnam Russia

* On April 15, 2016, after this report was finalized, the State Depart-
ment designated Tajikistan as a CPC for the first time, and also
re-designated the nine countries that had been designated as CPCs
in July 2014.

8 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

IRFAs Purpose and Main Provisions

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA)
IRFA defines particularly severe violations of
was a landmark piece of legislation, seeking to make
religious freedom as systematic, ongoing, egregious
religious freedom a higher priority in U.S. foreign policy.
violations of religious freedom, including violations
Congress passed IRFA unanimously in October 1998
such as(A) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading
and President Bill Clinton signed it into law the same
treatment or punishment; (B) prolonged detention
month. Members of Congress believed that this core
without charges; (C) causing the disappearance of
human right was being ignored and that it deserved a
persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of
greater emphasis. Rather than creating a hierarchy of
those persons; or (D) other flagrant denial of the right
rights as some critics have argued, IRFA established
to life, liberty, or the security of persons.
parity, ensuring that U.S. policymakers would consider
religious freedom alongside other pressing issues and
other human rights, and not neglect it. Third, IRFA established consequences for the
IRFA sought to accomplish this in several ways. worst violators. The law requires the President who
First, it created special government mechanisms. Inside has delegated this power to the Secretary of State to
the executive branch, the law created the position of designate annually countries of particular concern,
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Free- or CPCs, and take action designed to encourage
dom (a political appointee nominated by the President improvements in those countries. CPCs are defined
and confirmed by the Senate), to head an Office of Inter- as countries whose governments either engage in or
national Religious Freedom at the State Department (the tolerate particularly severe violations of religious
IRF Office). It also urged the appointment of a Special freedom. A menu of possible actions is available, rang-
Adviser for this issue on the White House National ing from negotiating a bilateral agreement, to imposing
Security Council staff. Outside the executive branch, sanctions, to taking a commensurate action, to issu-
IRFA created USCIRF, an independent body mandated ing a waiver. While a CPC designation remains in effect
to review religious freedom conditions globally and until removed, actions tied to a CPC action expire after
make recommendations for U.S. policy to the President, two years, if not renewed.
Secretary of State, and Congress. Fourth, IRFA included religious freedom as an ele-
Second, IRFA required monitoring and report- ment of U.S. foreign assistance, cultural exchange, and
ing. It mandated that the State Department prepare international broadcasting programs.
an annual report on religious freedom conditions in Fifth, IRFA mandated that State Department
each foreign country (the IRF Report), in addition to Foreign Service Officers and U.S. immigration officials
the Departments annual human rights report. The receive training on religious freedom and religious
law also required the State Department to maintain persecution. It also required immigration officials to
a religious freedom Internet site and lists of religious use the State Departments annual IRF Report as a
prisoners in foreign countries. Additionally, it required resource in adjudicating asylum and refugee claims
that USCIRF issue its own annual report, setting forth involving religious persecution.
its findings on religious freedom violations and provid- Finally, IRFA sought assessments of whether 1996
ing independent policy recommendations. immigration law reforms were being implemented

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 9
consistent with the United States obligations to protect persecution. Such a step was taken with the Taliban,
individuals fleeing persecution, including religious which was in effect named a CPC from 1999-2003
persecution. Specifically, the law asked USCIRF to despite the United States not recognizing its control of
examine whether asylum seekers subject to Expedited Afghanistan. Naming these countries or groups would
Removal were being erroneously returned to coun- reflect reality, which should be the core point of the
tries where they could face persecution or detained in CPC process.
inappropriate conditions. (Under Expedited Removal, IRFA also makes inadmissible to the United States
foreign nationals arriving in the United States without foreign officials who are responsible for or directly car-
proper documentation can be returned to their coun- ried out particularly severe religious freedom violations.
tries of origin without delay, and without the safeguard This provision is known to have been invoked only once:
of review by an immigration judge, unless they estab- in March 2005, it was used to exclude then-Chief Min-
lish that they have a credible fear of persecution.) ister Narendra Modi of Gujarat state in India due to his
complicity in riots in his state in 2002 that resulted in the
Religious Freedom Violations under IRFA deaths of an estimated 1,100 to 2,000 Muslims. USCIRF
IRFA brought an international approach to U.S. religious continues to urge the Departments of State and Home-
freedom advocacy. It defines violations of religious land Security to develop a lookout list of non-citizens
freedom as violations of the internationally recognized who are inadmissible to the United States on this basis.
right to freedom of religion and religious belief and The IRF Office has worked to identify people inadmissi-
practice as articulated in the UN Universal Declaration ble under U.S. law for religious freedom violations, and
of Human Rights (UDHR), the UN International Cove- USCIRF has provided information about several such
nant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Helsinki individuals to the State Department.

IRFA...makes inadmissible to the United States foreign officials

who are responsible for or directly carried out particularly
severe religious freedom violations.

Accords, and other international instruments and Separate from the IRFA framework, in 2014 the State
regional agreements. Department explicitly and publicly tied entry into the
IRFA also did not limit violations to government United States to concerns about violent activity. Sec-
actions, recognizing that religious freedom violations retary of State John Kerry announced during a visit to
also occur through government inaction against pri- Nigeria that the United States would deny entry to any
vate actors abuses. The 1998 statute does not, however, persons responsible for engaging in or inciting violence
adequately address one of the current major challenges during Nigerias election. He said specifically that, per-
to freedom of religion or belief: the actions of non- petrators of such violence would not be welcome in the
state actors in failing or failed states. IRFA focused United States of America. Since religious differences are
on government action or inaction, but in many of the often used to incite violence during election campaigns,
worst situations today, transnational or local orga- USCIRF supports this approach.
nizations are the egregious persecutors and govern- Directly related to identifying and barring from entry
ments are incapable of addressing the violations or are severe religious freedom violators, IRFA also requires the
non-existent. In these situations, allowing the United President to determine the specific officials responsible
States to designate the non-state actors perpetrating for violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated
particularly severe violations would broaden the U.S. by governments of CPC countries, and, when applicable
governments ability to engage the actual drivers of and to the extent practicable, publish these officials

10 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
names in the Federal Register. Despite these require- USCIRF recommends that Congress:
ments, no names of individual officials from any CPC
Expand the CPC classification to allow for the
countries responsible for particularly severe religious
designation of countries where particularly severe
freedom violations have been published to date.
violations of religious freedom are occurring but
Apart from the inadmissibility provision dis-
a government does not exist or does not control its
cussed above, Congress at times has imposed targeted
territory; and
sanctions on specific individuals for severe religious
freedom violations. Based on a USCIRF recommenda- Expand the CPC classification to allow the naming
tion, Congress included sanctions on human rights and of non-state actors who are perpetrating particu-
religious freedom violators in the 2010 Iran sanctions larly severe violations of religious freedom.
act, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment
Act (CISADA, P.L. 111195). This was the first time Iran
Institutional Issues
sanctions specifically included human rights violators.
IRFA intended the Ambassador-at-Large for Interna-
President Obama has now imposed such sanctions
tional Religious Freedom to be the highest-ranking U.S.
(visa bans and asset freezes) by executive order on 19
official on religious freedom abroad, coordinating and
Iranian officials and 18 entities, including eight officials
developing U.S. international religious freedom policy
identified as egregious religious freedom violators by
while also serving as an ex officio member of USCIRF.
USCIRF. Also based on a USCIRF recommendation, the
There have been four Ambassadors-at-Large since
Senate included Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov
IRFAs enactment: Robert Seiple (May 1999 to September
on the list of gross human rights violators in the Sergei
2000); John Hanford (May 2002 to January 2009); Suzan
Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (P.L. 112
Johnson Cook (May 2011 to October 2013); and David
208), which imposes U.S. visa bans and asset freezes on
Saperstein (January 2015 to present).
designated Russian officials. Kadyrov has engaged in
Under IRFA, the Ambassador-at-Large is to be a
abuses against Muslims and has been linked to politi-
principal adviser to the President and the Secretary
cally-motivated killings.

The Ambassador-at-Large now sits among a crowded field

of officials with overlapping mandates.

of State regarding matters affecting religious freedom

With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
abroad. Nevertheless, every administration since the
that the State Department:
position was established, including the current one,
Make greater efforts to ensure foreign government has situated the Ambassador-at-Large in the Bureau
officials are denied entry into the United States for of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and
their responsibility for religious freedom violations thus under its Assistant Secretary. Religious freedom
abroad; advocates, including USCIRF, have long been concerned
about this placement. The State Departments organi-
Train consular sections of all embassies on this
zational guidelines consider an Ambassador-at-Large
inadmissibility requirement and direct them that
of higher rank than an Assistant Secretary, and other
application of this provision is mandatory; and
Ambassadors-at-Large report to the Secretary, such as
Announce a policy that all individuals applying those for Global Womens Issues, Counterterrorism,
for entry to the United States will be denied entry if and War Crime Issues, as does the AIDS Coordinator.
they are involved in or incite violence against mem- However, Secretary of State Kerry committed to Con-
bers of religious communities. gress at a public hearing that Ambassador-at-Large

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 11
Saperstein would have direct and regular access to him, Affairs.) The Special Representative for Muslim Com-
which would fulfill IRFAs intention that the Ambassa- munities and the Special Envoy to the Organization of
dor-at-Large be a principal adviser on matters relating Islamic Cooperation were moved into this Office, as was
to religious freedom. the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semi-
The Ambassador-at-Large now sits among a crowded tism, formerly situated in the DRL Bureau.
field of officials with overlapping mandates. Issues of With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
religious freedom play a part in other U.S. government that the Secretary of State:
efforts to engage religious communities and to promote
Considering IRFAs intent and the proliferation of
human rights more generally. Additionally, various
related positions and offices, task the Ambassa-
administrations have created special State Department
dor-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
positions to focus on particular countries or issues where
with chairing an inter-bureau working group with
religious freedom is implicated such as a Special Envoy
all the religiously-oriented positions and programs
for Sudan, a Special Representative to Afghanistan and
to ensure consistency in message and strategy; and
Pakistan, a Special Representative to Muslim Communi-
ties, and a Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Ensure that the Office of International Religious
Cooperation and Congress created the position of Freedom has resources and staff similar to other
Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. In offices with global mandates and has funds for
2014, Congress created another State Department posi- religious freedom programming.
tion, a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of
Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central
Annual Reports
Asia. In response, in September 2015, the State Depart-
IRFA requires that the State Department, taking into
ment appointed Knox Thames, former Director of Policy
consideration USCIRFs recommendations, submit the IRF
and Research at USCIRF, as Special Advisor for Religious
Report on September 1 of each year or the first day there-
Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, a
after on which the appropriate House of Congress is in
new position situated in the IRF Office.
session. It also requires that USCIRF, based on its review of

During the Obama Administration, the State Department took

steps to improve its ability to engage with religious actors

During the Obama Administration, the State

the IRF Report and other sources, submit its Annual Report
Department took steps to improve its ability to engage
by May 1. Thus, IRFA created a system in which USCIRFs
with religious actors. The IRF Office oversaw initial
and the State Departments annual reports would be issued
efforts to track U.S. government religious engagement
approximately four months apart, and both entities would
globally and co-chaired a special working group with
consider each others findings. However, a change by the
civil society on religion and global affairs. The working
State Department in its reporting calendar and release date
group issued a white paper recommending, among
has affected USCIRFs ability to review the IRF Report and
other things, the creation of a special State Department
still meet the mandated May 1 deadline.
office for religious engagement, modeled on similar
In 2010, the State Department decided to consolidate
offices in other agencies. In 2013, the State Department
the reporting periods of its various reports on differ-
created a new Office of Faith-Based Community Initia-
ent human rights issues to cover the same time period
tives, headed by a Special Advisor, Shaun Casey. (The
(the calendar year), in order to minimize the impact on
position and office titles were later changed to Special
limited staff resources. It also decided to release the IRF
Representative and Office for Religion and Global
Report in March or April, although it has not yet met this

12 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
target. The IRF Reports covering 2011 and 2013 were description of U.S. policy actions, while USCIRFs coun-
released in July 2012 and July 2014, respectively; the one try chapters discuss conditions, analyze U.S. policy,
covering 2012 was released in May 2013; and the one and make policy recommendations. USCIRFs Annual
covering 2014 was released in October 2015. For each of Reports also assess the executive branchs implemen-
these years, USCIRF has been unable to review the IRF tation of IRFA and discuss religious freedom issues in
Report covering the most relevant timeframe in prepar- multilateral organizations.
ing its Annual Report by May 1. For example, the most
recent IRF report available during the preparation of this The CPC Mechanism
Annual Report was the one covering 2014, but USCIRFs In IRFAs 17-year existence, the State Department has
reporting covers 2015. Despite this, USCIRF has remained made CPC designations on 10 occasions: October 1999,
committed to meeting IRFAs May 1 deadline. September 2000, October 2001, March 2003, September
It should be noted that, although IRFA requires 2004, November 2005, November 2006, January 2009,
both the State Department and USCIRF to report annu- August 2011, and July 2014. As is evident from these
ally on international religious freedom, the two entities dates, for a number of years the designations generally
reports differ. The State Department reports on every were annual, but after 2006, they became infrequent.
country in the world, while USCIRF reports on selected While IRFA does not set a specific deadline, it indicates
countries, generally those exhibiting the worst con- that CPC designations should occur soon after the
ditions. Further, the State Departments reports focus State Department releases its annual IRF Report, as the
primarily on religious freedom conditions, with a brief decisions are to be based on that review and on USCIRF


1999: September
Burma, 2004:
China, Burma, November
Iran, Iraq, China, 2006:
Sudan, and Eritrea, Burma, China,
Miloevic Iran, North Eritrea, Iran,
and Taliban Korea, North Korea,
regimes March Saudi Saudi Arabia,
2003: Arabia, Sudan, and
September Burma, Sudan, and Uzbekistan
January August
2000: China, Vietnam
2009: 2011:
Burma, Iran, Iraq,
Burma, Burma,
China, North November China, China,
Iran, Iraq, Korea, and 2005: Eritrea, Eritrea,
Sudan, and Sudan Burma, July 2014:
Iran, North Iran, North
Miloevic China, Korea, Burma, China,
and Taliban October Eritrea, Saudi Eritrea, Iran,
regimes 2001: Iran, Arabia, North Korea,
Burma, North Sudan, Saudi Arabia,
China, Korea, and Sudan,
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Uzbekistan Turkmenistan,
Sudan, Arabia, and
and Sudan, and Uzbekistan
Taliban Vietnam

1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015

January 2001: March June 2004: November 2006:

Miloevic 2003: Iraq Vietnam
regime Taliban


Source: GAO analysis of Department of State information

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 13
recommendations. In August 2011 and July 2014, the As noted earlier, while a CPC designation remains
Obama Administration made CPC designations in in effect until it is removed, associated Presidential
conjunction with the IRF Reports issuance, but CPC actions expire after two years if not renewed. The last
designations were not made at or soon after the 2014 IRF three CPC designations occurred after the two-year
Reports October 2015 release. Ambassador-at-Large mark from the previous designations had passed.
Saperstein has stated his commitment to have an In addition to CPC designations being infrequent,
annual CPC designation process, a statement that the list has been largely unchanged. Of the nine countries
USCIRF welcomed. However, as of the end of USCIRFs designated as CPCs in July 2014, most now have been
reporting period on February 29, 2016, no CPC designa- CPCs for well over a decade: Burma, China, Iran, and
tions had been announced.1 Sudan for 16 years; North Korea for 14 years; Eritrea and
Saudi Arabia for 11 years; and Uzbekistan for nine years.
(Turkmenistan was added for the first time in 2014.) Addi-
1 On April 15, 2016, after this report was finalized, the State Depart-
ment designated Tajikistan as a CPC for the first time, and also tionally, removal from the CPC list has been rare. Since
re-designated the nine countries that had been designated as CPCs IRFAs inception, only one country has been removed
in July 2014.

Federal Register Notices / Vol. 79, No. 185 / Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Secretary of States Determination Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998

SUMMARY: The Secretary of States designation of Countries of Particular Concern for reli-
gious freedom violations.

Pursuant to section 408(a) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105292), as
amended (the Act), notice is hereby given that, on July 18, 2014, the Secretary of State, under authority
delegated by the President, has designated each of the following as a Country of Particular Concern
(CPC) under section 402(b) of the Act, for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations
of religious freedom: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia,
Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Secretary simultaneously designated the following Presidential Actions for these CPCs:

For Burma, the existing ongoing arms embargo refer- For Saudi Arabia, a waiver as required in the import-
enced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of ant national interest of the United States, pursuant to
the Act; section 407 of the Act;

For China, the existing ongoing restriction on exports For Sudan, the restriction on making certain appropri-
to China of crime control and detection instruments and ated funds available for assistance to the Government
equipment, under the Foreign Relations Authorization of Sudan in the annual Department of State, Foreign
Act of 1990 and 1991(Public Law 101246), pursuant to Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act,
section 402(c)(5) of the Act; currently set forth in section 7042(j) of the Department
of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
For Eritrea, the existing ongoing arms embargo refer- Appropriations Act, 2014 (Div. K, Pub.L. 11376), and
enced in 22 CFR 126.1(a) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of any provision of law that is the same or substantially the
the Act; same as this provision, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of
For Iran, the existing ongoing travel restrictions based the Act;
on serious human rights abuses under section 221(a)(1) For Turkmenistan, a waiver as required in the import-
(C) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights ant national interest of the United States, pursuant to
Act of 2012, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act; section 407 of the Act; and
For North Korea, the existing ongoing restrictions to For Uzbekistan, a waiver as required in the important
which North Korea is subject, pursuant to sections 402 national interest of the United States, pursuant to
and 409 of the Trade Act of 1974 (the Jackson-Vanik section 407 of the Act.
Amendment) pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the Act;

14 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
from the State Departments CPC list due to diplomatic States has not implemented a unique policy response
activity: Vietnam (a CPC from 2004 to 2006). Three other tied to the CPC designation and particularly severe
CPC designees were removed, but only after military violations of religious freedom.
intervention led to the fall of those regimes: Iraq (a CPC Of the current nine countries designated as CPCs,
from 1999 to 2004), the Taliban regime of Afghanistan (a six have double-hatted sanctions, and three have
particularly severe violator from 1999 to 2003), and the indefinite waivers. The double hatting of sanctions can
Milosevic regime of the Serbian Republic of Yugoslavia (a be the appropriate action in some circumstances. Yet
particularly severe violator from 1999 to 2001). specifically tailored actions can be more precise, either
Along with requiring the naming of violators, IRFA broadly structured or narrowly crafted to target specific
provides the Secretary of State with a unique toolbox government officials or provinces, if acute situations are
to promote religious freedom. It includes a menu of highly localized. Indefinite waivers of penalties under-
options for countries designated as CPCs, and a list of mine the effectiveness of efforts to advance religious
actions for countries that violate religious freedom but freedom, as they signal a lack of U.S. interest and com-
are not CPCs. Specific policy options for CPC countries municate to the designated country that there never will
include sanctions (referred to as Presidential actions in be consequences for its religious freedom abuses.
IRFA), but they are not imposed automatically. Rather, Along with an annual CPC process, the IRFA toolbox
the Secretary of State is empowered to enter into provides many options for diplomatic action. U.S. diplo-
direct consultations with a government to bring about matic engagement cannot and should not solely rely on
improvements in religious freedom. IRFA also permits naming CPCs, but rather use a range of actions including:
the development of either a binding agreement with a diplomatic engagement; consultations about possible
CPC-designated government on specific actions it will CPC action; CPC designations; binding agreement nego-

Along with an annual CPC process, the IRFA toolbox

provides many options for diplomatic action.

take to end the violations, or the taking of a commen- tiations; presidential actions; and/or a waiver for the nar-
surate action. The Secretary may further determine rowest of circumstances. Past practice provides only a few
that pre-existing sanctions are adequate or waive the examples of these tools being used together to bring about
requirement of taking action to advance IRFAs pur- change in a country of concern. An annual CPC designa-
poses or the national interests of the United States. tion process should be the center of all IRF-related work,
In addition to designating the same countries for driving and energizing other areas of U.S. diplomacy, but
years, administrations generally have not levied new should not be the sum total of all activity.
Presidential actions in accordance with CPC desig- With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
nations, with the State Department instead relying that the State Department:
on pre-existing sanctions. While the statute permits
Use all of IRFAs tools, including country of par-
such reliance, relying on pre-existing sanctions or
ticular concern designations, in its diplomatic
double hatting has provided little incentive for
CPC-designated governments to reduce or halt egre-
gious religious freedom violations. Publicly declare the results of its annual review of
The Presidential actions for the nine currently-des- religious freedom conditions required by IRFA and
ignated CPC countries are shown in the table on the pre- make annual designations of countries of partic-
vious page. Because of the indefinite waivers for Saudi ular concern for particularly severe violations of
Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, the United religious freedom;

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 15
Ensure that the CPC list expands and contracts as which includes a component on religious freedom and
conditions warrant; human rights. This positive initiative, on which USCIRF
staff informally advised, connected religious freedom
Wherever possible, when Presidential Actions or
work to other related issues of conflict prevention and
commensurate actions are taken as a consequence
to engaging religious leaders on development goals. A
of CPC designations, undertake specific efforts to
document specifically tailored to the issue of religious
emphasize the importance of religious freedom to
freedom would further this effort.
the United States, and in particular avoid double-
In addition to a national strategy to guide U.S.
hatted sanctions; and
efforts, elected leaders and U.S. officials need to commu-
Limit the use of waivers to a set period of time and nicate clearly and regularly that religious freedom is a
subject them to review for renewal. foreign policy priority for the United States. For instance,
in his October 2015 remarks at the release of the 2014 IRF
USCIRF recommends that Congress:
report, Secretary Kerry stated that it is a proven reality
Take steps through legislative action to require the that no nation can fulfill its potential if its people are
State Department to make annual CPC designa- denied the right to practice, to hold, to modify, to openly
tions, should the State Department fail to do so; and profess their innermost beliefs. Additionally, during
his January 2015 visit to India, President Obama gave a
Hold annual oversight hearings on IRFA implemen-
major speech highlighting the need for religious toler-
tation in the House and Senate.
ance and freedom, and he reiterated the point at the Feb-
ruary 2015 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC.
Guidance Notably, the Prime Minister of India subsequently gave
With multiple offices and positions dealing with issues a major address about these concerns. As this example
that relate to or overlap with religious freedom, craft- demonstrates, one of the most direct ways to stress the
ing a specific strategy outlining the need to promote importance of religious freedom is in high-profile public
freedom of religion or belief internationally across U.S. events. Both the U.S. government bureaucracy and for-
government agencies would set an important tone and eign governments will notice such presentations by the
give direction to U.S. efforts. President, the Secretary of State, Congressional leaders,
In February 2015, the President issued his second and other high-ranking U.S. officials.
National Security Strategy, which touched on religious
freedom. In a section entitled Advance Equality, the
Strategy said:
Public advocacy should be tied to
American values are reflective of the universal a country-specific plan for advancing
values we champion all around the world religious freedom.
including the freedoms of speech, worship, and
peaceful assembly; the ability to choose leaders
democratically; and the right to due process
Action also is needed after communication. Public
and equal administration of justice. We will
advocacy should be tied to a country-specific plan
be a champion for communities that are too
for advancing religious freedom. This is especially
frequently vulnerable to violence, abuse, and
important for countries designated as CPCs, as well as
neglectsuch as ethnic and religious minori-
those recommended by USCIRF for CPC designation
ties; people with disabilities; Lesbian, Gay,
or on USCIRFs Tier 2 list. Such actions would include
Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals;
scheduling trips for embassy officials, including the
displaced persons; and migrant workers.
U.S. ambassador, to visit oppressed religious commu-
The National Security Council issued a more spe- nities or sites of violence. The United States also should
cific strategy about religious engagement in July 2013, insist that discussions on freedom of religion or belief

16 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
and religious tolerance be included in various bilateral By contrast, DHS has mandatory training on reli-
strategic dialogues and summits, such as the strategic gious persecution and IRFA for all new refugee and asy-
dialogues with Russia, Pakistan, or Indonesia, or the lum officers, and USCIRF and IRF Office representatives
meetings of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National Commission. regularly speak to these classes. Over the years, USCIRF
Concerns about freedom of religion or belief should also also has participated in and submitted materials for
be interwoven into negotiations over trade agreements training sessions on religious freedom and religious per-
and followed up on after deals are reached, such as in secution for Department of Justice immigration judges.
the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Training on religious freedom issues in the military
Finally, U.S. officials and elected leaders should raise education system remains minimal, despite the many
religious freedom issues during visits to key countries of schools, military service colleges, and universities pro-
concern. It is important for foreign leaders to hear directly viding professional military education. With American
from visiting U.S. delegations that restrictions on religious service members increasingly engaging governments
freedom are hindering the bilateral relationship. and societal leaders in religious contexts, training on
With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends international standards of freedom of religion or belief
that: would better equip them to carry out their mission.
With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
Each administration issue a strategy to guide U.S.
that the U.S. government:
government efforts to protect and promote religious
freedom abroad and set up a process to oversee its Make training on international religious freedom
implementation; mandatory for State Department officials, including
education on what it is, its importance, and how to
The President, the Secretary of State, Members of
advance it; Require such training at three inter-
Congress, and other U.S. officials consistently stress
vals in each diplomats career: the A-100 class for
the importance of international religious freedom in
incoming diplomats, Area Studies for mid-career
their public statements as well as in public and pri-
officials, and a class for all ambassadors and deputy
vate meetings in the United States and abroad; and
chiefs of missions; and
In consultation with USCIRF, the State Department
Train relevant members of the military on the
develop and implement country-specific strategies
importance of religious freedom and practical ways
for advancing religious freedom, inter-faith harmony,
to best promote it as an aspect of U.S. foreign policy.
mutual respect, and reconciliation, to ensure that
official statements are followed by concrete actions. USCIRF recommends that Congress:

If necessary, require the Foreign Service Institute

Training and the military to provide training on interna-
IRFA calls for American diplomats to receive train- tional religious freedom and on the best practices to
ing on how to promote religious freedom effectively promote it as an aspect of U.S. foreign policy, so that
around the world. In the past few years, training for Foreign Service Officers, U.S. service members, and
Foreign Service Officers on issues of religious freedom military chaplains can use globally-recognized reli-
has increased, but remains voluntary. The Foreign gious freedom standards when engaging in-country
Service Institute (FSI) continued to offer a multi-day with religious leaders and government and military
Religion and Foreign Policy course. USCIRF staff has officials.
been repeatedly invited to speak about the role of the
Commission, but the overall focus could include a
Ensuring Funding for Religious
greater emphasis on promoting freedom of religion or
Freedom Programming
belief. USCIRF also regularly speaks to regional studies
IRFA also envisaged the funding of religious freedom
classes to discuss the Commissions findings on coun-
programs, authorizing foreign assistance to promote
tries of interest.
and develop legal protections and cultural respect

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 17
for religious freedom. Congress did not appropriate is USCIRFs work on Expedited Removal (discussed in
specific funds for this until Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 and the next section). Additionally, a congressional tasking
did not do so annually thereafter; the State Depart- resulted in USCIRFs study about what Pakistans edu-
ment, however, has provided the IRF Office funding cation system teaches about religious minorities in that
for program grants through DRLs Human Rights and country. Another example was the special fellowship
Democracy Fund (HRDF). In March 2015, Ambassador program that was funded for two years to enable schol-
Saperstein reported to Congress that the IRF Office ars to focus on freedom of religion or belief.
receives approximately five percent of DRLs HRDF With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
funding (approximately $3.5 million) annually. These that Congress:
funds support religious freedom programs currently
Annually specify that funds from the State Depart-
operating in 16 countries. Ambassador Saperstein also
ments Human Rights and Democracy Fund
reported in March 2015 that five new programs using FY
(HRDF) be allocated for religious freedom pro-
2014 funds would soon begin operations. The Consol-
gramming managed by the Office of International
idated Appropriations Act, 2016 states that $10 million
Religious Freedom;
from the HRDF shall be made available for international
religious freedom programing in FY 2016, representing a Call for entities that receive federal funds, includ-
significant increase that USCIRF welcomes. ing the Middle East Partnership Initiative, USAID,
the National Endowment for Democracy, and U.S.
Institute of Peace, to devote resources for religious
freedom programming;
Funding for religious freedom
work need not come solely Encourage USAID to prioritize programs that
from the State Departments develop and disseminate, especially in countries
human rights bureau. of concern, educational and teacher training
materials that focus on international human rights
standards, religious freedom, and the centrality of
interfaith understanding to achieving development
Funding for religious freedom work need not
objectives; and
come solely from the State Departments human rights
bureau. Other potential sources include the State Urge the National Endowment for Democracy and
Departments Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) other entities that receive federal funding to solicit
and the U.S. Agency for International Developments competitive proposals on specific international
(USAID) Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Human- religious freedom programming.
itarian Assistance. Appropriation measures have sig-
naled the importance of such funding. For instance, the
The Treatment of Asylum Seekers in
Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, makes money
Expedited Removal
from the FY 2016 funds for economic support, disaster
As authorized by IRFA, USCIRF conducted a major
assistance, and migration and refugee assistance avail-
research study in 2003 and 2004 on the U.S. governments
able for programs to protect and assist vulnerable and
treatment of asylum seekers in Expedited Removal.
persecuted religious minorities. It also makes FY 2016
USCIRFs 2005 Report on Asylum Seekers in Expedited
funds appropriated to the Broadcasting Board of Gov-
Removal (the Study), found serious flaws in the processing
ernors available for programs related to international
and detention of asylum seekers, and made recommen-
religious freedom, including reporting on the condition
dations to the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS)
of vulnerable and persecuted religious groups.
and Justice (DOJ) to address these problems. (Expedited
In legislation, report language, and discussions,
Removal is a complicated administrative process carried
Congress has at times tasked USCIRF to develop rec-
out by three different DHS agencies Customs and Border
ommendations for challenging issues. One example
Protection (CBP), the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration

18 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
Service (USCIS), and Immigration and Customs Enforce- The detention of asylum-seeking mothers and chil-
ment (ICE); for asylum seekers, DOJs Executive Office of dren is problematic.
Immigration Review (EOIR) also is involved.)
Since the 2005 Study, USCIRF has continued to
Multilateral Efforts
monitor the implementation of its recommendations,
IRFA specifically cites U.S. participation in multilat-
issuing several follow-up reports that found progress in
eral organizations as an avenue for advancing reli-
some areas but no changes in others. Meanwhile, the
gious freedom. Both the United Nations (UN) and the
U.S. governments use of Expedited Removal and the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
number of individuals in Expedited Removal seeking
(OSCE) have conventions and agreements that protect
asylum have grown significantly. As a result, flaws in the
freedom of religion or belief and related rights, includ-
system now potentially affect even more asylum seekers.
ing assembly and expression, and have mechanisms
In 2014 and 2015, USCIRF again reviewed the
that can be used to advance religious freedom or call
situation of asylum seekers in Expedited Removal, as
attention to violations.
an update to the 2005 Study. This research revealed

The Human Rights Councils system of independent experts, or

Special Procedures, is another important mechanism....

continuing and new concerns and found that most of

United Nations
USCIRFs 2005 recommendations have not been imple-
At the UN Human Rights Council, the Universal Peri-
mented. USCIRF will issue a special report detailing the
odic Review (UPR) process allows states to assess the
findings and recommendations from this research in
human rights performance of every UN member state,
2016. Among the key findings will be that:
providing opportunities for the United States and other
Poor management and coordination of the Expe- like-minded countries to ask questions and make rec-
dited Removal process continue to be problems; ommendations about religious freedom. This is partic-
ularly important when countries designated as coun-
Serious concerns remain about CBP officers inter-
tries of particular concern under IRFA are reviewed.
viewing practices and the reliability of the records
Country resolutions in the Human Rights Council and
they create;
the UN General Assembly also provide opportunities to
The reliance on technology to process and interview highlight religious freedom concerns.
increased numbers of border crossershas improved The Human Rights Councils system of indepen-
efficiency, but the impersonal nature of the inter- dent experts, or Special Procedures, is another import-
views raises concerns that this may be at the expense ant mechanism, particularly the Special Rapporteur
of identifying and protecting asylum seekers; who focuses on religious freedom, a position created
in 1986 at the initiative of the United States. The UN
The information provided to non-citizens in Expe-
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
dited Removal does not adequately inform them
currently Professor Heiner Bielefeldt of Germany, who
of their rights, responsibilities, and, if relevant, the
is completing his term in 2016 monitors freedom of
next steps in their asylum cases;
religion or belief worldwide, communicates with gov-
ICE continues to detain asylum seekers under inap- ernments about alleged violations, conducts country
propriate penal conditions and its procedures for visits, and issues reports and statements. Some of the
bond and alternatives to detention raise concerns; Councils Special Procedures on specific countries also
and have drawn attention to religious freedom violations,
such as the current UN Special Rapporteur on the

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 19
Human Rights Situation in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed. In Continue its vigorous support of the mandate and
addition, the specially-created Commissions of Inquiry work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom
on North Korea and on Eritrea focused on the severe of Religion or Belief, including by supporting a
religious freedom abuses in those nations. well-qualified replacement for the current Spe-
For a number of years, the UN Human Rights Coun- cial Rapporteur and working to secure sufficient
cil and General Assembly were the centers of a problem- assistance to support him or her in carrying out this
atic effort by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation volunteer position;
(OIC) and some of its members to seek an international
Work for the creation of additional country-specific
legal norm restricting speech that defamed religions,
Special Rapporteur positions, especially for CPC
particularly Islam. In a welcome change, the OIC no lon-
countries; and
ger is sponsoring the flawed defamation-of-religions res-
olutions. They were replaced in 2011 by a new, consen- Remain vigilant against any renewed efforts at
sus approach (often referred to as the Resolution 16/18 the UN to seek legal limitations on offensive or
approach, after the first such resolution) that focuses on controversial speech about religion that does not
positive measures to counter religious intolerance and constitute incitement to violence, and continue to
protect individuals from discrimination or violence, press countries to adhere to the Resolution 16/18
rather than criminalizing expression. approach, including by repealing blasphemy laws.

The [OSCE], comprised of 57 participating states...,

continues to be an important forum for holding those states to
extensive standards on freedom of religion or belief....

Nevertheless, USCIRF remains concerned that

some OIC members continue to support a global
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in
anti-blasphemy law. Many OIC member states continue
Europe (OSCE), comprised of 57 participating states
to have and enforce repressive domestic blasphemy laws
from Europe, the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, the
that result in gross human rights abuses and exacerbate
United States, and Canada, continues to be an import-
religious intolerance, discrimination, and violence, the
ant forum for holding those states to extensive standards
very problems the OIC claims it is trying to address. In
on freedom of religion or belief and on combating hate
addition, some OIC countries continue to refer publicly
crimes, discrimination, and religious intolerance. It
to the defamation-of-religions concept and call for
also has been an important participant in efforts to
international laws against it, including in the context of
counter violent extremism and terrorism in the name
the Istanbul Process, a series of international meetings
of religion, while respecting human rights. In recent
launched in 2011 to discuss the implementation of the
years, however, some states, led by Russia, have sought
Resolution 16/18 approach.
to curtail the OSCEs human rights activities in favor of
With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
a security focus and tried to limit the participation of
that the State Department:
NGOs, particularly in the annual Human Dimension
Continue to use the UN Human Rights Councils (HDim) meeting in Warsaw, Europes largest human
Universal Periodic Review process and resolutions rights conference.
in the Human Rights Council and the UN General The HDim draws hundreds of government
Assembly to shine a light on religious freedom delegates and NGOs, and includes a plenary session
violations in specific countries, especially those devoted to freedom of religion or belief, providing the
designated as CPCs under IRFA; United States an opportunity to raise publicly religious

20 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
freedom concerns in OSCE countries, including those conduct activities without undue interference by
designated as CPCs. NGOs and religious groups also ODIHR or participating states;
can raise issues during plenaries, and hold other meet-
Request that the new advisor on freedom of religion
ings on specific topics of concern. For the first time in
or belief be adequately resourced to effectively
many years, Turkmenistan sent an official delegation
monitor religious freedom abuses across the OSCE
to the HDim in September-October 2015. In July 2015,
area and to provide training for staff of OSCE field
a Supplementary HDim meeting on religious freedom
offices; and
was held in Vienna.
In early 2015, the OSCEs Office of Democratic Insti- Encourage OSCE missions to fully integrate reli-
tutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) hired a new staff gious freedom and related human rights into coun-
advisor on freedom of religion or belief, filling a position tering violent extremism (CVE) programs, count-
vacant for some years. He and his two staff members will er-terrorism training, and other relevant programs.
work in ODIHRs Human Rights Section, instead of the
Tolerance Unit; USCIRF welcomes this placement, since
Working with Like-Minded Nations
religious freedom is not merely an issue of tolerance but
There are increasing opportunities for the U.S. gov-
a fundamental human right. ODIHR also has an Advi-
ernment to work in concert with like-minded nations
sory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
on issues relating to freedom of religion or belief. In
Upon the request of OSCE states, the Panel reviews pro-
recent years, the United Kingdoms foreign ministry and
posed or enacted legislation against international and
parliament have increased their focus on the issue, the
OSCE commitments, and provides expert opinions and
European Union issued guidelines for its diplomats, and
guidelines. Since 2012, the Panel has had 12 members,
the European Parliament established a working group
although it used to be much larger.

There are increasing opportunities for the U.S. government to work in concert
with like-minded nations on issues relating to freedom of religion or belief.

on the subject. In 2013, Canada created an ambassado-

OSCE Field Operations are a key feature of the
rial position and office on religious freedom, but as of
organization, including in the human rights sphere.
the end of the reporting period, its future under the new
Each has its own mandate drawn up with the host gov-
Canadian government was uncertain. The Austrians,
ernment, but more recent mandates provide decreased
Dutch, Italians, Norwegians, and Germans also have
scope for human rights activities. At present, there are
focused specifically on religious freedom. In light of
six field offices in South East Europe, two in Eastern
these developments, over the past few years USCIRF has
Europe, two in the South Caucasus, and five in Central
played a leading role in fostering increased collabora-
Asia. In June 2015, Azerbaijan closed the OSCE office in
tion among governments and parliaments interested in
Baku. In USCIRFs view, ODIHR should make greater
promoting freedom of religion or belief.
efforts to ensure consistency on issues of religious free-
Working with a group of parliamentarians from
dom and related human rights, including by providing
Brazil, Canada, Norway, Turkey, and the United King-
more training on these issues for staff in OSCE Field
dom, USCIRF helped launch a new parliamentary
network, the International Panel of Parliamentarians
With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends
for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPP-FoRB) in 2014. The
that the State Department:
launch meeting, in Oslo, Norway, brought together over
Urge ODIHR to empower the Advisory Panel to act 30 parliamentarians from different regions, political
independently and issue reports or critiques and parties, and religions, who signed a Charter for Freedom

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 21
of Religion or Belief pledging to advance religious free- issues in specific countries. The National Security
dom for all. A direct outcome of the meeting was the cre- Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government
ation of a caucus in the Brazilian Congress to promote Reform Committee also has held hearings on protecting
international religious freedom. The IPP-FoRBs second international religious freedom. The Senate Appropri-
meeting, which USCIRF helped organize and fund, was ations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations,
in New York in September 2015, with an unprecedented and Related Programs held a hearing in March 2015 on
100 parliamentarians from over 50 countries participat- protecting religious freedom abroad. The Tom Lantos
ing. Parliamentarians in the network have sent joint let- Human Rights Commission has held several hearings
ters on religious freedom issues to the leaders of various on religious freedom, including the humanitarian and
nations, including Burma, Vietnam, Iran, and Sudan, human rights crisis in Iraq, human rights in Egypt, pris-
and are planning other activities. oners of conscience, and religious minorities in Iran. In
Paired with any parliamentary effort should be addition, the Senate Human Rights Caucus has focused
coordinated inter-governmental activities. Officials on international religious freedom, and will hold a series
from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, of hearings on international religious freedom in 2016
and the EU External Action Service have recognized focusing on countering religious extremism, protect-
this need. Efforts are beginning to coordinate joint ing religious minorities from ISIL in Iraq and Syria,
demarches on countries of common concern, as well and the impact of blasphemy laws on the freedoms of
as to share information about how governments fund religion and expression. Holding annual Congressional
religious freedom work in the field. oversight hearings on IRFA implementation in both the

Working with a group of parliamentarians from Brazil, Canada,

Norway, Turkey, and the United Kingdom,
USCIRF helped launch a parliamentary network....

With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends House and Senate would reinforce further Congressio-
that the State Department: nal interest in the issue.
Since religious freedom is implicated in some of the
Continue to work with other governments and
most difficult foreign policy challenges facing the United
parliaments interested in promoting international
States today, Members of Congress from both Houses
religious freedom to share information and coordi-
also should continue to raise issues of international reli-
nate activities.
gious freedom during the confirmation hearings of U.S.
ambassadors. In addition, Members of Congress should
The Role of Congress continue to introduce and support legislation that deals
Congress has an important role to play to ensure that with international religious freedom and focuses on
international religious freedom remains a priority to violations and remedies. Recent examples include the
the U.S. government. Hearings are a particularly useful four-year reauthorization of USCIRF (P.L. 114-71) and the
tool, as they signal Congressional interest and engage- introduction in December 2015 and passage in March
ment. Subcommittees of the House of Representatives 2016 in the House of Representatives of a resolution, H.
Committee on Foreign Affairs have held hearings Con. Res 75, expressing that the atrocities committed by
focusing on the crisis of international religious freedom, ISIL against religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and
holding accountable countries of particular concern, Syria included war crimes, crimes against humanity,
the issuance of the State Departments IRF Report and and genocide. Members of Congress also should con-
USCIRFs Annual Report, as well as religious freedom tinue to use appropriations bills and supporting report

22 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
language to express congressional concerns to the U.S. country-specific hearings and ambassadorial
and other governments. In the Consolidated Appropria- confirmation hearings;
tions Act, 2016, (PL 114-113), Congress included import-
During delegation trips abroad, Members of Con-
ant language pertaining to international religious
gress examine conditions of religious freedom for
freedom, including making not less than $10 million
all faiths/beliefs, and meet with individuals and
available for international religious freedom programs
organizations that promote religious freedom and
and requiring that the Secretary of State submit to Con-
related human rights, targeted religious communi-
gress a report on attacks against Christians and other
ties, and people detained for their religious beliefs
religious groups in the Middle East by violent Islamist
or religious freedom advocacy; and
extremists, and on the Rohingya Muslims in Burma by
violent Buddhist extremists, including whether either Members of Congress participate in the Defending
situation constitutes mass atrocities or genocide. Freedoms Project to advocate for the release of spe-
Congressional delegations abroad also are import- cific prisoners of conscience abroad.
ant and effective ways to promote international religious
freedom. Members of Congress can undertake congres-
sional delegations to countries of particular concern to
specifically examine conditions of religious freedom
for all faiths/beliefs, meet with individuals and orga-
nizations that promote religious freedom and related
human rights, and targeted religious communities, and
advocate for people detained for their religious beliefs or
religious freedom advocacy.
Another example of congressional action is the
Defending Freedoms Project, an initiative of the Tom
Lantos Human Rights Commission, in conjunction with
USCIRF and Amnesty International USA. Through the
project, Members of Congress advocate on behalf of
prisoners abroad, work toward their release, and shine
a spotlight on the laws and policies that have led to their
incarceration. The goal of this project is to help set free
these prisoners and increase attention to and support for
human rights and religious freedom.

Congressional delegations abroad also

are important and effective ways to
promote international religious freedom.

With respect to these issues, USCIRF recommends


Both the House and Senate hold annual over-

sight hearings on IRFA implementation, as well
as hearings on religious freedom-specific issues,
and ensure that religious freedom is raised in

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U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 25

26 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings seats and taking control of government. The underlying

In 2015, peaceful elections ended more than 50 years electoral process was deeply flawed due to the exploita-
of military-controlled government in Burma, yet the tion of religious divisions, the disenfranchisement of
new government faces myriad human rights chal- Rohingya Muslim voters, and the disqualification of
lenges. Throughout the year, Burmas government Rohingya Muslim candidates. During 2015, Burmas
and non-state actors continued to violate religious government enacted into law all four race and religion
freedom; these violations became a defining element bills before Election Day, prompting nationalist Buddhist
of the campaign season. The abuses were particularly group Ma Ba Tha and its supporters to embark upon
severe for Rohingya Muslims, whose persecution an extensive celebratory tour throughout the country.
became even more apparent when the magnitude of Each of the measures regulating religious conversion,
their flight from Burma captured international media marriage, and births discriminate against and restrict
attention. Instead of protecting those most in need, the religious freedom of non-Buddhists, particularly
like the Rohingya, Burmas government intensified its Muslims, and diminishes womens rights. The laws have
isolation and marginalization of vulnerable groups, been condemned widely within Burma by civil society
leaving hundreds of thousands internally displaced organizations and womens groups and in the interna-
and without basic necessities. The government allowed tional community, including by the United States.
expressions of hatred and intolerance toward religious Although Burma has opened dramatically since the
and ethnic minorities to continue unchecked and last nationwide elections, President Thein Seins govern-
shepherded the passage into law of four discriminatory ment continued to restrict basic freedoms including
race and religion bills. Based on these systematic, the right to freedom of religion or belief. For example,
egregious, and ongoing violations, USCIRF continues growing religious intolerance resulted in discrimination
to recommend in 2016 that Burma be designated as and ill-treatment against religious and ethnic minori-
a country of particular concern, or CPC, under the ties. Regarding other rights, more than 100 students and
International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State others were arrested for their involvement in demon-
Department has designated Burma a CPC since 1999, strations opposing the National Education Law, and
most recently in July 2014. activist Chaw Sandi Tun was sentenced to six months

Although Burma has opened dramatically since the

last nationwide elections, President Thein Seins government continued to restrict
basic freedoms including the right to freedom of religion or belief.

Background in prison for Facebook posts criticizing the military.

Burmas November 8 elections dominated 2015, resulting The outgoing government released 52 political prison-
in longtime opposition party, the National League for ers in January 2016, but human rights groups remain
Democracy (NLD), winning an overwhelming majority of concerned about those still facing trial and those still
imprisoned, estimated at more than 400 and more than

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 27
80, respectively. Moreover, the governments historic holders, many of whom are Rohingya Muslims and had
ceasefire agreement with armed ethnic groups fell short voting rights in previous elections, but this angered some
when barely half the groups agreed to sign, and intense in the Buddhist majority, including influential monks.
fighting continued in parts of Shan State and other Following the outcry, the president announced the expi-
areas, displacing thousands. ration of all white cards at the end of March and ordered
Religious demography figures gathered during the that they be turned in to authorities by the end of May.
2014 census were not released in 2015. Based on avail- This resulted not only in the governments revocation of
able information, nearly 90 percent of the population voting rights for white card holders, but also eliminated
is Buddhist, four percent Christian, and four percent the only form of identification for many individuals.
Muslim. Rohingya Muslims comprise as many as one Additionally, officials in Rakhine State and at the
million out of a total population of 51 million, though Union Election Commission denied Rohingya Muslims
the number fleeing the country continues to grow. the right to run for office in the 2015 elections. For exam-
ple, Shwe Maung, a Rohingya Muslim already serving in
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 parliament, was denied the right to contest the elections
The Plight of Rohingya Muslims because officials falsely claimed his parents were not
In 2015, conditions remained grave for Rohingya citizens of Burma when he was born. Kyaw Min, also a
Muslims, particularly those in Rakhine State and Rohingya Muslim, was similarly disqualified. Regarding
especially the approximately 140,000 confined in other Muslim communities, only 28 Muslim candidates
deplorable camps. While some aid groups were able to ran nationwide: none were successful in winning a seat,
reach certain communities including ethnic Rakhine marking the first time that Muslims have no representa-
who also suffer under the states extreme poverty the tion in the national parliament.
government has left unaddressed the root causes of the
Rohingyas dire circumstances. Burmas government Regional Refugee Crisis
continues to deny Rohingya Muslims citizenship, free- During 2015, despite deep, generational roots in their
dom of movement, access to health care, and other basic homeland, many Rohingya Muslims continued to risk
services. Some Buddhists continued to espouse hatred the dangerous journey by boat to escape persecution
and discrimination against Muslims, such as when Ma in Burma. According to the UN High Commissioner
Ba Tha reportedly proposed a ban on hijabs for Muslim for Refugees, approximately 31,000 Rohingya Muslims
schoolgirls and when pressure from some monks forced and Bangladeshis fled by boat during the first half of
Muslims to curtail their Eid celebrations or cancel Fri- the year, a 34 percent surge over the previous year. The
day prayers. asylum seekers from Burma, whether refugees flee-

In 2015, conditions remained grave for Rohingya Muslims,

particularly those in Rakhine State and especially the approximately
140,000 confined in deplorable camps.

In addition, Rohingya Muslims experienced the

denial of their political rights in 2015. Political jockeying ing due to legitimate fears of persecution or migrants
between Burmas parliament and President Thein Sein seeking a better life, are stateless and ostracized
prompted the government to revoke voting rights in any wherever they go. Following the discovery in May 2015
national referendum for individuals with temporary ID of mass graves in Thailand and Malaysia, a region-
cards, also known as white cards. At one point, the wide crackdown on well-established trafficking and
parliament confirmed voting eligibility for white card people smuggling routes left stranded countless boats

28 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

carrying at least 5,000 individuals, many of whom (or opposition to) the discriminatory race and religion
were Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma. Thousands bills to measure suitability to hold office. Burmas
eventually landed in Malaysia and Indonesia, though government revealed a troubling double standard in
many died during the journey, and the whereabouts of dealing with individuals whose words or actions were
many others are unknown. By early 2016, countries in perceived to express hate and/or insult religion. On
the region had convened two iterations of the Special the one hand, Ma Ba Tha figurehead Ashin Wirathus
Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, slanderous and vile insults of UN Special Rapporteur
where participants discussed how to assist individuals Yanghee Lee, after she criticized the race and religion
fleeing and the root causes influencing their movement bills in January, went unchecked, and the government
throughout the region. failed to distance itself from his remarks. Meanwhile,
former NLD official Htin Lin Oo was found guilty in
Abuses Targeting Ethnic Minority Christians June of insulting religion following an October 2014
Since 2011, at least 100,000 Kachin, primarily Chris- speech in which he spoke out against the use of Bud-
tians, remain internally displaced in camps due to dhism for extremist purposes. Also, in March 2015,
ongoing conflicts with Burmas military. The longstand- three nightclub managers a New Zealand man and
ing conflicts, although not religious in nature, have two Burmese men were sentenced to two-and-a-half
deeply impacted Christian communities and those of years hard labor for insulting religion after posting
other faiths, including by limiting their access to clean online a promotional advertisement depicting Buddha
water, health care, proper hygiene and sanitation, and wearing headphones. The New Zealand man, Philip
other basic necessities. Groups like the Kachin Baptist Blackwood, was released as part of the January 2016
Convention (KBC) and others worked during the year prisoner amnesty, but his two Burmese colleagues
to assist those displaced. During the year, churches remain in prison. While hateful and intolerant expres-
in Kachin and Shan States reportedly were destroyed sion should be strongly condemned, the right to
in separate incidents as a result of artillery believed to freedom of expression is indivisible from the right to
have been fired by the military. The 2014 murder of two freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief,
Kachin Christian schoolteachers volunteering with KBC and laws making religious defamation a crime violate
in Shan State remains unsolved. In Chin State, Christian international human rights norms.
communities remained fearful that the local govern-
ment would deny necessary permissions to erect crosses
or build churches, due in large part to the governments
long-standing practices of destroying crosses and refus- Buddhist nationalists speciously
ing to allow new church construction. In January 2015, labeled candidates and
Chin elder Tial Cem faced charges of erecting a cross political parties pro-Muslim to
and allegedly cutting down the trees used to construct tarnish their reputation
it. In August, a Buddhist monk in Karen State began and electability...
building a pagoda and another structure in an area
described as a Baptist Church compound, impacting the
congregations ability to worship.
U.S. Policy
Religious Intolerance and Expressions of Hate During 2015, the United States remained actively
Throughout 2015, and particularly in the context of engaged with Burma, including high-level visits by
the November 8 elections, senior political and Bud- several State Department officials, including the first-
dhist leaders continued to express intolerance toward ever joint visit by Ambassador-at-Large for International
Muslims. Buddhist nationalists speciously labeled can- Religious Freedom David Saperstein and Ambassador
didates and political parties pro-Muslim to tarnish Andrew Bennett, the head of Canadas Office of Reli-
their reputation and electability and used support for gious Freedom. Ahead of the elections, the United

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 29
States and eight other countries issued a joint statement than 11,500 in FY2015 through June 30, 2015. According
in September in support of credible, transparent, and to a State Department spokesperson, the FY2015 reset-
inclusive elections and expressing concern about the tlements included more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims.

Ahead of the elections, the United States and

eight other countries issued a joint statement in September
in support of credible, transparent, and inclusive elections and
expressing concern about the prospect of religion being
used as a tool of division and conflict during the campaign season.

prospect of religion being used as a tool of division and Recommendations

conflict during the campaign season. U.S. government The new NLD government will have many priorities,
funding supported a number of election-related efforts, and it will be essential for the United States and others to
including programs to support the Union Election consistently reinforce the importance of religious free-
Commission, voter education, and election monitoring. dom and related human rights and highlight the threat
Earlier in the year, the State Department also expressed posed by the words and actions of groups like Ma Ba
concern about the possible impact of the population Tha and individuals like Wirathu. Alongside condem-
control bill and three race and religion bills all now law nation, the United States also must continue to press for
on ethnic and religious minorities, a concern shared the rights of Rohingya and other Muslims and increase
by USCIRF and many others. the costs to Burma for perpetuating abuses. As part of a
The deepening bilateral relationship between broader framework to encourage Burmas government
the United States and Burma was reflected in the to adhere to international human rights standards,
FY2016 spending bill, which included notable first- USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government con-
time language related to religious freedom, as well as tinue to designate Burma as a CPC, as well as:
standard funding through the Economic Support Fund,
Enter into a binding agreement with the govern-
and continued to block military assistance other than
ment of Burma, as authorized under section 405(c)
through consultations with Burmas military on issues
of IRFA, setting forth mutually-agreed commit-
related to human rights and disaster response. (The
ments that would foster critical reforms to improve
U.S. arms embargo, the Presidential action applied to
religious freedom and establish a pathway that
Burma pursuant to the CPC designation, remains in
could lead to Burmas eventual removal from the
effect.) The legislation includes Burma, and particularly
CPC list, including but not limited to the following:
Rohingya Muslims, as part of an atrocities prevention
report the Secretary of State must submit to Congress. It taking concrete steps to end violence and poli-
also prohibits U.S. funds from going to those determined cies of discrimination against religious and eth-
to advocate violence against religious or ethnic groups, nic minorities, including the investigation and
specifically mentioning Ma Ba Tha as an example, and prosecution of those perpetrating or inciting
the accompanying report language calls for specific violence; and
review of Ma Ba Tha figurehead Wirathu.
lifting all restrictions inconsistent with interna-
Regarding refugees, at the end of May 2015, the
tional standards on freedom of religion or belief;
United States announced a $3 million contribution in
response to an appeal from the International Organiza- Encourage Burmas new government to become
tion for Migration. Nearly 14,600 refugees from Burma party to the International Covenant on Civil and
were resettled to the United States in FY2014 and more Political Rights;

30 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Engage the government of Burma, the Buddhist Powers Act, 50 U.S.C. 1701-1706, which sets out mea-
community and especially its leaders, and religious sures relating to certain companies and individuals
and ethnic minorities, including Rohingya Muslims in response to the ongoing nature of intercommunal
and Christian communities, on religious freedom violence and humanitarian crises, including con-
issues, tolerance, inclusivity, and reconciliation to cerns regarding the ongoing conflict and human
assist them in promoting understanding among rights abuses in the country, particularly in ethnic
people of different religious faiths and to impress minority areas and Rakhine State.
upon them the importance of pursuing improve-
ments in religious tolerance and religious freedom
in tandem with political improvements;

Use the term Rohingya, both publicly and privately,

which respects the right of the Rohingya Muslim
community to identify as they choose;

Encourage crucial legal and legislative reform that

strengthens protections for religious and ethnic
minorities, including citizenship for the Rohingya
population through the review, amendment, or
repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law or some other
means, and support the proper training of local
government officials, lawyers, judges, police, and
security forces tasked with implementing, enforc-
ing, and interpreting the rule of law;

Continue to support the unconditional release

of all persons detained or awaiting trial for the
peaceful exercise or expression of religious free-
dom and related human rights and urge the new
government to abandon the practice of criminaliz-
ing non-violent acts;

Continue to use the leverage of the specially

designated nationals list by the Treasury Depart-
ments Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) with
respect to individuals who have participated in
human rights and religious freedom abuses, such as
by instigating, carrying out, or supporting publicly
anti-Muslim violence and discrimination;

Apply section 604(a) of IRFA to deny visas to or

admission into the United States by Burmese gov-
ernment officials responsible for or known to have
directly carried out particularly severe violations of
religious freedom; and

Renew beyond May 2016 the designation of a

National Emergency with Respect to Burma, pur-
suant to the International Emergency Economic

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 31

32 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings represented individuals of various beliefs. In July,

Chinas severe religious freedom violations continued in authorities across China undertook a sweeping drag-
2015. While the Chinese government sought to further net rounding up lawyers and human rights defenders,
assert itself on the global stage, at home it pursued poli- including religious freedom advocates, with nearly
cies to diminish the voices of individuals and organiza- 300 arrested, detained, or disappeared. Many of these
tions advocating for human rights and genuine rule of individuals came under government suspicion pre-
law. During the past year, as in recent years, the central cisely because they chose to represent politically-un-
and/or provincial governments continued to forcibly desirable religious groups, such as Uighur Muslims,
remove crosses and bulldoze churches; implement a dis- unregistered Christian leaders and members, and
criminatory and at times violent crackdown on Uighur Falun Gong practitioners. While most were released,
Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists and their rights; and the location of a few individuals remains unknown and
harass, imprison, or otherwise detain Falun Gong prac- additional detentions and arrests continue. Among
titioners, human rights defenders, and others. Based on those criminally detained or facing charges of sub-
the continuation of this long-standing trend of religious version or endangering state security are Wang Yu, Li
freedom violations, USCIRF again recommends in 2016 Heping, and Zhang Kai, human rights lawyers known
that China be designated a country of particular con- for defending Falun Gong practitioners, Christians,
cern, or CPC, for its systematic, egregious, and ongoing and others. China also punished individuals exercising
abuses. The State Department has designated China as a their right to free speech, such as human rights lawyer
CPC since 1999, most recently in July 2014. Pu Zhiqiang, who in December was handed a three-
year suspended sentence for picking quarrels and
Background inciting ethnic hatred in a series of social messages
The past year was marked by the Chinese governments critical of the governments policies.
deliberate and unrelenting crackdown on human Those following one of Chinas five officially rec-
rights and dissent. This crackdown transpired while the ognized religions Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Cathol-
government considered new laws to bolster its power icism, and Protestantism and affiliated with one of
and reach, such as a national security law enacted July the corresponding state-sanctioned patriotic religious
1 and a terrorism law adopted on December 28. Chinas associations are protected in theory from the govern-
leadership has long justified its harsh policies, includ- ments crackdown on religion. However, the continued
ing against Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, and imprisonment of Pastor Zhang Shaojie of the state-reg-
others, by asserting the importance of confronting the istered Nanle County Christian Church demonstrates
so-called three evils separatism, terrorism, and that state recognition is no guarantee of protection.
religious extremism. In 2015, the Chinese Communist The government continued to accuse individuals and
Party tightened its internal ideology, elevating the cru- religious organizations of engaging in so-called cult
sade against the three evils, particularly with respect to activities. Underground house churches are particu-
religious freedom. larly vulnerable to these accusations; Buddhist leader
During the past year, the government increased Wu Zeheng received a life sentence in October for his
its targeting of human rights lawyers and dissidents, alleged involvement in a cult.
some of whom advocated for religious freedom or The Chinese Communist Party officially is atheist
and took steps in 2015 to ensure that Party members

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 33
reject religion or belief. More than half of Chinas pop- an attempt to recruit global support for his campaign of
ulation is unaffiliated with any religion or belief. There repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, Presi-
are nearly 300 million Chinese who practice some form dent Xi Jinping accused the international community of
of folk religion; more than 246 million Buddhists; at least double standards in its response to perceived terrorism
68 million Christians; nearly 25 million Muslims; and within China. This perspective diminishes the connec-
less than 3.6 million apiece practice Hinduism, Judaism, tion between the Chinese governments harsh repression
or Taoism. and the actions of some Uighur Muslims: the crackdown
has led to the detention or deaths of hundreds and pos-
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 sibly thousands of Uighur Muslims as well as instability
Uighur Muslims and insecurity, fueling resentment and the very extrem-
In January 2015, Chinese authorities extended their ism the government claims it is trying to quell.
strike hard anti-terror campaign launched in 2014 Beijings attempt to control messaging about its
that imposed wide-scale restrictions against Uighur treatment of Uighur Muslims reached beyond its own
Muslims in Xinjiang. In addition to increased arrests borders. In December 2015, China expelled French jour-
for alleged terrorist activities and the presence of nalist Ursula Gauthier for her writings challenging the
additional troops, security forces reportedly closed governments claims regarding Uighur terrorism. While
religious schools and local authorities continued to other foreign journalists have been expelled or denied
crack down on various forms of allegedly extrem- visas in the past, Gauthiers expulsion was the first in
ist religious expression, such as beards for men and several years. Also in December, China released Rexim
face-covering veils for women. Local authorities and Shawket Hoshur, brothers of American journalist
in parts of Xinjiang also threatened action against Shohret Hoshur; they had been detained since August
Muslim business owners if they declined to sell 2014 and charged with, but not convicted of, endanger-
alcohol and cigarettes based on their religious beliefs ing state security. The charges against them and a third
and traditions. As in years past, officials banned the brother who is still detained were a means to punish
observance of Ramadan, taking steps to prevent party Shohret for his reporting on Xinjiang. Though the two
officials, public servants, and students from fasting. In brothers release is a positive step, all three brothers
July 2015, the government of Thailand forcibly repatri- detentions reflect the Chinese governments increasing
ated 109 Uighur Muslims to China, reportedly due to willingness to employ extra-judicial methods and spu-
Chinese pressure. rious charges to retaliate against individuals and their

As in years past, officials banned the observance of Ramadan, taking steps to

prevent party officials, public servants, and students from fasting.

China continued to deny that its repressive policies family members who criticize its repressive policies in
toward Uighur Muslims contribute to the communitys Xinjiang and elsewhere.
discontent and at times aggressive reaction. Following
the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, China Tibetan Buddhists
equated its own experience with so-called Uighur sepa- In 2015, the Chinese government maintained tight
ratists with the situation faced by France concerning the control of Tibetan Buddhists, strictly monitoring and
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Days later, Chi- suppressing their cultural and religious practices.
nese police killed 28 Uighurs the government suspected Government-led raids on monasteries continued,
of involvement in a September 2015 coal mine attack in and Chinese party officials in Tibet infiltrated mon-
Xinjiang that killed more than 50, mostly Han Chinese. In asteries with Communist Party propaganda. Reports

34 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

indicated increased government interference in the of the government-run Catholic Patriotic Association
education and training of young Buddhist monks. In and Protestant Christian Council publicly expressed
protest of these and other repressive policies, at least alarm, including in a public letter written by the govern-
143 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009. ment-appointed bishop of Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province
Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who had and co-signed by several priests.
been serving a 20-year sentence, died in prison in July
2015. Supporters of the popular monk maintained he
was falsely accused of separatism and terrorism, and
there were reports that police opened fire on a group of
By some estimates, the number of
supporters who had gathered in his memory. Chinese
cross removals and church demolitions
authorities cremated Tenzin Delek Rinpoches body
totaled at least 1,500, and many who
against his familys wishes and Buddhist practice,
opposed these acts were arrested.
leading many to suspect foul play in his death. Also,
authorities subsequently detained his sister and niece
for nearly two weeks after they requested his body be Although Chinese authorities released several
turned over to them. parishioners and pastors throughout the year, they
The past year was marked by several notable anni- continued to summon, question, detain, and even arrest
versaries: the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, the 50th clergy and parishioners of unregistered house churches,
anniversary of Beijings control over the Tibet Auton- such as at Huoshi Church in Guizhou Province. In Jan-
omous Region, and the 20th anniversary of the disap- uary 2015, local officials informed the family of impris-
pearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, also known as the oned Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang that he had died. At
Panchen Lama. Abducted at the age of six, the Panchen the time of his reported death, the underground bishop
Lama has been held in secret by the Chinese government had been imprisoned, without charges, for 14 years at a
for more than two decades. Also in 2015, the government secret location, in addition to previous imprisonments
accused the Dalai Lama of blasphemy for suggesting and hard labor. In March, a court sentenced Pastor
he would not select a successor or reincarnate, effectively Huang Yizi to one year in prison for trying to protect the
ending the line of succession; Beijing also reiterated its cross at Salvation Church in Zhejiang Province from
own authority to select the next Dalai Lama. removal. Additionally, as noted above, human rights
lawyers often are targeted for assisting religious follow-
Protestants and Catholics ers. For example, prior to a meeting with U.S. Ambassa-
In May 2015, authorities in Zhejiang Province circulated dor-at-Large for International Religious Freedom David
draft regulations governing the color, size and location Saperstein in August 2015, Chinese authorities seized
of religious signs, symbols, and structures. While the human rights lawyer Zhang Kai. Mr. Zhang is known
regulations apply to all religious markers, the move for his work on behalf of those affected by the church
aligned with provincial officials systematic efforts demolitions and cross removals in Zhejiang Province
in recent years to forcibly remove church crosses in and previously represented Pastor Huang. Following six
Zhejiang Province, an area with a high concentration of months of being held without charge likely at one of
Christians. Officially branded the Three Rectifications Chinas notorious black jail facilities known for their
and One Demolition campaign, Chinese authorities use of torture Zhang Kai was criminally detained in
use the pretext of building code violations to target February 2016.
houses of worship, particularly churches, as illegal The Vatican and China continued their ongoing
structures. By some estimates, the number of cross formal dialogues, including a Vatican delegations visit
removals and church demolitions totaled at least 1,500, to China in October 2015. During the year, the Vatican
and many who opposed these acts were arrested. The reportedly suggested a compromise regarding the
campaign reached such intensity in 2015 that even gov- selection and approval of bishops in China, though
ernment-approved churches and the provincial arms the government of China has not agreed. While some

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 35
positive developments transpired Bishop Wu Qin-jing the Northeast border with China and transferred to
was installed, Bishop Zhang Yinlin was ordained, and Chinese police. The UN High Commissioner for Human
the Vatican approved Bishop-designee Tang Yuange Rights, among others, called on China and Vietnam to
China still insists it has the authority to appoint bishops disclose their whereabouts. To date, no information has
independent of the Holy See. been made available, and human rights organizations
fear they have already been returned to North Korea.
Falun Gong
In 2015, thousands of Falun Gong practitioners reportedly
were arrested or sent to brainwashing centers or other
detention facilities. Brainwashing centers are a form of During its 2015 review of Chinas record,
extralegal detention known to involve acts of torture. the UN Committee against Torture
Based on statements from Chinese health officials, the recommended that the Chinese
long-standing practice of harvesting organs from prison- government cease its practice of forcibly
ers was to end on January 1, 2015. However, many human repatriating North Korean refugees.
rights advocates believe the practice continues. Impris-
oned Falun Gong practitioners are particularly targeted
for organ harvesting. Li Chang, a former government offi-
cial sentenced to prison for his involvement in a peaceful U.S. Policy
Falun Gong demonstration, is among the countless Falun On January 6, 2016, North Korea reported it had deto-
Gong practitioners who remain imprisoned at the end of nated a hydrogen bomb. While the claims were largely
the reporting period. The Chinese government continued discredited, the international community including the
to deny Wang Zhiwen a passport or the ability to travel United States and China responded swiftly. Secretary
freely to receive proper medical care following the torture of State John Kerry discussed the matter with Chinese
he endured during his 15 years in prison. Chinese author- Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing, and while the two
ities denied a visa and barred entry into mainland China sides agreed a response was necessary, they differed on
to Anastasia Lin, a human rights advocate and Falun the approach and the degree to which sanctions should
Gong practitioner. As Miss World Canada 2015, Ms. Lin be applied. The two also discussed Chinas activity in
was scheduled to participate in the Miss World event held the South China Sea. By February, Congress advanced
in China in December 2015. legislation imposing both mandatory and discretionary
sanctions against individuals conducting certain kinds
Forced Repatriation of North Korean Refugees of business with North Korea. The UN Security Council
During its 2015 review of Chinas record, the UN Com- considered new sanctions against North Korea in light
mittee against Torture recommended that the Chinese of the nuclear test and the countrys announced plans to
government cease its practice of forcibly repatriating launch a satellite, both in violation of Security Council
North Korean refugees. In its report, the Committee resolutions.
noted it had obtained over 100 testimonies from North In 2015, the United States and China conducted
Koreans...indicating that persons forcibly repatri- several bilateral dialogues, including the Strategic &
ated...are systematically subjected to torture and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in June and the resumption
ill-treatment. This violates Chinas obligations under of the Human Rights Dialogue (HRD) in August, both
the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1969 held in Washington, DC. At the S&ED, the two countries
Protocol. China claims North Koreans entering China reached agreements on climate change, ocean conser-
without permission are economic migrants, but does so vation, global health, counterterrorism cooperation, and
without evaluating each individuals case to determine other matters of bilateral interest. At the HRD, the head
whether they qualify for refugee status. For example, in of the U.S. delegation, Assistant Secretary of State for the
October 2015, nine North Korean refugees, including a Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom
one-year-old infant, were discovered in Vietnam along Malinowski, discussed several religious freedom issues,

36 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

including the treatment of Christians, Uighur Muslims, Dialogue and other high-level bilateral meetings
and Tibetan Buddhists. with Chinese leaders, and encourage Chinese
In September 2015, President Xi Jinping made his authorities to refrain from conflating peaceful
first visit to the United States since becoming president religious activity with terrorism or threats to state
in 2013. Human rights organizations widely condemned security;
Xis high-profile visit. At a joint press conference with
Urge the Chinese government to release prisoners
Xi, President Barack Obama said that the discussions
of conscience who have been detained, sentenced,
during Xis visit included human rights and religious
or placed under house arrest for the peaceful exer-
freedom issues, such as the United States concerns
cise of their faith, and continue to raise individual
about forcibly closed churches, the treatment of ethnic
prisoner cases;
minorities, and the importance of preserving Tibetan
religious and cultural identity. Initiate a whole-of-government approach to
Throughout the year, United States raised a number human rights diplomacy with China in which the
of human rights issues with China both publicly and State Department and National Security Council
privately, including individual cases. For example, the staff develop a human rights action plan for imple-
U.S. Department of State expressed concern and/or mentation across all U.S. government agencies
condemnation about the detention of women activists and entities, including developing targeted talking
and human rights defenders and also the forced repatri- points and prisoner lists, and providing support for
ation of Uighur Muslims by Thailand. The Department all U.S. delegations visiting China;
of State also expressed sadness over the death in prison
Increase staff attention to U.S. human rights diplo-
of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and called for Pu Zhiqiangs
macy and the rule of law, including the promotion
suspended sentence to be vacated. Along with other
of religious freedom, at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing
Administration visits to China, Ambassador-at-Large for
and U.S. consulates in China, including by gather-
International Religious Freedom David Saperstein vis-
ing the names of specific officials and state agencies
ited the country in August 2015. At the October release
who perpetrate religious freedom abuses;
of the 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom,
Ambassador Saperstein mentioned human rights lawyer Convey more directly U.S. concerns about severe
Zhang Kai, who was detained by Chinese authorities religious freedom violations in China, impose
one day prior to meeting with the Ambassador. targeted travel bans, asset freezes, and other pen-
alties on specific officials who perpetrate religious
Recommendations freedom abusesas permitted by IRFA;
Chinas approach to religious freedom and related
Press China to uphold its international obligations
human rights does not comply with international stan-
to protect North Korean asylum seekers crossing its
dards. At the same time, China increasingly flouts these
borders, including by allowing the UN High Com-
standards as it grows more assertive on the global stage
missioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and international
and seeks to assume the mantle of world leadership. To
humanitarian organizations to assist them and by
reinforce to China that such leadership must go hand-
ending repatriations, which are in violation of the
in-hand with the respect for and protection of religious
1951 Refugee Convention and Protocol and/or the
freedom and related human rights, the U.S. government
Convention Against Torture; and
consistently should integrate human rights messaging
and specifically religious freedom throughout its Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to
interactions with China. In addition to recommending use appropriated funds to advance Internet free-
the U.S. government continue to designate China as a dom and protect Chinese activists by supporting
CPC, USCIRF recommends the U.S. government should: the development and accessibility of new technolo-
gies and programs to counter censorship.
Continue to raise consistently religious freedom
concerns at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic

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38 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings Pentecostals, and others, one percent. On the positive

The Eritrean government continues to repress religious side, there are no religious conflicts in Eritrea and rela-
freedom for unregistered, and in some cases regis- tionships between religious communities are peaceful.
tered, religious communities. Systematic, ongoing, and President Isaias Afwerki and the Popular Front for
egregious religious freedom violations include torture Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) have ruled Eritrea since
or other ill-treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary the countrys independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Pres-
arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ident Afwerki and his circle maintain absolute authority.
ban on public religious activities of unregistered reli- Thousands of Eritreans are imprisoned for their real
gious groups, and interference in the internal affairs or imagined opposition to the government, and a 2015
of registered religious groups. The situation is particu- UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea
larly grave for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians (COI-E) report describes extensive use of torture and
and Jehovahs Witnesses. The government dominates forced labor. No private newspapers, political opposition
the internal affairs of the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, parties, or independent non-governmental organiza-
the countrys largest Christian denomination, and sup- tions exist. The government requires all physically- and
presses the religious activities of Muslims, especially mentally-capable people between the ages of 18 and
those opposed to the government-appointed head of 70 to perform a full-time, indefinite, and poorly-paid
the Muslim community. In light of these violations, national service obligation, which includes military,
USCIRF again recommends in 2016 that Eritrea be development, or civil service components. While the
designated a country of particular concern, or CPC, national service does include a civil service component,
under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). all Eritreans are required to undertake military train-
Since 2004, USCIRF has recommended, and the State ing and Eritreans cannot choose which type of service
Department has designated, Eritrea as a CPC, most they must complete. Hence, there is no alternative for
recently in July 2014. conscientious objectors. The UN and various human

The lack of fundamental human rights and economic opportunities in Eritrea has
led thousands of Eritreans to flee the country to neighboring states and
beyond to seek asylum, including in Europe and the United States.

Background rights groups reported that individuals completing their

There are no reliable statistics of religious affiliation in national service obligation in the military are prohibited
Eritrea. The Pew Charitable Trust estimates that Ortho- from practicing their religion and that persons who fail
dox Christians comprise approximately 57 percent of to participate in the national service are detained, sen-
the population, Muslims 36 percent, Roman Catholics tenced to hard labor, abused, and have their legal doc-
four percent, and Protestants, including Evangelical uments confiscated. Further, a civilian militia program
Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Jehovahs Witnesses, requirement for most males and females between the
ages of 18 and 50 not in the military portion of national

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 39
service also does not allow for or provide an alternative national safety, security and supreme national interests,
for conscientious objectors. instigating refusal to serve national service and stirring
The lack of fundamental human rights and economic up acts of political or religious disturbances calculated
opportunities in Eritrea has led thousands of Eritreans to endanger the independence and territorial sover-
to flee the country to neighboring states and beyond to eignty of the country.
seek asylum, including in Europe and the United States. To date, no other religious communities have been
The UN reported in 2015 that since 2014 an estimated six registered. The Bahai community, the Presbyterian
percent of the population has fled the country. Church, the Methodist Church, and the Seventh-day
There are very few legal protections for freedom Adventists submitted the required applications after
of religion or belief in Eritrea. Those that do exist are the new registration requirements were enacted; the
either not implemented or are limited by other laws or in Eritrean government has yet to act on their applications.
practice. The Eritrean constitution provides for freedom The governments inaction means that unregistered
of thought, conscience, and belief; guarantees the right religious communities lack a legal basis on which to
to practice and manifest any religion; and prohibits practice their faiths, including holding services or other
religious discrimination. Unfortunately, the constitu- religious ceremonies. According to the COI-E report
tion has not been implemented since its ratification in and Eritrean refugees interviewed by USCIRF, most
1997. In May 2014, President Afwerki announced a new churches of non-registered religious communities are
constitution would be drafted, although no action had closed and government approval is required to build
been taken by the end of the reporting period. houses of worship. Leaders and members of unregis-
tered communities that continue to practice their faith
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 are punished with imprisonment and fines.
In 2002, the government imposed a registration require- Religious Prisoners
ment on all religious groups other than the four official- While the countrys closed nature makes exact numbers
ly-recognized religions: the Coptic Orthodox Church difficult to determine, the State Department reports
of Eritrea; Sunni Islam; the Roman Catholic Church; 1,200 to 3,000 persons are imprisoned on religious
and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea, a Lutheran-af- grounds in Eritrea. During the reporting period, there
filiated denomination. All other religious communities were a few reported incidents of new arrests.

...1,200 to 3,000 persons are imprisoned on religious grounds in Eritrea.

are required to apply annually for registration with the Reports of torture and other abuses of religious
Office of Religious Affairs. Registration requirements prisoners continue. Religious prisoners are sent rou-
include a description of the groups history in Eritrea; tinely to the harshest prisons and receive some of the
detailed information about its foreign sources of fund- cruelest punishments. Released religious prisoners have
ing, leadership, assets, and activities; and an explana- reported that they were confined in crowded conditions,
tion of how it would benefit the country or is unique such as in 20-foot metal shipping containers or under-
compared to other religious communities. Registration ground barracks, and subjected to extreme temperature
also requires conformity with Proclamation No. 73/1995 fluctuations. In addition, there have been reports of
to Legally Standardize and Articulate Religious Institu- deaths of religious prisoners due to harsh treatment or
tions and Activities, which permits registered religious denial of medical care. Persons detained for religious
institutions the right to preach, teach, and engage in activities, in both short-term and long-term deten-
awareness campaigns but prohibits ...infringing upon tions, are not formally charged, permitted access to

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legal counsel, accorded due process, or allowed family and Negede Teklemariam who have been detained in
visits. Prisoners are not permitted to pray aloud, sing, Sawa prison since September 24, 1994. Moreover, the
or preach, and religious books are banned. Evangeli- governments requirement that high school students
cals, Pentecostals, and Jehovahs Witnesses released complete their final year at the Sawa Training and
from prison report being pressured to recant their faith, Education Camp, which includes six months of mili-
forced to sign a statement that they would no longer tary training, effectively denies Jehovahs Witnesses an
gather to worship, and warned not to re-engage in reli- opportunity to graduate from high school. Some chil-
gious activities. dren of Jehovahs Witnesses have been expelled from
school because of their refusal to salute the flag or to pay
Pentecostals and Evangelicals for membership in the officially sanctioned national
Pentecostals and Evangelicals comprise the majority of organization for youth and students.
religious prisoners. The Eritrean government is sus- Whole congregations of Jehovahs Witnesses are
picious of newer religious communities, in particular arrested while attending worship services in homes or
Protestant Evangelical and Pentecostal communities. It in rented facilities and individual Witnesses are regu-
has characterized these groups as being part of a foreign larly arrested and imprisoned for expressing their faith
campaign to infiltrate the country, engaging in aggres- to others. Some are quickly released, while others are
sive evangelism alien to Eritreas cultural traditions, and held indefinitely without charge. In 2015, as many as 55
causing social divisions. During 2015, security forces Jehovahs Witnesses were detained without charge or
continued to arrest followers of these faiths for partic- trial. Of these, 16 are older than 60, five are older than 70,
ipating in clandestine prayer meetings and religious and one is in his 80s.
ceremonies, although toleration of these groups varied
by location. The State Department reported that some
local authorities denied water and gas to Pentecostals. The government-deposed Eritrean
The Eritrean government and Eritrean religious leaders Orthodox Patriarch Antonios,
do not publicize arrests and releases and government who protested government
secrecy and intimidation makes documenting the exact interference in his churchs affairs,
numbers of such cases difficult. USCIRF received con- has been held incommunicado
firmation of almost 200 arrests in 2015. under house arrest since 2007.

Jehovahs Witnesses
Jehovahs Witnesses are persecuted for their political
neutrality and conscientious objection to military Recognized Religious Communities
service, which are aspects of their faith. On October 25, The Eritrean government also strictly oversees the
1994, President Afwerki issued a decree revoking their activities of the four recognized religious communities.
citizenship for their refusal to take part in the referen- These groups are required to submit activity reports
dum on independence or to participate in national ser- every six months; instructed not to accept funds from
vice. Since 1994, Jehovahs Witnesses have been barred co-religionists abroad (an order with which the Eritrean
from obtaining government-issued identity and travel Orthodox Church reportedly said it would not comply);
documents, government jobs, and business licenses. and have had religious leaders appointed by govern-
Eritrean identity cards are required for legal recognition ment officials. The Eritrean government has appointed
of marriages or land purchases. The State Department the Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the
reported that some local authorities denied water and Mufti of the Eritrean Muslim community, as well as
gas to Jehovahs Witnesses. other lower-level religious officials. The government-de-
Jehovahs Witnesses who have refused to serve in posed Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch Antonios, who pro-
the military have been imprisoned without trial, some tested government interference in his churchs affairs,
for over a decade, including Paulos Eyassu, Issac Mogos, has been held incommunicado under house arrest since

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 41
2007. Hundreds of Orthodox Christian and Muslim accountability, and raise awareness of the situation in
religious leaders and laymen who protested these the country. In 2015, the U.S. government supported the
appointments remain imprisoned. The COI-E as well continuation of the COI-Es mandate for one additional
as Eritrean refugees interviewed by USCIRF reported year to determine if the Eritrean governments actions
government surveillance of services of the four official constitute crimes against humanity.
religions. Muslims opposed to the government are In September 2004, the State Department desig-
labeled as fundamentalists and human rights organiza- nated Eritrea a CPC. When re-designating Eritrea in
tions report that religious freedom violations against the September 2005 and January 2009, the State Depart-
Muslim community increased following the January 21, ment announced the denial of commercial export to
2013 mutiny during which 100-200 Army soldiers seized Eritrea of defense articles and services covered by the
the headquarters of the state broadcaster in Asmara. Arms Export Control Act, with some items exempted.
Furthermore, Eritrean officials visiting the United States The Eritrean government subsequently intensified its
reportedly pressured diaspora members to attend only repression of unregistered religious groups with a series
Eritrean government-approved Orthodox churches in of arrests and detentions of clergy and ordinary mem-
this country. bers of the affected groups. The State Department most
Within this environment, the Catholic Church is recently re-designated Eritrea a CPC in July 2014, and
granted a few more, but still restricted, freedoms than continued the presidential action of the arms embargo,
other religious communities, including the permission although since 2011 this has been under the auspices of
to host some visiting clergy; to receive funding from the UN Security Council resolution 1907 (see below).
Holy See; to travel for religious purposes and training in U.S.-Eritrean relations also are heavily influenced,
small numbers; and to receive exemptions from national often adversely, by strong U.S. ties with Ethiopia.
service for seminary students and nuns. Gaining independence in 1993, Eritrea fought a costly
border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000. The United
U.S. Policy States, the United Nations, the European Union, and the
Relations between the United States and Eritrea remain now-defunct Organization of African Unity were formal
poor. The U.S. government has long expressed concern witnesses to the 2000 accord ending that conflict. How-
about the Eritrean governments human rights practices ever, Eritrean-Ethiopian relations remain tense due to
and support for Ethiopian, Somali, and other armed and Ethiopias refusal to permit demarcation of the bound-
rebel groups in the region. The government of Eritrea ary according to the Hagues Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary
expelled USAID in 2005, and U.S. programs in the Commissions 2002 decision. The U.S. government views
country ended in fiscal year 2006. Eritrea receives no the commissions decision as final and binding and
U.S. development, humanitarian, or security assistance. expects both parties to comply.
Since 2010, the government has refused to accredit a U.S. policy toward Eritrea also is concentrated on
new U.S. ambassador to the country; in response the U.S. concerns that the countrys activities in the region
U.S. government revoked the credentials of the Eritrean could destabilize the Horn of Africa. In December
ambassador to the United States. 2009, the United States joined a 13-member majority
U.S. government officials routinely raise religious on the UN Security Council in adopting Resolution
freedom violations when speaking about human rights 1907, sanctioning Eritrea for supporting armed groups
conditions in Eritrea. The United States was a co-spon- in Somalia and failing to withdraw its forces from the
sor of a 2012 UN Human Rights Council resolution that Eritrean-Djibouti border following clashes with Dji-
successfully created the position of Special Rappor- bouti. The sanctions include an arms embargo, travel
teur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. In July restrictions, and asset freezes on the Eritrean govern-
2014, the United States supported the creation of a UN ments political and military leaders, as well as other
Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea individuals designated by the Security Councils Com-
to investigate systematic violations of human rights, mittee on Somalia Sanctions. In April 2010, President
recommend how to improve conditions and ensure Obama announced Executive Order 13536 blocking the

42 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

property and property interests of several individuals Ensure, if development assistance is to be resumed,
for their financing of al-Shabaab in Somalia, including that it is directed to programs that contribute directly
Yemane Ghebreab, presidential advisor and the former to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law;
head of political affairs. In December 2011, the United
Intensify international efforts to resolve the current
States voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolution
impasse between Eritrea and Ethiopia regarding
2023, which calls on UN member states to implement
implementation of the boundary demarcation as
Resolution 1907s sanctions and ensure that their
determined by the final and binding decision of
dealings with Eritreas mining industry do not support
the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission that
activities that would destabilize the region. In 2015,
was established following the 1998-2000 war;
the U.S. government voted in the UN Security Council
to retain an arms embargo on Eritrea and to renew for Encourage unofficial dialogue with Eritrean
another year the mandate of its Monitoring Group on authorities on religious freedom issues by pro-
Somalia and Eritrea. moting a visit by U.S. and international religious
leaders, and expand the use of educational and
Recommendations cultural exchanges, such as the Fulbright Program,
The U.S. government should press for immediate the International Visitor Program, and lectures by
improvements to end religious freedom violations in visiting American scholars and experts; and
Eritrea and raise concerns through bilateral and multi-
Work with other nations, especially those with
lateral initiatives. In addition to recommending that the
mining interests in Eritrea and large Eritrean dias-
U.S. government should continue to designate Eritrea
pora communities, to draw attention to religious
a CPC and maintaining the existing, ongoing arms
freedom abuses in Eritrea and advocate for the
embargo referenced in 22 CFR 126.1(a), USCIRF recom-
unconditional and immediate release of detainees
mends that the U.S. government should:
held on account of their peaceful religious activi-
Continue to use bilateral and multilateral diplo- ties, including Orthodox Patriarch Antonios.
matic channels to urge the government of Eritrea to:
release unconditionally and immediately detainees
held on account of their peaceful religious activi-
ties, including Orthodox Patriarch Antonios; end
religious persecution of unregistered religious
communities and register such groups; grant full
citizenship rights to Jehovahs Witnesses; provide
for conscientious objection by law in compliance
with international human rights standards; imple-
ment the Constitution of 1997; bring national laws
and regulations, including registration require-
ments for religious communities, into compliance
with international human rights standards; bring
the conditions and treatment of prisoners in line
with international standards; and extend an official
invitation for unrestricted visits by the UN Commis-
sion of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, the UN
Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, the
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or
Belief, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Deten-
tion, and the International Red Cross;

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 43

44 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings seats in the parliament are reserved for these groups
Religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate (two for Armenian Christians and one each for Assyrian
over the past year, particularly for religious minorities, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians). With an overall
especially Bahais, Christian converts, and Sunni Mus- population of just over 80 million, Iran is approximately
lims. Sufi Muslims and dissenting Shia Muslims also 99 percent Muslim 90 percent Shia and nine percent
faced harassment, arrests, and imprisonment. Since Sunni. According to recent estimates, religious minority
President Hassan Rouhani was elected president in communities constitute about one percent of the popu-
2013, the number of individuals from religious minority lation and include Bahais (more than 300,000), various
communities who are in prison because of their beliefs Christian denominations (nearly 300,000), Zoroastrians
has increased, despite the government releasing some (30,000 to 35,000), and Jews (20,000).
prisoners during the reporting period, including Irani- Nevertheless, the government of Iran discrim-
an-American pastor Saeed Abedini. The government of inates against its citizens on the basis of religion or
Iran continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and belief, as all laws and regulations are based on unique
egregious violations of religious freedom, including Shia Islamic criteria. Since the 1979 revolution, many
prolonged detention, torture, and executions based members of minority religious communities have fled
primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused. in fear of persecution. Killings, arrests, and physical
While Irans clerical establishment continued to express abuse of detainees have increased in recent years,
anti-Semitic sentiments, the level of anti-Semitic rheto- including for religious minorities and Muslims who
ric from government officials has diminished in recent dissent or express views perceived as threatening the
years. Since 1999, the State Department has designated governments legitimacy. The government continues
Iran as a country of particular concern, or CPC, under to use its religious laws to silence reformers, including
the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), most human rights defenders and journalists, for exercising
recently in July 2014. USCIRF again recommends in 2016 their internationally-protected rights to freedom of
that Iran be designated a CPC. expression and religion or belief.

Religious freedom conditions continued to

deteriorate over the past year, particularly for religious minorities,
especially Bahais, Christian converts, and Sunni Muslims.

Background Since his 2013 election, President Hassan Rou-

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a constitutional, theo- hani has not delivered on his campaign promises to
cratic republic that proclaims the Twelver (Shia) Jaafari strengthen civil liberties for religious minorities. Gov-
School of Islam to be the official religion of the coun- ernment actions continued to result in physical attacks,
try. The constitution recognizes Christians, Jews, and harassment, detention, arrests, and imprisonment. Even
Zoroastrians as protected religious minorities, and five some of the constitutionally-recognized non-Muslim
minorities Jews, Armenian and Assyrian Christians,

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 45
and Zoroastrians face harassment, intimidation, dis- act through advocating Gonabadi Dervish beliefs. In
crimination, arrests, and imprisonment. Some majority May 2014, approximately 35 Sufis were convicted on
Shia and minority Sunni Muslims, including clerics trumped-up charges related to their religious activities
who dissent, were intimidated, harassed, and detained. and given sentences ranging from three months to four
Dissidents and human rights defenders were increas- years in prison. Another 10 Sufi activists were either
ingly subject to abuse and several were sentenced to serving prison terms or had cases pending against them.
death and even executed for the capital crime of enmity Iranian state television regularly airs programs demoniz-
against God. ing Sufism.

Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 Bahais

Muslims The Bahai community, the largest non-Muslim reli-
Over the past few years, the Iranian government has gious minority in Iran, long has been subject to partic-
imposed harsh prison sentences on prominent reform- ularly severe religious freedom violations. The gov-
ers from the Shia majority community. Authorities ernment views Bahais, who number at least 300,000,
charged many of these reformers with insulting Islam, as heretics and consequently they face repression
criticizing the Islamic Republic, and publishing mate- on the grounds of apostasy. Since 1979, authorities
rials that allegedly deviate from Islamic standards. have killed or executed more than 200 Bahai lead-
Dissident Shia cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Kazemeni ers, and more than 10,000 have been dismissed from
Boroujerdi continued to serve an 11-year prison sen- government and university jobs. Although the Iranian
tence, and the government has banned him from prac- government maintains publicly that Bahais are free
ticing his clerical duties and confiscated his home and to attend university, the de facto policy of preventing
belongings. He has suffered physical and mental abuse Bahais from obtaining higher education remains
while in prison. According to human rights groups and in effect. Over the past 10 years, approximately 850
the United Nations, some 150 Sunni Muslims are in Bahais have been arbitrarily arrested.
prison on charges related to their beliefs and religious
activities. In October 2015, an Iranian court sentenced
to death a Sunni cleric, Shahram Ahadi, who was
The Bahai community, the largest
arrested in 2009 on unfounded security related charges.
non-Muslim religious minority in Iran,
More than 30 Sunnis are on death row after having been
long has been subject to particularly
convicted of enmity against God in unfair judicial
severe religious freedom violations.
proceedings. Leaders from the Sunni community have
been unable to build a mosque in Tehran and have
reported widespread abuses and restrictions on their
religious practice, including detentions and harassment As of February 2016, at least 80 Bahais were being
of clerics and bans on Sunni teachings in public schools. held in prison solely because of their religious beliefs.
Additionally, Iranian authorities have destroyed Sunni These include seven Bahai leaders Fariba Kamala-
religious literature and mosques in eastern Iran. badi, Jamaloddin Khanjani, Afif Naemi, Saeid Rezaie,
Irans government also continued to harass and Mahvash Sabet, Behrouz Tavakkoli, and Vahid Tiz-
arrest members of the Sufi Muslim community, includ- fahm as well as Bahai educators and administrators
ing prominent leaders from the Nematollahi Gonabadi affiliated with the Bahai Institute for Higher Education,
Order, while increasing restrictions on places of worship some of whom were released during the reporting
and destroying Sufi prayer centers and hussainiyas (meet- period. During the past year, dozens of Bahais were
ing halls). Over the past year, authorities have detained arrested throughout the country. In January 2016, in
dozens of Sufis, sentencing many to imprisonment, fines, the Golestan province, 24 Bahais were sentenced to
and floggings. In June 2015, a criminal court sentenced prison terms ranging from six to 11 years after being
Abbas Salehian to 74 lashes for committing a haram convicted for membership in the Bahai community and

46 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

engaging in religious activities. In November 2015, at 2015, authorities raided a number of private Christmas
least 20 Bahais were arrested in three cities Tehran, services and arrested nearly a dozen church members
Isfahan, and Mashhad after their homes were raided in Tehran. In April 2015, a revolutionary court upheld a
and materials confiscated. As part of the crackdown, one-year prison sentence and two-year travel bans on 13
nearly 30 Bahai-owned shops were closed following the Christian converts arrested in 2013.
observance of two Bahai religious holy days. In April
and May, authorities closed 35 Bahai-owned shops in
an effort to force Bahais not to observe their holy days.
During the reporting period,
In April, in Hamadan, at least 13 Bahais were arrested
human rights groups inside Iran
over a two-week period for allegedly engaging in propa-
reported a significant increase in the
ganda against the regime. They have not been formally
number of physical assaults and
charged. During the 2015-2016 school year, many Bahai
beatings of Christians in prison.
youth who scored very high on standardized tests were
either denied entry into university or expelled during
the academic year once their religious identity became
known to education officials. Jews and Zoroastrians
Although not as pronounced as in previous years, the
Christians government continued to propagate anti-Semitism
Over the past year, there were numerous incidents of and target members of the Jewish community on
Iranian authorities raiding church services, threaten- the basis of real or perceived ties to Israel. In 2015,
ing church members, and arresting and imprisoning high-level clerics continued to make anti-Semitic
worshipers and church leaders, particularly Evan- remarks in mosques. Numerous programs broadcast
gelical Christian converts. Since 2010, authorities on state-run television advance anti-Semitic mes-
arbitrarily arrested and detained more than 550 Chris- sages. Official discrimination against Jews continues
tians throughout the country. As of February 2016, to be pervasive, fostering a threatening atmosphere
approximately 90 Christians were either in prison, for the Jewish community. In a positive development,
detained, or awaiting trial because of their religious the government no longer requires Jewish students to
beliefs and activities. attend classes on the Sabbath. In recent years, mem-
Some Christians were released from jail during the bers of the Zoroastrian community have come under
year, including two long-serving prisoners of con- increasing repression and discrimination. At least four
science, Saeed Abedini (released in January 2016) and Zoroastrians were convicted in 2011 for propaganda of
Farshid Fathi (released in December 2015). Abedinis their faith, blasphemy, and other trumped-up charges
early release was part of a prisoner swap between the remain in prison.
United States and Iran. He had been serving an eight-
year prison sentence for threatening the national Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, and Others
security of Iran for his activity in the Christian house Iranian authorities regularly detain and harass journal-
church movement. Fathi had been serving an extended ists, bloggers, and human rights defenders who say or
prison term on trumped-up security charges related to write anything critical of the Islamic revolution or the
his religious activities. Iranian government. Over the past couple of years, a
During the reporting period, human rights groups number of human rights lawyers who defended Bahais
inside Iran reported a significant increase in the number and Christians in court were imprisoned or fled the
of physical assaults and beatings of Christians in prison. country. In addition, in August 2015, a revolutionary
Some activists believe the assaults, which have been court sentenced to death Mohammad Ali Taheri, a uni-
directed against converts who are leaders of under- versity professor and founder of a spiritual movement
ground house churches, are meant to intimidate others (Erfan Halgheh or Spiritual Circle), for the capital crime
who may wish to convert to Christianity. In December of corruption on earth. In October 2011, Taheri had

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 47
been convicted and sentenced to five years in prison and Iranian government officials or persons acting on
74 lashes for insulting religious sanctities for publish- their behalf responsible for human rights and religious
ing several books on spirituality; reportedly, he has been freedom abuses, bars their entry into the United States,
held in solitary confinement since his conviction. Some and freezes their assets. In August 2012, the President
of Taheris followers also have been convicted on similar signed into law the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria
charges and sentenced to prison terms ranging from one Human Rights Act of 2012, or ITRSHRA (H.R. 1905 /
to five years. In December, the Iranian Supreme Court P.L. 112-239), which enhances the scope of human
overturned Taheris death sentence. At the end of the rights-related sanctions contained in CISADA. Over
reporting period, he and some of his followers remained the past five years, as a consequence of Irans human
in prison. rights violations, the United States has imposed visa
restrictions and asset freezes on 19 Iranian officials and
U.S. Policy 18 Iranian entities pursuant to CISADA, ITRSHRA, and
The U.S. government has not had formal diplomatic various Executive Orders.
relations with the government of Iran since 1980, During the past year, U.S. policy on human rights
although the United States participated in negotia- and religious freedom in Iran included a combination of
tions with Iran over the countrys nuclear program public statements, multilateral activity, and the impo-
as part of the group of countries known as the P5+1 sition of unilateral sanctions on Iranian government
(China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, officials and entities for human rights violations. During
and Germany). In July 2015, the P5+1, the European the reporting period, high-level U.S. officials in multilat-
Union, and Iran announced they had reached the Joint eral fora and through public statements urged the Ira-
Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to ensure that nian government to respect its citizens human rights,
Irans nuclear program would be exclusively peaceful. including the right to religious freedom. In December
On January 16, Implementation Day of the JCPOA, 2015, for the 13th year in a row, the U.S. government
the United States and European Union began lifting co-sponsored and supported a successful UN General
nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. Notwithstanding Assembly resolution on human rights in Iran, which
the JCPOA, the United States continues to keep in place passed 76 to 35, with 68 abstentions. The resolution con-
and enforce sanctions for Irans human rights viola- demned the Iranian governments poor human rights
tions, its support for terrorism, and its ballistic missile record, including its religious freedom violations and
program. According to the State Department, these continued abuses targeting religious minorities.
sanctions are intended to target the Iranian govern- During the year, President Obama and Secretary
ment, not the people of Iran. of State John Kerry used public occasions to call for the

During the past year, U.S. policy on human rights and

religious freedom in Iran included a combination of public statements,
multilateral activity, and the imposition of unilateral sanctions on
Iranian government officials and entities for human rights violations.

On July 1, 2010, President Barack Obama signed release of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini. On
into law CISADA, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, January 16, 2016, the Obama Administration announced
Accountability, and Divestment Act (P.L. 111-195), it had secured the release from jail of pastor Abedini,
which highlights Irans serious human rights violations, and three other Americans, in exchange for the release
including suppression of religious freedom. CISADA of seven Iranians in prison in the United States. Abedini
requires the President to submit to Congress a list of returned to the United States later that month.

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On July 28, 2014, the Secretary of State re-des- including freedom of religion or belief, in Iran and
ignated Iran as a country of particular concern. The calling for officials responsible for such violations
Secretary designated the following Presidential Action to be held accountable; and
for Iran: the existing ongoing travel restrictions based
Use appropriated funds to advance Internet free-
on serious human rights abuses under section 221(a)
dom and protect Iranian activists by supporting the
(1)(C) of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human
development and accessibility of new technologies
Rights Act of 2012, pursuant to section 402(c)(5) of the
and programs to counter censorship and to facili-
Act. The previous designation made in 2011 cited a pro-
tate the free flow of information in and out of Iran.
vision under CISADA as the Presidential Action. Unlike
CISADA, ITRSHRA does not contain a specific provision The U.S. Congress should:
citing religious freedom violations.
Reauthorize the Lautenberg Amendment, which
aids persecuted Iranian religious minorities and
other specified groups seeking refugee status in
In addition to recommending that the U.S. government
the United States, and work to provide the Pres-
should continue to designate Iran as a CPC, USCIRF
ident with permanent authority to designate as ref-
recommends that the U.S. government should:
ugees specifically-defined groups based on shared
Notwithstanding the P5+1 nuclear agreement, characteristics identifying them as targets for
ensure that violations of freedom of religion or persecution on account of race, religion, nation-
belief and related human rights are part of mul- ality, membership in a particular social group, or
tilateral or bilateral discussions with the Iranian political opinion.
government whenever possible, and continue to
work closely with European and other allies to
apply pressure through a combination of advo-
cacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanctions;

Continue to speak out publicly and frequently at the

highest levels about the severe religious freedom
abuses in Iran, press for and work to secure the
release of all prisoners of conscience, and highlight
the need for the international community to hold
authorities accountable in specific cases;

Continue to identify Iranian government agencies

and officials responsible for severe violations of
religious freedom, freeze those individuals assets,
and bar their entry into the United States, as delin-
eated under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions,
Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 (CIS-
ADA) citing specific religious freedom violations;

Call on Iran to cooperate fully with the UN Special

Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran,
including allowing the Special Rapporteur as
well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of
Religion or Belief to visit, and continue to sup-
port an annual UN General Assembly resolution
condemning severe violations of human rights,

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Key Findings faiths are outdated or difficult to confirm. The country

North Korea consistently ranks among the worlds also has strong historical traditions of Buddhism and
most repressive regimes, in part because of its deplor- Confucianism, as well as a local religious movement
able human rights record. The North Korean regime known as Chondoism (also spelled Cheondoism) and
believes that its own absolute ideology sustains all of the Russian Orthodox Church.
North Korean society politically, economically, and
morally and that alternative beliefs, including reli-
gion, pose a threat. Thus, the government restricts basic Those who follow a religion or other
freedoms and often treats most harshly individuals system of belief do so in secret.
believed to engage in religious activities, including
through arrests, torture, imprisonment, and sometimes
execution. Family members of religious believers often
are considered guilty by association, suffering the same The regime consistently uses the launch of missiles
inhumane fate as their loved ones, typically in prison and rockets, or the threatened use of these and other
or at one of North Koreas infamous labor camps. Based armaments, to provoke the international community.
on the North Korean governments systematic, ongoing, While some of these threats are directed at South
egregious violations of religious freedom, USCIRF again Korea, many are targeted at the United States, which
recommends in 2016 that North Korea be designated the regime accuses of leading a global plot to discredit it
a country of particular concern, or CPC, under the and orchestrate regime change. Not only is North Korea
International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The State attempting to amass its own nuclear arsenal, but also
Department has designated North Korea a CPC since the country serves as a conduit between other countries
2001, most recently in July 2014. with nuclear ambitions. The country put its weapons
cache on display during an elaborate celebration and
Background military parade in October 2015 honoring the 70th anni-
For decades, North Korea has indoctrinated its people, versary of the Korean Workers Party.
including young children, to venerate the ruling Kim Since the 2014 report of the UN Human Rights
family. This forced loyalty leaves no room for the expres- Councils Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in
sion of individualized thought, nor does it allow for the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (COI), the
freedom of religion or belief. The North Korean people United Nations has kept the country and its myriad
must believe in the cult around their supreme leaders abuses at the fore. Pursuant to a resolution passed by
at the expense of all other forms of belief. Though the the UN General Assembly, the Security Council moved
constitution grants freedom of religious belief, no such in December 2014 to formally add the issue of North
freedom exists in practice. Those who follow a religion Korean human rights to its agenda. In April 2015, the
or other system of belief do so in secret. The most recent Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
estimate puts North Koreas total population at nearly 25 held a briefing on North Koreas human rights abuses;
million. According to UN figures, less than two percent North Korean representatives attempted to hijack the
are Christian, or somewhere between 200,000 and meeting by interrupting statements delivered by North
400,000 people. Figures for religious followers of other Korean defectors. In June, UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein launched a new

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UN Human Rights Office in Seoul, South Korea, based visiting North Korea as part of humanitarian efforts
on COI recommendations, dedicated to monitoring are at particular risk, especially if they are Korean
human rights conditions in North Korea. nationals. For example, in early 2015, North Korean
authorities detained Hyeon Soo Lim, a pastor who had
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 made many humanitarian trips to the country over
Government Control and Repression nearly two decades. Reverend Lim was born in South
of Christianity Korea but is a Canadian citizen. A North Korean court
The North Korean government reserves its most severe sentenced Reverend Lim to life in prison and hard labor
persecution for Christians, although in practice the on vague charges of insulting the countrys leadership.
regime is adverse to all organized religion. Based on In March 2015, North Korean authorities detained two
information collected by the Database Center for North South Korean pastors, Kim Kuk Gi and Choe Chun Gil,
Korean Human Rights, individuals face persecution for on charges of espionage, purportedly carried out in part
propagating religion, possessing religious items, carry- through the use of underground churches; in June, a
ing out religious activities (including praying and sing- North Korean court sentenced the two men to life with
ing hymns), and having contact with religious persons. hard labor.
Christians believed to have committed any of these In the absence of widely available Internet or
acts are typically jailed, or worse. In prison, Christians media that is not controlled by the government, radios
reportedly endure harsher treatment than other prison- have become a means to provide North Koreans lim-
ers. It is estimated that tens of thousands of Christians in ited access to religion. In some parts of the country,
North Korea are currently in prison camps facing hard radio stations from South Korea or China are able to
labor or execution. Given the high cost to themselves transmit signals inside North Korea, sometimes with
and their families if caught, many North Koreans likely religious programming.
self-suppress their own consciences, creating a multi- Despite the irrefutable evidence to the contrary, the
plier effect of the governments repressive policies. regime insists it does not violate religious freedom. In

It is estimated that tens of thousands of Christians in North Korea

are currently in prison camps facing hard labor or execution.

Except at the handful of state-controlled houses of

worship, which are widely believed to exist for the ben- July 2015, Alejandro Cao de Benos, a Spaniard working
efit of foreigners, religious believers typically practice for the North Korean government as Special Delegate
their faith individually and secretly, sometimes even for North Koreas Committee for Cultural Relations with
keeping their faith private from members of their own Foreign Countries, called accusations that Christians
family. The state-run Korean Catholic Association has are persecuted in the country absolutely false.
no ties to the Vatican, and the single Catholic church in
the country does not have a priest. However, according North Korean Refugees in China
to reports, officials agreed to allow South Korean priests China remains North Koreas strongest supporter and its
to visit North Korea to perform services beginning in largest trading partner. Despite its displeasure at North
2016, a change from the practice of ad hoc services per- Koreas unannounced testing of an alleged hydrogen
formed by visiting clergy. bomb on January 6, 2016, China thus far has declined
North Korea regularly detains foreigners on to respond punitively or take any action. This partly
spurious charges as a means to extract diplomatic stems from Chinas longstanding concerns about an
concessions from their countries of citizenship. Clergy influx of North Korean refugees should its neighbor

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become unstable. As a deterrent, the Chinese govern- sanctions. In February, Congress approved and Pres-
ment maintains tight security along the border with ident Barack Obama signed into law the North Korea
North Korea and forcibly returns individuals crossing Sanctions Enforcement Act, which imposes both man-
into China. This violates Chinas obligations under the datory and discretionary sanctions against individu-
1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1969 Protocol. als conducting certain kinds of business with North
Reports suggest both China and North Korea recently Korea, including any person who knowingly engages
have installed additional fencing on their respective in, is responsible for, or facilitates serious human rights
sides of the border. Both China and North Korea also abuses by the Government of North Korea, and directs
have responded swiftly to individuals caught crossing the Secretary to report on North Korean prison camps
the border, such as when the Chinese military shot and and on persons responsible for serious human rights
killed a North Korean refugee in June 2015 in Yanbian abuses or censorship in North Korea.
Province. Accounts from North Korean defectors indi- In February 2015, at the request of the UN Security
cate that individuals caught trying to defect or forcibly Council, a panel of experts presented a report evaluat-
repatriated from China are severely punished, particu- ing the Security Councils actions against North Koreas
larly those believed to have interacted with missionaries nuclear efforts that also noted a correlation between
or engaged in religious activities. the countrys nuclear threats in anticipation of and in
response to the UN General Assemblys annual human

At an April 2015 panel discussion on human rights in North Korea,

Ambassador Power noted that the countrys
abuses are not just a matter of human rights, but also of
international peace and security.

U.S. Policy rights resolutions. At an April 2015 panel discussion on

The United States does not have diplomatic relations human rights in North Korea, Ambassador Power noted
with North Korea and has no official presence within that the countrys abuses are not just a matter of human
the country. North Koreas pursuit of a nuclear weap- rights, but also of international peace and security. In
ons program has defined relations between the United December, during the U.S. presidency of the UN Security
States and North Korea for decades. U.S. officials have Council, the United States and eight other countries con-
stated publicly that the United States is open to engage- vened a meeting to discuss human rights in North Korea.
ment and substantive dialogue with North Korea, both North Korea continues to target individuals with
bilaterally and through the Six-Party process, on the close ties to the United States; the regime routinely
issue of denuclearization. detains them and compels confessions designed to
Throughout 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry embarrass and undercut the United States. In April
similarly called for increased international pressure 2015, North Korea deported U.S. citizen Sandra Suh,
on North Korea. This continued into 2016 following the the founder of a humanitarian aid organization, for
North Koreas claims that it had detonated a hydro- allegedly spreading propaganda. Also in April, North
gen bomb on January 6, 2016. Secretary Kerry met Korean officials arrested New York University Student
and spoke with counterparts from several countries, Joo Won-moon, a South Korean with U.S. permanent
including the foreign ministers of China, Japan, and resident status; North Korean authorities alleged he
South Korea. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations illegally crossed into the country from China. In a May
Samantha Power made similar entreaties at the UN media interview while still detained, Joo Won-moon
Security Council, which unanimously approved new said he intended to be arrested as a means to foster

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 53
better relations between North and South Korea; it is Peoples Republic of Korea and assess any new
unclear if this was his genuine motive. He was released developments, and suggest a regularization of such
to South Korean authorities in October. More recently, analysis similar to and in coordination with the
in January 2016, North Korea arrested University of Universal Periodic Review process;
Virginia student Otto Frederick Warmbier allegedly for
Include, whenever possible, both the Special Envoy
committing a hostile act. Warmbier was visiting North
for North Korean Human Rights Issues and the
Korea with a tour group and was detained at the airport
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious
as the group was leaving the country. In February 2016,
Freedom in bilateral discussions with North Korea
Warmbier publicly confessed to the charges and admit-
in order to incorporate human rights and religious
ted his actions were coordinated with someone from
freedom into the dialogue, and likewise incorporate
an Ohio church; however, according to a pastor at the
human rights and religious freedom concerns into
church, the alleged individual is unknown and Warm-
discussions with multilateral partners regarding
bier is not a member of the church.
denuclearization, as appropriate;
In lieu of prescribing sanctions specific to the CPC
designation, the State Department consistently has Coordinate efforts with regional allies, particularly
applied double-hatted sanctions against North Korea, Japan and South Korea, to raise human rights and
in this case via the Jackson-Vanik amendment under the humanitarian concerns and specific concerns
Trade Act of 1974. New U.S. sanctions against the North regarding freedom of religion or belief, and press for
Korean government and the Korean Workers Party went improvements, including closure of the infamous
into effect January 2, 2015 following the hack of Sony penal labor camps;
Pictures Entertainment. In November 2015, the Treasury
Explore innovative ways to expand existing radio pro-
Department added four individuals and one company
gramming transmitted into North Korea and along
to the list of specially designated nationals for their
the border, as well as the dissemination of other forms
involvement with and connection to North Koreas weap-
of information technology, such as mobile phones,
ons proliferation; among the individuals named was Kim
thumb drives, and DVDs, and improved Internet
Sok Chol, North Koreas Ambassador to Burma.
access so that North Koreans have greater access to
independent sources of information;
Human rights violations committed by North Korea Encourage Chinese support for addressing the most
should be addressed alongside the nuclear issue, as egregious human rights violations in North Korea,
appropriate. The United States should continue to and raise regularly with the government of China
engage stakeholders such as South Korea, Japan, and the need to uphold its international obligations to
the United Nations to maximize the effectiveness of protect North Korean asylum seekers in China,
efforts on both the human rights and nuclear fronts. In including by allowing the UN High Commissioner
addition to recommending the U.S. government con- for Refugees and international humanitarian
tinue to designate North Korea a CPC, USCIRF recom- organizations to assist them and by ending repa-
mends the U.S. government should: triations, which are in violation of the 1951 Refugee
Convention and Protocol and/or the United Nations
Impose targeted sanctions on specific North Korean
Convention Against Torture; and
officials, or individuals or companies working
directly with them, for human rights violations, as Implement fully the provisions of the North Korean
part of sanctions imposed via executive order or Human Rights Act, and use authorized funds to
congressional action or at the United Nations; promote increased access to information and news
media inside North Korea and to promote greater
Call for a follow-up UN inquiry within five years to
capacity of NGOs to promote democracy and
track the findings of the 2014 report by the Commis-
human rights, protect and resettle refugees, and
sion of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic
monitor deliveries of humanitarian aid.

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Key Findings During the reporting period, there was a significant

Despite some improvement in religious freedom, Saudi increase in the number of terrorist attacks targeting
Arabia remains uniquely repressive in the extent to which Shia Muslims in the Eastern Province. Many of the
it restricts the public expression of any religion other than attacks were perpetrated by the Islamic State of Iraq and
Islam, and a number of high profile cases during the past the Levant (ISIL) or its affiliates. Consequently, the Saudi
year demonstrated the governments continued disregard government has arrested hundreds of individuals either
for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. involved in the incidents or who were connected to ISIL
The government privileges its own interpretation of Sunni or promoting its message. In addition, several officials
Islam over all other interpretations and prohibits any and clerics publicly condemned the attacks against the
non-Muslim public places of worship in the country. It Shia community and called for national unity.
continues to prosecute, imprison, and flog individuals for
dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery, and a 2014 law
classifying blasphemy and advocating atheism as terror- [A] number of high profile cases
ism has been used to prosecute human rights defenders during the past year demonstrated
and others. In addition, authorities continue to repress the governments continued disregard
and discriminate against dissident clerics and members for freedom of thought, conscience,
of the Shia community who criticize the government and and religion or belief.
call for equal rights. Based on the Saudi governments
systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious
freedom, USCIRF again recommends in 2016 that Saudi
Arabia be designated a country of particular concern, In recent years, the Saudi government has made
or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act improvements in policies and practices related to
(IRFA). The State Department has designated Saudi freedom of religion or belief; however, it persists in
Arabia a CPC repeatedly since 2004, most recently in July restricting most forms of public religious expression
2014. However, since 2006, an indefinite waiver has been inconsistent with its particular interpretation of Sunni
in place on taking action otherwise mandated by law as a Islam. Saudi officials base this on their interpretation of
result of the CPC designation. a hadith and state that this is what is expected of them as
the country that hosts the two holiest mosques in Islam,
Background in Mecca and Medina. This policy violates the rights
Saudi Arabia is officially an Islamic state whose of other Sunni Muslims who follow varying schools of
legal system is based on the Hanbali school of Sunni thought, Shia and Ismaili Muslims, and both Muslim
Islamic jurisprudence. The constitution is comprised and non-Muslim expatriate workers. During the report-
of the Quran and the Sunna (traditions of the Prophet ing period, Saudi officials stated that the judiciary is in
Mohammed). The population is nearly 28 million, the process of codifying the penal code and working to
including approximately eight to 10 million expatriate ensure that it is consistent with human rights standards.
workers of various faiths, including nearly two million While the government has taken some steps to
non-Muslims. Approximately 85-90 percent of citizens address its legitimate concerns of combatting religious
are Sunni Muslim and 10-15 percent are Shia Muslim. extremism and countering advocacy of violence in
sermons and educational materials, other government

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 57
actions continue to restrict peaceful religious activi- to obtain permits to operate, leaving them at risk of immi-
ties and expression by suppressing the religious views nent closure. The Shia community also faces discrimi-
and practices of Saudi and non-Saudi Muslims who nation in education, employment, the military, political
do not conform to official positions. Furthermore, the representation, and the judiciary.
government has not widely promulgated its policy of In recent years, Shia dissidents and reformers
protecting private religious practice for non-Muslim have received lengthy prison terms or death sentences
expatriate workers in the country, which fosters a sense for their activities. One prominent Shia cleric, Nimr
of insecurity. al-Nimr, was executed in January 2016 after being sen-
tenced to death in 2014 by a Specialized Criminal Court
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 for inciting sectarian strife, disobeying the govern-
Recent Improvements ment, and supporting rioting. Created in 2008, the Spe-
USCIRF has noted some improvements in recent years cialized Criminal Court is a non-Shariah court that tries
that include: curtailing the powers of the Commission terrorist-related crimes, although human rights activists
for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice also have been tried in these courts. Al-Nimr who was
(CPVPV) as described below; promoting a culture of a vocal critic of the government and a staunch supporter
dialogue and understanding between Muslim reli- of greater rights for the Shia community was executed
gious communities inside the Kingdom and advancing the same day as 46 others, including three other Shia
inter-religious dialogue in international fora; improv- Muslims convicted of questionable security-related
ing conditions for public religious expression by Shia charges. The execution of al-Nimr resulted in an inter-
Muslims in certain areas of the Eastern Province; con- national outcry by various governments, USCIRF, the
tinuing efforts to counter extremist ideology inside the United Nations, and human rights groups, and exacer-
Kingdom, including by dismissing clerics and teachers bated sectarian tensions in the country and the region.
who espouse intolerant or extremist views; and making In August 2014, Tawfiq al-Amr, a Shia cleric from the
revisions to remove intolerant passages from textbooks al-Ahsa governorate, was sentenced to eight years in
and curriculum. prison, followed by a 10-year travel ban, and barred from

The execution of al-Nimr resulted in an international outcry by

various governments, USCIRF, the United Nations, and human rights groups, and
exacerbated sectarian tensions in the country and the region.

Restrictions on Shia Muslims and Dissidents delivering sermons. According to human rights groups,
Arrests and detentions of Shia Muslim dissidents contin- a Specialized Criminal Court convicted him on charges
ued. For many years, the government has detained and of defaming Saudi Arabias ruling system, ridiculing
imprisoned Shia Muslims for participating in demon- its religious leaders, inciting sectarianism, calling for
strations or publicly calling for reform; holding small change, and disobeying the ruler. In January 2015, his
religious gatherings in private homes without permits; sentence was upheld on appeal.
organizing religious events or celebrating religious holi- Dissident Sunni Muslims also encountered repres-
days in certain parts of the country; and reading religious sion. For example, in November 2014, a criminal court
materials in private homes or husseiniyas(prayer halls). convicted Mikhlif al-Shammari, a Sunni Muslim writer
Saudi officials often cite security concerns rather than and activist, and sentenced him to two years in prison
limiting religious freedom as a justification for these and 200 lashes for, in part, visiting prominent Shia leaders
restrictions. According to the State Department, most in the Eastern Province and promoting reconciliation
existing Shia mosques in the Eastern Province are unable between Sunni and Shia Muslims through social media. In

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November 2015, his sentence was upheld on appeal. At the Apostasy, Blasphemy, and Sorcery Charges
end of the reporting period, he had not been summoned to The Saudi government continues to use criminal charges
serve his prison term nor had he received any lashes. of apostasy and blasphemy to suppress discussion and
debate and silence dissidents. Promoters of political and
Increase in Violent Attacks against Shia Muslims human rights reforms, and those seeking to debate the
During the past year, terrorists, including ISIL and role of religion in relation to the state, its laws, and society,
its affiliates, increasingly targeted Shia worshippers. typically have been the targets of such charges.
During the reporting period, there have been at least In February 2015, a General Court reportedly
five major attacks targeting Shia places of worship: in sentenced to death a Saudi man for apostasy.Accord-
January 2016, a suicide bombing and gun attack on a ing to multiple reports, the unidentified man allegedly
Shia mosque in al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province resulted posted a video of himself on a social networking site
in four deaths and at least 18 injured; in October, a tearing pages from a Quran while making disparaging
gunman opened fire on a Shia mosque in Saihat in the remarks.The court used this video as evidence to con-
Eastern Province, killing five and wounding nine; also vict him and justify the death sentence; at the end of the
in October, a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in the reporting period, his status was unknown.
Najran Province resulted in two deaths and at least In November 2015, Saudi poet and artist Ashraf
19 injured; in May, a suicide bombing outside a Shia Fayadh was sentenced to death for apostasy allegedly
mosque in Dammam, Eastern Province resulted in four for questioning religion and spreading atheist thought
deaths; and earlier in May, a suicide bombing at a Shia through his poetry. He also was charged with violating
mosque in Qatif, Eastern Province killed 21 and injured Article 6 of the Anti-Cyber Crime Law by taking and
more than 100. storing photos of women on his phone. Fayadh said

In June 2015, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Saudi blogger

Raif Badawis sentence of 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a fine of
1 million SR (US$266,000) for, among other charges,
insulting Islam and religious authorities.

In several of these cases, the perpetrators com- in court that the photos were taken at an art gallery.
mitted suicide while carrying out the attack or were In May 2014, a Saudi general court in the southwest-
killed by authorities. In most cases, Saudi officials and ern city of Abha originally sentenced Fayadh to four
religious leaders condemned the attacks and called for years in prison and 800 lashes. After his appeal was
national unity. During the reporting period, hun- dismissed, Fayadh was retried in November by a new
dreds of individuals were arrested because they were panel of judges who ordered him executed for apos-
connected to the various attacks; planned attacks or tasy. In February 2016, an appeals court quashed the
monitored potential targets; or used social media to death sentence and issued a new verdict of eight years
spread extremist ideology and attract new recruits. in prison and 800 lashes to be administered on 16
In July 2015, the Ministry of Interior stated that more occasions. According to his lawyer, Fayadh also must
than 400 individuals, mostly those linked to ISIL, had renounce his poetry in Saudi state media.
been arrested. Several of the investigations related In June 2015, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Saudi
to these incidents are ongoing. Human rights groups blogger Raif Badawis sentence of 10 years in prison, 1,000
have suggested that Saudi government rhetoric is not lashes, and a fine of 1 million SR (US$266,000) for, among
sufficient to prevent future attacks and that reform to other charges, insulting Islam and religious authorities.
policies is needed. The sentence called for Badawi the founder and editor of

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 59
a Web site that served as an online forum for diverse views Islamic religion on which this country is based. While
to be expressed freely to be lashed 50 times a week for 20 Saudi Shariah courts already permit judges to criminal-
consecutive weeks. On January 9, 2015, Badawi received ize various forms of peaceful dissent, the new law pro-
his first set of 50 lashes. Immediately after the flogging was vides an additional mechanism to classify as terrorism
carried out, several governments, including the United actions considered blasphemous or advocating athe-
States, USCIRF, and numerous international human rights ism. Since the law went into effect, some human rights
groups and individuals condemned the implementation defenders and atheists reportedly have been charged
of the sentence. Badawi has not received additional flog- and convicted under the law. For example, in February
gings, due in part to the international outrage and in part 2016, a Saudi man reportedly was convicted of denying
to a medical doctors finding that he could not physically the existence of God and ridiculing religious beliefs on
endure more lashings. At the end of the reporting period, Twitter and sentenced to 10-years imprisonment, 2,000
Badawi continued to languish in prison, where he has lashes, and a US$5,300 fine.
been held since June 2012. In July 2014, Badawis counsel,
Waleed Abu al-Khair, was sentenced by a Specialized Abuses by the CPVPV
Criminal Court to 15 years in jail on various spurious The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Pre-
charges related to his work as a human rights defender. In vention of Vice (CPVPV), which reports to the King and
January 2015, his verdict was upheld. is not subject to judicial review, officially enforces public
Arrests and prosecutions for witchcraft and sorcery morality and restricts public religious manifestations
a crime punishable by death continued during the and practice by both Saudis and non-Saudis. In recent
reporting period. According to the State Department years, the public presence of the CPVPV has diminished
and human rights groups, some individuals have been in parts of the country. Nevertheless, in 2015, members
executed in recent years. The CPVPV has special units of the CPVPV periodically overstepped their authority,
throughout the country to combat sorcery and witchcraft. including harassing and arresting non-Muslim expatri-
ate workers holding religious services in private homes.

[I]n 2015, members of the CPVPV periodically overstepped their authority,

including harassing and arresting non-Muslim expatriate workers
holding religious services in private homes.

2014 Law Classifies Blasphemy, Advocating In 2013, a law was passed limiting the jurisdiction
Atheism as Acts of Terrorism of the CPVPV. Despite the fact that the CPVPV is not
Saudi Arabias 2014 counterterrorism law, the Penal Law allowed to engage in surveillance, detain individuals for
for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing, and a series of more than 24 hours, arrest individuals without police
subsequent royal decrees create a legal framework that accompaniment, or carry out any kind of punishment,
criminalizes as terrorism virtually all forms of peaceful its members have been accused over the past year of
dissent and free expression, including criticizing the beating, whipping, detaining, and otherwise harassing
governments interpretation of Islam or advocating individuals. USCIRF continues to call for the dissolution
atheism. Under the new law, which went into effect in of the CPVPV.
February 2014, a conviction could result in a prison term
ranging from three to 20 years. The Interior Ministrys Improvements in Saudi Textbooks, Yet
March 2014 regulations state that, under the new law, Continued Dissemination of Intolerant Materials
terrorism includes [c]alling for atheist thought in any In 2014, the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC pro-
form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the vided USCIRF most textbooks used in public schools

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in the Kingdom during the 2013-2014 school year. After U.S. Policy
an analysis of some of the relevant religious textbooks Despite a series of challenges in recent years, U.S.-Saudi
that had previously contained inflammatory language relations remain close. Since 2010, the U.S. government
advocating hatred and violence, USCIRF found that has notified Congress of more than $100 billion in
there were improvements concerning the removal of proposed arms sales to the Kingdom, and, since March
intolerant content. USCIRF subsequently requested 2015, the United States has provided weapons, logistical,
seven additional textbooks, which it had not received and other support for Saudi operations in Yemen. For
by the end of the reporting period. In January 2016, years, the U.S. governments reliance on the Saudi gov-
Saudi officials claimed that some of the requested high ernment for cooperation on counterterrorism, regional
school-level textbooks were still in the process of being security, and energy supplies has limited its willing-
revised. In its annual international religious freedom ness to press the Saudi government to improve its poor
report released in October 2015, the State Department human rights and religious freedom record.
found that the Saudi government had not completed During the past year, shared concerns over Islamist
its multi-year project to remove objectionable content terrorism, particularly advances by ISIL, and Iranian
from textbooks and that intolerant materials remained, regional ambitions provided a renewed impetus for
including directives to kill sorcerers and socially increased strategic cooperation. Since 2014, Saudi forces
exclude infidels... have participated in some coalition strikes on ISIL

In its annual international religious freedom report released in October 2015,

the State Department found that the Saudi government had not completed its
multi-year project to remove objectionable content from textbooks...

In recent years, a Saudi royal decree banned the targets in Syria. Critics have expressed concerns that the
financing outside Saudi Arabia of religious schools, United States has been reluctant to jeopardize import-
mosques, hate literature, and other activities that ant bilateral initiatives by pushing publicly for political
support religious intolerance and violence toward and human rights reforms. Nevertheless, during the
non-Muslims and non-conforming Muslims. Never- reporting period, the State Department issued some
theless, some literature, older versions of textbooks, public statements raising human rights and religious
and other intolerant materials reportedly remain freedom issues, including expressing concern about the
in distribution in some countries despite the Saudi execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr in January 2016
governments policy that it would attempt to retrieve and urging the Saudi government to cancel the flogging
previously-distributed materials that teach hatred against blogger Raif Badawi and to review his case and
toward other religions and, in some cases, promote sentence in January 2015.
violence. For example, some of the older books justified According to the State Department, U.S. pol-
violence against apostates, sorcerers, and homosexu- icy seeks to press the Saudi government to respect
als, and labeled Jews and Christians enemies of the religious freedom, eliminate discrimination against
believers;another high school textbook presented religious minorities, and promote respect for non-Mus-
the Protocols of the Elders of Zion a notorious lim religious belief. The U.S. government continues to
forgery designed to promote hostility toward Jews as encourage the Saudi governments efforts to remove
an authentic document. Concerns also remain about intolerant passages advocating violence in textbooks,
privately-funded satellite television stations in the and it continues to include Saudi officials in exchange
Kingdom that continue to espouse sectarian hatred and U.S. visitor programs that promote religious toler-
and intolerance. ance and interfaith dialogue. According to reports, the

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number of Saudi students pursuing higher education in Guarantee and protect the right to private worship
the United States increased ten-fold from 2000 to 2015. for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes
In 2015, Saudi officials stated that there were more than for religious practice, and the right to possess and
125,000 Saudis in the United States as part of their schol- use personal religious materials.
arship program and that plans were in place to expand
Ensure that members of the CPVPV do not detain
Saudi government financial support to cover all Saudi
or conduct investigations of suspects, implement
students studying in the United States.
punishment, violate the sanctity of private homes,
In September 2004, consistent with USCIRFs rec-
conduct surveillance, or confiscate private religious
ommendation, the State Department designated Saudi
materials; and hold accountable any CPVPV offi-
Arabia a CPC for the first time. In 2005, a temporary
cials who commit abuses.
waiver was put in place, in lieu of otherwise legislatively
mandated action as a result of the CPC designation, to Bring the Kingdoms rules and regulations into
allow for continued diplomatic discussions between the compliance with human rights standards.
U.S. and Saudi governments and to further the pur-
On July 18, 2014, the State Department re-desig-
poses of IRFA. In July 2006, the waiver was left in place
nated Saudi Arabia a CPC but kept in place a waiver of
indefinitely when the State Department announced that
any sanctions citing the important national interest of
ongoing bilateral discussions with Saudi Arabia had
the United States, pursuant to section 407 of IRFA.
enabled the U.S. government to identify and confirm

USCIRF urges the U.S. government to address religious freedom issues

actively and publicly with the Saudi government and to report openly on the
governments success or failure to implement genuine reforms...

a number of policies that the Saudi government is

pursuing and will continue to pursue for the purpose
USCIRF urges the U.S. government to address religious
of promoting greater freedom for religious practice and
freedom issues actively and publicly with the Saudi
increased tolerance for religious groups. USCIRF has
government and to report openly on the governments
concluded that full implementation by the Saudi gov-
success or failure to implement genuine reforms, in
ernment of these policies would diminish significantly
order to ensure that the Saudi governments initiatives
the governments institutionalized practices that nega-
will result in substantial, demonstrable progress. Spe-
tively affect freedom of religion and belief. Some of the
cifically, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. govern-
measures that Saudi Arabia confirmed as state policies
ment should:
included the following:
Continue to designate Saudi Arabia a CPC, no lon-
Halt the dissemination of intolerant literature and
ger issue a waiver, and press the Saudi government
extremist ideology within Saudi Arabia and around
to take concrete action towards completing reforms
the world.
confirmed in July 2006 in U.S.-Saudi bilateral dis-
Revise and update textbooks to remove remaining cussions; provide a detailed report on progress and
intolerant references that disparage Muslims or lack of progress on each of the areas of concern;
non-Muslims or that promote hatred toward other
Press for at the highest levels and work to secure
religions or religious groups, a process the Saudi
the immediate release of Raif Badawi, his counsel
government expected to complete in one to two
Waleed Abu al-Khair, and other prisoners of con-
years [no later than July 2008].

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Press the Saudi government to end state prosecu-

tion of individuals charged with apostasy, blas-
phemy, and sorcery;

Undertake and make public an annual assessment

of the relevant Ministry of Education religious text-
books to determine if passages that teach religious
intolerance have been removed;

Press the Saudi government to publicly denounce

the continued use around the world of older ver-
sions of Saudi textbooks and other materials that
promote hatred and intolerance, to include the
concepts of tolerance and respect for the human
rights of all persons in school textbooks, and to
make every attempt to retrieve previously distrib-
uted materials that contain intolerance;

Press the Saudi government to continue to address

incitement to violence and discrimination against
disfavored Muslims and non-Muslims, including by
prosecuting government-funded clerics who incite
violence against Muslim minority communities
or individual members of non-Muslim religious
minority communities;

Press the Saudi government to ensure equal rights and

protection under the law for Shia Muslim citizens;

Press the Saudi government to remove the classi-

fication of advocating atheism and blasphemy as
terrorist acts in its 2014 counterterrorism law;

Include Saudi religious leaders, in addition to

government officials, in exchanges and U.S visitor
programs that promote religious tolerance and
interfaith dialogue; and

Work with the Saudi government to codify

non-Muslim private religious practice, and per-
mit foreign clergy to enter the country to carry out
worship services and to bring religious materials for
such services.

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Key Findings Sudans overall human rights record is poor.

Religious freedom conditions in Sudan deteriorated President al-Bashir and his National Congress Party
in 2015 as government officials stiffened penalties (NCP) have ruled with absolute authority for more
for apostasy and blasphemy and continued to arrest than 25 years. Freedoms of expression, association and
persons accused of apostasy and Christians. The assembly are limited, with routine crackdowns and
government of Sudan, led by President Omar Hassan arrests of journalists, human rights advocates, and
al-Bashir, prosecutes individuals for apostasy, imposes demonstrators. The armed conflicts in Darfur, South
a restrictive interpretation of Shariah (Islamic law) and Kordofan and Blue Nile states continued. All parties
applies corresponding hudood punishments on Mus- to the conflict are responsible for mass displacement,
lims and non-Muslims alike, and represses and mar- civilian deaths, and other human rights abuses. In
ginalizes the countrys minority Christian community. areas of conflict, government forces deliberately
In 2016, USCIRF again recommends that Sudan be des- bombed civilian areas and restricted humanitarian
ignated as a country of particular concern, or CPC, access to civilians. In 2009 and 2010 the International
under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President
for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious al-Bashir accusing him of genocide, war crimes, and
violations of freedom of religion or belief. The State crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Department has designated Sudan a CPC since 1999, The Interim National Constitution includes reli-
most recently in July 2014. gious freedom protections and acknowledges Sudans
international human rights commitments. Article 1
recognizes Sudan as a multi-religious country; arti-
cle 6 articulates a series of religious freedom rights,
[G]overnment officials stiffened
including to worship, assemble, establish and maintain
penalties for apostasy and
places of worship, establish and maintain charitable
blasphemy and continued to
organizations, teach religion, train and elect religious
arrest persons accused
leaders, observe religious holidays, and communicate
of apostasy and Christians.
with co-religionists; and article 31 prohibits discrim-
ination based on religion. However, article 5 provides
that Islamic sharia and the consensus of the people
Background shall be the leading sources of legislation thereby
More than 97 percent of the Sudanese population is restricting freedom of religion or belief. In October 2011,
Muslim. The vast majority of Sudanese Muslims belong President al-Bashir stated publicly that Sudan should
to different Sufi orders, although Shia and Sunni Mus- adopt a constitution to enshrine Islamic law as the main
lims who follow the Salafist movement are also present. source of legislation.
Christians are estimated at three percent of the popula- Religious freedom also is restricted through the
tion and include Coptic, Greek, Ethiopian, and Eritrean implementation of the 1991 Criminal Code, the 1991
Orthodox; Roman Catholics; Anglicans; Presbyterians; Personal Status Law of Muslims, and state-level public
Seventh-day Adventists; Jehovahs Witnesses; and sev- order laws. The 1991 Criminal Code imposes the NCPs
eral Pentecostal and Evangelical communities. interpretation of Shariah law on Muslims and Chris-
tians by permitting: death sentences for apostasy (article

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 65
126); death or lashing for adultery (articles 146-147); On November 3, security officers arrested 27 Quranists,
cross-amputations for theft (articles 171-173); prison including two imams and three children, at a mosque
sentences, flogging, or fines for blasphemy (article 125); in Mayo, Khartoum. On December 10, the government
and floggings for undefined offences of honor, reputa- charged 25 of them with apostasy for not recognizing
tion and public morality, including undefined inde- the hadith. The individuals were released on bail on
cent or immoral acts (articles 151-152). Prohibitions and December 14. On February 9, the Sudanese government
related punishments for immorality and indecency stayed all charges. The government also charged two
are implemented through state level Public Order laws additional individuals with apostasy: Imam Al-Dirdiri
and enforcement mechanisms; violations carry a maxi- Abd al-Rahman was indicted on September 8 for pray-
mum penalty of 40 lashes, a fine, or both. ing to someone other than God during Friday prayers;
Government policies and societal pressure pro- and a Christian convert was reported to authorities by
mote conversion to Islam. The government is alleged to his father in July. Both cases are ongoing.
tolerate the use of humanitarian assistance to induce In February 2015, the National Assembly
conversion to Islam; routinely grant permits to con- increased penalties for blasphemy under article
struct and operate mosques, often with government 125 of the Criminal Code. Per the amended article,
funds; and provide Muslims preferential access to blasphemy is extended to include public criticism of
government employment and services and favored the Prophet Mohamed, his household, his friends or
treatment in court cases against non-Muslims. The Abu Bakr, Omer, Osman or Ali in particular, and his
Sudanese government prohibits foreign church offi- wife Aisha. The expanded definition of blasphemy
cials from traveling outside Khartoum and uses school is believed to target Shia Muslims. In 2014, Sudan
textbooks that negatively stereotype non-Muslims. The started distancing itself from Iran and strengthened
Sudanese Minister of Guidance and Religious Endow- its relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the govern-
ments announced in July 2014 that the government ment closed the Iranian Cultural Center, claiming that
no longer will issue permits for the building of new it was spreading Shia Islam.
churches, alleging that the current number of churches
is sufficient for the Christians remaining in Sudan after Application of Shariah Law Provisions
South Sudans 2011 secession. This announcement The government continued to apply Shariah-based
was especially problematic given that state and non- morality provisions of the 1991 Criminal Code and
state actors have confiscated, destroyed, or damaged corresponding state-level Public Order laws. Every year,
almost a dozen churches or church properties since hundreds of Christian and Muslim women are fined or
2011. While Sudanese labor laws require employers to flogged for violating article 152 of the Criminal Code by
give Christian employees two hours off prior to 10 a.m. wearing indecent dress. What constitutes indecent
Sunday for religious purposes, this does not occur in dress is not defined by law, but is left to the discretion
practice. The International Labor Organization reports
that Christians are pressured to deny their faith or
convert to gain employment.
Every year, hundreds of Christian and
Muslim women are fined or
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
flogged for violating article 152
Criminalization of Apostasy and Blasphemy
of the Criminal Code by
Article 126 of the Criminal Code makes conversion from wearing indecent dress.
Islam a crime punishable by death. In February 2015,
the National Assembly amended article 126 to provide
that persons accused of apostasy who recant can still be
punished with up to five years imprisonment. of Public Order police and judges. The vast majority of
During the reporting period, the Sudanese govern- women prosecuted under the Public Order regime come
ment continued to prosecute those accused of apostasy. from marginalized communities and receive summary

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trials, with no legal representation. As such, their cases In 2014, the Bahri Evangelical Church entered into
are rarely reported in the media. a legal battle to maintain ownership of the church prop-
The June 25, 2015 arrest of 13 female students erty and land. On August 31, 2015, an Administrative
between the ages of 17 and 23 for indecency was the Court of Appeal ruled that Sudanese government efforts
most high profile public order case of the year. Two of to impose an administrative committee on the church
the students were released four hours after their arrest were unconstitutional.
and 10 others were released on bail on June 27. On On October 17, an Evangelical Lutheran Church
August 16, Ferdous Al Toum was sentenced to 20 lash- in Gadaref was destroyed in an arson attack, and a
ings and fined 500 Sudanese pounds. After international second one in Omdurman was demolished on October
condemnation, all charges against Al Toum and the 21. Sudanese authorities in Omdurman had informed
other 12 students were dropped. Evangelical Lutheran Church officials that their church
would not be demolished for development projects.
Destruction and Confiscation of Churches On December 13 and 18, respectively, the NISS
Since 2011, Sudans minority Christian community has arrested Revs. Telahoon Nogosi Kassa Rata and Hassan
endured arrests for proselytization, attacks on religious Abduraheem Kodi Taour. At the time of this writing,
buildings, closure of churches and Christian educational neither has been charged with an offense and both were
institutions, and confiscation of religious literature. denied access to a lawyer and family.
The trials against Bahri Evangelical Church Rever-
ends Yat Michael Rout and Peter Yein Reith concluded U.S. Policy
on August 6, 2015 when they were convicted of minor The United States remains a pivotal international actor
offences and released from prison on time served. Rev. in Sudan. U.S. government involvement was vital to
Michael had been arrested in December 2014 and Rev. achieving the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)
Reith one month later after protesting the Sudanese gov- that ended the North-South civil war and to bringing
ernments efforts to confiscate Bahri Evangelical Pres- about the referendum on South Sudans independence,
byterian Church property. Rev. Michael was convicted as well as ensuring that its result was recognized. The U.S.
of breaching public peace and Rev. Reith of inciting government continues multilateral and bilateral efforts to
hatred. The more serious charges were dropped, includ- bring peace to Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Darfur,
ing: undermining the constitutional system; espionage; including supporting African Union peace talks.

Since 2011, Sudans minority Christian community has endured

arrests for proselytization, attacks on religious buildings,
closure of churches and Christian educational institutions, and
confiscation of religious literature.

inducing another person to commit an offense; self-de- In 1997, then-President Bill Clinton utilized
fense; and blasphemy. The charge of undermining the the International Emergency Economic Powers Act
constitutional system carries the death penalty. Revs. (IEEPA) to sanction Sudan, based on its support for
Michael and Reith returned to South Sudan following international terrorism, efforts to destabilize neigh-
their release. On November 19, the Criminal Court of boring governments, and prevalent human rights and
Appeal in Khartoum decided to re-open the case follow- religious freedom violations. These sanctions imposed
ing reports that the National Intelligence Security Ser- a trade embargo on the country and a total asset freeze
vices (NISS) had new evidence against them, and issued on the government. Since 1997, an arms embargo,
arrest warrants for the pastors on November 30. travel bans, and asset freezes have been imposed in

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 67
response to the genocide in Darfur. With the 1999 discourage deteriorating behavior. The normalization
designation of Sudan as a CPC, the Secretary of State of relations with Sudan and any lifting of U.S. sanctions
has utilized IRFA to require U.S. opposition to any must be preceded by demonstrated, concrete progress
loan or other use of funds from international financial by Khartoum in implementing peace agreements,
institutions to or for Sudan. In an attempt to prevent ending abuses of religious freedom and related human
sanctions from negatively impacting regions in Sudan rights, and cooperating with efforts to protect civilians.
under assault by the government, the sanctions have In addition to recommending that Sudan continue to
been amended to allow for increased humanitarian be designated a CPC, USCIRF recommends the U.S.
activities in Southern Kordofan State, Blue Nile State, government should:
Abyei, Darfur, and marginalized areas in and around
Seek to enter into an agreement with the govern-
Khartoum. In February 2015, the United States allowed
ment of Sudan which would set forth commitments
the exportation throughout Sudan of communication
the government would undertake to address
hardware and software, including computers, smart-
policies leading to violations of religious freedom,
phones, radios, digital cameras, and related items, as
including but not limited to the following:
part of a commitment to promote freedom of expres-
sion through access to communications tools. End prosecutions and punishments for apostasy;
Neither country has had an ambassador in coun-
Maintain all of the provisions respecting the
try since the late 1990s, after the U.S. Embassy bomb-
countrys international human rights commit-
ings in East Africa and U.S. airstrikes against al-Qaeda
ments and guaranteeing freedom of religion or
sites in Khartoum. However, successive U.S. adminis-
belief currently in the interim constitution;
trations have appointed special envoys to Sudan. The
current U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Lift government prohibitions on church con-
is Donald E. Booth. struction, issue permits for the building of new
During the reporting period, senior State Depart- churches, and create a legal mechanism to pro-
ment officials raised the issue of Sudans CPC status and vide compensation for destroyed churches and
concerns about the countrys religious freedom record address future destructions if necessary;
with Sudanese officials. This engagement continues an
Create a Commission on the Rights of Non-Mus-
increase of U.S. government attention to Sudans viola-
lims to ensure and advocate religious freedom
tions of freedom of religion or belief since the 2014 case
protections for non-Muslims in Sudan;
of Meriam Ibrahim. These issues were raised during
visits to Sudan by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Repeal or revise all articles in the 1991 Crimi-
State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Steve nal Code which violate Sudans international
Feldstein and Ambassador-at-Large for International commitments to freedom of religion or belief and
Religious Freedom David N. Saperstein. related human rights; and
U.S. government assistance programs in Sudan sup-
Hold accountable any person who engages in
port conflict mitigation efforts, democracy promotion,
violations of freedom of religion or belief, including
and emergency food aid and relief supplies. The United
attacking houses of worship, attacking or discrim-
States remains the worlds largest donor of food assis-
inating against any person because of his or her
tance to Sudan, providing needed aid, either directly or
religious affiliation, and prohibiting any person
through third parties, to persons from Darfur, Abyei,
from fully exercising his or her religious freedom.
Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
Work to ensure that Sudans future constitution
Recommendations includes protections for freedom of religion or belief,
With the al-Bashir regime taking steps that would move respect for international commitments to human
Sudan toward a more repressive state, the U.S. govern- rights, and recognition of Sudan as a multi-religious,
ment should increase efforts to encourage reforms and multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural nation;

68 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Continue to support dialogue efforts with civil

society and faith-based leaders and representatives
of all relevant political parties; educate relevant
parties to the national dialogue about international
human rights standards, including freedom of
religion or belief; and work with opposition parties
and civil society to resolve internal disputes related
to freedom of religion or belief; and

Urge the government in Khartoum to cooperate

fully with international mechanisms on human
rights issues, including by inviting further visits by
the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
or Belief, the Independent Expert on the Situation
of Human Rights in Sudan, and the UN Working
Group on Arbitrary Detention.

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70 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings quasi-religious personality cult set out in his book,

In 2015, in a climate of pervasive government infor- the Ruhnama, which was imposed on the countrys
mation control, particularly severe religious freedom religious and educational systems. After assuming
violations persisted in Turkmenistan. The government the presidency in early 2007, President Gurbanguly
requires religious groups to register under intrusive cri- Berdimuhamedov ordered the release of 11 political
teria, strictly controls registered groups activities, and prisoners, including the former chief mufti; placed
bans and punishes religious activities by unregistered certain limits on Niyazovs personality cult; set up two
groups. Police raids and harassment of registered and new official human rights commissions; and registered
unregistered religious groups continued. The penalties 13 minority religious groups. He eased police con-
for most illegal religious activities were increased in trols on internal travel and allowed Turkmenistan to
2014. Turkmen law does not allow a civilian alternative become slightly more open to the outside world. Since
to military service, and at least one Jehovahs Witness then, however, President Berdimuhamedov has not
conscientious objector is known to be detained. In light reformed oppressive laws, maintains a state structure
of these severe violations, USCIRF again recommends of repressive control, and has reinstituted a pervasive
in 2016 that the U.S. government designate Turkmeni- presidential personality cult.
stan as a country of particular concern, or CPC, under
the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). In July
2014, the State Department designated Turkmenistan a Turkmenistan is the most
CPC for the first time. USCIRF has recommended CPC closed country in the
designation for Turkmenistan since 2000. former Soviet Union.
Turkmenistan has an estimated total population of
5.1 million. The Turkmen government does not track A 2014 Internet law makes it illegal for citizens to
religious affiliation; the U.S. government estimates insult or slander the president in web postings. While
that the country is about 85 percent Sunni Muslim, and the law states there are plans to ensure free Inter-
nine percent Russian Orthodox. Other smaller religious net access in Turkmenistan, in 2015 the government
groups include Jehovahs Witnesses, Jews, and Evan- reportedly engaged in a campaign to dismantle private
gelical Christians. The Russian Orthodox community is satellite cables. In March 2015, a new demonstrations
mostly ethnic Russians and Armenians. The small Shia law enacted potentially allows for limited public rallies,
Muslim community is mostly ethnic Iranians, Azeris, or including by registered religious organizations, but they
Kurds on the Iranian border or along the Caspian Sea. must take place at least 200 meters from government
The countrys Jewish community numbers around 400. buildings and cannot be funded by individuals or for-
Turkmenistan is the most closed country in the eign governments, RFE/RL reported.
former Soviet Union. The countrys first president, In 2015, the Taliban reportedly killed Turkmen
Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in late 2006, oversaw guards on the Turkmen-Afghan border. The adja-
one of the worlds most repressive and isolated states. cent region of northern Afghanistan is home to some
Turkmenistans public life was dominated by Niyazovs 250,000 Turkmen, some of whom allegedly sympathize
with Islamist extremist groups, giving rise to concern

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 71
about religious radicalism spreading into Turkmeni- police officers reportedly require Muslim and Orthodox
stan. In early 2016, President Berdimuhamedov report- clerics to report regularly on their congregations.
edly told the parliament that Turkmenistans laws on
religion should be modified in light of terrorism and Registration of Religious Groups
increased inter-ethnic and interreligious conflicts, Since 2005, some small religious groups have been
and ordered the constitutional commission to submit registered, such as Bahais, several Pentecostal groups,
proposals for consideration. Seventh-Day Adventists, several Evangelical churches,
and the Society for Krishna Consciousness. In 2010,
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 Turkmenistan told the UN Human Rights Committee
Government Control over Religious Activities there were 123 registered religious groups, 100 of which
Turkmenistans constitution purports to guarantee reli- are Sunni and Shia Muslim and 13 Russian Orthodox.
gious freedom, the separation of religion from the state, Some communities have decided not to register due to
and equality regardless of religion or belief. The 2003 reli- the onerous and opaque process, while certain Shia
gion law, however, contradicts these provisions. Despite Muslim groups, the Armenian Apostolic Church, some
minor reforms in 2007, this law sets intrusive registration Protestant groups, and the Jehovahs Witnesses have
criteria and bans any activity by unregistered religious faced rejection of numerous registration applications.
organizations; requires that the government be informed
of all foreign financial support; forbids worship in private State Control of Religious Literature
homes; allows only clerics to wear religious garb in public; A decree has banned publication of religious texts inside
and bans private religious education. Turkmenistan and only registered groups can legally
The government-appointed Council on Religious import religious literature under tight state censorship.
Affairs (CRA) supervises religious matters; it controls The CRA must stamp approved religious texts and liter-
the hiring, promoting, and firing of Sunni Muslim and ature; documents without such a stamp may be confis-
Russian Orthodox clergy; censors religious texts; and cated and individuals punished.
oversees the activities of all registered groups. CRA
members include only government officials and Sunni State Restrictions on Foreign Travel
Muslim and Russian Orthodox Church representatives. The government continues to deny international travel
The secret police, anti-terrorist police units, local for many citizens, especially those travelling to religious
government, and local CRA officials continue to raid events. The approximately 110,000 individuals with dual
registered and unregistered religious communities. It is Russian-Turkmen citizenship, who mainly are Russian
illegal for unregistered groups to rent, purchase, or build Orthodox, usually can meet coreligionists abroad as well
places of worship, and even registered groups must as undertake clerical training. Muslims, however, are
obtain scarce government permits. not allowed to travel abroad for religious education. In
2014 the latest year for which statistics were available
Government Interference in the government allowed 650 Turkmen Muslims to make
Internal Religious Affairs
The Turkmen government interferes in the internal
leadership and organizational arrangements of reli-
Muslims often must wait up to 11 years
gious communities. In early 2013, the President named
to reach the top of the hajj waiting list.
a new Grand Mufti. Under an official policy, the govern-
ment has replaced imams who had formal Islamic theo-
logical training from abroad with individuals lacking
such education. The government appoints all senior the pilgrimage to Mecca; this was an increase over the
officials of Turkmenistans Muslim administration, who usual 188, but is still less than a seventh of the countrys
also function as CRA officials and thereby oversee the quota. According to Forum 18, Muslims often must wait
activities of other religious communities. Local secret up to 11 years to reach the top of the hajj waiting list.

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Punishments for Religious Activities objector Soyunmurat Korov has been in the Seydi Labor
The government continues to impose harsh penalties, camp since November 2014; a year later, he still had not
such as imprisonment, involuntary drug treatment, stood trial. In February 2015, Jehovahs Witness consci-
and fines, for religious and human rights activities. entious objector Ruslan Narkuliyev was released.
In January 2014, new administrative code provisions
raised the penalties for most illegal religious activities. Treatment of Religious Minorities
In recent years, Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovahs According to Forum 18, after hosting a religious meet-
Witnesses have been detained, fined, imprisoned or ing, Jehovahs Witness Bahram Hemdemov received a
internally exiled for their religious beliefs or activities. four-year prison term in May 2015 on false charges of
Most religious prisoners of conscience are held at Seydi inciting religious enmity in the city of Turkmenabad.
Labor Camp in the Lebap Region desert, where they face His son Serdar also was jailed for two 15-day terms,
very harsh conditions, including torture and frequent and both men were beaten. Since February 2015, 14
solitary confinement. The government of Turkmenistan Jehovahs Witnesses have been detained; one was still
denies the International Committee of the Red Cross held as of May 2015, and about 30 others were fined,
access to the countrys prisons. especially those who insisted on their legal rights or
An unknown number of Muslim prisoners of con- appealed to the UN. School officials have fired Protes-
science remain jailed. In February 2015, five prisoners tant teachers and publicly bullied Protestant families
convicted of Wahhabism were sent to Seydi Labor and pressured them to sign statements denying their
Camp, where prison guards reportedly beat them so faith. Turkmen officials have cancelled summer camps
brutally that one man had his hand broken; it could not for Protestant children.
be determined if the five men were jailed for non-violent
religious practice or for actual crimes, since in Central U.S. Policy
Asia the term Wahhabi is often used to describe any For the past decade, U.S. policy in Central Asia was
devout Muslim. dominated by the Afghan war. The United States has
Reports have faded of a dissident imam who spent key security and economic interests in Turkmenistan
years in a psychiatric hospital; this news drought also due to its proximity to and shared populations with
applies to dozens of other political and religious pris- Afghanistan and Iran, and its huge natural gas supplies.
oners, according to the NGO coalition known as Prove Despite its official neutral status, Turkmenistan has
they are Alive. On a positive note, Protestant Umid allowed the Northern Distribution Network to deliver
Gojayev, imprisoned at Seydi Labor Camp for hooligan- supplies to U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan
ism, was freed under amnesty in February 2015. as well as the refueling of U.S. flights with non-lethal

[A] news drought applies to dozens of

political and religious prisoners....

Conscientious Objectors supplies at the Ashgabat International Airport. During

Turkmen law has no civilian alternative to military ser- counterterrorism operations, U.S. Special Operations
vice for conscientious objectors. Reportedly, such a bill Forces reportedly have been allowed to enter Turk-
was drafted in 2013 but not enacted. Those who refuse to menistan on a case-by-case basis with the Turkmen
serve in the military can face up to two years of jail. Until governments permission.
2009, the Turkmen government had given suspended Initiated five years ago by the State Department,
sentences, but since then conscientious objectors have the Annual Bilateral Consultations (ABCs) are a regular
been imprisoned. Jehovahs Witness conscientious mechanism for the United States and Turkmenistan

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to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues, including religious literature. In September 2014, a waiver of a
regional security, economic and trade relations, social Presidential action was tied to the designation.
and cultural ties, and human rights. The fourth ABC
session was held in Washington in October 2015, and Recommendations
some concerns about Turkmenistans religious freedom The CPC designation positions the U.S. government to
record were discussed. negotiate specific commitments to improve religious
In November 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry freedom while setting a pathway of needed reforms
visited Turkmenistan and met with President Berdimu- to eventually remove Turkmenistan from the list. In
hamedov. In advance of the meeting, Secretary Kerry addition to recommending that the U.S. government
said he anticipated a good conversation on human continue to designate Turkmenistan as a CPC, USCIRF
dimension issues. The regional trip was preceded by a recommends that the U.S. government should:
joint declaration by the United States and the five Cen-
Negotiate a binding agreement with the govern-
tral Asian states, referred to as the C5+1. That declara-
ment of Turkmenistan, under section 405(c) of IRFA,
tion includes a pledge to protect human rights, develop
to achieve specific and meaningful reforms, with
democratic institutions and practices, and strengthen
benchmarks that include major legal reform, an end
civil society through respect for recognized norms and
to police raids, prisoner releases, and greater access
principles of international law.
to foreign coreligionists; should an agreement
The United States funds programs in Turkmeni-
not be reached, the waiver of presidential actions
stan that support civil society organizations, training
should be lifted;
on legal assistance, Internet access and computer
training, capacity building for civil servants, and Ensure that the U.S. Embassy, including at the
exchange programs. In recent years, however, the ambassadorial level, maintains active contacts with
Turkmen government has barred many students from human rights activists;
participating in U.S.-funded exchange programs and
Press the Turkmen government to release all
in 2013 it ordered the Peace Corps to stop its 20-year
prisoners of conscience and to treat prisoners
operations in the country. As part of its worldwide,
humanely and allow them access to family,
decade-long American Corners program, the U.S.
human rights monitors, adequate medical care,
government continues to support three American
and lawyers;
Corners that provide free educational materials and
English language opportunities in Dashoguz, Mary, Raise concerns about Turkmenistans record on
and Turkmenabat. For 15 years, Turkmenistan has religious freedom and related human rights in
led the world in U.S. government funding for cultural bilateral meetings, such as the ABCs, as well as
preservation projects. appropriate international fora, including the UN

In September 2014, a waiver of a Presidential action

was tied to the [CPC designation of Turkmenistan].

When the State Department announced its desig- and Organization for Security and Cooperation in
nation of Turkmenistan as a country of particular con- Europe (OSCE);
cern in July 2014, it cited concerns about the detention
Encourage the UN Regional Centre for Preventive
and imprisonment of religious minorities, the rights of
Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), which is
religious groups to register, the lack of public access to
based in Ashgabat, to enhance the human rights
registration procedures, and restrictions on importing
aspect of its work;

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Urge the Turkmen government to agree to another

visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of
Religion or Belief, as well as visits from the Rap-
porteurs on Independence of the Judiciary and on
Torture, set specific visit dates, and provide the full
and necessary conditions for their visits;

Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to

increase radio broadcasts and Internet programs
to Turkmenistan on religious freedom, includ-
ing the informative new Islam and Democracy
website, as well as information on human rights
and basic education, to help overcome decades of
isolation; and

Continue to press the Turkmen government to

resume the U.S. Peace Corps program.

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Key Findings all religious groups and facilitates government control

The government of Uzbekistan continues to enforce of religious activity, particularly of the majority Muslim
a highly restrictive religion law and impose severe community. The law criminalizes unregistered religious
restrictions on all independent religious activity, activity; requires official approval of the content, pro-
particularly by Muslims, unregistered Protestants, and duction and distribution of religious publications; bans
Jehovahs Witnesses. The government imprisons and minors from religious organizations; allows only clerics,
often subjects to brutal treatment individuals, including and not laypeople, to wear religious clothing in public;
an estimated 12,800 Muslims, who do not conform to and prohibits proselytism and other missionary activities.
officially-prescribed religious practices or who it claims Many religious groups cannot meet registration require-
are extremist. Based on these systematic, ongoing, and ments, such as a permanent representation in eight of
egregious violations of religious freedom, USCIRF again the countrys 13 provinces. A detailed censorship decree
recommends in 2016 that Uzbekistan be designated a went into effect in 2014 banning materials that distort
country of particular concern, or CPC, under the 1998 beliefs or encourage individuals to change religions.
International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the The Uzbek government actively represses individ-
State Department has so designated Uzbekistan since uals, groups, mosques and other houses of worship that
2006, most recently in July 2014, it indefinitely waived do not conform to officially-prescribed religious prac-
taking any action as a consequence of the designation. tices or for alleged association with extremist political

[T]he government has used vague anti-extremism laws

against peaceful religious adherents....

With an estimated 28.7 million people, Uzbekistan is programs. While Uzbekistan faces security threats from
the most populous post-Soviet Central Asian state. An groups using violence in the name of religion, the gov-
estimated 93 percent of its population is Muslim, mostly ernment has used vague anti-extremism laws against
following the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam, with about peaceful religious adherents and others who pose no
one percent Shia, mostly in Bukhara and Samarkand. credible security threat. Particular targets include those
Some four percent are Russian Orthodox, while the allegedly linked to the May 2005 protests in Andijon over
other three percent include Roman Catholics, ethnic the conviction of 23 businessmen for their supposed
Korean Christians, Baptists, Lutherans, Adventists, Pen- membership in the banned Muslim group Akromiya.
tecostals, Jehovahs Witnesses, Buddhists, Bahais, Hare Responding to that largely peaceful protest, Uzbek
Krishnas, and atheists. About 6,000 Ashkenazi and 2,000 government troops killed up to 1,000 civilians. Linked
Bukharan Jews live in Tashkent and other cities. to that tragedy, 230 individuals remain jailed, and 11
Uzbekistans 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience prisoners have died in custody, including Muslim reli-
and Religious Organizations severely limits the rights of gious leader Akram Yuldashev. In January 2016, a month
before his release from 17 years of imprisonment, Uzbek

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officials informed the world, and Yuldashevs family, Muslim individuals or groups, including violent extrem-
that he had died in 2010 supposedly of tuberculosis. ists, political opponents, those with foreign education,
The Uzbek government also pressures other countries and others. In July 2015, the United Nations Human
to return hundreds of Uzbeks who fled after the Andijon Rights Committee concluded that Uzbekistan engaged in
tragedy and bans their relatives from leaving Uzbekistan unlawful arrests, detentions, torture and ill-treatment
to reunite with their family members abroad. and convictions on religious extremism related charges
Despite Uzbekistans repressive religion laws and of independent Muslims practicing their faith outside
policies, official mosques are often full, including with registered structures.
large numbers of young people. Tens of thousands gath- In June 2015, police in Tashkent held Muslim
ered in Tashkent to bid farewell to the countrys former Olmosbek Erkaboyev for two months, beating him to
Grand Mufti, Muhammad-Sodiq Muhammad-Yusuf, make him confess to religious extremism, according to
who died of a heart attack in March 2015 at the age of 63. Uzbek human rights activist Surat Ikramov. In Febru-
The former Grand Mufti, with whom the Commission ary 2016, a Jizzak court sentenced Armenian Christian
met several times, was also a prominent Islamic scholar; Aramayis Avakian to a seven-year jail term, Muslim
his many books included texts on Islam and human Furkat Juraev to 12 years, and three other Muslims to
rights and his website provides perspectives on foreign, five-and-a-half to six-and-a-half year terms. They were
and limited information on domestic, Islam. all charged with Islamic extremism, according to their
defense group Avakian+4.
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 In the February 2015 lead up to presidential
Application of Extremism Laws elections, the Uzbek government granted amnesty to
The Uzbek government continued its decade-long policy six known Muslim prisoners of conscience, including
of arresting and imprisoning individuals who reject state Hairulla Hamidov, a well-known sports journalist and
control over religious practice or for their suspected reli- Muslim commentator. As a release condition, all were
gious affiliation, some for as long as 20-year prison terms. told to write apologies to President Karimov. Accord-
Many are denied due process and are tortured; some are ing to Uzbek human rights groups, religious prisoners
detained in psychiatric hospitals. According to the Uzbek are not eligible for Uzbekistans traditional Constitu-
Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defend- tion Day amnesties. For example, Zuboyd Mirzora-
ers (UIGIHRD), as of late 2015, there are 12,800 religious khimov, a Tajik citizen arrested in 2013 for having a
prisoners, many at risk of torture; reportedly 84 religious Quran text on his cell phone, was not amnestied in
prisoners are held in solitary confinement. UIGIHRD also January 2016.

[T]here are 12,800 religious prisoners, many at risk of torture....

reported mass arrests in 2015 of labor migrants return- Detention Conditions

ing from Russia, Turkey, Europe, and the United States Despite the Uzbek governments claims, torture
on suspicion of links to the terrorist group the Islamic remains endemic in prisons, pretrial facilities, and
State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); the fate of at least 200 police precincts, and reportedly includes the threat
is unknown, partly because secret police have told their or use of violence, including rape, and the use of gas
relatives not to hire lawyers or contact human rights masks to block victims air supply. Torture allegedly
activists. The government claims that many detainees is used to force adults and children to renounce their
are linked to extremist groups that it labels Wahhabi religious beliefs or to make confessions. According to
or jihadist but often provides no evidence of the use or a 2015 Amnesty International report, men and women
advocacy of violence. These terms can refer to a range of charged or convicted of extremism-related offenses

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over the past 15 years are most vulnerable to being Treatment of Non-Muslims
tortured, particularly Muslims who worship in inde- The state-controlled media encourages prejudice
pendent mosques and members or alleged members against minority religious groups and has equated mis-
of opposition political parties and banned Islamic sionaries with religious extremists. The government
movements or Islamist groups and parties. In late often brands Evangelical Protestants and Jehovahs
2015, a Muslim prisoner, Khayrullo Tursunov, seemed Witnesses as extremists for practicing religion out-
to be on the verge of death, his sisters observed during side of state-sanctioned structures. They face mas-
a visit; he had been illegally extradited by Kazakh- sive fines, detention, and arrest for illegal religious
stan in 2013 and later got a 16-year term. The Uzbek activity. In February 2016, Council of Churches Baptist
human rights group Ezgulik has reported on torture of prisoner Tohar Haydarov was told he will not be freed
female detainees, including many jailed for religious on parole this year. In November 2015, after a Tash-
beliefs. Shortly before religious prisoners complete kent school principal told police that two pupils were
their terms, Uzbek authorities often fabricate charges sharing their faith, police raided a Protestant meeting,
of violation of prison regimen, thereby prolonging some attendees were tortured and detained. Police
prisoners terms by three to six years, as recently hap- also stole money and confiscated Christian texts. In
pened to Muslim prisoners, Kamol Odilov and Botir April 2015, police renewed a search in the Kashkadarya
Tukhtamurodov; they are among over 100 Muslims region for Protestant Guljahon Kuzebayeva; she has
jailed for studying Said Nursis texts. In early 2013, the been in hiding since July 2014 due to fear of police
International Committee of the Red Cross took the brutality. As Jehovahs Witnesses met in May 2015 for
highly unusual step of halting its work in Uzbekistan, worship near Samarkand, they were raided and later
citing lack of official cooperation. fined; some were given two years probation on false
drug charges; female Witnesses were threatened with
Restrictions on Muslims rape and tortured. In July 2015, Jehovahs Witnesses
The Uzbek government tightly controls Islamic sought government approval to bury a relative in a
institutions and prohibits the independent practice local cemetery, but police and the local imam blocked
of Islam. In the Ferghana Valley, the government the burial. At a Tashkent meeting of non-Muslim reli-
has confiscated several mosques and banned chil- gious leaders, officials suggested but only to ethnic
dren from attendance. The state-controlled Muslim Uzbek non-Muslims that their wills should specify
Spiritual Board oversees the training, appointment, burial wishes. Reportedly, officials pressure Protestant
and dismissal of imams, and censors the content of churches when they publicly complain about burial
sermons and Islamic materials. Reportedly, a group problems. Authorities raid meetings of registered and
of Muslims in the Tashkent region were subjected to unregistered Christian and Bahai groups.

The state-controlled media encourages prejudice

against minority religious groups....

severe harassment since mid-2015. Four were jailed for Surveillance Regime
one to two months and 18 were fined for violation of A 2014 law set up a Preventive Register that listed all
the procedure for holding religious meetings. A group previous convicts who have served at least one year
of ten women were detained and fined for the same of preventive measures, including for religious
offense. In August 2015, Anti-Terrorism police raided offenses. It authorizes state agencies to extend Reg-
the homes of their male relatives; they were told that ister listings beyond one year and allows local author-
they will be jailed if they still pray together. ities to prevent the activity of unregistered religious

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groups. In May 2015, Navoi regional police stopped Muslim religion teacher Mehrinisso Hamdamova is still
four Protestants; during police questioning, one was serving a seven year prison term imposed in 2010 for
tortured; one of the four, Murot Turdiyev, reportedly is teaching women about Islam; she reportedly suffers from
on the Preventive Register. In April 2015, three years cancer but is denied medical care.
after she was fired as a teacher for wearing the Islamic
headscarf, Gulchohra Norbayeva faced accusations of U.S. Policy
illegal teaching of the Quran, and police pressure to Uzbekistan is Central Asias most populous country and
incriminate Muslim men; police told her that she is on shares borders with the four other former Soviet Repub-
the Preventative Register. lics in Central Asia as well as Afghanistan. It is central
to the regional Soviet-era rail system that also connects
Restrictions on Religious Materials with Russia, and therefore U.S. policy in Uzbekistan has
The Council on Religious Affairs (CRA) censors religious focused on the countrys key position in the Northern
materials. The government also maintains an extensive Distribution Network (NDN), a supply route for interna-
list of banned international websites, particularly on tional forces in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is the NDN hub
human rights and religious freedom. The religion law but at times has not been cooperative.
prohibits the importing, storing, producing, and dis- In 2004, Congress prohibited U.S. assistance to the
tributing of unapproved religious materials. Members Uzbek central government unless the Secretary of State
of various religious communities reportedly destroy reports that Uzbekistan is making substantial progress
their own sacred texts due to fear of confiscation during in meeting human rights commitments, establish-
police raids. According to a CRA official, Uzbek law ing a multi-party system, and ensuring free and fair
only allows religious texts to be read inside buildings of elections. Since 2004, some U.S. aid to Uzbekistan had
registered religious groups. After he publicly offered a been withheld due to a lack of progress on democratic
religious pamphlet, Baptist Doniyor Akhmedov became reforms. In 2008, Congress adopted a measure blocking
one of three known Uzbek Protestants jailed for up Uzbek officials from entering the United States if they
to 15 days in early 2015. He later was fined over three are deemed responsible for the 2005 Andijon violence or
times the official yearly minimum wage. In September other human rights violations.
2015, 10 Baptists in Karshi were fined up to 50 times In recent years, however, military assistance
the minimum monthly wage for unauthorized worship has increased. As of 2009, Uzbekistan reportedly has
meetings, and their Bibles and hymnals were ordered allowed case-by-case counter-terrorism operations
destroyed. According to Forum 18, after police raids and on its territory. In 2010, Congress permitted expanded
text seizures during the first ten months of 2015, Jeho- military education and training programs for Uzbeki-
vahs Witnesses faced 75 fines, each totaling as much as stan. In 2012, the State Department certified on national
20 times the minimum monthly wage. security grounds that military aid to Uzbekistan should
resume for six months, despite its human rights assess-
Limits on Religious Instruction and Travel ment citing numerous concerns, such as severe limita-
Uzbekistan severely restricts the number of Muslims tions on religious freedom, persistent torture, and no
who can make the hajj, including via lengthy secret independent probe into the 2005 Andijon events. Such
police scrutiny. In 2015, an Uzbek human rights activist aid includes training border troops and possibly provid-
noted that she will be 205 years old before she reaches ing military supplies.
the top of the hajj waiting list and even then may be At the November 1, 2015 first-ever meeting of Central
denied an exit visa. Religious instruction is limited to Asian foreign ministers with the United States, held in
officially-sanctioned religious schools and state-ap- Uzbekistan, Secretary of State Kerry emphasized that the
proved instructors, and only six registered religious United States and Central Asia are economic and security
communities have the required eight legally-registered partners and listed human dimension issues last
regional branches so that they can conduct legal reli- among the meetings five other topics. While Secretary
gious education. Private religious education is punished. Kerry noted that his country shared Uzbek concerns over

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Afghanistans security and radical religious extremism, contingent on the Uzbek governments adoption of
he did not mention human rights issues. specific actions to improve religious freedom condi-
The United States instituted Annual Bilateral tions and comply with international human rights
Consultations (ABCs) with each Central Asian state in standards, including reforming the 1998 religion
2009. The most recent U.S.-Uzbekistan ABC was held in law and permitting international investigations into
Washington, D.C. in January 2016. The U.S. delegation the 2005 Andijon events and the 2010 prison death
was led by Assistant Secretary of State for South and of Muslim leader Akram Yuldashev;
Central Asia Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal; Foreign Minis-
Press for UN Human Rights Council scrutiny of the
ter Abdulaziz Kamilov headed Uzbekistans delegation.
human rights situation in Uzbekistan, as well as
Human rights issues discussed included the status of
raise concerns in other multilateral settings, such
several religious and other prisoners, restrictions on
as the OSCE, and urge the Uzbek government to
civil society and media, labor rights, and religious free-
agree to visits by UN Special Rapporteurs on Free-
dom, particularly the onerous registration requirements
dom of Religion or Belief, the Independence of the
for religious groups.
Judiciary, and Torture, set specific visit dates, and
Since 2006, the State Department has designated
provide the full and necessary conditions for such
Uzbekistan a country of particular concern, or CPC,
a visit;
for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of
religious freedom. The CPC designation was renewed Ensure that U.S. statements and actions are coordi-
most recently in July 2014, but the State Department nated across agencies so that U.S. concerns about
continued its policy of indefinitely waiving taking any religious freedom and related human rights are
action as a consequence. It stated that the waiver is in reflected in its public statements and private inter-
the important national interest of the United States actions with the Uzbek government, including calls
pursuant to IRFA section 407. for the release of religious prisoners;

Ensure that the U.S. Embassy maintains appropri-

ate contacts, including at the ambassadorial level,
The State Department
with human rights activists;
continued...indefinitely waiving
taking any [CPC] action.... Press for at the highest levels and work to secure the
immediate release of individuals imprisoned for
their peaceful religious activities or religious affil-
iations, and press the Uzbek government to ensure
Recommendations that every prisoner has greater access to his or her
In addition to recommending that the U.S. government family, human rights monitors, adequate medical
continue to designate Uzbekistan a CPC, USCIRF rec- care, and a lawyer;
ommends that the U.S. government should:
Maintain the two-day duration of the Annual Bilat-
Work to establish a binding agreement with the eral Consultations to allow full discussion of rele-
Uzbek government, under section 405(c) of IRFA, vant issues, particularly human rights and religious
on steps it can take to be removed from the CPC list; freedom; and
should negotiations fail or Uzbekistan not uphold
Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to
its commitments, lift the waiver on taking any
ensure continued U.S. funding for the Uzbek Ser-
action in consequence of the CPC designation, in
vice of the Voice of America and for RFE/RLs Uzbek
place since January 2009, and impose sanctions, as
Service website, Muslims and Democracy, and
stipulated in IRFA;
consider translating material from RFE/RLs Uzbek
Consider making U.S. assistance, except human- Service into other relevant languages.
itarian assistance and human rights programs,

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Key Findings U.S. engagement to work with the new CAR government
Militias formed along opposing Muslim and Christian to demobilize armed groups, address impunity, tackle
lines in the Central African Republic (CAR) continue the root causes of the conflict, improve interfaith rela-
to kill individuals based on their religious identity, tions, and reverse the effects of the ethnic cleansing of
leading to retaliatory attacks and waves of violence. the Muslim community.
CARs Muslim population remains disproportion-
ately displaced, and in the western part of the country,
trapped in peacekeeper enclaves and unable to freely CAR has a long history of political strife, coups, severe
practice their faith. The 2013 coup resulted in rampant human rights abuses, and underdevelopment. Military
lawlessness and the complete collapse of government dictatorships ruled the country for all but nine years
control. State authorities have almost no presence since independence and, despite being rich in natural
outside of the capital, Bangui, with the remainder of the resources, CAR routinely is at the bottom of develop-
country controlled by armed groups. Despite an overall ment indexes. Despite this, sectarian violence and
reduction in violence, the passage of a new constitution targeted killing based on religious identity are new to
with religious freedom protections, and the holding of the majority-Christian country. The current conflict
peaceful presidential elections, CAR remains highly has resulted in thousands dead, 2.7 million in need of
volatile, fractured along religious lines, and susceptible humanitarian assistance, 450,000 internally displaced,
to regular outbreaks of sectarian violence. Accordingly, and 450,000 refugees. Before 2012, 85 percent of CARs
USCIRF again recommends in 2016 that CAR should be population was Christian and 15 percent was Muslim.
designated a country of particular concern, or CPC. By the end of 2014, 80 percent of the countrys Muslim
In 2015, USCIRF determined that the ethnic cleansing population had been driven out of CAR.

...CAR remains highly volatile, fractured along religious lines, and

susceptible to regular outbreaks of sectarian violence.

of Muslims and sectarian violence in CAR meet the Fighting started in December 2012 due to a rebel-
International Religious Freedom Acts (IRFA) standard lion by a coalition of four northern majority-Muslim
for CPC designation. While IRFAs language focuses armed rebel groups, the Slka, which ostensibly pro-
CPC designations on governmental action or inaction, tested the governments failure to implement previous
its spirit is to bring U.S. pressure and attention to bear peace agreements and address marginalization in the
to end egregious violations of religious freedom and countrys Muslim-majority northeast. Complicating
broaden the U.S. governments ability to engage the the conflict, large numbers of Chadian and Sudanese
actual drivers of persecution. Bringing stability to CAR foreign fighters and diamond sellers seeking access
will take years and significant U.S. and international to CARs natural resources also supported the rebels.
support. A CPC designation should be part of sustained Following a brief peace agreement, the Slka took the
capital, Bangui, in March 2013 and deposed President

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Franois Boziz. Subsequently, Slka leader Michel cities, towns, and villages of their Muslim residents.
Djotodia proclaimed himself President. In September Anti-balaka fighters deliberately killed Muslims
2013, Djotodia formally disbanded the Slka follow- because of their religious identity or told them to leave
ing international condemnation of its crimes against the country or die. The anti-balaka even killed Muslims
humanity, including enforced disappearances, illegal fleeing the violence, including those in humanitari-
detentions, torture, and extrajudicial killings. This an-assisted evacuation convoys. Muslims from ethnic
announcement, however, had no practical impact; groups deemed foreign to or invaders of CAR were
ex-Slka continued to engage in violence, and its especially targeted. The UN reports that in 2014, 99
coalition members splintered into multiple armed percent of the capitals Muslim residents left Bangui,
political parties. 80 percent of the entire countrys Muslim population
In June 2013, deposed president Boziz, his inner fled to Cameroon or Chad, and 417 of the countrys 436
circle, and former Central African Armed Forces (FACA) mosques were destroyed.
soldiers planned his return to power by recruiting
existing self-defense militias (known as the anti-balaka),
FACA soldiers, and other aggrieved non-Muslims. They
The UN reports that in 2014,
framed the upcoming fight as an opportunity to avenge
99 percent of the capitals
Slka attacks on non-Muslims. Many Central African
Muslim residents left Bangui,
Christians feared for their future under the countrys first
80 percent of the entire countrys
Muslim leader, who sought support from Muslim leaders
Muslim population fled to Cameroon
during a period when Slka attacks disproportionately
or Chad, and 417 of the countrys
targeted Christians, including by attacking churches
436 mosques were destroyed.
while sparing mosques and Muslims. Even prior to this
hostility, Muslims in CAR were distrusted and faced con-
sistent societal discrimination.
Ex-Slka and anti-balaka fighting started in During the reporting period, the situation for Mus-
September 2013, and escalated dramatically when the lims in western CAR remained the same. The existing
anti-balaka attacked Muslim neighborhoods in Ban- Muslims in western CAR continue to live in peacekeep-
gui on December 5, 2013. The ensuing fighting led to er-protected enclaves and are vulnerable to anti-balaka
a large-scale conflict in which civilians were targeted attacks and killings if they leave. Few displaced Mus-
based on their religious identity. In January 2014, Djoto- lims returned to CAR or their homes. The few Muslims
dia was forced to resign and the countrys parliament in western CAR who have returned or continue to live
elected Catherine Samba-Panza, then mayor of Bangui, in their home villages report that anti-balaka soldiers
as Interim President. When French peacekeeping troops forced them to convert or hide their faith. In a partic-
arrived that same month, they targeted ex-Slka fighters ularly troubling development, the interim parliament,
for disarmament, leading those fighters to withdraw from the National Transitional Council, voted in July to
western CAR and leaving Muslim civilians in those new- prohibit CAR refugees from voting in the presidential
ly-deserted areas vulnerable to anti-balaka attacks. and legislative elections; given that Muslims comprise
the majority of refugees, this vote would have disen-
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 franchised that population. The Constitutional Court,
Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims however, overruled the vote that same month, and
In December 2014, the United Nations Commission of refugees were able to vote in the December 2015 and
Inquiry on the Central African Republic (COI) issued a February 2016 elections.
report finding a pattern of ethnic cleansing commit-
ted by the anti-balaka in the areas in which Muslims Continuing Sectarian Violence
had been living. In the first part of January 2014, the Killings and skirmishes based on religious identity
anti-balaka emptied CARs western and northwestern continue in CAR, particularly in Bangui and central CAR,

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where there are more religiously-mixed communities. dent Samba-Panza promulgated the establishment of
This violence, albeit reduced from 2013-14 levels, now is the Special Criminal Court, a hybrid court composed of
largely within and between militias for land and resource CAR judges and international judges, to investigate and
control. It continues despite the countrys de facto parti- prosecute grave human rights violations committed in
tion between the ex-Slka and the anti-balaka; the pres- the country since 2003. During an incident-free trip to the
ence of French, European Union, and the United Nations country in late November, Pope Francis visited Banguis
Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in PK-5 central Koudoukou mosque. Between December 13
the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) peacekeepers; and 15, 93 percent of Central Africans voted to approve a
promised ceasefires and disarmaments; and the success- new constitution. The new constitution: recognizes the
ful Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation (see below countrys religious diversity; provides for separation of
under Positive Developments). religion and state; establishes equal legal rights for all
The most serious episode of sectarian and retal- persons regardless of religion; guarantees freedom of
iatory violence in 2015 erupted on September 26 in conscience, assembly, religion and worship; and prohibits
Bangui, after a Muslim taxi driver was murdered and the formation of political parties based on religion. Unfor-
his body left near a mosque in the capitals PK-5 Muslim tunately, however, the vote was marred by low turnout,
enclave. The ensuing violence between Muslims and poor voter education, and violence, including in Banguis
anti-balaka fighters over the next several days resulted Muslim PK-5 neighborhood on December 13, as dis-
in 77 dead and 40,000 displaced. Continuing violence cussed above, which prevented Muslims in that area from
through mid-November left more than 100 dead in total. voting. The vote was extended by two days in response to
Individuals were deliberately targeted because of their violence in Bangui, Bria, and elsewhere. Finally, peaceful
faith and were killed entering into neighborhoods domi- presidential elections were held in December 2015 and
nated by the opposite faith. February 2016.

Individuals were deliberately targeted because of their

faith and were killed entering into
neighborhoods dominated by the opposite faith.

Other incidents during this reporting period U.S. Policy

include: fighting on August 20 between ex-Slka and U.S.-Central African Republic relations are generally
anti-balaka in Bambari that left 10 dead and thousands good, but limited. U.S. Embassy Bangui has closed mul-
displaced after a 19-year-old Muslim was beheaded; and tiple times due to instability. It closed at the start of the
violence in the PK-5 neighborhood on December 13, current conflict, but reopened in September 2014, and
during the constitutional referendum vote, that resulted in October 2015 Jeffrey Hawkins was sworn in as U.S.
in five dead and 20 injured. Ambassador to the Central African Republic. U.S.-CAR
policy is led by Special Representative for the Central
Positive Developments African Republic Ambassador W. Stuart Symington,
There were several positive developments during the who has served in this position since April 2014.
reporting period. From May 4-11, 2015, 600 Central As part of U.S. and international efforts to bring
Africans from around the country and different religious justice to the country, on May 13, 2014, President Barack
communities participated in the Bangui Forum for Obama issued Executive Order 13667 sanctioning the
National Reconciliation to create recommendations to following persons identified by the UN Security Coun-
CAR leaders and the international community to bring cil for threatening CARs stability: former president
stability to the country. On June 3, Transitional Presi- Franois Boziz, former transitional president Michel

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Djotodia, ex-Slka leaders Nourredine Adam and Work with the UN Security Council to continue
Abdoulaye Miskine, and anti-balaka political coor- to sanction ex-Slka and anti-balaka members
dinator Levy Yakite. On December 17, 2015, the UN responsible for organizing and/or engaging in
Security Council and U.S. government also sanctioned sectarian violence, ethnic cleansing, and crimes
Haroun Gaye, ex-Slka/Popular Front for the Rebirth against humanity, and continue to speak out reg-
of CAR (FPRC) leader, and Eugne Ngaikosset, Banguis ularly against sectarian violence and gross human
anti-balaka commander. The Treasury Department rights abuses;
sanctions block these individuals property and finan-
Continue to contribute to and work with interna-
cial interests in the United States.
tional donors to fully fund the Special Criminal
Over the past two years, the United States has pro-
Court, re-establish and professionalize the CARs
vided over $800 million in humanitarian, development,
judiciary, and ensure that future security forces and
and security assistance, including support for interna-
police units reflect the countrys diversity;
tional peacekeepers, conflict mitigation, and interfaith
relations. U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Encourage CAR transitional authorities to under-
Nations Samantha Power, Assistant Secretary of State take initiatives to ensure that Muslims have a future
for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and other in the country, by issuing statements that Muslims
senior U.S. government officials have traveled to the are full and equal citizens, undertaking develop-
Central African Republic in the past two years, as part ment missions in the northeast, ensuring Muslim
of efforts to prevent and end mass atrocities, increase participation in government administration, safe-
interfaith dialogue, and encourage national recon- guarding sustainable returns of Muslim refugees
ciliation efforts. During the reporting period, the U.S. and internally displaced persons to their homes,
government quickly denounced episodes of sectarian recognizing Muslim holidays as national holidays,
violence and urged the holding of the constitutional and rebuilding destroyed mosques and Muslim
referendum and elections. properties;

Continue to support interfaith dialogues and efforts

by religious leaders to rebuild social cohesion; and
In addition to recommending that the United States
designate the Central African Republic a country of Continue to support humanitarian assistance for
particular concern for systematic, ongoing, and egre- refugees and displaced persons, as well as rebuild-
gious violations of freedom of religion or belief, USCIRF ing projects.
recommends that the U.S. government should:

Sustain a high-level of engagement with CAR

authorities, the United Nations, and interna-
tional donors following the countrys presiden-
tial elections, and ensure that issues related to
ending sectarian violence and impunity, reduc-
ing interfaith tensions, and affirming the rights
of religious freedom and religious minorities are
supported and raised in all engagements with
relevant parties;

Press MINUSCA, CAR authorities, and interna-

tional donors to increase activities on disarmament,
demobilization and reintegration (DDR) equally for
all armed groups, while simultaneously providing
sustainable reintegration opportunities;

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Key Findings Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF will continue

Against a backdrop of deteriorating human rights condi- to monitor the situation closely to determine if positive
tions, the Egyptian government has taken positive steps developments warrant a change in Egypts status during
to address some religious freedom concerns, including the year ahead.
intolerance in religious curricula and extremism in
religious discourse. In addition, President Abdel Fattah
al-Sisi continued to make public statements encourag- Egypts 2014 constitution identifies Islam as the state
ing religious tolerance and moderation and attended a religion and principles of Shariah as the primary source
Coptic Christmas Eve mass for the second consecutive of legislation. The population is approximately 89 mil-
year. Furthermore, there were notably fewer sectarian lion, with 85 to 90 percent adhering to Sunni Islam and
attacks against Christians and other religious minori- non-Sunni Muslims comprising less than one percent.
ties, and investigations and prosecutions continued for Christians are estimated at 10 to 15 percent of the overall
the unprecedented scale of destruction of churches and population, with the vast majority belonging to the Cop-
Christian property that occurred in the summer of 2013. tic Orthodox Church and less than two percent belong-
However, other past large-scale sectarian incidents have ing to various other Christian denominations, including
not resulted in prosecutions, which continued to foster Catholic, Protestant, Maronite, Armenian Apostolic,
a climate of impunity. In addition, the longstanding Orthodox (Greek and Syrian), and Anglican. There are
discriminatory and repressive laws and policies that at least 2,000 Bahais, approximately 1,500 Jehovahs
restrict freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or Witnesses, and fewer than 20 Jews.
belief remain in place. During the past year, there was During the reporting period, Egypt continued its
an increase in Egyptian courts prosecuting, convicting, volatile political transition following the militarys 2013
and imprisoning Egyptian citizens for blasphemy and ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi. In January
related charges. While the 2014 constitution includes 2014, a new constitution was approved overwhelmingly

Against a backdrop of deteriorating human rights conditions,

the Egyptian government has taken positive steps to address some
religious freedom concerns....

improvements regarding freedom of religion or belief, by referendum, and in May 2014, al-Sisi was elected
the interpretation and implementation of relevant provi- president. Following delays, parliamentary elec-
sions remain to be seen, since the newly seated parlia- tions occurred in stages starting in October 2015 and
ment has yet to act on the provisions. Based on these concluded in December. The parliament was seated in
ongoing concerns, for the sixth year in a row, USCIRF January 2016 and is comprised of 596 members, includ-
recommends in 2016 that Egypt be designated a country ing an unprecedented 36 Christians. The improved
of particular concern, or CPC, under the International religious freedom provisions in the constitution have
not yet been implemented, although the parliament is

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mandated to take action before the completion of its perpetrators have been prosecuted and imprisoned.
first session. In March 2015, the Ministry of Education announced
During the past year, the governments efforts to that it had decided to remove and/or clarify passages
combat extremism and terrorism have had a chilling from primary school textbooks, particularly Islamic
impact on human rights and civil society activities education books, deemed to promote incitement and
in the country. Despite some political prisoners and extremist ideology; during the past year it expedited this
other dissidents being released from prison in 2015, process, which is ongoing. The Ministry also has intensi-
the government continues to crack down on all forms fied efforts to incorporate concepts of religious tolerance
of dissent. Sympathizers and members of the Muslim and understanding into all textbooks. According to Egyp-
Brotherhood, journalists, secular and liberal activists, tian officials, the government-funded Al-Azhar one of
and opposition figures have been harassed, jailed, and the preeminent Sunni Muslim centers of learning in the
given harsh prison terms, including death sentences world is evaluating reforms to its religious curricula and
for Brotherhood members and other Islamists, some- reportedly will review high school texts during the sum-
times on legitimate, but also on unfounded, security mer of 2016. In addition to higher education, Al-Azhar has
charges. In addition, during the reporting period, an oversight of a network of schools with approximately two
intensified crackdown on Egyptian non-governmental million students throughout Egypt.
organizations including human rights groups that Regarding religious discourse in society, the Egyp-
monitor religious freedom conditions has resulted in tian government actively monitors fatwas (religious
new criminal investigations, harassment, and travel edicts) issued by clerics; Dar al-Ifta, a government entity
bans on prominent human rights defenders. headed by the Grand Mufti, has countered publicly
In March 2016, a USCIRF staff member traveled dozens of fatwas that espouse radical views. During the
to Egypt to assess religious freedom conditions and reporting period, the Ministry of Religious Endowments
meet with a range of Egyptian government officials, and Dar al-Ifta started training senior imams on the
U.S. Embassy officials, and members of civil society, skills of issuing responsible and accurate fatwas, and
including religious leaders, religious freedom advocates, the Grand Mufti created a committee to evaluate other
human rights defenders, lawyers, and researchers. possible reforms.

Since the 2013 ouster of former president Morsi,

the government has increased its control over all Muslim religious institutions,
including mosques and religious endowments.

Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 Government Control and Regulation of

Recent Improvements Islamic Institutions
Since he assumed office in 2014, President al-Sisi has Since the 2013 ouster of former president Morsi, the
made several noteworthy public statements and ges- government has increased its control over all Muslim
tures encouraging religious tolerance and moderation religious institutions, including mosques and religious
and urging reform of textbooks and religious discourse endowments. Egyptian officials have justified this
in society, an important shift in tone and rhetoric from regulation as necessary to counter extremism and to
his predecessors. Perhaps the most encouraging trend prevent incitement to violence in mosques. In February
over the past two years has been the significant decrease 2015, an administrative court upheld a 2013 decree by
in the number and scale of targeted, sectarian attacks the Ministry of Religious Endowments that prevents
against Copts. Since the violent assault on Copts and imams who are not graduates of Al-Azhar from preach-
their churches and properties in August 2013, dozens of ing in licensed and unlicensed mosques. The law bans

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unlicensed mosques from holding Friday prayers, those responsible for past violence against Copts and
requires Friday sermons to follow government-ap- other religious minorities has continued to foster an
proved content, and provides tougher penalties for atmosphere of impunity.
preaching without a license, including a prison term of Over the past year, the number and severity of
up to one year and/or a fine. The government appoints violent incidents targeting Copts and their property
and pays the salaries of all Sunni Muslim imams and decreased significantly when compared to previous
monitors sermons. years; however, sporadic violence continued, particu-

The inability to successfully prosecute those responsible for

past violence against Copts and other religious minorities has continued
to foster an atmosphere of impunity.

Progress and Ongoing Challenges for larly in Upper Egypt. For example, in June 2015, at the
Coptic Christians time of the two-year anniversary of the overthrow of
President al-Sisi was the first head of state to attend a former president Morsi, a number of Christian homes
Coptic Christmas Eve mass in January 2015. He did so and properties were attacked, and in July, a mob
again in January 2016, publicly apologizing that author- firebombed a church in Alexandria and authorities
ities had not yet finished rebuilding churches destroyed reportedly responded slowly. In March, local police
in August 2013 and pledging to complete the process failed to prevent a mob attack on a Coptic church in
within a year. Following the unprecedented scale of the al-Our village, the hometown of 13 of the 20 Copts
violence against Copts that summer, the Egyptian killed in Libya. In some parts of the country, Egyptian
government found that 29 people died in sectarian-re- security services increased protection of churches
lated killings, 52 churches were completely destroyed, during significant religious holidays, which lessened
another 12 damaged, and numerous Christian-owned the level of fear and insecurity among members of the
properties were destroyed. At the end of the reporting Coptic community.
period, at least half of the destroyed churches had been There has been progress on accountability for the
rebuilt and the other half were still being constructed destruction of and damage to Christian churches and
or repaired. In February 2015, President al-Sisi offered properties in the summer of 2013. In April 2015, an
condolences in person to Coptic Pope Tawadros after Egyptian court convicted and sentenced approximately
ISIL (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) killed 20 70 individuals to life in prison for their role in burning a
Copts and one Ghanaian in Libya. In October, Egyptian church in the village of Kafr Hakim just outside Cairo. In
authorities started building a new church, as ordered by December 2014, some 40 perpetrators found responsible
President al-Sisi, to honor the slain Copts. for attacks on five churches in Assiut, Upper Egypt, were
While the Coptic community in general welcomes sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to 15 years.
these and other symbolic gestures, repressive laws and Other cases are ongoing; in some cases, police have not
discriminatory policies against Copts remain in place, conducted adequate investigations, making it more
including blasphemy charges and convictions, limits difficult to prosecute perpetrators.
on building and maintaining churches, and limits Furthermore, in response to sectarian-related
on conversion from Islam. There also continues to be violence, local Egyptian authorities continue to conduct
inadequate accountability for past violent attacks; most customary reconciliation sessions between Muslims
perpetrators from large-scale incidents that occurred and Christians as a way of easing tensions and resolving
between 2011 and 2013 and even before that have not disputes. In some cases, local authorities and Muslim
been prosecuted. The inability to successfully prosecute and Christian religious leaders have abused these

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 93
reconciliation sessions to compel victims to abandon For example, in January 2016, Egyptian writer and
their claims to any legal remedy. Human rights groups poet Fatma Naoot was sentenced to three years in prison
have argued that reconciliation sessions disadvantage for defaming Islam for a Facebook post criticizing the
Christians in resolving various disputes, many of which ritual slaughtering of animals during a Muslim holiday.
are sectarian-related attacks targeting Christians. In May 2015, a well-known television show host, Islam
In addition, following the August 2013 church attacks, El-Beheiry, was convicted of defaming religious sym-
the number of incidents of kidnappings for ransom and bols and sentenced to five years in prison for comments
extortion of Christians rose dramatically. While these he made about Islam on his program. In December, his
incidents have decreased over the past year, they continue sentence was reduced on appeal to one year in prison. In
in parts of the country, particularly in Upper Egypt. Fur- May, a dentist from the Daqahlia governorate was sen-
thermore, Egyptian-born Muslims who have converted tenced to six months in prison for contempt of religion
to Christianity still cannot reflect their change of religious and practicing Shia Islam, partly because authorities
affiliation on identity documents, and in many cases, found Shia books and materials in his home. In April
these converts also face intense social hostility. 2015, four Coptic Christian teenagers and their teacher
were arrested and charged with blasphemy for making
Blasphemy Law and Limits on a short, private video mocking ISIL. In February 2016,
Religious Expression three of the four teens were sentenced to five years in
Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code prohibits prison and the fourth was placed in a juvenile facility.
citizens from ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions In December 2015, the teacher was sentenced to three
or inciting sectarian strife. Authorities use this con- years in prison in a separate trial and was expelled from
tempt-of-religion, or blasphemy, law to detain, prose- his village; appeals for both cases are ongoing.
cute, and imprison members of religious groups whose Egyptian atheists have seen a rise in blasphemy
practices deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs or charges in recent years, as well as growing societal
whose activities are alleged to jeopardize communal harassment and various Egyptian government-spon-
harmony or insult Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. sored initiatives to counter atheism. In December 2014,
In January 2015, President al-Sisi issued a decree that Dar al-Ifta published a survey claiming that Egypt was
permits the government to ban any foreign publications home to 866 atheists, supposedly the highest num-
it deems offensive to religion. ber of any country in the Middle East. Two officials

Egyptian atheists have seen a rise in blasphemy charges in recent years,

as well as growing societal harassment and various
Egyptian government-sponsored initiatives to counter atheism.

Blasphemy cases have increased since 2011, and from the office of the Grand Mufti publicly called this a
this trend continued during the reporting period. While dangerous development. Over the past two years, the
the majority of charges are leveled against Sunni Mus- Ministries of Religious Endowments and Sports and
lims, most of those sentenced by a court to prison terms Youth co-sponsored a national campaign to combat the
for blasphemy have been Christians, Shia Muslims, spread of atheism among Egyptian youth. In February
and atheists, largely based on flawed trials. According 2016, online activist Mustafa Abdel-Nabi was convicted
to Egyptian human rights groups, there were at least 21 in absentia to three years in prison for blasphemy for
new blasphemy cases between the beginning of 2015 postings about atheism on his Facebook page. In Feb-
and the end of the reporting period, a sharp increase ruary 2015, a blogger from Ismailia, Sherif Gaber, was
when compared to the previous year. sentenced to one year in prison for discussing his atheist

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views on Facebook; he has gone into hiding. In January Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Community
2015, atheist student Karim Al-Banna was given a three In 2015, material vilifying Jews with both historical
year prison term for blasphemy because a court found and new anti-Semitic stereotypes continued to appear
his Facebook posts to belittle the divine. His sentence in Egypts state-controlled and semi-official media;
was upheld by an appeals court in March. Egyptian authorities have failed to take adequate steps
In addition, in April 2015, the Ministry of Religious to combat anti-Semitism in the state-controlled media.
Endowments announced it would launch a campaign Egypts once-thriving Jewish community of tens of
to combat what it perceives as threatening topics in thousands in the mid-20th century is now on the verge of
mosques: Shia Islam, atheism, the Bahai faith, and extinction. It owns communal property, including syn-
other social issues such as murder and drug addiction. agogues in Cairo and Alexandria, and finances required
maintenance largely through private donations. Many
Bahais, Jehovahs Witnesses, and Shia Muslims of the communitys sites are in dire need of repair and/
The Bahai and Jehovahs Witness faiths have been or renovation.
banned since 1960 by presidential decrees. As a result,
Bahais living in Egypt are unable to meet or engage in Egypts Constitution
public religious activities. Al-Azhars Islamic Research There are some encouraging changes in the 2014
Center has issued fatwas over the years urging the constitution that could bode well for religious free-
continued ban on the Bahai community and condemn- dom. Several problematic provisions from the 2012
ing its members as apostates. Over the past two years, constitution were removed: a provision that narrowly
the Ministry of Religious Endowments has sponsored defined Islamic Shariah law; a provision potentially
public workshops to raise awareness about the growing giving Al-Azhar a consultative role in reviewing
dangers of the spread of the Bahai faith in Egypt. Since legislation; and a provision that effectively banned
Bahai marriage is not recognized, married Bahais blasphemy. While Article 64 provides that freedom
cannot obtain identity cards, making it impossible to of belief is absolute, this article limits the freedom
conduct daily transactions like banking, school regis-
tration, or car or home ownership.
In recent years, the government has permitted
Jehovahs Witnesses to meet in private homes in groups There are some encouraging
of fewer than 30 people, despite the communitys changes in the 2014 constitution
request to meet in larger numbers. Jehovahs Witnesses that could bode well for
are not allowed to have their own places of worship or religious freedom.
to import Bibles and other religious literature. Over the
past year, security officials continued to harass, interro-
gate, and intimidate Jehovahs Witnesses by monitoring to practice religious rituals and establish places of
their activities and communications and by threatening worship to only the Abrahamic religions: Islam,
the community with intensified repression if it does not Christianity, and Judaism. A new provision, Article
provide membership lists. 235, requires the incoming parliament to pass a law
In addition to the blasphemy cases targeting mem- governing the building and renovating of churches.
bers of the Shia community and government campaigns This would potentially lift the longstanding require-
to counter Shia Islam in public and in mosques, the ment of governmental approval for building or
Deputy Minister of Religious Endowments announced repairing churches, which has served as a justification
in October 2015 that the Shia community would not be for sectarian-related violence targeting Christians.
permitted to celebrate Ashura in several mosques in In addition, Article 53 mandates the establishment of
Cairo. A subsequent statement from the Ministry report- an independent anti-discrimination commission, the
edly justified the closure stating that Shia rituals had no jurisdiction of which would include discrimination on
basis in Islam. the basis of religion or belief.

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U.S. Policy According to the State Department, officials at all
For many years, U.S. policy toward Egypt has focused on levels of the U.S. government continue to raise a range of
fostering strong bilateral relations, continuing mili- religious freedom concerns with Egyptian counterparts.
tary and counterterrorism cooperation, maintaining Despite USCIRF recommending since 2011 that Egypt
regional stability, and sustaining the 1979 Camp David should be designated a country of particular concern,
peace accords. Successive administrations have viewed the State Department has not taken such action.
Egypt as a key ally in the region and it is among the
top five recipients in the world of U.S. aid. The FY2016
Consolidated Appropriations Act provides Egypt with Egypt continues to experience both progress and
$1.3 billion in foreign military financing (FMF) and $150 setbacks during its transition, the success of which
million in economic support funds (ESF). During the hinges on full respect for the rule of law and compliance
reporting period, in addition to periodic criticism of with international human rights standards, including
Egypts human rights record, the Obama Administra- freedom of religion or belief. In addition to recommend-
tion has expressed the view that the denial of funda- ing that the U.S. government designate Egypt a CPC,
mental human rights create conditions that could fuel USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:
the growth of violent extremism, including in comments Ensure that a portion of U.S. military assistance is
by Secretary of State John Kerry during the August 2015 used to help police implement an effective plan for
strategic dialogue of high-level officials. dedicated protection for religious minority commu-
Public Law 114-113, the FY2016 Consolidated nities and their places of worship;
Appropriations Act, places conditions on U.S. assistance
to Egypt related to limits on human rights, including Press the Egyptian government to undertake
religious freedom. Specifically, it requires the Secretary immediate reforms to improve religious freedom
of State to certify that Egypt has taken steps to advance conditions, including: repealing decrees banning
the democratic process, protect free speech, and protect religious minority faiths, including the Bahai and
the rights of women and religious minorities, among Jehovahs Witness faiths; removing religion from
other measures. However, the Act also authorizes the official identity documents; and passing laws con-
Secretary to provide assistance to Egypt if he or she sistent with Article 53 (creating an anti-discrimina-
determines that the assistance is important to the tion body) and Article 235 (regulating the construc-
national security interests of the United States. tion and renovation of churches) of the constitution;
On March 31, 2015, the U.S. government announced Urge the Egyptian government to repeal or revise
that it would release an October 2013 hold on the deliv- Article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which criminalizes
ery of select weapons systems and continue foreign contempt of religion, or blasphemy, and, in the
military financing and economic support funds to interim, provide the constitutional and interna-
Egypt. On May 12, Secretary of State Kerry certified in a tional guarantees of the rule of law and due process
report to Congress that the resumption of aid to Egypt for those individuals charged with violating Article
was in the national security interest of the United States. 98(f);
Despite the certification, the report concluded that the
overall trajectory for human rights and democracy in Press the Egyptian government to prosecute
Egypt was negative. In addition, the report found that perpetrators of sectarian violence through the
the Egyptian government had taken steps to advance judicial system, and to ensure that responsibility for
and protect the rights of religious minorities, although religious affairs is not under the jurisdiction of the
these protections were limited to followers of Islam, domestic security agency, which should only deal
Christianity, and Judaism, and that the government with national security matters such as cases involv-
continues to prosecute individuals for denigrating ing the use or advocacy of violence;
religions, and accountability for past sectarian crimes Press the Egyptian government to address incite-
remains problematic. ment to violence and discrimination against

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disfavored Muslims and non-Muslims, including by
prosecuting government-funded clerics who incite
violence against Muslim or non-Muslim minority

Press the Egyptian government to continue to

revise all textbooks and other educational materials
to remove any language or images that promote
intolerance, hatred, or violence toward any group of
persons based on religion or belief, and include the
concepts of tolerance and respect for human rights
of all individuals, including religious freedom, in all
school curricula, textbooks, and teacher training;

Provide direct support to human rights and other

civil society or non-governmental organizations to
advance freedom of religion or belief for all Egyp-
tians; and

Place particular emphasis, in its annual reporting

to Congress on human rights and religious free-
dom, on the Egyptian governments progress on the
protection of religious minorities, prosecution of
perpetrators of sectarian violence, and the ability
of Egyptian non-governmental organizations to
receive outside funding from sources including the
U.S. government.

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Key Findings by ISIL, but also due to the Iraqi governments toleration
Iraqs religious freedom climate continued to deterio- of attacks by security forces and the PMF, in 2016 USCIRF
rate in 2015, especially in areas under the control of the again recommends that the U.S. government designate
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL targets Iraq as a country of particular concern, or CPC, under
anyone who does not espouse its extremist Islamist the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA).
ideology, but minority religious and ethnic communi- USCIRF has recommended CPC designation for Iraq
ties, including the Christian, Yazidi, Shia, Turkmen, and since December 2008. Post-Saddam Iraq has never been
Shabak communities, are especially vulnerable. In 2015, designated a CPC by the State Department.

In 2015, USCIRF concluded that ISIL was committing genocide

against [the Christian, Yazidi, Shia, Turkmen, and Shabak communities],
and crimes against humanity against these and other groups.

USCIRF concluded that ISIL was committing genocide

against these groups, and crimes against humanity Iraq has long suffered from sectarian tensions, which
against these and other groups. While ISIL was the most have adversely affected the countrys human rights and
egregious perpetrator of human rights and religious free- religious freedom climate. Under Saddam Hussein, the
dom violations, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Iraqi government maintained relative order through
recognized by Prime Minister al-Abadi in September intimidation and terror while favoring the Sunni Mus-
2015 as officially part of the Iraqi state, have continued lim minority, who comprise approximately 35 percent of
to commit systematic attacks against Sunni Muslim the countrys population. Following the fall of Saddam
civilians, exacerbating sectarian tensions. Although Hussein in 2003, Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqs Prime Minis-
al-Abadi attempted to bring the PMF into the fold of gov- ter between 2003 and 2014, acted in an authoritarian
ernment-sanctioned armed groups through this maneu- and sectarian manner. He failed to implement fully an
ver, so far it has remained clear that the group which agreement to share government power between Shia
technically reports to the Ministry of Interior exercises and Sunni Muslims, targeted Sunni areas and Sunni
a significant amount of autonomy and espouses strong politicians, and marginalized Sunni Muslims in the
pro-Shia leanings, mostly to the exclusion of Iraqs Sunni government and the military. Since Malikis resignation,
population. However, because the PMF is one of the most Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has attempted but not
effective groups in fighting ISIL, the Iraqi government yet succeeded to ease sectarian tensions, although he
has not curtailed their activities or prosecuted those has made some overtures to integrate Sunni Muslims
who have perpetrated violent attacks. Millions of Iraqis into the government or recruit them into the military.
are now refugees or are internally displaced due to ISILs The PMF and Iranian-backed Shia militias that operate
actions and the governments inability to protect religious outside of government control have further complicated
communities. Based on violations perpetrated primarily al-Abadis attempts to ease Sunni-Shia tensions on the
political and societal level.

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This background helped create the conditions Christian, Protestants, Yazidis, and Sabean Mandaeans
that allowed ISIL to rise, spread and ultimately control were already significantly diminished. Before 2003,
significant areas of northern and central Iraq. The polit- non-Muslim Iraqis made up around three percent of the
ical actions by Saddam Hussein and Nouri al-Maliki Iraqi population. By 2013, the Christian population had
created significant distrust between Iraqs Shia majority dwindled to 500,000 half of its reported size in 2003
population and the Sunni Muslim minority popula- and today, some Christian leaders report the number to
tion, which impacts Iraq today. The Sunni population be as low as 250,000 to 300,000. Also in 2013, the Yazidis
has a distrust of the Iraqi government, and doubts its reported that since 2005 their population had decreased
willingness to allow Sunni Muslims to participate at by nearly 200,000 to approximately 500,000, and the
high levels in the government and military. Moreover, Mandaeans reported that almost 90 percent of their com-
Sunni Muslim populations who abhor ISIL fear that munity had left the country or been killed, leaving just
the Iraqi government will not provide them protection. a few thousand. The size of these religious communities
Religious minority communities, especially the Yazidi continues to decline as the crisis in Iraq deepens, with
population, doubt the Iraqi governments willingness, many members of Iraqs smallest minority communities
ability, or both to protect them from ISIL. This degree of having been killed, driven out of the country or internally
mistrust among Iraqs religious and ethnic communities displaced, especially since ISILs advance in northern Iraq
and these communities lack of confidence in the Iraqi since 2014.
government have combined to exacerbate sectarian
tensions, undermine the countrys stability, and create Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
doubt that religious freedom and human rights are a Violations by ISIL
priority and will be protected by the government. ISIL threatens the region, Iraqs stability, and human
rights and religious freedom for all Iraqis. ISILs violent
religious and political ideology allows for no space for
Since 2014, the semi-autonomous religious diversity or freedom of thought or expression.
Kurdistan region and its government The group has deliberately expelled minority communi-
(KRG) have played a significant role ties from their historic homelands, forced them to convert
in providing a safe haven for religious to ISILs version of Islam, raped and enslaved women and
minority communities fleeing ISILs children, and tortured and killed community members,
advancements and attacks. including by stoning, electrocution, and beheading.
ISIL has targeted all of Iraqs smallest religious minority
communities; its ongoing actions could well mark the
Since 2014, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region end of ancient religious communities in northern Iraq.
and its government (KRG) have played a significant After the reporting period, on March 17, 2016, Secretary of
role in providing a safe haven for religious minority State John Kerry announced that, in his judgment, ISIL is
communities fleeing ISILs advancements and attacks. responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its
The population of the KRG is approximately 5.2 million control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims
people. Since ISILs advent and the beginning of the [and] for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing
Syrian conflict, an additional 1.8 million Syrian refugees directed at these same groups and in some cases also
and Iraqi internally displaced persons (IDPs) from other against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.
parts of Iraq have flooded the KRG, straining its ability ISIL has committed horrific crimes against the
to provide sufficient humanitarian aid and services. Yazidi community, a small religious group it regards as
The pressure on the KRG to provide for communities devil worshippers and does not consider People of
that sought safety there has further strained relations the Book (the Abrahamic faiths). A 2015 U.S. Holocaust
between the KRG and Baghdad. Memorial Museum (USHMM) report found that ISIL
Even before ISILs rise, the countrys smallest reli- committed acts of genocide against the Yazidi com-
gious communities which include Catholics, Orthodox munity in the summer of 2014. According to survivor

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accounts, ISIL gave Yazidis two options: convert or face of Baghdad and in August, 67ShiaMuslims were killed
death. The USHMM documents at least 1,562 Yazidis in the Jamila Market nearSadr City. In July, 22 members
killed in the summer of 2014, including those who died of the Sunni Jubur tribe were executed north of Mosul
on Mount Sinjar from starvation and dehydration. andin October, ISIL executed 70 members of Sunni Abu
According to the United Nations, at least 16 mass graves Nimer tribe Anbar Province.
have been uncovered around Sinjar, with the remains of
likely Yazidi victims. Yazidi women and girls are subject Violations by the Iraqi Government
to mass rape, sexual slavery, assault, and forced mar- At the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, Prime Min-
riage to ISIL fighters. In January 2016, the United Nations ister al-Abadi announced that the PMF would be part of the
Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office official Iraqi state, accountable to the Ministry of Interior;
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human however, the PMF operates with significant autonomy.
Rights (OHCHR) reported that ISIL had abducted 5,838 Religious leaders, such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani,
people since August 2014: 3,192 women and 2,646 men. Iraqs top Shia cleric, publicly have called on the Iraqi
ISIL also has targeted Christian communities. In government and the Prime Minister to exert more robust
August 2015, Iraqi Defense Minister, Khaled al-Obeidi control over the PMFs actions. In spite of this, al-Abadi
reported that ISIL had killed 2,000 Iraqis in the largely has allocated at least $1 billion to the PMF from Iraqs state
Christian Nineveh Plains between January and August budget and regularly mentions the group when speaking
2015, and that more than 125,000 Christians fled to the about the Iraqi governments battles against ISIL.

Although the PMF is an effective military force in the fight against ISIL,
it and Shia militia groups under its umbrella (such as the Badr Brigades,
League of the Righteous, Hezbollah Battalions, and the Imam Ali Battalions)
also have been accused of carrying out systematic and egregious
sectarian violence against Sunni Muslims and others.

KRG for protection. In Kirkuk, ISIL has used churches Although the PMF is an effective military force in
as bases and stormed and desecrated cemeteries; it the fight against ISIL, it and Shia militia groups under its
also demolished Assyrian monasteries. In late January umbrella (such as the Badr Brigades, League of the Righ-
2016, it was reported that ISIL had destroyed the oldest teous, Hezbollah Battalions, and the Imam Ali Battal-
Christian monastery in Iraq, the St. Elijahs Monastery ions) also have been accused of carrying out systematic
in Erbil, which has been a place of worship for more than and egregious sectarian violence against Sunni Muslims
1,400 years; the destruction is believed to have occurred and others. According to reports, after the recapture of
between August and September 2014. Tikrit in March 2015, Shia militias destroyed hundreds
In addition, ISIL victimizes both Sunni and Shia of buildings in the Sunni villages of al-Dur, al-Bu Ajil,
Muslims. The group has taken responsibility for numer- and al-Alam neighborhoods. Two hundred Sunni men
ous bombings and killings throughout the countrythat also were abducted. In mid-January 2016 in Muqda-
target bothcommunities. ISIL kills and injures Shia diyah, Shia militias burned and destroyed six Sunni
Muslims indiscriminately through bombings and mosques and a Sunni marketplace. Sunni neighbors
other mass killingmethods, whereas with Sunnis, it and two journalists for Iraqis al-Sharqiya TV, a chan-
targets communities and community leaders that nel sympathetic to Iraqi Sunnis, also were executed. At
pose threats to its authority or are engaged in resis- the end of December 2015, PMF groups were reported
tance activities against it.For example, in July 2015, to be harassing Christian women who did not wear
115ShiaMuslims were killedinKhan Bani Saad, north the Islamic headscarf. Christians in Baghdad said that

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the PMF hung posters on churches and monasteries in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates,
Christian neighborhoods urging women to cover their the United Kingdom, and the United States are conducting
hair and that some Christians received threats that airstrikes. Since September 2014, over 10,000 airstrikes
they should not celebrate Christmas or New Years or have occurred, at least 7,000 of which have been in Iraq
disrespect PMF martyrs who died fighting ISIL. Human and most of which have been carried out by the United
rights groups have urged the government to hold the States. In December 2015, the United States announced
PMF and other government-sanctioned actors account- the deployment of 100 U.S. special operations forces to
able by, prosecuting them for their perpetration of extor- conduct raids, gather intelligence, free hostages, and
tions, torture, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, and seize ISIL leaders. Additionally, the anti-ISIL coalition has
abductions of non-Shia, especially Sunni, individuals. sent 6,500 troops to Iraq, 3,500 of which are American.
Through the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITAF), the United
Issues in the KRG States has allocated over $1.6 billion to train over 17,000
The Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been at the forefront ISF and over 2,500 Peshmerga personnel, as well as Iraqi
of the fight with ISIL in northern Iraq and more than 1.8 police and tribal fighters; provide military transportation
million Syrian refugees and Iraqi IDPs have flooded the vehicles, small arms and heavy weapons; and coordinate
KRG. However, at the end of the reporting period, the airlift missions. The G7, which includes the United States,
KRG had not successfully integrated minority com- also is working to stem the flow of foreign fighters and
munities into its system of governance. According to coordinate global intelligence to stop ISIL recruitment.
reports, there are no seats for Arabs, Yazidis, Kakais, In 2015, the United States provided Iraq with over
or other smaller minorities on the Kurdistan National $623 million in humanitarian aid, including to support
Council (Parliament). Additionally, there are no special- internally displaced persons in the KRG. The funding
ized ministerial positions for minority populations that supported the activities of the U.S. State Department,
would allow for qualified, legitimate representatives U.S. Agency for International Development, Interna-
from non-Kurdish groups. tional Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International
Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Childrens Fund
(UNICEF), UN Office for the Coordination of Humani-
However, at the end of the reporting tarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Population Fund (UNFPA),
period, the KRG had not successfully UN World Health Organization (WHO), UN Develop-
integrated minority communities into ment Program (UNDP), and the UN High Commissioner
its system of governance. for Refugees (UNHCR), among others. The efforts sup-
ported by the United States include camp coordination,
health and medical support, education projects, food
assistance, psychosocial support, shelter rehabilitation,
U.S. Policy and livelihood development. The United States also
The rise of ISIL in June 2014 brought with it increased U.S. continues to resettle Iraqi refugees to the United States.
involvement in Iraq. The actions of the U.S.-designated According to State Department statistics, 12,676 Iraqis
terrorist group and the threat it poses to Iraqs territo- were resettled to the United States in FY2015, second
rial integrity and security led the United States to boost only to the number of refugees resettled from Burma.
cooperation with the governments in both Baghdad and The United States continues to work with Prime Min-
the KRG and their respective security forces, the Iraqi ister al-Abadi to encourage the creation of a more inclu-
Security Forces (ISF) and the Peshmerga. The United sive government representative of Iraqs various religious
States assistance has ranged from organizing the U.S.- and ethnic communities. Salim al-Jabouri, the Sunni
led anti-ISIL coalition to conducting regular airstrikes Muslim Speaker of the House, has been working along-
to building indigenous partner capacity. The anti-ISIL side Al-Abadi to improve Sunni-Shia relations, and the
coalition, dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, includes 65 two are known to have a closer working relationship than
countries, of which Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, al-Maliki and his Sunni Speaker of the House, Osama

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al-Nujaifi. Moreover, in 2014, al-Abadi appointed Khaled charge the Ambassador-at-Large for Interna-
Al-Obaidi, a Sunni Muslim, as the Minister of Defense to tional Religious Freedom with engaging with the
lead the fight against ISIL. Numerous prominent Sunni Inter-Governmental Contact Group on Freedom of
generals also have been appointed to lead combat against Religion or Belief to coordinate similar efforts by
the group in Ramadi. Such moves have increased the other governments;
trust between the Sunni community, and specifically
Include in all military or security assistance to the
Sunni soldiers, and the Iraqi military, although sectarian
Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdistan governments a require-
relations remain strained due to previous experiences
ment that security forces are integrated to reflect
of the Sunni community under former Prime Minister
the countrys religious and ethnic diversity, and
al-Maliki and the continued actions of government-sanc-
provide training for recipient units on universal
tioned paramilitary groups like the PMF.
human rights standards and how to treat civilians,
The United States in 2015 spent over $52.49 million in
particularly religious minorities;
Iraq on good governance, rule of law and human rights,
political competition and consensus building, and civil Urge the Iraqi government to continue to prose-
society programs. The United States continues to fund cute and hold to account the Popular Mobilization
projects focused on minority issues. The Support for Forces for abuses of non-combatant Sunni Muslims
Minorities in Iraq (SMI) program is one such project. SMI and other religious minorities, and investigate and
collaborates with centers in Iraq to trains and provide prosecute perpetrators when violations occur;
assistance to the countrys minority groups so they can
Urge the parties to include the protection of rights
better represent themselves in civil society, address com-
for all Iraqis and ending discrimination as part
mon challenges, and empower women economically.
of negotiations between the KRG and the Iraqi
government on disputed territories, and press the
KRG to address alleged abuses against minorities
In addition to recommending that the U.S. government
by Kurdish officials in these areas;
designate Iraq a CPC, USCIRF recommends that the U.S.
government should: Continue to task Embassy officials with engaging
religious minority communities, and work with
Call for or support a referral by the UN Security
Iraqs government and these communities and
Council to the International Criminal Court (ICC)
their political and civic representatives to help them
to investigate ISIL violations in Iraq and Syria
reach agreement on what measures are needed to
against religious and ethnic minorities, following
ensure their rights and security in the country; and
the models used in Sudan and Libya, or encourage
the Iraqi government to accept ICC jurisdiction to Focus U.S. programming in Iraq on promoting
investigate ISIL violations in Iraq after June 2014; religious freedom and tolerance and ensure that
marginalized communities benefit from U.S. and
Encourage the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,
international development assistance.
in its ongoing international meetings, to work to
develop measures to protect and assist the regions The U.S. Congress should:
most vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities,
Include in the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of State,
including by increasing immediate humanitarian
Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appro-
aid, prioritizing the resettlement to third countries
priations Bill, or in another appropriate vehicle, a
of the most vulnerable, and providing longer-term
provision that would permit the U.S. government to
support in host countries for those who hope to
appropriate or allocate funds for in-kind assistance
return to their homes post-conflict;
to genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes
Develop a government-wide plan of action to pro- cases at the ICC on a case-by-case basis and when in
tect religious minorities in Iraq and help establish the national interest to provide such assistance.
the conditions for them to return to their homes;

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104 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). USCIRF

Religious freedom conditions in Nigeria continued first recommended that Nigeria be designated a CPC in
to be troubling during the reporting period. While 2009; Nigeria was on the Commissions Tier 2 (Watch
the Nigerian military successfully recaptured terri- List) from 2002-2009. The State Department has not
tory from and arrested members of Boko Haram, the designated Nigeria a CPC.
terrorist group returned to an asymmetrical warfare
campaign, including suicide bombings of mosques
and other civilian targets. It also reportedly forced Nigerias population of 180 million is equally divided
Christians to convert and forced Muslims to adhere between Muslims and Christians and is composed of
to its extreme interpretation of Islam. Boko Haram more than 250 ethnic groups. The vast majority of the
violence and recurring clashes between Muslim population of northern Nigeria identifies as Muslim,
herders and Christian farmers continue to impact and primarily is from the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group.
negatively religious freedom and interfaith relations In southwest Nigeria, which has large Christian and
in the country. The Nigerian federal government Muslim populations, the Yoruba is the largest ethnic
fails to implement effective strategies to prevent or group. Southeast Nigeria is largely Christian and is
stop terrorism and sectarian violence and it does not dominated by the Igbo ethnic group. The Middle Belt
bring to justice those responsible for such violence, in central Nigeria is home to numerous smaller ethnic
thus fostering a climate of impunity. Additionally, the groups that are predominantly Christian, with a signif-
Nigerian militarys excessive use of force against a icant Muslim population.

Polling indicates that Nigeria is one of the continents most religious nations,
that religious identity is of primary importance to many Nigerians,
and that Nigerians report high levels of distrust towards
people of other religions and high levels of concern about religious conflict.

Shia Muslim group in Kaduna in December 2015 killed Managing this diversity and developing a national
hundreds and worsened the governments relations identity has been, and continues to be, a problem
and societal tensions with that minority community. for Nigerians and the Nigerian government, espe-
Finally, religious freedom abuses continue at the state cially between its Muslim north and Christian
level, including through the application of Shariah south. Fears of ethnic and religious domination are
law. During the reporting period, a Shariah court in long-standing. Given that religious identity frequently
Kano state sentenced a Sufi cleric and five followers to falls along regional, ethnic, political, and socio-eco-
death for blasphemy. Based on these concerns, in 2016 nomic lines, it routinely provides flashpoints for vio-
USCIRF again recommends that Nigeria be designated lence. In addition, religious practice is pervasive and
as a country of particular concern or CPC, under the churches and mosques operate independently of state
control. Polling indicates that Nigeria is one of the

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continents most religious nations, that religious iden- government and impose what it considers pure
tity is of primary importance to many Nigerians, and Shariah law. Boko Haram opposes Nigerias federal
that Nigerians report high levels of distrust towards and northern state governments, political leaders,
people of other religions and high levels of concern and Muslim religious elites and has worked to expel
about religious conflict. all Christians from the north. The Council on For-
The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria includes pro- eign Relations Nigeria Security Tracker reports that
visions protecting religious freedom and prohibit- from May 2011 through December 2015, Boko Haram
ing discrimination based on religion, among other killed more than 15,000 persons; another 12,000 were
grounds. However, the implementation of some killed in fighting between Boko Haram and Nigerian
constitutional provisions in different regions result in security forces. More than 2.2 million Nigerians have
religious freedom violations. Article 147 creates the been internally displaced by Boko Haram violence,
legal category of indigenes, a term that the consti- and 180,000 have sought refuge in Cameroon, Chad,
tution does not define but is used in Nigeria to mean and Niger, according to the United Nations. In March
persons whose ethnic group is considered native to a 2015, Boko Haram pledged its allegiance to the
particular area (as opposed to so-called settlers, who Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
have ethnic roots in another part of the country). State During the reporting period, the Nigerian military,
and local governments issue certifications granting assisted by troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and
indigene status, which bestow many benefits and priv- Niger, as well as by local vigilante groups, recaptured
ileges such as political positions, access to government almost all the territory Boko Haram had seized in

During the reporting period, the Nigerian military, assisted by

troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, as well as by
local vigilante groups, recaptured almost
all the territory Boko Haram had seized in 20132014,
when it controlled an area roughly the size of Belgium.

employment, and lower school fees. In Nigerias Mid- 20132014, when it controlled an area roughly the size
dle Belt, indigene and settler identities often fall along of Belgium. Since he assumed office in May, President
ethnic and religious lines, leading to ethno-religious Muhammadu Buhari and his government sought to
violence over who controls local governments to deter- improve their effectiveness in fighting Boko Haram,
mine indigene status and distribute the correspond- including by: relocating the countering Boko Haram
ing benefits. The constitutions federalism provisions command and control center to Maiduguri; initiating
also create an overly centralized rule-of-law system corruption cases against former senior government offi-
that hinders effective and timely police responses to cials charging that they stole money earmarked for arms
sectarian violence and impedes prosecutions. In 12 and operations to defeat terrorists; addressing morale
Muslim-majority northern Nigerian states, federalism issues in the army; training religious leaders and their
has allowed the adoption Shariah law in the states congregations on how to provide security for houses
criminal codes. of worship and other religious sites; and many other
smaller initiatives.
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 However, while Boko Haram lost territory, it
Boko Haram reverted to asymmetrical attacks and expanded its
Boko Haram is a terrorist organization engaged in an violence into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. During
insurgent campaign to overthrow Nigerias secular the reporting period, terrorists attacked at least 30

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houses of worship and religious ceremonies in the Lake Clashes with the Islamic Movement of Nigeria
Chad Basin area, including suicide bombings during Between December 12 and 14, the Nigerian army
Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, and Ashura. Boko Haram also killed, injured, and detained hundreds of Islamic
attacked markets, internally displaced persons (IDP) Movement of Nigeria (IMN) members in Zaria,
camps, and small villages, which were completely Kaduna state. The IMN is a Shia Muslim movement
destroyed. Human rights groups and escaped Boko dedicated to the creation of an Islamic state in north-
Haram abductees report that Christians under Boko ern Nigeria. On December 12, IMN members blocked
Haram control were forced to convert or die and that the procession of the armys chief of staff. Following
Muslim abductees were required to attend Quranic this incident, soldiers fired on IMN members, kill-
schools to learn the groups extreme interpretation of ing at least 300, and the army destroyed the groups
Islam. There are also reports that Boko Haram applied spiritual headquarters. The groups leader, Sheikh
hudood punishments in its camps. Ibrahim Zakzaky, was severely injured and detained;

During the reporting period, terrorists attacked

at least 30 houses of worship and religious ceremonies in the
Lake Chad Basin area, including suicide bombings
during Ramadan, Eid al-Adha, and Ashura.

The Nigerian governments efforts against Boko Zakzakys son and other leaders were among those
Haram continue to be primarily military actions. While killed. The Nigerian army claimed its actions were
it has announced multiple initiatives to support Boko in response to an IMN assassination attempt on the
Harams victims and address the economic and educa- chief of staff, although there is no evidence of this. The
tional issues driving conflict, there have been no con- December 2015 confrontation followed a similar, but
crete actions. A December 2015 comprehensive confer- smaller, clash in 2014, which resulted in the death of
ence for the northeast was delayed indefinitely, and it is three of Zakzakys sons.
unclear who in the Nigerian government is responsible Five separate investigations into the incident were
for Northeastern affairs. Further, the Nigerian govern- ongoing as of the end of the reporting period, with
ment is doing little to counter radicalization among the leading one by the Kaduna State Commission of
potential Boko Haram recruits. Inquiry. However, by the end of the reporting period,
In last years annual report, USCIRF raised con- the IMN had refused to cooperate with the Commis-
cerns about the Nigerian militarys use of excessive sion until its members or lawyers would be able to
force in its campaign against Boko Haram. During the access Zakzaky who remains detained. On February
reporting period, there were few reports of such military 10, Nigerian prosecutors charged 191 IMN members
abuses, although little is known about the militarys with illegal possession of firearms, causing a public
actions in Borno state. On a positive note, in December disturbance, and incitement.
2015, the Chief of Staff of the Nigerian army announced Sunni-Shia relations in Nigeria have worsened
that the army and the Nigerian Bar Association will since the December 2015 clash. While Nigerias
jointly monitor Nigerian military activities to ensure predominantly Sunni community always has been
compliance with human rights protections. Finally, opposed to the IMN, religious leaders in the past
despite routine reports of arrests of Boko Haram fighters denounced the governments excessive force in other
or terrorist defections, there are very few trials and IMN-government clashes, including the 2014 inci-
convictions. Rather, those arrested remain in military dent. Similar denunciations were not issued following
detention without charge. the December 2015 violence. Further, an increasing

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 107
number of Sufi clerics, including Emir Sanusi, have in police stations and their weapons and other evidence
rejected the IMN on theological grounds. Previously, commingled, making it nearly impossible to link indi-
only Salafi clerics were known to make anti-Shia vidual suspects to any specific crime. Additionally, the
comments. security forces frequently fail to follow up on complaints
from victims identifying their perpetrators, leading many
Sectarian Violence victims to stop making such reports. The polices failure
Since 1999, violence between Christian and Muslim to respond to and investigate religious violence impedes
communities in Nigeria, particularly in the Middle Belt prosecutions, which fosters an atmosphere of impunity.
states, has resulted in the deaths of more than 18,000 In addition, in some cases, federal and state attorneys
people, displaced hundreds of thousands, and dam- general argue over jurisdiction.
aged or destroyed thousands of churches, mosques, As in previous reporting periods, the Nigerian
businesses, homes, and other structures. While this federal and state government response was non-existent
violence usually does not start as a religious conflict, it or ineffective. President Buhari created a committee to
often takes on religious undertones and is perceived as a investigate herder-farmer violence, but has not imple-
religion-based conflict for many involved. mented the committees recommendation to create
In recent years, this violence has occurred primar- grazing reserves for cattle herders.
ily in rural areas. Recurrent violence between predom-
inantly Christian farmers and predominantly Muslim State-Level Religious Freedom Concerns
nomadic herders in rural areas continued in 2015 and Twelve Muslim-majority northern Nigerian states apply
early 2016 and has resulted in hundreds of deaths their interpretation of Shariah law in their criminal
and destroyed a number of churches. While disputes codes. Shariah criminal provisions and penalties
over land and cattle grazing rights for Muslim herders remain on the books in these 12 states, although appli-
occur in many Nigerian regions, Christian and Muslim cation varies by location. State governments in Bauchi,
communities in the religiously-balkanized Middle Belt Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna, Jigawa, Gombe, and Kano
states view these conflicts in religious terms. Once fight- funded and supported Hisbah, or religious police, to
ing starts, the communities view the conflict in terms of enforce such interpretations.

While disputes over land and cattle grazing rights for

Muslim herders occur in many Nigerian regions,
Christian and Muslim communities in the religiously-balkanized
Middle Belt states view these conflicts in religious terms.

protecting their religious community from violence, not The vast majority of the Shariah cases revolve
about land. around criminal acts such as cattle rustling and petty
Nigerian security services have long failed to theft. However, on January 5, 2016, a Kano Shariah
respond adequately to this violence. The police a federal Court sentenced Tijaniyya Sufi Muslim cleric Abdul
entity commanded from Abuja, not by state governors Nyass to death for derogatory remarks against the
are rarely deployed, let alone in a timely manner. Rather, Prophet Mohammed. Five of his followers were likewise
the military eventually is called in to end the violence, found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death in
often with excessive force, indiscriminate shooting, and July; an additional four were acquitted. Nyass and his
extrajudicial killings. During or immediately following followers are appealing the convictions and sentences.
most episodes of violence, the police or military round Christian leaders in the northern states report that
up hundreds of persons; the suspects are then housed state governments discriminate against Christians

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in denying applications to build or repair places of to improve the relationship. In July 2015, Secretary Kerry
worship, access to education, and representation in called President Buhari a ready and willing partner.
government bodies and employment. In November, in The U.S. government has a large military assis-
Zamfara state, properties of Anglican, Catholic, and tance and anti-terrorism program in Nigeria to stop
Christian Corpers Fellowship churches were destroyed Boko Haram. The United States has designated Boko
due to a zoning error. The Zamfara governor prom- Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), and
ised to reimburse the communities for the destroyed has designated as terrorists, imposed economic sanc-
properties, but at the end of the reporting period, the tions on, and offered rewards for the capture of several
churches had not received any compensation. Boko Haram leaders. It also has supported UN Security
Reports of discrimination against Muslims in Council sanctions on Boko Haram to prohibit arms
southern states continued in 2015. Lagos State bans the sales, freeze assets, and restrict movement. In 2014,
wearing of the Islamic headscarf in all state schools. following the kidnappings of almost 200 schoolgirls

Christian leaders in the northern states report that

state governments discriminate against Christians in denying
applications to build or repair places of worship, access to education,
and representation in government bodies and employment.

U.S. Policy in Chibok, President Barack Obama sent to Abuja a

Nigeria is a strategic U.S. economic and security part- multi-disciplinary team composed of humanitarian
ner in Sub-Saharan Africa. Senior Obama Administra- experts, U.S. military personnel, law enforcement advi-
tion officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry sors, investigators, and hostage negotiation, strategic
and other senior State Department officials, regularly communication, civilian security and intelligence
visit the country. The United States is Nigerias largest experts to advise Nigerian officials and help secure the
trading partner. Nigeria is the second largest recipient return of the kidnapped girls. In September 2015, the
of U.S. foreign assistance in Africa and the United States White House announced it would provide $45 million
is the largest bilateral donor to Nigeria. Nigerias impor- to Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria to fight
tance to U.S. foreign policy was demonstrated in 2010 Boko Haram, including providing military training,
with the establishment of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National equipment, and intelligence for the regional force to
Commission. The Bi-National Commission has four fight the terrorist group. In October, President Obama
working groups, on good governance, terrorism and informed the U.S. Congress that he planned to send 300
security, energy and investment, and food security and U.S. troops and surveillance drones to Cameroon to
agricultural development. provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
Bilateral relations improved following Nigerias support. In January 2016, the U.S. government donated
successful presidential elections in April 2015, which 24 Mine-Resistant Armor-Protected vehicles to Nigerias
resulted in a peaceful political transition. Prior to the military authorities. U.S. officials also are considering
inauguration of President Buhari, U.S. officials unsuc- the deployment of U.S. Special Operations personnel
cessfully urged the Nigerian government to expand to serve in noncombatant advisory roles. However, in
its campaign against Boko Haram beyond its military compliance with the Leahy Amendment, U.S. security
approach, address problems of economic and political assistance to the Nigerian military is limited due to
marginalization in the north, and end Nigerian security concerns of gross human rights violations by Nigerian
forces excessive use of force in response to Boko Haram. soldiers. Additionally, both USAID and the State Depart-
Following President Buharis victory, both nations sought ment support counter-radicalization communication

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programs in northeast Nigeria. Furthermore, across the violence and terrorism and suspected and/or
Lake Chad Basin region, the United States has provided accused perpetrators;
more than $195 million in humanitarian assistance for
develop the capability to monitor patterns in the
persons fleeing Boko Haram.
timing and location of sectarian violence and ter-
rorism as it occurs, and to rapidly deploy special-
ized police and joint security units to prevent and
The State Department and combat such violence;
USAID fund programs on conflict develop effective conflict-prevention and ear-
mitigation and improving interfaith ly-warning mechanisms at the local, state, and
relations in line with federal levels using practical and implementable
USCIRF recommendations.... criteria;

advise the Nigerian government in the develop-

ment of counter- and de-radicalization programs;
The State Department and USAID fund programs
on conflict mitigation and improving interfaith relations ensure that all military and police training
in line with USCIRF recommendations, including a educates officers on international human rights
multi-year capacity-building grant to the Kaduna Inter- standards; and
faith Mediation Center to address ethnic and religious
develop a system whereby security officers
violence across the country.
accused of excessive use of force and other
human rights abuses are investigated and held
Nigeria has the capacity to improve religious freedom
conditions by more fully and effectively countering Hold a joint session of the U.S.-Nigeria Bi-National
Boko Haram and sectarian violence, and will only Commission working groups on good governance
realize respect for human rights, security, stability, and and security to address issues of Nigerias recurrent
economic prosperity if it does so. For these reasons, sectarian violence and failure to prosecute perpe-
USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government desig- trators;
nate Nigeria a CPC. In addition, USCIRF recommends
Encourage the Nigerian government to work
that the U.S. government should:
with Muslim herders to demarcate and establish
Seek to enter into a binding agreement with the reserved pastures and routes for the cattle grazing
Nigerian government, as defined in section 405(c) and migrations to reduce sectarian conflicts in the
of IRFA, and be prepared to provide financial and Middle Belt;
technical support to help the Nigerian government
Expand engagement with Middle Belt and northern
undertake reforms to address policies leading to
religious leaders and elders on universal human
violations of religious freedom, including but not
rights, including freedom of religion or belief;
limited to the following:
Continue to support civil society and faith-based
professionalize and train specialized police
organizations at the national, regional, state,
and joint security units to respond to sectar-
and local levels that have special expertise and a
ian violence and acts of terrorism, including in
demonstrated commitment to intra-religious and
counter-terrorism, investigative techniques,
interreligious dialogue, religious education, recon-
community policing, non-lethal crowd control,
ciliation and conflict prevention;
and conflict prevention methods and capacities;
Encourage the Nigerian government to increase
conduct professional and thorough investigations
funding and implementation of initiatives for
of and prosecute future incidents of sectarian

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development assistance, counter radicalization, and

conflict mitigation in northeast Nigeria;

Assist non-governmental organizations working to

reduce tensions related to the reintegration of vic-
tims of Boko Haram, including youth and women,
and of former Boko Haram fighters; and

Ensure that U.S-funded education efforts in north-

ern Nigeria to increase access to schools and reform
traditional Islamic schools include lessons on the
promotion of freedom of religion or belief, toler-
ance, and human rights.

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Key Findings Hindus, Parsis/Zoroastrians, Bahais, Sikhs, Buddhists,

In 2015, the Pakistani government continued to perpe- and others. However, Shia Muslim, Christian, and
trate and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious Hindu groups believe their communities are larger than
religious freedom violations. Religiously-discriminatory the census reported. An estimated two to four million
constitutional provisions and legislation, such as the Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but Pakistani
countrys blasphemy law and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, law does not recognize them as such.
intrinsically violate international standards of free- Pakistans religious freedom environment has long
dom of religion or belief and result in prosecutions and been marred by religiously-discriminatory constitu-
imprisonments. The actions of non-state actors, includ- tional provisions and legislation, including its blas-
ing U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations phemy laws. For years, the Pakistani government has
such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike,
continue to threaten all Pakistanis and the countrys from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence. Paki-
overall security. Religious minority communities, stani authorities also have failed to consistently bring
including Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims, Christians, perpetrators to justice or take action against societal
and Hindus, experience chronic sectarian and religious- actors who incite violence. In addition, U.S.-designated
ly-motivated violence from both terrorist organizations terrorist organizations, such as the Pakistani Taliban,
and individuals within society. The governments failure pose a significant security challenge to the government,
to provide adequate protection for likely targets of such targeting Pakistani civilians, governmental offices, and
violence or prosecute perpetrators has created a deep- military locations.
rooted climate of impunity. Discriminatory content
against minorities in provincial textbooks remains a
significant concern, as are reports of forced conversions For years, the Pakistani government
and marriages of Christian and Hindu girls and women. has failed to protect citizens, minority
While the Pakistani government has taken some steps and majority alike, from sectarian and
over the last two years to address egregious religious religiously-motivated violence.
freedom violations, it has failed to implement systemic
changes. Accordingly, USCIRF again recommends in
2016 that Pakistan be designated a country of particu-
lar concern, or CPC, under the International Religious Over the past several years, Prime Minister Nawaz
Freedom Act (IRFA), as it has recommended since 2002. Sharif and his party have taken steps to address some
of these issues. Following the December 2014 Pakistani
Background Taliban attack on an army school that killed 130 children,
Pakistan is an ethnically and religiously diverse country the government announced a 20-point National Action
of over 190 million people. According to the last official Plan (NAP) to address terrorism, attacks on minority
census, in 1998, 95 percent of the population identified communities, and hate speech and literature intended
as Muslim; of that 75 percent identified as Sunni and to incite violence. In November 2015, the government
25 percent as Shia. The remaining five percent were declared the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) inde-
adherents of non-Muslim faiths, including Christians, pendent from the Ministry of Law and Justice (MoLJ). The
mandate of the MoLJ includes defending the state against

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human rights complaints, which could conflict with the sentenced, religious minority communities are dispro-
mandate of the MoHR to redress human rights violations, portionately the victims of blasphemy allegations and
including those perpetrated by the state. In May 2015, arrests, as compared to their percentage of the countrys
the government authorized the countrys first indepen- population. The non-governmental National Commis-
dent National Commission for Human Rights, with the sion for Justice and Peace has reported that in 2014, 105
ability to conduct inquiries and take action, but provided people were charged with blasphemy: 11 Ahmadis, 7
it no budget. In June 2014, the Supreme Court ordered Christians, 5 Hindus, and 82 Muslims. In February 2015,
the federal government to establish a special police the Punjab Prosecution Department and provincial
force to protect religious minorities and to revise biased judiciary announced that they had reviewed 262 blas-
school curricula, but the government has not made any phemy cases awaiting trial and recommended that 50
progress on either. Overall, implementation of these and be reviewed for dismissal because the accused had been
other steps by the government have fallen short. Societal victimized by complainants. No religious minorities
violence and terrorist activity continues, and inherently were included in the review.
discriminatory laws remain.
In March 2015, a USCIRF delegation made its first-
ever Commissioner-level visit to Pakistan. Commission-
ers met with high-ranking Pakistani officials, including
USCIRF is aware of nearly
National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, as well as offi-
40 individuals currently sentenced to
cials in the Ministries of Interior and Religious Affairs.
death or serving life sentences for
Tragically, suicide bombers affiliated with the Pakistani
blasphemy in Pakistan.
Taliban attacked two churches in Lahore the day the
USCIRF delegation departed Pakistan.
During the reporting period, Pakistans Supreme
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 Court suspended the death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a
Blasphemy Laws Christian woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after
Sections 295 and 298 of Pakistans Penal Code crimi- a dispute with co-workers, until her appeal could be
nalize acts and speech that insult a religion or religious heard. She remains imprisoned, is in poor health, and
beliefs or defile the Quran, the Prophet Muhammad, a in October 2015 was put into isolation due to concerns
place of worship, or religious symbols. These provisions for her safety. On February 29, 2016, Mumtaz Qadri was
inherently violate international standards of freedom of executed by hanging for the murder of Punjab gover-
religion or belief, as they protect beliefs over individuals. nor Salman Taseer, who had spoken out in support of
Accusers are not required to present any evidence that Mrs. Bibi. In the last year, there has been no progress
blasphemy occurred, which leads to abuse, including in prosecuting individuals for the 2011 assassination of
false accusations. There are no penalties for false alle- Minister of Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian
gations, though they may exist in other criminal code who had called for blasphemy law reform.
provisions. Moreover, the law sets severe punishments, In January 2016, Muhammad Khan Sherani, the
including death or life in prison, which have been Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, called on
levied against religious minorities including Christians, the government to refer the blasphemy law to his council
Hindus, and Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims, as well as for review. The Council of Ideology is a constitutional
Sunni Muslims. USCIRF is aware of nearly 40 individu- body that advises the Pakistani government on whether
als currently sentenced to death or serving life sentences legislation is compatible with Islam and Islamic law.
for blasphemy in Pakistan.
An estimated two-thirds of all blasphemy cases in Anti-Ahmadiyya Laws
Pakistan occur in Punjab province, where the majority Ahmadis are subject to severe legal restrictions, and
of Pakistans religious minorities reside. While Muslims suffer from officially-sanctioned discrimination. Sep-
represent the greatest number of individuals charged or tember 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of Pakistans

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second amendment, which amended the constitution 70 new intolerant or biased passages were added.
to declare Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. Additionally, Fifty-eight of these passages came from textbooks used
sub-clauses B and C of Penal Code Section 298 make it in the Baluchistan and Sindh provinces, while 12 came
criminal for Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims; from the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.
preach, propagate, or disseminate materials on their Overall, the report found that Pakistani textbooks con-
faith; or refer to their houses of worship as mosques. tinue to teach bias against and distrust of non-Muslims
They also are prevented from voting. and any faith other than Islam, and portray them as

In early 2016, USCIRF released a new report,

Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public Textbooks,
a follow-up to its 2011 study, Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious
Discrimination in Pakistan. The 2016 report found that while
16 problematic passages outlined in the 2011 report were removed,
70 new intolerant or biased passages were added.

In November 2015, in Jhelum, Punjab province, inferior. Moreover, the textbooks portray non-Muslims
a mob set ablaze a factory owned by members of the in Pakistan as non-Pakistani or sympathetic towards
Ahmadiyya community. Reportedly, the mob attacked Pakistans perceived enemies Pakistani Christians as
the factory after a person who worked there was accused Westerners or British colonial oppressors and Pakistani
of desecrating the Quran. An Ahmadiyya mosque Hindus as Indians. These portrayals stoke pre-existing
nearby was burned and looted the following day. Three societal tensions and create a negative climate for Paki-
individuals were arrested for their role in the factory stans religious minority communities.
attack, but no further information was available by the
end of the reporting period. Forced Conversions
In January 2016, Shakoor Shakoor, an optician and Forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls and
store owner in Rabwah, Punjab province, was sentenced young women into Islam and forced marriage remains a
to five years in prison on blasphemy charges and three systemic problem. In October 2014, the Pakistan-based
years on terrorism charges, to be served concurrently, Aurat Foundation reported that around 1,000 girls, many
for propagating the Ahmadiyya Muslim faith by selling under the age of 18, are forcibly converted to Islam each
copies of the Quran and Ahmadiyya publications. His year, mostly through forced marriages or bonded labor.
Shia Muslim store manager, Mazhar Sipra, also was According to the report, public pressure on the police
sentenced to 5 years on terrorism charges. Both have often leads to inadequate or biased investigations in these
appealed their sentences. cases and the girls and their families face intimidation to
say they converted willingly. Hindu and Christian women
Education are particularly vulnerable to these crimes. Pakistani
Discriminatory content against religious minorities law, except in one province, does not recognize Hindu
in provincial textbooks remains a significant concern. marriages. In February 2016, Sindh province passed a law
In early 2016, USCIRF released a new report, Teach- to allow the Hindu community to officially register their
ing Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public marriages. The law is also retroactive, allowing previously
Textbooks, a follow-up to its 2011 study, Connecting married couples to register. Reportedly, the National
the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Assembly is considering a bill that would pertain to all
Pakistan. The 2016 report found that while 16 problem- Hindu marriages throughout the country. Christian mar-
atic passages outlined in the 2011 report were removed, riages are recognized through the Marriage Act of 1872.

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Targeted Sectarian Violence idential term in 2017. Therefore, U.S. reliance on Pakistan
Numerous terrorist groups are active in Pakistan, is unlikely to change in the next year. Additionally, the
creating a serious security and stability threat to the United States, Pakistan, and China are engaged in the
region, the country, and its people, especially reli- Afghan peace process. These three countries, along with
gious minority communities. In addition to attacking Afghanistan, are working together to create a roadmap
government and military sites, the Pakistani Taliban for restarting a negotiated peace between the Afghan
has been a major persecutor of religious minorities, as government and the Afghani Taliban.
well as Sunni Muslims who oppose their religious and The United States and Pakistan established a
political agenda. In December 2015, Pakistani Taliban Strategic Dialogue in 2010 to discuss topics such as the
spokesperson Muhammad Khorsani claimed that the economy and trade; energy; security; strategic stability
group carried out 136 attacks in 2015 that killed more and non-proliferation; law enforcement and counter-ter-
than 680 people. rorism; science and technology, education; agriculture;
Early attempts in 2014 to negotiate peace with the water; health; and communications and public diplo-
Pakistani Taliban dissolved after repeated attacks, macy. Human rights are not included in the Dialogue
which spurred a major Pakistani military offensive structure. Although the Dialogue was dormant for some
that continues. These significant challenges notwith- time, in January 2015 Secretary Kerry traveled to Islam-
standing, religious minority communities view the abad for ministerial meetings.
Pakistani government as unwilling to stem the violent The aid relationship with Pakistan is complex
attacks against them by terrorist organizations like the and changing. In October 2009, President Obama
Pakistani Taliban or bring the attackers to justice, and signed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act
believe that some government officials and local police (also known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act), autho-
may be sympathetic to the violent acts. rizing an additional $7.5 billion ($1.5 billion annually
During the reporting period, religious minority com- over five years) in mostly non-military assistance to
munities suffered numerous violent attacks. For example, Pakistan. However, the $1.5 billion amount was only
in March 2015, two Christian churches in Youhanabad met in the first year, and the appropriated amount was
town in Lahore, Punjab province, were bombed, killing approximately one-third of that each year since. The
at least 15 people and injuring 70. The Pakistani Taliban Act expired in 2014. Congress has placed certification
claimed that it had carried out the attack, and in August requirements on U.S. military assistance to Pakistan
2015, five individuals were arrested. In May 2015, 43 Shia focusing on counterterrorism cooperation. The State
Muslims were killed in the southern city of Karachi by a Department notified Congress that the Obama admin-
splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban called Jundullah. istration would waive the certification requirements in
The Pakistani Taliban reportedly has killed 1,000 Shia July 2014. However, in August 2015, the United States
Muslims in the last two years. threatened to withhold nearly $300 million of military
support funding because Pakistan did not do enough
U.S. Policy to stem terrorist activity. Non-military U.S. aid dramat-
U.S.-Pakistan relations have long been marked by strain, ically increased in recent years, while military aid has
disappointment, and mistrust. Human rights and reli- ebbed and flowed over the decades of engagement. For
gious freedom have not been among the highest priorities FY2016, more than $800 million in non-military foreign
in the bilateral relationship. Pakistan has played a critical assistance is planned for Pakistan.
role in U.S. government efforts to combat al-Qaeda, the
Afghani Taliban, and other terrorist organization in the Recommendations
areas. The United States relies on Pakistan for transport of Promoting respect for freedom of religion or belief must
supplies and ground lines of communication to Afghan- be an integral part of U.S. policy in Pakistan, and desig-
istan. In October 2015, President Obama announced that nating Pakistan a CPC would enable the United States to
the United States would halt the withdrawal of American more effectively press Islamabad to undertake needed
military forces from Afghanistan until the end of his pres- reforms. The forces that target religious minorities and

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members of the majority faith present a human rights Urge the Pakistani government and provincial gov-
and security challenge to Pakistan and the United States. ernments to review all cases of individuals charged
USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should: with blasphemy in order to release those subjected
to abusive charges, as is underway in Punjab,
Designate Pakistan as a CPC for engaging in and
while still calling for the unconditional release and
tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious
pardoning of all individuals sentenced to prison for
violations of freedom of religion or belief;
blasphemy or for violating anti-Ahmadiyya laws;
As a consequence of CPC designation, work to reach
Work with federal and provincial parliamentarians
a binding agreement with the Pakistani govern-
to support the passage of marriage bills recognizing
ment on steps to be delisted and avoid Presidential
Hindu and Christian marriages;
actions; such an agreement should be accompanied
by U.S.-provided resources for related capacity Call for the repeal of the blasphemy law and the
building through the State Department and USAID rescinding of anti-Ahmadiyya provisions of law;
mechanisms; until those steps can be accomplished, urge the
Pakistani government to reform the blasphemy law
Press the Pakistani government to implement
by making blasphemy a bailable offense and/or by
its Supreme Courts decision to create a special
adding penalties for false accusations or enforcing
police force to protect religious groups from
such penalties found elsewhere in the penal code;
violence and actively prosecute perpetrators, both
individuals involved in mob attacks and members Ensure that a portion of U.S. security assistance is
of militant groups; used to help police implement an effective plan for
dedicated protection for religious minority commu-
Recognize the unique governmental offices focus-
nities and their places of worship; and
ing on religious tolerance at the federal and pro-
vincial levels by including discussions on religious Provide USAID capacity-building funding to the pro-
freedom in U.S.-Pakistan dialogues or by creating a vincial Ministries of Minority Affairs, and work with
special track of bilateral engagement about govern- Pakistans government and minority religious com-
ment efforts to promote interfaith harmony; munities to help them reach agreement on measures
to ensure their rights and security in the country.
Work with international partners to raise religious
freedom concerns with Pakistani officials in Islam-
abad and in multilateral settings, and to encourage
the Pakistani government to invite the UN Special
Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief for a
country visit;

Encourage national textbook and curricula stan-

dards that actively promote tolerance towards
members of all religions, both in government
schools and the madrassa system overseen by the
religious affairs ministry;

Encourage the government of Pakistan to launch

a public information campaign about the historic
role played by religious minorities in the country,
their contributions to Pakistani society, and their
equal rights and protections; either in parallel or
independently, use the tools of U.S. public diplo-
macy to highlight similar themes;

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Key Findings forces were permitted to perpetrate egregious human

Syrias religious communities are largely deprived of rights abuses to oppress anyone critical of the govern-
religious freedom due to the actions of President Bashar ment. An adherent of the minority Alawite community,
al-Assads regime, elements of the armed opposition, an off-shoot of Shia Islam, Hafez al-Assad named
and U.S.-designated terrorist groups, in particular the himself president in 1970. To maintain control over
al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State all aspects of Syrian society, he placed Alawites loyal
of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), among others. The Syrian to him in key positions of his government, army, and
crisis has evolved into a largely sectarian conflict. The security forces and oppressed political opposition from
al-Assad regime continues to targetArab Sunni Muslim the majority Sunni Arab population. Following Hafezs
civilians and other individuals or groups that oppose June 2000 death, he was succeeded by his son, Bashar.
it, including through indiscriminate bombings, sieges, While there were hopes that Bashar al-Assad would
starvation, and the use of chemical weapons. ISIL tar- usher in a new political openness, he maintained his
gets the regime and its supporters, religious minorities, fathers status quo of strict political restrictions to
and any Muslims opposing its violent version of Islamist oppress any opposition.
ideology. Syrian and international groups alike have In March 2011, the current Syrian conflict began,
documented attacks on places of worship, kidnappings with peaceful protests initially calling for democratic
and killings of religious leaders, and public beheadings reforms, a repeal of the abusive emergency law, and
and mass murders of anyone who does not submit to space for political parties to compete with the ruling
the control and authority of ISIL. Due to the collective Baathist party. As more protests were held around the
actions of the Bashar al-Assad regime, elements of country, President al-Assad ordered a brutal crackdown
the armed opposition, and U.S.-designated terrorist to discourage the gatherings that were widely covered
groups, USCIRF again recommends in 2016 that Syria be by the international media. As a result, violence quickly
designated as a country of particular concern, or CPC, escalated across the country. Bymid-to-late 2012, the
under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), strife between the government and protesters had
as it has recommended since 2014. turned into a full-blown military confrontation.

The al-Assad regime continues to target Arab Sunni Muslim civilians and
other individuals or groups that oppose it, including through
indiscriminate bombings, sieges, starvation, and the use of chemical weapons.

Background In mid-2011, the government released numerous

The al-Assad familys brutal authoritarian rule for over prisoners previously designated as Islamic funda-
40 years created the political conditions for the current mentalists, including prominent Sunnis who became
conflict. Under both Hafez and Bashar al-Assad, no leaders in Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIL, and other factions,
political opposition was allowed and Syrian security and facilitated the Islamization of the armed oppo-
sition.President al-Assad and his regime played on

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sectarian fears, repeatedly stating it was fighting opposition have not successfully attracted ethno-sec-
extreme Islamist factions that were acting to increase tarian minorities to join their ranks, leaving commu-
sectarian tensions. Five years into the conflict, many nities such as the Kurds, Druze, and Christians feeling
Sunni Muslims have come to associate Alawites and disenfranchised and sidelined in the political process,
Shia Muslims with the regime of President al-Assad, even if they are not supportive of the al-Assad regime.
an Alawite himself, and many Alawites, Shia Muslims, While minority groups have not been driven out of
Christians and other groups believe that they will be opposition-controlled areas, they have felt the need to
killed by ISIL and other extremist Sunni groups if the maintain a low profile, sometimes adopting Muslim
al-Assad government falls. attire and avoiding going to their religious institutions
The involvement of international actors has pro- so as not to attract attention.
duced mixed results, but in many cases it has contrib- ISIL has attacked pro-Assad and anti-Assad groups
uted to increased ethno-sectarian tensions throughout alike, and while it managed to seize significant terri-
the country. The Iranian-backed, U.S.-designated ter- tory in 2014, it lost territory in 2015. According to some
rorist group, Hezbollah, has provided military support estimates, ISIL has lost 10 to 20 percent of its territory
for the Syrian Arab Army. Human rights groups have in Syria, along with oil wells, refineries, and military
documented Hezbollahs sectarian rhetoric against bases. Despite military setbacks inflicted by the U.S.-
Sunni Muslims. Additionally, ceasefire and negotia- led anti-ISIL coalition and the armed opposition, ISILs
tions overseen and at times orchestrated by Iran method of governance continues to be brutal. Reports
and Hezbollah have facilitated the forced relocation have emerged from all groups, including Muslims,
of Sunni Muslims to northern Syria and Shia Muslims Christians, Ismailis, and others, of gross human rights
to Damascus. The Russian government denies calling violations, including beheading, rape, murder, torture
its intervention in Syria a holy war and disputes the of civilians and religious figures, and the destruction of
authenticity of pictures of Russian Orthodox priests mosques and churches.

Reports have emerged from all groups, including Muslims, Christians,

Ismailis, and others, of gross human rights violations, including beheading,
rape, murder, torture of civilians and religious figures, and the
destruction of mosques and churches.

blessing missiles headed to Syria. However, it consis- More than five years of conflict has led to a dev-
tently has compared even the moderate elements of the astating humanitarian crisis. The death toll is signifi-
armed opposition to extremist Chechen rebels in an cantly greater than 250,000 according to most sources.
attempt to delegitimize their aims. Additionally, as of As of January 2016, more than 4.7 million Syrians
September 2015, according to Russias Federal Migra- were registered with UNHCR as refugees in neighbor-
tion service, only 2,000 of the 12,000 Syrian refugees ing countries, more than 6.5 million were internally
in Russia (most of whom are Muslim Circassians) have displaced, and over 140,000 children had been born
legal status. Meanwhile, the armed opposition, which stateless. Such large numbers of refugees are strain-
has received support from various countries including ing resources and exacerbating sectarian tensions in
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, has been led primar- neighboring countries.
ily by Islamist factions on the ground. Many of these Prior to the onset of the conflict in 2011, Syria was
groups have establishedShariahcourts and imposed home to a multitude of religious groups. The U.S. govern-
Islamic regulations, such as prohibiting the sale and ment, based on official Syrian government figures, esti-
consumption of alcohol. The political and military mates that the countrys religious demography before the

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conflict was as follows: 87 percent Muslim (comprising 74 ment forces. Members of the Christian community also
percent Sunni and 13 percent Alawi, Ismaili, and Shia), 10 have been victims of the Syrian government. Since 2011,
percent Christian, three percent Druze, and a very small at least 50 Christians have been killed and at least 450
number of Jews in Damascus and Aleppo. Other 2010 remain detained, although the numbers cannot be con-
estimates include the following breakdown: 92.8 Muslim, firmed. Offices of Christian pro-democracy and charity
5.2 percent Christian, two percent unaffiliated, and all groups have been raided, and prominent Christian civil
other groups less than 0.1 percent. rights activists, humanitarian workers, and religious
leaders have been among the detained and killed.
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
Violations by al-Assad Regime and Violations by ISIL
Affiliated Groups ISIL makes little distinction between sects and ethnic-
According to human rights groups, the regime and ities in its attempt to seize and maintain control of its
its allies, Russia and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, have territory. It has established brutal governing structures
indiscriminately targeted primarily Arab Sunni Muslim that apply strict Shariah law to everyone, violating due
residential neighborhoods, market places, schools, and process and international human rights standards.
hospitals. The United Nations and many of its member Since 2014, ISIL has killed at least seven non-Syrian
states, including the United States, have reported the use journalists and humanitarian workers, including
of rape, extrajudicial killings, starvation, sniper attacks, Americans James Foley and Kayla Mueller. According
and torture by the al-Assad regime and its military in to SNHR, of the more than 5,800 individuals ISIL killed
its attempt to maintain power. In addition, paramilitary in Syria since 2014, at least 97 percent were Muslims.
units, previously known as the shabiha but now recog- ISIL reportedly has killed at least 100 individuals from
nized as the National Defense Forces, also have been religious minority communities, including 50 Chris-
accused of extortion, blackmail, kidnapping, and extra- tians. Additionally, since 2014, ISIL has kidnapped
judicial killing. The National Defense Forces have been roughly 450 Christians; it has periodically released them
described by many as mafia-like gangs modeled after in small groups (10-20 at a time) through negotiations
the Iranian Basij Resistance Force, comprised mostly of between ISIL and Sunni Arab tribes, but about 150
local Shia and Alawite fighters (including females). remain in captivity. ISIL has also kidnapped well-known

The United Nations and many of its member states, including the
United States, have reported the use of rape, extrajudicial killings,
starvation, sniper attacks, and torture by the al-Assad regime and
its military in its attempt to maintain power.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights Christian leaders, including the Italian Jesuit Priest,
(SNHR), in 2015, the Syrian regime killed more than Paolo DallOglio. The group has attacked and closed
12,000 civilians, and Russian forces killed 832 civilians. down all churches and non-Sunni mosques in areas
More than 6,909 individuals were arrested, including it controls, often destroying the buildings altogether
452 children, and 1,546 individuals died under torture. or converting them to ISIL administrative buildings
According to various sources, the regime used chemical or military bases. There also is evidence that ISIL and
weapons at least 64 times. In 2015, the regime targeted other extremist groups have seized and sold on the
at least 166 places of worship. More specifically, since black market Christian relics and artifacts. In Decem-
2011, according to various sources, 50 to 63 percent of ber 2015, USCIRF concluded that ISIL was committing
Christian places of worship were targeted by govern- genocide against the Christian, Yazidi, Shia, Turkmen,

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and Shabak communities in the areas it controls in Iraq pressure, however, the Alawites were removed from the
and Syria, and crimes against humanity against these cages the next day.
and other groups. After the reporting period, on March
17, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that, Political Opposition Groups
in his judgment, ISIL is responsible for genocide against Throughout most of 2015, the National Coalition for
groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the
Christians, and Shia Muslims [and] for crimes against organization recognized by the United States as the
humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same legitimate representative of the Syrian people, contin-
groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, ued to include insufficient minority representation. The
Kurds, and other minorities. organizations lack of funding, uncertain future, and

In Idleb and Aleppo, where al-Nusra is strongest, minority religious groups

often hide their identity (for example, Christians refrain from selling alcohol and
dress in Muslim attire), although they have not been forced from their homes.

Armed Opposition Groups intra-Syrian disputes continue to hinder its ability to

Religious freedom conditions vary by locality. Accord- protect the interests of all Syrians, especially those from
ing to reports, there are at least 228 armed opposition religious minority groups. In October 2015, the Inter-
groups, ranging from Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies to national Syria Support Group(ISSG), which includes
independent, U.S.-backed, moderate opposition groups. the United States, launched the Vienna Process. This
Not all groups have violated religious freedom to the political process aims to include Syrians from a variety
same degree. In Idleb and Aleppo, where al-Nusra is of ethno-sectarian backgrounds in political negotiations
strongest, minority religious groups often hide their with the al-Assad regime.
identity (for example, Christians refrain from selling
alcohol and dress in Muslim attire), although they have Kurdish Groups
not been forced from their homes. Some armed groups The Kurdish military group, the YPG, remains one of
have characterized clashes on the basis of religious the most capable armed groups in the fight against ISIL.
identity as individual actions not supported by a However, human rights groups have accused both the
groups leadership. For example, in June 2015, after Jaish YPG and the Kurdish administration in the de facto
al-Fateh seized control of Idleb Province, there were autonomous area of Rojava in northern Syria of demol-
clashes between villagers and al-Nusra that resulted ishing Arab and Turkmen villages and homes and ousting
in the deaths of 12 Druze accused of allying with the non-Kurdish groups from Rojava lands or preventing
regime. Waleed Jumblatt, a well-known Druze leader them from returning to their homes. Kurdish groups,
in Lebanon, was able to mediate between the two including the Rojava leadership, deny these accusations
groups, and al-Nusra attributed the killings to individ- and blame the demolitions on YPG-ISIL fighting or the
ual soldiers and punished the perpetrators. In another Syrian Arab Armys Air Force. The Rojava also denied
widely-reported incident in November 2015, the armed blocking non-Kurds from returning home, except for
group Jaish al-Islam placed 700 Alawite soldiers and families that it believed were still in communication with
their families in 100 cages throughout Eastern Ghouta. ISIL members.
The group argued that using the Alawites as human
shields was acceptable because it protected hundreds U.S. Policy
of thousands of residents under siege from aerial bom- On August 18, 2011, only five months after the conflict
bardment by the al-Assad regime. Due to international in Syria began, President Obama called on President

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al-Assad to step down and issued anexecutive order France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon,
immediately freezing all Syrian government assets Oman, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab
subject to U.S. jurisdiction. The order also prohibited Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and
Americans from engaging in any transactions involv- the United States. At the end of the reporting period, the
ing the Syrian government. In 2012, the United States ISSG had met three times: in October and November
closed its embassy in Damascus, and in March 2014, it 2015 and February 2016. This process has produced the
ordered the Syrian Embassy and consulates to close in Vienna Statement, a framework document for a Syri-
the United States. In December 2012, the U.S. govern- an-led and Syrian-owned political transition based on
ment recognized the National Coalition for Syrian the 2012 Geneva Communique.
Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the legitimate The anti-ISIL coalition, dubbed Operation Inher-
representative of the Syrian people, and in May 2014, it ent Resolve, is led by the United States, and includes
recognized the Washington, DC and New York offices 65 countries. Coalition nations conducting air strikes
as diplomatic foreign missions. However, the United are Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi
States has stopped short of recognizing the Coalition as Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the
the official government of Syria. United Kingdom. The coalition has conducted over

Since 2011, the U.S. government has provided over

$4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrians and neighboring countries dealing
with the Syrian crisis; $1.6 billion was provided in 2015 alone.

Since 2011, the U.S. government has provided over 10,000 strikes, at least 3,500 of which have been in Syria
$4.5 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrians and neigh- and most of which have been carried out by the United
boring countries dealing with the Syrian crisis; $1.6 States. As of January 2016, the total cost of the anti-
billion was provided in 2015 alone. The funding has ISIL operations exceeded $6 billion. In October 2015,
supported activities of the U.S. State Department, U.S. President Obama announced the deployment of 50 U.S.
Agency for International Development, International special operations forces to advise local forces fighting
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International ISIL but not play a direct combat role. The coalitions
Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Childrens Fund successes include the retreat of ISIL from Kobani and Tel
(UNICEF), UN Office for the Coordination of Humani- Abyad, both cities along the Turkish-Syrian border. Air
tarian Affairs (OCHA), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), support provided by the United States and its allies to
UN World Health Organization (WHO), UN Develop- the YPG in Kurdish-held areas in al-Hasakeh Province
ment Program (UNDP), and the UN High Commis- has kept ISIL from making new advances in northeast-
sioner for Refugees (UNHCR), among others. The efforts ern Syria, something ISIL was able to do effectively
supported by the United States include civil society before the air strikes.
trainings, local council capacity building, health and
medical support, education projects, food assistance, Recommendations
psychosocial support, shelter rehabilitation, and liveli- Since 2011, Syria has been a hostile place for all eth-
hood development. no-sectarian groups, including Christians, Druze, Shia
The United States continues to advocate for a and Sunni Muslims, Alawites, and Turkmen. With over
political solution to the Syria crisis. The Vienna Pro- 13.5 million people in Syria in need of humanitarian
cess, launched in October 2015, brought together the assistance, the protection of human rights and reli-
International Syria Support Group (ISSG), made up of gious freedom is especially challenging. In addition to
the Arab League, China, Egypt, the European Union, continuing to seek an end to the Syrian conflict, USCIRF

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recommends that the U.S. government should designate religious freedom and related human rights, and that
Syria a CPC and should: USCIRF and other U.S. government experts on those
issues are consulted as appropriate;
Condemn the al-Assad regimes brutal persecution
of, and crimes of humanity against, Sunni Muslims Initiate an effort among relevant UN agencies,
and others, and urge other nations to do the same; NGOs, and like-minded partners among the Global
Coalition to Combat ISIL to fund and develop
Urge the UN Security Council and its member states
programs that bolster intra- and inter-religious
to rigorously implement and comply with ratified
tolerance, alleviate sectarian tensions, and promote
resolutions, including UN Security Council resolu-
respect for religious freedom and related rights,
tions 2118 (elimination of Syrian chemical weap-
both in neighboring countries hosting refugees
ons), 2139 (calling for humanitarian access into
(especially Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey),
besieged areas and an end to barrel bombs), 2165
and in preparing for a post-conflict Syria;
(approving humanitarian access across conflict
lines), 2209 (calling for an end to the use of chlorine Commit to a goal of resettling 100,000 Syrian
bombs), and 2254 (ceasefire and road map for peace refugees to the United States, subject to proper
in Syria); vetting and a prioritization based on vulnerability,
in order to aid those Syrians in the greatest peril,
Continue to call for an International Criminal
demonstrate U.S. leadership in efforts to address
Court (ICC) investigation into crimes committed by
this extraordinary humanitarian crisis, and show
the al-Assad regime, following the models used in
support for governments in the Middle East and
Sudan and Libya;
Europe that are hosting millions of Syrian refugees;
Call for or support a referral by the UN Security
Allocate sufficient resources to the Department of
Council to the International Criminal Court to
Homeland Security and other agencies that conduct
investigate ISIL violations in Iraq and Syria against
the rigorous individualized vetting of refugees
religious and ethnic minorities;
being considered for resettlement to allow them to
Encourage the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, expeditiously process applications and thoroughly
in its ongoing international meetings, to work to conduct background checks, in order to facilitate
develop measures to protect and assist the regions resettlement without compromising U.S. national
most vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities, security;and
including by increasing immediate humanitarian
Consider issuing an exemption to U.S. immigration
aid, prioritizing the resettlement to third countries
laws material support bar provision for Syrian
of the most vulnerable, and providing longer-term
refugees who supported specific U.S.-backed rebel
support in host countries for those who hope to
groups or provided support by force or under
return to their homes post-conflict;
duress to terrorist organizations, and properly apply
Ensure that religious freedom and diversity are existing exemptions, so that Syrians who pose no
given a high priority in the Vienna Process by threat to the United States and are fleeing the al-As-
encouraging both the National Coalition for Syrian sad regime or terrorist groups are not erroneously
Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and any nego- barred from the U.S. refugee program.
tiating teams developed by the ISSG to be inclusive
The U.S. Congress should:
of all religious and ethnic groups; the ISSG should
also provide training to negotiating teams on inter- Include in the Fiscal Year 2017 Department of
national human rights standards; State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
Appropriations Bill, or in another appropriate
Ensure that U.S. government planning for a
vehicle, a provision that would permit the U.S.
post-conflict Syria is a whole-of- government effort
government to appropriate or allocate funds for
and includes consideration of issues concerning

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in-kind assistance to genocide, crimes against

humanity, or war crimes cases at the ICC on a
case-by-case basis and when in the national inter-
est to provide such assistance.

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Key Findings Russian Orthodox, but there are also Protestants and
The government of Tajikistan suppresses and pun- Roman Catholics. In addition, there are small numbers
ishes all religious activity independent of state control, of Bahais, Hare Krishnas, and Jehovahs Witnesses,
particularly the activities of Muslims, Protestants, and and fewer than 300 Jews.
Jehovahs Witnesses. Since 2009, numerous laws that Tajikistans legal environment for religious freedom
severely restrict religious freedom have been imple- has seen a sharp decline since the passage of several
mented in the country. The government also impris- highly restrictive laws in 2009. The 2009 religion law
ons individuals on unfounded criminal allegations sets onerous registration requirements for religious
linked to Islamic religious activity and affiliation. In groups; criminalizes unregistered religious activity and
2015, a Tajik court banned as extremist the Islamic private religious education and proselytism; sets strict
Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, an opposition polit- limits on the number and size of mosques; allows state
ical party that had been legal for 15 years, and 200 of interference with the appointment of imams; requires
its leaders and members reportedly were imprisoned. official permission for religious organizations to provide
Jehovahs Witnesses have been banned since 2007. religious instruction and communicate with foreign
Based on these concerns, as it has since 2012, USCIRF co-religionists; imposes state controls on the content,
again recommends in 2016 that the U.S. government publication and importation of religious materials; and
designate Tajikistan a country of particular concern, restricts Muslim prayer to mosques, cemeteries, homes,
or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act and shrines.
(IRFA).* Previously, Tajikistan was on USCIRFs Tier 2
(formerly Watch List) from 2009 to 2011.
Tajikistans legal environment for
Background religious freedom has seen a sharp
Tajikistan is an isolated and impoverished country decline since the passage of several
that experienced in the 1990s a five-year civil war that highly restrictive laws in 2009.
resulted in as many as 100,000 deaths; the official post-
war amnesty included many Tajik officials responsible
for torture. The government is weak and highly corrupt,
and 40 percent of the countrys gross domestic product In 2011 and 2012, administrative and penal code
is from labor remittances, mostly from Russia. With amendments set new penalties, including large fines
the Russian economys recent downturn, hundreds of and prison terms, for religion-related charges, such as
thousands of Tajik workers have returned home to few organizing or participating in unapproved religious
job prospects, giving rise to new social tensions. meetings. Alleged organizers of a religious extremist
Over 90 percent of Tajikistans estimated popu- study group face eight-to-12-year prison terms. A 2011
lation of 7.9 million is Muslim, most from the Hanafi law on parental responsibility banned minors from
school of Sunni Islam; about four percent are Ismaili any organized religious activity except funerals. The
Shia. Of the countrys 150,000 Christians, most are State Department has noted that Tajikistan is the only
country in the world in which the law prohibits persons
* On April 15, 2016, after this report was finalized, the State Depart-
under the age of 18 from participating in public reli-
ment designated Tajikistan as a CPC for the first time. gious activities.

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Tajikistans extremism law punishes extremist, The law prohibits headscarves in educational
terrorist, or revolutionary activities without requiring institutions, and bans teachers younger than 50 from
acts that involve violence or incitement to imminent wearing beards in public buildings. In March 2015,
violence. Trials under these charges lack due process President Rahmon condemned women wearing
and procedural safeguards. The Tajik government uses uncharacteristic dress; state television showed police
concerns over Islamist extremism to justify actions stopping 10 women in headscarves, claiming they were
against individuals taking part in certain religious prostitutes. Asia-Plus reported in January 2016 that
activities. According to the State Department, the Khatlon region law enforcement officials encouraged
Tajik governments list of groups banned as extremist 6,673 women to stop wearing Islamic headscarves
includes non-violent religiously-linked groups such as as part of a 2015 national campaign; throughout the
Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jamaat Tabligh, the Muslim Brother- country, hundreds of thousands of bearded men were
hood, and Group 24 (a Tajik political opposition group), detained by police, had their fingerprints taken, and
along with such recognized terrorist groups as al-Qaeda, were forced to shave.
the Taliban, the Islamic Group (Islamic Community of Between 2004 and 2014, the Council of Ulema
Pakistan), the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkestan, banned women from attending mosques. In 2014, it said
the Islamic Party of Turkestan (former Islamic Move- it would allow women to attend mosques and female
ment of Uzbekistan IMU), and Lashkar-e-Tayba. In students at religious schools to become imam-hatibs
September 2015, the legal Islamic Renaissance Party of (imams assistants) to work with females at mosques
Tajikistan was added to that list with women-only sections.

Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 Trials and Imprisonment of Muslims

Restrictions on Muslims During 2015, Tajik law enforcement officials continued
The law restricts Muslim prayer to four locations: to prosecute dozens for their alleged links to banned
mosques, cemeteries, homes, and shrines. Tajik officials Islamic groups or international terrorist networks. Due
monitor mosques and attendees for views they deem to Tajikistans flawed judicial system, it is almost impos-
extremist or critical of the government, place restric- sible to ascertain the accuracy of such charges.
tions on Muslim religious dress, and limit the number
and age of hajj (religious pilgrimage) participants; as of
April 2015, no one under the age of 35 can take part. The
official State Committee on Religious Affairs (SCRA) [G]roup banned as extremist
controls the selection and retention of imams and the include[d] non-violent
content of sermons. Since 2014, the government has paid religious-linked groups....
the salaries of imams of cathedral mosques; these are
the only mosques where the state allows sermons (pre-
pared in advance by the semi-official Council of Ulema.)
President Emomali Rahmon also instructed the Council The government has expressed concern over the
of Ulema to adopt a standard uniform for imams. The increasing number of Tajik officials who reportedly
Tajik NGO Sharq Analytical Center reports such policies have become Salafis or Shia Muslims, and the Salafist
have widened the gap between official and unofficial movement has been banned as extremist since 2014.
Muslim clergy, leading to popular mistrust of Muslim The Sharq Analytical Center reports that Salafism has
institutions. In July 2015, an Interior Ministry official in become increasingly popular among the Tajik elite. The
Dushanbe warned mosque-goers during Friday prayers SCRA Deputy Head has called Salafis extremist because
not to leave early, which he claimed was a sign of non- their discussions show that they are not in total agree-
Hanafi Islam; three months later the SCRA prohibited ment about Islam. Salafi Muslims now risk prosecution
Tajik state employees from attending early afternoon under three Criminal Code articles relating to extrem-
Friday prayers, the Asia-Plus news agency reported. ism, with possible five to 12-year jail terms.

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In February 2015, Tajikistans Interior Minister Hikmatulloh Saifullohzoda, Islamic scholar Zubaidul-
claimed that 200 Tajik labor migrants in Russia had joined lah Roziq, and many regional activists. They are denied
militants in Syria, RFE/RL reported, but others could not access to doctors and lawyers. The day after Saidumar
confirm that figure. General Gulmurod Khalimov, head Husaini was jailed, the former parliamentarian told
of Tajikistans Special Assignment Police Unit, said in a his defense lawyer that he had been tortured. Husainis
May 27, 2015 video that one reason he had defected to ISIL lawyer, Buzurgmehr Yorov, was also arrested. Jailed
in Syria was due to increasing restrictions on religious IRPT female lawyer Zarafo Rahmoni, has threatened
freedom in Tajikistan. suicide due to detention conditions. Amnesty Interna-
tional has expressed concern that the imprisoned IRPT
IRPT Ban activists are subjected to torture. In January 2016, three
Until last year, Tajikistan had the only legal Islamist lawyers two Turkish and one Russian were expelled
political party in the former Soviet Union, the Islamic from Tajikistan after they sought access to impris-
Renaissance Party (IRPT), which was granted such oned IRPT members. Relatives of IRPT members are
status under the countrys post-civil war peace settle- threatened by the government; after the Tajik govern-
ment. Government repression of Islamic practice is ment learned in December 2015 that Muhiddin Kabiri
often intertwined with official efforts to suppress the would speak at a public event in Washington, DC, it
IRPT, which had called for respecting Tajikistans sec- detained 10 of his relatives, including his 95-year-old
ular constitution and international religious freedom father. At least 1,000 IRPT members are reported to
commitments. In 2014, the IRPT backed a parliamen- have fled the country; the Tajik government continues
tary initiative to allow children to attend mosque and to press for their extradition. On February 9, 2016, the
in 2015 it was critical of an official campaign against Tajik Supreme Court began closed hearings in the trial
beards and headscarves. of 13 leading IRPT members accused of attempting to

Some 200 IRPT members reportedly have been imprisoned....

In late August 2015, the Tajik government ordered overthrow the government, including Mahmadali Hait
the IRPT to halt all activity. On September 17, the and Zarafo Rahmoni.
Prosecutor General accused the IRPT of instigating
violence, including a September 4 attack on a police Status of Houses of Worship
station in which 39 died. In late September, the Tajik Tajik law sets strict limits on the numbers of mosques
Supreme Court banned the IRPT as an extremist and permitted. Since 2008, the government has closed hun-
terrorist organization for its alleged role in that attack. dreds of unregistered mosques and prayer rooms and
IRPT Chair Muhiddin Kabiri forced into foreign exile demolished three unregistered mosques in Dushanbe.
asserts that the extremism charges against his party are The nations only synagogue, located in Dushanbe, was
false and politically motivated. The U.S. delegation to the bulldozed in 2008. The Jewish community later was
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe allowed to worship in a building provided by President
(OSCE) has said that it has seen no credible evidence Rakhmons brother-in-law, one of Tajikistans richest
that the IRPT as an organization was involved with the bankers. In contrast, the Aga Khan Cultural Center,
attacks in Dushanbe and surrounding towns. Central Asias first Ismaili center, opened in Dushanbe
Some 200 IRPT members reportedly have been in 2009, and Tajikistan announced that one of the
imprisoned, including former parliamentarian Saidu- worlds largest mosques, funded by Qatar, will open in
mar Husaini, Deputy Chair Mahmadali Hait, journalist Dushanbe in 2017.

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Restrictions on Religious Minorities Civil Society and Religious Issues
Small Protestant and other groups cannot obtain legal Tajik civil society is subject to increasing official pres-
status under onerous registration requirements, and sure, and Tajik non-governmental organizations are
Jehovahs Witnesses have been banned since 2007 for fearful of reporting on religious freedom conditions
allegedly causing discontent and for conscientious due to perceived dangers of government backlash.
objection to military service. Forum 18 reported on sev- During 2015, there was in increase in the presidential
eral relevant incidents: in July 2015, police in the Sogd personality cult. For example, in December 2015, Tajik
region twice detained Jehovahs Witnesses and imposed lawmakers voted to give President Emomali Rahmon
administrative punishments. In January 2015, the SCRA the title Leader of the Nation as the founder of peace
threatened to punish various Protestant churches if they and national unity of Tajikistan and grant him lifelong
did not stop allowing children to worship. immunity from prosecution. In January 2016, a leading
Muslim scholar reportedly proposed that Rahmons wife
Restrictions on Religious Literature be recognized as the leader of all Tajik women adherents
The government must approve the production, import, of Islam.
export, sale, and distribution of religious texts by regis-
tered religious groups, in effect a ban on religious mate- U.S. Policy
rials by unregistered religious groups. The Ministry of Tajikistan is strategically important for the United
Culture has confiscated religious texts, including from States, partly because Tajiks are the second largest
Jehovahs Witnesses. In August 2015, the State Com- ethnic group in Afghanistan, the countrys southern
munications Agency ordered mobile phone operator neighbor. Since 2010, the United States has expanded
Tcell to block several websites, including, a cooperation with Central Asian states, including
California-based website operated by Nuriddinjon, Haji Tajikistan, to allow it to ship cargo overland via the
Akbar and Mahmudjon, sons of prominent deceased Northern Distribution Network as U.S. and NATO
Sufi sheikh Mahamaddrafi Turajon. Two of the brothers troops in Afghanistan continue to withdraw. Tajikistan
publicly opposed the 2004 ban on womens mosque has given U.S. Special Operations Forces permission
attendance; their website hosted a question and answer to enter the country on a case-by-case basis during
section on religion, a rare venue for women to seek reli- counter-terrorism operations.
gious rulings from male Muslim leaders. Since 2010, the United States and Tajikistan have
discussed bilateral policy and economic assistance

During 2015, there was an increase in the presidential personality cult.

Restrictions on Religious Education issues through an Annual Bilateral Consultation (ABC);

A state license is required for religious instruction, and the fifth U.S.-Tajikistan ABC was held in Washington DC
both parents must give written permission for such in June 2015. The State Departments stated priorities
teaching. Only central mosques are allowed to set up in Tajikistan include increasing respect for the rights of
educational groups. As of 2013, the activities of seven Tajikistans citizens and strengthening sovereignty and
of the countrys eight madrassahs were suspended, stability. The State Departments annual International
according to the State Department; only one madrassah Religious Freedom Reports have documented a deterio-
operates in Tursonzade, near Dushanbe. The state-con- ration of religious freedom in Tajikistan.
trolled Islamic University announced in mid-2015 that Since 1992, the U.S. government has provided over
its madrassah was temporarily suspended, but as of one billion dollars in assistance programs supporting
this writing it remains closed. economic growth, democratic institutions, healthcare,

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education, and security. On democratic institutions, Press for at the highest levels and work to secure the
U.S. assistance promotes improved legislation relating immediate release of individuals imprisoned for their
to civil society, the media, and speech; legal assistance peaceful religious activities or religious affiliations;
to non-governmental organizations; and stronger non-
Ensure that the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe con-
state electronic media outlets. On security, the focus
tinues to monitor the trials of individuals charged
has been countering violent extremism and illegal
on account of their religious activities or affilia-
narcotics trafficking.
tions, maintains appropriate contacts with human
During 2015, Tajikistan hosted a series of high-level
rights activists, and presses the Tajik government
U.S. officials, mostly from the Department of Defense,
to ensure that every prisoner has greater access to
including General Lloyd J. Austin III, Commander of
his or her family, human rights monitors, adequate
U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM). In September
medical care, and a lawyer; and
2015, the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe hosted the Exercise
Regional Cooperation, the largest annual, multilateral Ensure that U.S. assistance to the Tajik government,
USCENTCOM command-post exercise with Central and with the exception of aid to improve humanitarian
South Asia. U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus visited conditions and advance human rights, be con-
Tajikistan in November 2015. Secretary of State John tingent upon the government establishing and
Kerry also visited Tajikistan in November. After meeting implementing a timetable of specific steps to reform
with President Rahmon, Secretary Kerry made a public the religion law and improve conditions of freedom
statement noting Tajikistans security and economic of religion or belief.
challenges and highlighted the need to fight violent
extremism while respecting human rights, religious
freedom, and active political participation.

In addition to recommending that the U.S. government
designate Tajikistan a CPC, USCIRF recommends that
the U.S. government should:

Press the Tajik government to bring the 2009

religion law and other relevant laws into confor-
mity with international commitments, including
those on freedom of religion or belief, and publicly
criticize violations by the Tajik government of those

Work with the international community, particularly

during events on countering terrorism sponsored by
the OSCE, to ensure there is private and public criti-
cism of Tajikistans repressive approach to regulating
religion and countering extremism, including its risk
of radicalizing the countrys population;

Urge the Tajik government to permit visits by the

UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion
or Belief, the Independence of the Judiciary, and
Torture, set specific visit dates, and provide the full
and necessary conditions for such visits;

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Key Findings are Protestant. Smaller numbers are Khmer Krom Bud-
Government restrictions on religious activities in Viet- dhist, Muslim (including ethnic Cham Muslims), Bahai,
nam vary widely across geographical areas, as well as Mormon, and Falun Gong, as well as several local reli-
among religious organizations based on their relation- gions or other forms of traditional worship.
ship with the state. This sends conflicting messages
about Vietnams overall commitment to respecting
and protecting freedom of religion or belief. On the one Some [religious organizations]
hand, the countrys rich religious diversity, the absence have broad freedom to freely practice
of interreligious conflict, and the room for religious their faith, and others
practice permitted to some groups in certain areas have comparatively little.
indicate a positive trajectory towards a rights-respect-
ing environment; on the other hand, the governments
continuing heavy-handed management of religion
continues to lead not only to restrictions and discrimi- The government has made dramatic openings with
nation, but also to individuals being outright harassed, respect to religious freedom, including considering
detained, and targeted with physical violence. The more space for charitable work by religious organiza-
continuing abuses meet the threshold for designating tions and, according to government officials, allowing
the country as a country of particular concern, or CPC, more houses of worship. Also, government officials
under IRFA. USCIRF therefore again recommends CPC informed USCIRF during the year that interactions
designation for Vietnam in 2016, as it has every year between the government and individuals they referred
since 2001. USCIRF believes that engaging Vietnam to as religious dignitaries have increased, improving
through the structured, strategic framework of a CPC communication and understanding.
designation can be a helpful tool to both strengthening Nevertheless, the government continues to view
the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral partnership and protecting some groups and activities as threatening to the state
the rights of all religious people and communities. and to Vietnams unified national identity. This has had
mixed results for religious organizations, as evident
Background in the contrasting experiences of state-sponsored
While the broader human rights situation in Vietnam religious organizations versus independent groups,
remains fluid, religious freedom in particular continues or of registered organizations versus unregistered
to be nuanced and complex. Diverse faith communities ones. Some have broad freedom to freely practice their
are represented in Vietnam, and the degree to which faith, and others have comparatively little. While the
the Vietnamese people have the ability to practice severe abuses are not uniform nationwide, and, in fact,
freely without fear of harassment, detention, or violence greatly vary across provinces, the violations indicate a
widely varies. According to estimates, the majority of pattern of behavior by government officials and their
Vietnams more than 94 million people practice Bud- affiliates, either at the national or provincial/local
dhism. More than six million Vietnamese are Catholic, level, targeting specific religious faiths, organizations,
more than one million apiece practice the Cao Dai or and/or individuals. Many of these violations stem from
Hoa Hao faiths, and approximately one to two million police brutality against individuals accused of vague
national security transgressions.

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In August 2015, a USCIRF Commissioner-led dele- first time. Interlocutors also noted open communication
gation visited Vietnam, traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, with local officials and, in some cases, years of relation-
Tay Ninh, and Hanoi to meet with government officials ship building, but recognized these were no guarantees
and representatives of a wide variety of religious and to being allowed to freely practice their faith. Some
ethnic groups, including state-sponsored, independent, offered input to the government regarding the draft law
registered, and unregistered organizations. During on religion, though the select few whose feedback the
USCIRFs visit, discussions focused on Vietnams draft government solicited had limited time to review the
law on religion, which first became publicly available draft and much of their analysis was critical.

Religious organizations that choose not to seek government

recognition face greater risk of abuse by government authorities,
particularly provincial or local officials, or government-employed proxies.

in April 2015 and is expected to receive a vote in the Harassment of Certain Religious Groups
National Assembly sometime in 2016. Although the visit Religious organizations that choose not to seek govern-
occurred with less government interference than pre- ment recognition face greater risk of abuse by govern-
vious USCIRF visits, one interlocutor was detained and ment authorities, particularly provincial or local officials,
beaten after meeting with the USCIRF delegation. or government-employed proxies. This is often a two-fold
problem: provincial or local officials do not understand
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 central government religion policies, and the central gov-
Positive or Encouraging Trends ernment permits inconsistent and contradictory imple-
Relations between the Vietnamese government and mentation of such policies. Based on meetings during the
the Vatican improved in 2015, with Vatican prefect August visit, USCIRF concluded that some central gov-
Cardinal Fernando Filoni visiting Hanoi in January ernment officials are aware of this inconsistency, which
and Pope Francis naming Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon as at the very least suggests the draft law on religion should
Vietnams newest Cardinal. The Vietnamese govern- include robust training and oversight of local officials, but
ment also approved a new Catholic university centered also demonstrates some degree of central government
around a theological institute, and government officials complicity in or indifference to provincial-level abuses.
highlighted to USCIRF the expanding opportunities for In addition to seeking to protect their right to
charitable and social work by the Catholic Church. freedom of religion or belief, individuals from some
During USCIRFs visit, some interlocutors stated independent or unregistered religious groups advocate
that their religious activities and gatherings faced little on other topics deemed sensitive by the government,
to no interference, though several acknowledged that such as democracy promotion and human rights, or are
religious organizations in other areas experienced viewed as having current or historical ties to Western
problems. In some cases, these positive trends were new countries, including the United States. As a result,
and welcome developments, for which local author- certain individuals and religious groups falling into
ities should be lauded. For example, in January 2016, these categories such as the Cao Dai, Montagnards,
Hoa Hao Buddhists conducted a religious ceremony and followers of Duong Van Minh face harassment,
at Quang Minh Temple in An Giang Province; public detention, and physical violence. Moreover, the govern-
security officials were present, but did not interfere in ments suspicion of large crowds includes individuals
the proceedings as they have previously. Also, parishio- congregating for religious purposes, resulting, at times,
ners at the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ in in similar forms of ill-treatment. For example, Vietnams
Kontum Province held Christmas celebrations for the Falun Gong practitioners often gather in groups as part

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of their regular practices, and adherents have been Province were repeatedly vandalized and surveilled,
detained and harassed as a result. causing significant disruptions to their livelihoods. The
The Vietnamese government accuses ethnic family of one Hoa Hao woman believes the severe stress
minority Montagnards from the Central Highlands of of such ill-treatment contributed to her untimely death.
seeking some form of autonomy. Montagnards, many While this connection cannot be confirmed, the alle-
of whom are Protestant, face numerous restrictions: gation indicates some religious believers sentiments
some are prevented from holding religious ceremonies, about the impact of government restrictions on their
pastors are harassed or punished, and many are sum- ability to freely practice their faith.
moned to meet with local authorities and pressured to Mennonite pastor Nguyen Hong Quang and others
cease practicing their poisonous faith. Since October were attacked and beaten in January and March 2015 just
2014, up to 300 Vietnamese Montagnards have fled the north of Ho Chi Minh City. In recent years, their unreg-
country for Cambodia, many because of religious per- istered church has been the site of multiple raids and
secution. Only 13 have been granted refugee status with attacks by police, security forces, and others. Throughout
UNCHR, countless others are waiting for Cambodia the year, in Gia Lai Province, police attacked Catholics,
to process their asylum claims, and dozens have been including nuns. In December 2015, Protestant minister
returned to Vietnam, often at great risk of reprisals. Rev. Nguyen Trung Ton was arrested; at the end of the
Throughout 2015, in Gia Lai Province, parishioners reporting period, little is known about his status. Several
at an unregistered Mennonite Church were detained times during the year, Pastor Y Noen Ayun of the Evan-
and beaten, and some were pressured to renounce their gelical Church of Christ in Kon Tum was either arrested
faith. Similarly, the government harassed followers of or threatened with jail time because he continued
the small Christian sect known as Duong Van Minh and preaching. During one instance, in October 2015, a public
burned and/or destroyed funeral storage sheds central security officer physically abused him when he refused to
to the groups core practices. As of October 2015, 27 of cease his religious activities.
33 funeral sheds throughout four provinces had been
attacked. Moreover, Duong Van Minh followers regu- Harassment of Property and/or Disruption of
larly are imprisoned, and in February 2015, government Religious Activities
agents attacked followers in Cao Bang Province. Provin- Religious groups across Vietnam remain fearful the gov-
cial-level public security officials detained one Duong ernment will seize religious property through eviction
Van Minh follower after he met with USCIRF in August or demolition and believe the government is targeting
2015, and reportedly beat and tortured the man when he them for their faith. Whether motivated by greed, cor-
refused to answer their questions. ruption, or an antipathy toward religion, intimidation
Even though Buddhism is the most widely practiced or destruction of property interferes with the practice of
faith in Vietnam, those operating independent from the faith. For example, throughout the year, authorities con-
state-sanctioned Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha often tinued to threaten with demolition the UBCV-affiliated
are government targets. This includes the leadership of Lien Tri Pagoda in Thu Thiem, an area in Ho Chi Minh
the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), such City slated for significant redevelopment. The UBCV-af-
as Thich Quang Do, who remains under house arrest, filiated Dat Quang Pagoda in Ba Ria Vung Tao Province
and Buddhist Youth Movement leader Le Cong Cau. In was harassed in October 2015 when large groups aggres-
April 2015, Le Cong Cau was detained and questioned sively pursued individual Buddhists and also blocked
for three days, and later in the year he was prevented access to the temple.
several times from traveling to meet visiting government Authorities similarly have threatened to close the
officials from the United States and Germany. Catholic school located in Thu Thiem, but reportedly
During 2015, local authorities in some areas con- suspended its demolition. In addition, the local govern-
tinued to harass and question independent Hoa Hao in ment threatened the Dak Jak Parish of approximately
connection with the practice of their faith. For exam- 5,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Kon Tum with dem-
ple, worshippers homes and businesses in Dong Thap olition and expulsion of its priest. Authorities in Kon

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Tum Province in the Central Highlands are known for religious prisoners. There were additional high-profile
particular harshness toward followers of independent, prisoner releases throughout the year, including: the
unregistered faiths. Reportedly, local officials drove out June release of Catholic activist and human rights law-
many parishioners at Dong Yen Parish in the Diocese of yer Le Quoc Quan; and the August release of Catholic
Vinh; this occurred after authorities denied local Catho- blogger Paulus Le Van Son, Protestant leader Nguyen
lic schoolchildren access to education. Van Oai, and Catholic activists Tran Minh Nhat and Thai
Khmer Krom Buddhists experienced similar Van Dung. However, between 100 and 150 prisoners of
harassment. For example, local authorities in Soc Trang conscience are believed to remain in prison, including
Province have allowed private enterprises to establish several held for their religious beliefs and/or religious
commercial businesses on temple grounds, which freedom advocacy, such as Father Thaddeus Nguyen
Khmer Krom Buddhists believe violates the sanctity of Van Ly. Prominent Khmer Krom Buddhists also remain
the temples. Independent Cao Dai followers in Phu Yen in prison, such as the Venerable Thach Thuol, the Vener-
Province protested the local governments attempts to able Lieu Ny, and Thach Phum Rich.
bulldoze Tuy An Temple where they worship. Through-
out 2015, followers were threatened by police and
warned to stay away from the temple. [B]etween 100 and 150 prisoners
of conscience are believed to remain in
Draft Law on Religion prison, including several held for their
Although the draft law on religion presents Vietnam religious beliefs and/or
with an opportunity for positive change, some trou- religious freedom advocacy...
bling trends are apparent in the drafts that have been
made public. Government officials informed USCIRF
that the legislation would provide a structured legal Released prisoners are particularly vulnerable to
framework for religious policy (as opposed to the current harassment. Christian human rights activist Tran Minh
policy comprised of multiple decrees and ordinances), Nhat, released from prison in August 2015, was twice
with some suggesting it will provide more equal legal detained and beaten by police in November. In March
treatment of all religious groups and improve training 2015, unknown aggressors attacked Nguyen Van Dai,
for local authorities. Many religious organizations and a Christian human rights lawyer, who was previously
international groups, however, view the draft as increas- under house arrest and served time in prison. He also
ing government control over every aspect of religious was beaten and arrested in December 2015 under Arti-
life through layers of notifications and approvals and cle 88 of the Penal Code, a vague provision often used
making illegal activities subject to the force of law, against human rights activists whom the government
rather than ordinance and decree. Thus, critics describe accuses of allegedly conducting propaganda against
the bill as a step backward, codifying existing bad the state. The United States government spoke out
policies and intensifying the governments micro-man- strongly against his arrest.
agement of religion. Some have suggested modifications
to the draft, including elimination of the requirements U.S. Policy
for mandatory registration and government approval In 2015, the United States and Vietnam marked the 20th
of religious activities, including the appointment or anniversary of normalized ties and conducted a number
moving of pastors and other religious leaders, as well as of high-level visits, including General Secretary Nguyen
reducing wait times for government approvals. Phu Trongs July visit to the United States, the first by any
head of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and Secretary
Prisoners of State John Kerry and Assistant Secretary of State for
On September 2, 2015, the countrys 70th National Day, Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor Tom Malinows-
the Vietnamese government released more than 18,200 kis August trip to Vietnam. The two countries also held
prisoners, though none considered to be political or another regular session of their bilateral Human Rights

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Dialogue, which prominently featured discussion of register have other appropriate means by which to
religious freedom concerns, in part due to the participa- operate legally;
tion of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious
Encourage the government of Vietnam to acknowl-
Freedom David Saperstein.
edge and address violations against religious com-
Areas of bilateral cooperation between the United
munities by state and non-state actors, and support
States and Vietnam include trade, maritime security
the proper training of local government officials,
and defense, energy/environment, science/technology,
lawyers, judges, and police and security forces who
health care, education, and human rights. These prior-
implement, enforce, and interpret the rule of law;
ities were strategically outlined in 2013 when the two
countries launched the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Ensure that human rights and religious freedom
Partnership. The FY2016 spending bill included alloca- are pursued consistently and publicly at every
tions for Vietnam through the Economic Support Fund level of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, including in
and Development Assistance programs. discussions related to military, trade, or economic
Throughout 2015, Vietnam was a focal point in nego- and security assistance, and in programs on
tiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional Internet freedom and civil society development,
free trade agreement, with critics of the agreement among others, and follow up on these priorities
advocating for stronger commitments from Vietnam after agreements or deals are reached, such as in
on human rights and other issues, including religious the Trans-Pacific Partnership;
freedom. This discussion prompted, in part, the addition
Increase the frequency and visibility of U.S. gov-
of language to the Trade Promotion Authority bill (the
ernment visits to remote, rural areas in Vietnam,
legislative vehicle to help facilitate streamlined con-
including direct contact with independent reli-
gressional review of the TPP agreement) incorporating
gious communities as appropriate;
religious freedom as a negotiating objective when the U.S.
government collaborates with international partners on Urge the Vietnamese government to cease detain-
trade agreements. ing and imprisoning members of religious orga-
nizations, as well as human rights activists, for
Recommendations peaceful religious activity or religious affiliations
The United States should actively take steps to support and to promptly and unconditionally release all
meaningful and lasting reforms in Vietnam, including prisoners of conscience;
to improve religious freedom. As a means to facilitate
Encourage the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the
such improvements, USCIRF recommends that the U.S.
U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City to
government designate Vietnam as a CPC and that it:
maintain appropriate contact, including in-person
Work with the government of Vietnam to develop visits, with Vietnamese prisoners of conscience,
mutually agreed commitments that would fos- to ensure them regular access to their families,
ter critical reforms under section 405(c) of IRFA, human rights monitors, adequate medical care,
building on the two countries proven working and proper legal representation, as specified in
relationship under an earlier binding agreement international human rights instruments; and
when Vietnam was designated as a CPC from 2004
Consider the use of targeted tools, such as the
to 2006;
specially designated nationals list maintained by
Continue discussions with the government of Viet- the Treasury Departments Office of Foreign Asset
nam on the drafting of the proposed law on religion Control and visa denials under section 604(a)
and emphasize the importance of compliance with of IRFA, against specific officials and agencies
international human rights standards as well as identified as having participated in human rights
simplified, optional registration requirements to abuses, including particularly severe violations of
ensure that religious organizations opting not to religious freedom.

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Key Findings time since 2001. According to the United Nations Office
Afghanistans overall stability and security has deteri- for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),
orated significantly in the last year due to a resurgence Taliban attacks between August and October 2015
of the Afghan Taliban and increased activity by other increased by 19 percent compared to the same period
extremist groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and in 2014. The Afghan governments efforts against the
the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda. These groups violent Taliban have been hindered significantly by its own
ideology and attacks threaten all Afghans, but the Shia internal instability; a fragmented police, military, and
Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh minorities are especially intelligence force; corruption; and a weak economy.
vulnerable, as are the tiny Christian and Bahai commu- In this context, Afghans from all faiths and ethnic
nities. Extremist attacks on Shia Muslims increased in groups increasingly are fleeing their homes and the coun-
2015. Despite a sustained international support effort, try. OCHA reported that between January and November
the Afghan government lacks the capacity to protect 2015, more than 300,000 Afghans were forcibly displaced,
civilians from attacks. In addition, the countrys consti- a 160 percent increase over the same period in 2014. In
tution and other laws violate international standards for total, nearly one million Afghans are internally displaced
freedom of religion or belief. Based on these concerns, in within the country, and 2.6 million are refugees in the
2016 USCIRF again places Afghanistan on Tier 2, where region and beyond. According to European Union figures,
it has been since 2006. nearly 150,000 Afghans, mostly Hazara Shia Muslims,
sought asylum in Europe in 2015. Afghans also are fleeing
Background to other countries in South Asia, as well as Australia.
Afghanistans population is estimated at 32.5 million.
An estimated 84 to 89 percent is Sunni Muslim, and 10 to
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
15 percent is Shia Muslim. Sikh, Hindu, Christian, and Constitutional and Legal Issues
other religious communities collectively comprise less The Afghan constitution fails to protect the individual
than one percent. Although the population is religiously right to freedom of religion or belief as guaranteed
homogenous, it is ethnically diverse. According to U.S.
government figures, Afghanistans population is 42
percent Pashtun, 27 percent Tajik, nine percent Hazara, The Afghan constitution fails to
nine percent Uzbek, three percent Turkmen, two per- protect the individual right to freedom
cent Baloch, and eight percent other groups. of religion or belief as guaranteed under
Formed in September 2014, the national unity international human rights law, providing
government, led by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief only that non-Muslims are free to
Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Abdullah, has been perform their religious rites within the
unable to counter violent extremist groups that target limits of the provisions of the law.
the government, the military, civilians, and U.S. and
NATO forces. Despite a prolonged international military
effort, the Taliban has expanded its reach and power in under international human rights law, providing only
Afghanistan. As of January 2016, the Taliban controlled that non-Muslims are free to perform their religious
around 30 percent of the country, more area than any rites within the limits of the provisions of the law. There

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is no provision protecting freedom of religion or belief country continues to operate on the grounds of the Italian
for Muslims. The constitution states that Islam is the embassy. There were no reports of Afghan Christians
state religion, and that no Afghan law can be contrary to arrested during the reporting period, but many report-
the beliefs and provisions of Islam. This clause has been edly have left for India. Afghanistans tiny Bahai commu-
interpreted by the Afghan government and religious nity leads a covert existence. A 2007 ruling by the General
clerics in ways that limit religious freedom and free- Directorate of Fatwas and Accounts declared the Bahai
dom of expression. The countrys penal code permits faith blasphemous and converts to it apostates.
the courts to defer to Shariah law in cases involving
matters that neither the penal code nor the constitution Violence around Blasphemy Allegations
explicitly address, such as blasphemy, apostasy and In March 2015, a mob in Kabul publicly and brutally
conversion, resulting in those charges being punishable murdered Farkhunda Malikzada, a young Muslim woman
by death. State-backed religious leaders and the judicial after a local religious leader falsely accused her of burn-
system are empowered to interpret and enforce Islamic ing a Quran. Graphic video of the incident, which made
principles and Shariah law, leading at times to arbitrary worldwide headlines, showed some police attempting
and abusive interpretations of religious orthodoxy. A to help her, while others stood by as the crowd beat and
2004 media law prohibits writings deemed un-Islamic, kicked her, ran a car over her, and set her on fire. Although
enabling the detention of journalists and others. several religious leaders and government officials initially
lauded the murder of an alleged blasphemer, within two
Conditions for Non-Muslims days of her murder and following public protests demand-
Hindus and Sikhs continue to face discrimination, ing prosecutions, the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs
harassment, and at times violence, despite being announced she was innocent. Nearly 50 people, including
allowed to practice their faith in places of public worship 19 police officers, stood trial in May 2015. Of the civilians
and being represented in parliament through presi- charged, four were sentenced to death, eight were sen-
dential appointments. Decades of conflict and official tenced to 16 years in prison, and 18 were found not guilty.
and societal discrimination have diminished signifi- Of the police officers, 11 were sentenced to one year in
cantly these communities numbers in Afghanistan. prison and eight were acquitted. In July 2015, an appeals
In January 2015, the non-governmental Afghanistan court overturned the four death sentences, instead
Sikh and Hindu Community Council reported that the sentencing three of the men to 20 years in prison and one,

Hindus and Sikhs continue to face discrimination, harassment, and at times

violence, despite being allowed to practice their faith in places of public worship
and being represented in parliament through presidential appointments.

Sikh population was fewer than 1,000 families and that who was under 18 years of age, to 10 years.
Hindus had all but left the country. By contrast, 40 years
ago an estimated 50,000 Sikh and Hindu families lived U.S. Policy
in Afghanistan. Only one of the eight Sikh gurdwaras in Afghanistan has been the focus of U.S. engagement in
Kabul is operating. South Asia for over a decade. U.S. government efforts
The very small Christian population cannot worship have focused on building a stable Afghanistan and fight-
openly and is at risk of attack by the Taliban and other ing extremist groups. The United States brokered the
extremists. In June 2014, the Taliban kidnapped Fr. Alexis solution to resolve Afghanistans highly-contested 2014
Prem Kumar, who led Jesuit Refugee Services; he was presidential election, which led to the creation of the
released in February 2015. The one known church in the current government.

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In 2015, U.S. and international forces in Afghani- announced that the United States government will make
stan transitioned from a combat mission to a training up to $800 million available to support a New Develop-
mission, although U.S. forces are still authorized to con- ment Partnership to combat corruption, promote rule
duct combat operations. President Barack Obamas orig- of law, strengthen womens rights, and enhance private
inal goal to shrink the force to around 5,000 by the end sector growth in Afghanistan.
of 2015 was revised in October 2015, at President Ghanis
request, largely due to the Talibans resurgence. By the Recommendations
end of the reporting period, there were approximately Recognizing that the Afghan government faces significant
10,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, who will remain in challenges in combating the Taliban and other violent
the country at least through 2016. extremist groups and generally lacks the capacity to protect
The Quadrilateral Coordination Group (the United religious and ethnic communities from violent attacks,
States, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan) are working USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:
to create a new framework for peace talks between
Raise directly with Afghanistans president and
the Afghan government and the Taliban. A meeting
CEO the importance of religious freedom, encour-
between the two parties occurred in July 2015, but
age Afghan government officials to publicly
the effort collapsed after the belated news of the 2013
promote the right and work towards creating a civic
death of Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar led
space for diverse religious opinions on matters of
to infighting within the Taliban. In January and Febru-
religion and society in Afghanistan;
ary 2016, Ambassador Richard Olson, the U.S. Special
Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, repre- Urge the government to reform the Afghan constitu-
sented the United States in meetings with the Pakistani, tion and laws to comply with international standards
Chinese, and Afghan governments. Other United States of freedom of religion or belief, including by revoking
government officials have visited Afghanistan during the 2004 media law prohibiting writings deemed
the reporting period, including Assistant Secretary of un-Islamic and the 2007 ruling that the Bahai faith is
State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom blasphemous and converts to it are apostates;
Malinowski, who traveled to the country in April 2015.
Revive the interagency U.S. government taskforce
In March 2015, President Ghani and CEO Abdullah vis-
on religious freedom in Afghanistan and ensure
ited the United States. While in the United States, Ghani
religious freedom issues are properly integrated
met with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry,
into the State and Defense Department strategies
and addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
concerning Afghanistan;
Afghanistans dependence on U.S. and foreign aid is
unlikely to change in the near future. Through the Tokyo Include a special working group on religious
Mutual Accountability Framework, the United States freedom in U.S.-Afghan strategic dialogues and
and other international donors committed to provide the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (the United
Afghanistan $16 billion in aid through 2015 and con- States, Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan);
tinue assistance at similar levels through 2017. Accord-
Encourage the Afghan government to sponsor,
ing to a report from the United States Special Inspector
with official and semi-official religious bodies, an
General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, as of the end
initiative on interfaith dialogue that focuses on
of 2015, the United States had appropriated approxi-
both intra-Islamic dialogue and engagement with
mately $113.09 billion for relief and reconstruction in
different faiths; and
Afghanistan since FY2002, including $68.44 billion for
security, $31.79 billion for governance and development, Ensure that human rights concerns are integrated
$2.93 billion for humanitarian aid and $9.94 billion for in the reconciliation process and that the parties
civilian operations. In FY2015, total USAID and Depart- to any peace agreement pledge to uphold both the
ment of State humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
was $182.9 million. In March 2015, Secretary Kerry Afghan constitution.

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Key Findings and Cooperation in Europes (OSCE) Minsk Group,

Despite Azerbaijans strong tradition of societal reli- co-chaired by the United States, France, and Russia,
gious tolerance, official respect for religious freedom mediates this conflict; clashes in September 2015 led to
further deteriorated in 2015, along with a sharp decline military fatalities.
in respect for democratic norms. Over the past year, the The Aliev family, with roots in the Nakhiche-
government continued to levy penalties for violations van exclave, has dominated Azerbaijans politics for
of its repressive 2009 religion law, and also adopted decades. Heydar Aliev was the First Party Secretary of
new legal restrictions on religion. Peaceful religious Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president of
believers, their defenders, and civil society activists independent Azerbaijan from 1993 until his 2003 resig-
were detained, fined, and jailed on various charges. Reg- nation. Aliev named his son, Ilham, as his partys sole
istration requests from religious groups were delayed candidate in a 2003 presidential election. Term limits
or denied and religious groups closed. Based on these were lifted in 2009 and Ilham Aliev has been president
concerns, in 2016 USCIRF again places Azerbaijan on ever since. The Azerbaijani government is viewed as
Tier 2, where it has been since 2013. corrupt and increasingly authoritarian by human
rights activists. Criticism of Azerbaijans human rights
Background record by UN human rights bodies, including the UN
Bordering Armenia, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey, Azer- Committee against Torture, continued during the
baijan has a population of approximately nine million. reporting period.
According to the State Department, 96 percent of Azer-
baijans population is Muslim, about 65 percent Shia
and 35 percent Sunni. The other four percent of the pop- Azerbaijans 2009 religion law is
ulation includes: Russian Orthodox, Armenian Ortho- used to limit religious freedom and to
dox, and other Christians (including Lutherans, Roman justify fines, police raids, detentions,
Catholics, Baptists, Molokans, and Seventh-day Adven- and imprisonment.
tists); some 20,000 Jews; Bahais; and non-believers.
Among Muslims and Russian Orthodox, religious iden-
tity is often based on ethnicity. Shia Muslims, Sunni
Muslims, Russian Orthodox, and Jews are officially seen Azerbaijans 2009 religion law is used to limit
as the countrys traditional religious groups. Some 13 religious freedom and to justify fines, police raids,
million ethnic Azeris also live in northern Iran. detentions, and imprisonment. The laws provisions
Independent, pre-Soviet Azerbaijan (1920-1922) was include: compulsory state registration with complex
the worlds first Muslim-majority secular parliamen- and intrusive requirements; no appeal for registration
tary republic with a good record of respect for religious denials; religious activities limited to a communitys
freedom. After the USSR collapsed, Azerbaijan regained registered address; extensive state controls on the
independence in 1991. The Nagorno-Karabakh War content, production, import, export, and dissemination
with Armenia ended in a 1994 cease-fire; Azerbaijan of religious materials; and required state-approved
lost 16 percent of its land and gained 600,000 inter- religious education to preach, teach religion, or lead
nally displaced persons. The Organization for Security ceremonies. Individuals or groups violating the religion
law are subject to administrative fines. In 2010, fines for

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religious organizations increased 16-fold. In 2014, the of worship and prohibit Azerbaijani citizens with foreign
parliament increased reporting requirements for civil education and non-Azerbaijani citizens from leading
society and religious groups to the State Committee for Islamic rituals. Citizens who ignore that ban face a
Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO), purport- one-year prison term or a fine of US$1,200-3,000; for-
edly to prevent the spread of religious extremism and eigners or stateless persons face jail terms of one to two
foreign missionary activity. years; those who belong to allegedly extremist groups
In 2012, the Council of Europes Venice Commis- or repeat offenders face two to five-year jail terms. The
sion and the OSCE issued a legal opinion finding that new extremism law grants officials wide powers over
Azerbaijans religion law failed to meet its inter- allegedly extremist activity. Under the amended citi-
national human rights commitments. In 2014, the zenship law, citizenship can be stripped from those who
European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that are members of allegedly extremist religious groups. The
the 2009 law gives authorities unlimited discretion- administrative code now sets fines for parents who do
ary power to define and prosecute illegal religious not send their children to state schools.

In December 2015, President Aliev signed into

law amendments to the religion law, the criminal code,
the administrative code, and the citizenship law,
plus a new religious extremism law.

activity. The mandate of the OSCE office in Baku Penalties for Religious Freedom Advocacy
expired in December 2015; in a highly unusual move, The Azerbaijani NGO Legal Protection and Awareness
Azerbaijan did not renew that mandate. Society Public Union (LPASPU) compiled a list of 40
In late June-early July 2015, two USCIRF Commis- Muslims jailed as of 2014 for the non-violent practice of
sioners and one staff member visited Baku to meet with their faith or advocacy for religious freedom. Most were
government officials, members of various religious sentenced for publicly protesting what is in effect a ban
communities, and civil society activists. on headscarves in school. Eleven members of that group
are still imprisoned; President Aliev pardoned two in
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 March 2015. The trial of lawyer Rasul Jafarov, the LPASPU
New Legal Restrictions on Religion leader, began in January 2015; although testimony did
Under religion law amendments adopted in October not support official charges of financial manipulations,
2015, religious groups must file reports with the gov- he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. In April
ernment on their activities and finances, and official 2015, Intigam Aliyev got a jail term of seven and a half
religion specialists who evaluate materials and testify years on false charges that included tax evasion; he has
at trials must undergo additional state training. The presented many religious freedom cases at the ECtHR.
commercial activity law also was amended to empower After the reporting period, human rights lawyers Jafarov
law enforcement bodies to regulate religious texts and and Aliyev were released under a presidential pardon, but
materials. In December 2015, President Aliev signed into that pardon did not extend to any religious prisoners. In
law amendments to the religion law, the criminal code, September 2015, journalist Khadija Ismayilova received a
the administrative code, and the citizenship law, plus a prison term of seven and a half years for alleged embez-
new religious extremism law. These amendments were zlement and tax evasion. Known for reporting on high-
made public only a few days before they were adopted level corruption, she also advocated for religious freedom.
in parliament, Forum 18 reported. The religion law Leila and Arif Yunus, noted human rights activists who
amendments limit religious flags and slogans to places also drew attention to religious freedom, were jailed in

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August 2014. After being sentenced to eight and a half the group is not known to use or advocate violence. The
years in prison in August 2015, Leyla Yunus was released groups leader, Imam Taleh Bagirov, has served time in
and her sentence suspended in December 2015 on the prison on drug charges that his supporters allege were
grounds of her deteriorating health. Arif was released imposed to punish his peaceful religious activities. In
for the same reason in November 2015, but neither are November 2015, Bagirov was visiting the Shia village of
allowed to leave Baku. Nardaran when an assault by Interior Ministry forces
resulted in the deaths of two police officers and at least
Penalties for Religious Activity five villagers. Police later detained 14 MUM members
Mubariz Qarayev, a Sunni Muslim imam from the in Nardaran who face possible life terms. As of Febru-
Lezgin Mosque in Baku, was arrested in March 2015. The ary 2016, a total of 60 MUM members reportedly were
Lezgin Mosque is one of many Sunni Muslim mosques arrested. Among those arrested during the Nadaran raid
the government seeks to close. In October 2015, five was MUM leader Taleh Bagirov, who later sued the gov-
Sunni Muslims (Ismail and his brother Zakariya Mam- ernment for torture. In February 2016, Bagirov withdrew
madov, Shahin Hasanov, Eldeniz Hajiyev, and Revan this complaint, reportedly to prevent further torture of
Sabzaliev) were convicted for reading the works of Turk- other jailed Muslims.
ish theologian Said Nursi; four of the five received five-
year prison terms, and their lawyers were not allowed to Government Control through Registration
attend the trials final session. Registration is mandatory, and religious groups denied
In March 2015, the secret police arrested Shia Mus- registration, or that refuse to register, are deemed
lim Jeyhun Jafarov, the former host of a TV show about illegal. Members of unregistered religious communi-
Islam; as of late January 2016, he was still jailed on trea- ties often face raids, confiscation of religious texts, and
son charges. Nuhbala Rahimov, a Shia Muslim prayer other penalties. Yet even registered religious groups are
leader from Rahima Hanum Mosque in Nardaran, was allowed only to conduct activity at their legal address
arrested in December 2015; at the end of the reporting and are subject to other restrictions. In 2015, the SCWRO
period, he is in four months of pre-trial detention facing reported that 510 religious communities were regis-
possible criminal charges. tered in Azerbaijan: the 32 non-Muslim denominations

Members of unregistered religious communities

often face raids, confiscation of religious texts, and other penalties.

In January 2016, a Baku court convicted Jehovahs include nine Christian, six Jewish, one Krishna, and one
Witnesses Irina Zakharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova Bahai denomination. Baptist and Adventist leaders told
for offering one religious pamphlet without an official USCIRF in June 2015 that their churches rights were
permit but waived their fines. The two women had been circumscribed because the state still had not granted
detained for 20 months, including in a secret police them full registration.
investigation prison. The UN and USCIRF had expressed
concern over the womens unjust detention and over Additional Restrictions on Muslims
Zakharchenkos precarious health. Muslims in Azerbaijan are subject to special official
restrictions. Police enforce a 2008 decree that does not
The Muslim Unity Movement allow public prayer outside of mosques. The state-
The fundamentalist Shia Muslim Unity Movement backed Caucasus Muslim Board (CMB) dates to the
(MUM) was formed in January 2015 and has been par- Soviet era. All Muslim religious leaders are named by
ticularly targeted by the state as terrorists, although the CMB and must be citizens educated in Azerbaijan;

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all mosques must belong to the CMB; and only citizens services. As of January 2016, the Azeri government
can establish Islamic communities. By 2014, all Islamic continued to deny their priests permits to re-enter the
communities that did not belong to the CMB lacked country. The government has not returned any con-
legal status and were vulnerable to police action. In fiscated religious facilities or provided compensation.
2010, the Ministry of Education introduced a school Bakus renovated Armenian Apostolic Saint Gregory the
uniform, in effect banning the Islamic headscarf. In Illuminators Church is used by the Presidential Depart-
2013, that ban was extended to universities, leading to ment of Administration Affairs. The Culture Ministry
petitions and unauthorized protests. During the report- runs a concert hall in the confiscated Lutheran Church
ing period, authorities continued to raid meetings of building in Baku; the rentals of that building officially
Salafis and of readers of Said Nursi, as well as alleged are limited to registered religious groups and therefore
followers of the Turkish Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen. exclude the Greater Grace Church. In 2015, Jehovahs
According to the State Department, officials and edu- Witnesses have faced detentions and fines for their reli-
cators lost their jobs if they were suspected of ties to the gious practice and advocacy.
Gulen movement.
In 2015, the government and the CMB continued Status of Conscientious Objection
its campaign to close Sunni Muslim places of worship. When Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2001
The Lezgin Mosque one of two Sunni Muslim mosques it promised to allow an alternative to military service,
open in Baku was again threatened with closure but has yet to enact such a law. While the constitution
and its imam arrested in March 2015, as discussed allows for alternative service, other laws set two-year
above. But Shia mosques are far from exempt. After prison terms for refusal of military service. Conscripted
the November 2015 armed assault on the Shia village in October 2013, Jehovahs Witness Kamran Shikhaliev
of Nardaran, at least four unregistered mosques were lost another court appeal in November 2015 against his
closed; officials said it is illegal for them to host prayers term in a military discipline unit.

When Azerbaijan joined the Council of Europe in 2001

it promised to allow an alternative to military service,
but has yet to enact such a law.

and that these mosques must register and join the CMB, Government Censorship of Religious Materials
Forum 18 reported. Penalties for first-time violators of official restrictions
and censorship of religious texts include up to two
Status of Religious Minorities years in jail. A conspiratorial or organized group or a
Jewish communities have long lived in Azerbaijan, repeat offender faces a prison term of between two and
are well integrated into society, and have rarely faced five years. Followers of Turkish theologian Said Nursi
anti-Semitism; Azerbaijan has close official relations and Jehovahs Witnesses continue to be detained and
with Israel. There is also a small Catholic community imprisoned for their alleged violations of Azerbaijans
and a unique Udi Albanian church. All three small laws on religious materials.
religious communities enjoy good relations with the
government. Most Protestant denominations, however, Situation in the Nakhichevan Exclave
do not have legal status, including Baptists, Seventh-day Residents of the Nakhichevan exclave face more
Adventists, and Pentecostals, as well as Jehovahs severe religious freedom restrictions than elsewhere
Witnesses. Two Georgian Orthodox communities are in Azerbaijan. Local Sunni Muslims have nowhere to
registered in the Gakh region, but cannot hold religious pray. In addition, up to 50 Shia mosques particularly

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those seen by officials as close to Iran reportedly Recommendations

were closed. During Shia Muslim Ashura ceremonies, In order to promote freedom of religion or belief in
police prevented children and students from entering Azerbaijan, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. govern-
mosques. Many state employees reportedly are afraid to ment should:
attend mosque services. The Bahai, Adventist, and Hare
Krishna faiths are banned in the exclave. Urge the Azerbaijani government to reform its
religion law to bring it into conformity with rec-
ommendations by the Council of Europes Venice
Commission and the Organization for Security and
In February 2015, the United States
Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2012;
announced the start of an ongoing
U.S.-Azerbaijani dialogue on civil society Urge the Azerbaijani government to cease detain-
and democracy... ing or imprisoning members of religious groups for
peaceful religious activity, religious affiliation, or
religious freedom advocacy;

U.S. Policy Ensure that the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan

The United States aims to encourage pro-Western democ- maintains appropriate contacts with human rights
racy and to help build an open market economy in Azer- activists, including at the ambassadorial level;
baijan. Other goals include promoting regional stability, Press the government of Azerbaijan to provide
primarily resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, every prisoner regular access to his or her family,
enhancing energy security, and fostering economic and human rights monitors, adequate medical care, and
political reforms. U.S. companies cooperate in offshore a lawyer, as specified in international human rights
oil development with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan supports the instruments;
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations in
Afghanistan by participating in the Northern Distribu- Encourage scrutiny of Azerbaijans violations of
tion Network and counters transnational threats, espe- international religious freedom and related norms
cially from Iran. U.S. assistance helps build capacity for at the UN and OSCE, and urge the OSCE to engage
maritime counterterrorism operations, especially in its these issues publicly;
Caspian Sea area, and provides military security training Urge the Azerbaijani government to agree to visits
courses. U.S. civil society assistance in Azerbaijan focuses by the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of
on small grants for civil society and on civic dialogue. Religion or Belief, Independence of the Judiciary,
In February 2015, the United States announced the and Torture; set specific visit dates; and provide the
start of an ongoing U.S.-Azerbaijani dialogue on civil necessary conditions for such visits;
society and democracy to run in parallel with Council
of Europe initiatives. On religious freedom, according Press the government of Azerbaijan to allow reli-
to the State Department, the U.S. ambassador and other gious groups to operate freely without registration,
embassy officials discussed registration issues and including amending the religion laws registration
obstacles to the importation and publication of reli- requirements;
gious literature with government officials, and met with Specify freedom of religion or belief as a grants
religious groups. In December 2015, U.S. Congressman category and area of activity in the Democracy
and Chair of the Congressional Commission on Secu- and Conflict Mitigation program of the U.S.
rity and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) Agency for International Development and the
Chris Smith introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act Democracy Commission Small Grants program
of 2015. This bill, if enacted, would deny U.S. visas to administered by the U.S. Embassy, and encour-
those senior Azerbaijani government officials who have age the publicly-funded National Endowment
committed severe human rights abuses. for Democracy to make grants for civil society

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programs on tolerance and freedom of religion or and other religious practice, such as through the closing
belief; and of mosques and the imprisonment of imams. Even
though official concerns about the infiltration of Isla-
Increase U.S. government-funded radio and Inter-
mism into Azerbaijan may be warranted to some extent,
net programs, particularly in the Azeri language on
it is critical that the government not cast too wide a net,
issues such as religious freedom, including its role
deeming all fervent expressions of Muslim faith to be a
in U.S. foreign policy.
threat. As religious observance among Muslims grows
in Azerbaijan, there is no easy solution for balancing
Additional Statement by Commissioners between preserving religious freedom and combating
Daniel Mark and Katrina Lantos Swett: extremism, but the governments efforts must in any
We agree with what is written in the chapter on Azer- case be more carefully calibrated.
baijan. We write in order to provide some more context, Third, while the government has good relations
especially in light of what was learned during the Com- with some religious minorities, other communities,
missioner-led delegation to Azerbaijan in 2015. This may especially those newer to Azerbaijan, are unnecessarily
help explain why Azerbaijan belongs on Tier 2 alongside oppressed. The government seems unprepared to allow
other countries that might strike some as far more egre- society to make room for Baptists, Seventh-day Adven-
gious violators of religious freedom. tists, Jehovahs Witnesses, and other small Protestant
Azerbaijan, as the chapter notes at the outset, has a minorities. The government is wrong to see these groups
long history of religious tolerance among its government as any sort of threat to the security of the state or the
and its people. Religious freedom in Azerbaijan has stability of the social fabric.
roots going back to its pre-Soviet days. Though Soviet Finally, it is important to emphasize that the
repression of religion must be unequivocally con- placement of Azerbaijan on Tier 2 points to a worry
demned, it also had the result of reinforcing the secular about the overall trajectory of religious freedom in
character of the nation, leaving Azerbaijan without an Azerbaijan. The increasing restrictiveness toward
indigenous brand of fundamentalist Islam that infects religion, coupled with what appears to be diminishing
other countries. respect for human rights more broadly, bodes poorly
Currently, Azerbaijan has religious tolerance for for the future of freedom in general and religious free-
some minority communities, particularly those with a dom in particular in Azerbaijan. During the USCIRF
long history in the country, including Russian Orthodox, visit to Azerbaijan, many rightfully expressed pride
Catholics, and Jews. The freedom with which those faith in the countrys tradition of religious tolerance. The
communities live is remarkable and perhaps unique placement of Azerbaijan on Tier 2 hopefully serves as
among Muslim-majority countries. It is all the more an early warning sign to encourage change before
noteworthy given the conditions elsewhere in Central conditions further deteriorate.
Asia as well as in the Middle East. Nevertheless, the
governments role in restricting religious freedom must
not be overlooked.
First, the government regulates all religious commu-
nities, requiring registration, limiting activities to specific
location, and controlling the importation and production
of religious publications, among other violations. USCIRF
continues to oppose such regulation of religious commu-
nities and activities in many countries. Such regulation
of religion is wrong whether it is applied to all religious
groups equally or to some groups selectively.
Second, in its effort to prevent the spread of Islamist
extremism, the government represses Muslim worship

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Key Findings 50. An unknown number of Greek and Russian Ortho-

During the reporting period, religious freedom dox Christians, Buddhists, and Bahais also live in Cuba.
conditions in Cuba deteriorated due to increased While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom
government actions and threats to close, demolish, or of religion or belief, this protection is limited by other
confiscate church properties. In addition, the Cuban constitutional and legal provisions. Article 8 affirms that
government continues to harass religious leaders and the State recognizes, respects, and guarantees religious
laity, interfere in religious groups internal affairs, and freedom, and article 55 further guarantees the right
prevent democracy and human rights activists from to ...change religious beliefs or not have any, and to
participating in religious activities. Despite constitu- profess, within the confines of the law, the religious wor-
tional protections for religious freedom, the Cuban ship of his/her preference. However, article 62 qualifies
government actively limits, controls, and monitors that all rights can be limited based on the aims of the
religious practice through a restrictive system of laws socialist State and the nations determination to build
and policies and government-authorized surveillance socialism and communism... The Cuban Penal Codes
and harassment. Based on these concerns, USCIRF Abuse of Liberty of Worship clause permits the impris-
again places Cuba on Tier 2 in 2016. Cuba has been on onment of any person who the government determines
USCIRFs Tier 2 since 2004. abuses constitutional religious freedom protections by
placing religious beliefs in conflict with other state goals.

While the Cuban constitution guarantees freedom of religion

or belief, this protection is limited by other
constitutional and legal provisions.

Background The Cuban government controls religious activi-

Religious adherence continues to grow in Cuba, ties through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) of the
although there are no reliable statistics of Cubans Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party
religious affiliations. Sixty to 70 percent of the popula- and the Ministry of Justice. The government requires
tion is estimated to be Roman Catholic and five percent religious communities to register with the Ministry of
Protestant. According to the State Department, various Justice, including the disclosure of funding sources and
religious communities approximate their membership locations for activities and certification that they are not
numbers as follows: Assemblies of God, 110,000; the duplicating the activities of other registered religious
four Baptist conventions, 100,000; Jehovahs Witnesses, communities. The ORA has final authority over registra-
96,000; Methodists, 36,000; Seventh-day Adventists, tion decisions. Currently, 54 religious communities are
35,000; Anglicans, 22,500; Presbyterians, 15,500; Mus- registered. Only registered religious communities are
lims, 2,000-3,000; Jews, 1,500; Quakers, 300; and The allowed to receive foreign visitors, import religious mate-
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), rials, meet in approved houses of worship, and apply to
travel abroad for religious purposes. Local Communist

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Party officials must approve all religious activities of from February to August 2015 without trial for illegal
registered groups other than regular worship services, religious activities for leading an unregistered church.
such as repairing or building houses of worship and The government also used a new legal decree to
holding processions or events outside religious build- expropriate church properties and require them to pay
ings. The government also restricts religious practices rent to the government. In January 2015, the Cuban
by denying some religious communities access to state government announced Legal Decree 322, the Gen-
media to air services, limiting exit visas, requiring the eral Law on Housing, purportedly to regulate private
registration of publications, limiting the entry of foreign properties and zoning laws. However, Cuban authori-
religious workers, and restricting bank accounts to one ties used Legal Decree 322 to expropriate 15 Methodist
per denomination or religious association. Further, the churches, as well as other churches of various denom-
ORA continues to pressure denominations to make their inations in the more politically-active eastern part of
internal governing structures, statutes and constitutions the country.
more hierarchical, which aids government efforts to
control religious communities. Continued Targeting and Harassment of
In 2005, the Cuban government implemented a new Independent Religious Communities
law to increase oversight over house churches. Known The government continued to harass the Apostolic
as Directive 43 and Resolution 46, the law requires all Reformation and the Eastern and Western Baptist Con-
house churches to register and submit to the govern- ventions. These independent, vocal, and large religious
ment detailed information on their membership, the communities are resistant to government interference.
house churchs inhabitants, and the schedule of services. As in past reporting periods, the Apostolic Reformation
It permits no more than three meetings to be held per has been targeted for government harassment includ-
week, bars foreign citizens from participating in services ing: short-term arrests of leaders; government-orga-
without government permission, and requires house nized mob attacks; confiscations, destruction of, or
churches of the same denomination to be at least two threats to destroy church property; harassment and
kilometers apart. surveillance of church members and their relatives;

During the reporting period, the Cuban government

increasingly targeted houses of worship with
closure, confiscation, and destruction.

Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 fines on churches; and threats to leaders and members
Threats to Houses of Worship of loss of employment, housing, or educational oppor-
During the reporting period, the Cuban government tunities. Of particular concern is the ongoing harass-
increasingly targeted houses of worship with closure, ment of Apostolic Reformation Reverend Yiorvis Bravo
confiscation, and destruction. Since 2005, authorities Denis and government efforts to seize his family home
rarely enforced the registration requirement for house and church, the latter serving as the religious commu-
churches and infrequently registered house churches nitys headquarters. Both the Eastern and the Western
that did submit applications; this changed in 2015. In Baptist Conventions continued to report surveillance
the most egregious example, the government desig- and harassment by state officials, including receiving
nated 2,000 Assemblies of God churches as illegal and death threats and being victims of acts of repudiation
ordered their closure, confiscation, or demolition, (demonstrations against them by government support-
although these actions have not been taken. Also, Prot- ers). The two denominations also reported threats of
estant Pastor Jess Noel Carballeda was imprisoned church destruction or confiscation.

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Denial of Religious Freedom for Democracy and were dominated by the U.S. trade sanctions and travel
Human Rights Activists embargo on Cuba imposed in 1960 and reinforced by
As in previous reporting periods, the Cuban govern- the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. The U.S. governments
ment continued to deny democracy and human rights imprisonment of five Cubans arrested in 1998 for spy-
activists their constitutional rights to freedom of reli- ing (known as the Cuban Five), and Cubas detention
gion or belief. More than 100 separate incidents were of USAID contractor Alan Gross, also significantly
reported in 2015 of Ladies in White members and other hampered the relationship.
human rights and democracy activists being prevented Since December 2014, the United States and Cuba
from attending Sunday Masses. In the majority of cases, re-established embassies in each others capitals. The
these individuals were detained on their way to Mass United States also removed Cuba from the State Sponsor
and released hours later. Individuals reported being of Terrorism list; eased restrictions on authorized travel
beaten and harassed during their detentions. In a new to Cuba; and increased remittance levels, the import
development, they also reported being prevented from of Cuban products, the export of U.S. telecommunica-
attending Bible study groups and prayer meetings. tions equipment, and U.S.-led training opportunities
More than 150 democracy and human rights activists for and exportation and/or sale of goods and services to
were detained during Pope Francis trip to Cuba in Sep- Cuban private businesses and farmers. U.S. institutions
tember, preventing them from attending the pontiffs were permitted to open banking accounts with Cuban
Mass. Further, church leaders reported pressure from financial institutions and U.S. credit and debit cards
government officials to expel or shun such activists. were permitted to be used in Cuba. Also Secretary of
Religious leaders who did not comply were threatened State John Kerry traveled to Cuba in July to re-open the
with church confiscation or destruction. U.S. Embassy; he was the first Secretary of State to travel

...the Cuban government continued to deny

democracy and human rights activists their constitutional rights
to freedom of religion or belief.

Positive Developments to the country in 70 years. The White House announced

As in previous years, positive developments continue for in February 2016 that President Obama would travel
the Catholic Church and other religious communities, to Cuba March 21-22, the first sitting president to do so
such as the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian-Re- since 1928.
formed Church. These religious denominations contin- This was the third time the Obama Administration
ued to report increased opportunities to repair houses eased U.S. sanctions on Cuba. In April 2009, the Presi-
of worship, receive exit visas, import religious materials, dent lifted restrictions on the number of times Cubans
receive contributions from co-religionists outside Cuba, in the United States can travel to Cuba and the amount
and conduct charitable, educational, and community of money they can send to relatives in the country. On
service projects. the same day, President Obama also announced that the
United States would begin issuing licenses for compa-
U.S. Policy nies to provide cellular telephone and television services
In December 2014, President Barack Obama in Cuba. In March 2010, President Obama announced
announced a New Course on Cuba, starting a process that technology companies would be permitted to
of normalizing diplomatic relations between the coun- export Internet services to Cuba to increase freedom of
tries and significantly lifting trade and travel restric- expression and allow human rights activists to collect
tions. For decades, U.S.-Cuban policies and relations and share information.

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Recommendations and materials with, and interact with co-religion-
As part of the U.S.-Cuba ongoing discussions, the U.S. ists in the United States;
government should take significant action to convey Reinvigorate the U.S.-Cuba human rights dialogue
that the change in policy does not diminish the Cuban and include religious freedom in the discussions;
governments need to improve religious freedom condi-
tions on the island. As such, USCIRF recommends that Use appropriated funds to advance Internet freedom
the U.S. government should: and protect Cuban activists by supporting the devel-

As part of the U.S.-Cuba ongoing discussions,

the U.S. government should take significant action to
convey that the change in policy does
not diminish the Cuban governments need to improve
religious freedom conditions on the island.

Press the Cuban government to: opment and accessibility of new technologies and
stop arrests and harassment of religious leaders; programs to counter censorship and to facilitate the
free flow of information in and out of Cuba; and
end the practice of preventing democracy and
human rights activists from attending religious Encourage international partners, including key
services; Latin American and European countries and
regional blocs, to ensure that violations of freedom of
cease interference with religious activities and religion or belief and related human rights are part
religious communities internal affairs; of all formal and informal multilateral or bilateral
allow unregistered religious groups to operate discussions with Cuba.
freely and legally and revise government policies
that restrict religious services in homes or other
personal property;

lift restrictions on the building or repairing of

houses of worship, holding of religious proces-
sions, importation of religious materials, and
admittance of religious leaders; and

hold accountable police and other security per-

sonnel for actions that violate the human rights of
religious practitioners;

Encourage Cuban authorities to extend an official

invitation for unrestricted visits by the U.S. Ambas-
sadorat-Large for International Religious Freedom,
USCIRF, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom
of Religion or Belief;

Increase opportunities for Cuban religious

leaders from both registered and unregistered
religious communities to travel to, exchange aid

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Key Findings population. Nearly 80 percent of the population is

In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious Hindu (nearly one billion adherents); more than 14
freedom violations increased in India. Minority com- percent is Muslim (roughly 172 million adherents,
munities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, the third largest Muslim population in the world); 2.3
experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, percent is Christian (over 25 million adherents); 1.7
harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu percent is Sikh (20 million adherents); less than one
nationalist groups. Members of the ruling Bharatiya percent is Buddhist (eight million adherents); less than
Janata Party (BJP) tacitly supported these groups and one percent is Jain (five million adherents); and about
used religiously-divisive language to further inflame one percent adhere to other faiths or profess no reli-
tensions. These issues, combined with longstanding gion (eight million people). India is a multi-religious,
problems of police bias and judicial inadequacies, have multi-ethnic, multi-cultural country and a secular
created a pervasive climate of impunity, where religious democracy. Despite these positive characteristics,
minority communities feel increasingly insecure, with however, the Indian government has long struggled to
no recourse when religiously-motivated crimes occur. maintain religious and communal harmony, protect
In the last year, higher caste individuals and local minority communities from abuses, and provide jus-
political leaders also prevented Hindus considered part tice when crimes occur.
of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Dal-
its) from entering religious temples. Additionally, the
national government or state governments applied sev- USCIRF will continue to monitor the
eral laws to restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, situation closely during the
and foreign funding of NGOs. Moreover, an Indian year ahead to determine if India
constitutional provision deeming Sikhs, Buddhists, and should be recommended to the
Jains to be Hindus contradicts international standards U.S. State Department for
of freedom of religion or belief. Based on these con- designation as a country of
cerns, USCIRF again places India on Tier 2, where it has particular concern, or CPC....
been since 2009. However, USCIRF notes that India is
on a negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom.
USCIRF will continue to monitor the situation closely
during the year ahead to determine if India should be The country has experienced periodic outbreaks
recommended to the U.S. State Department for des- of large-scale communal violence against religious
ignation as a country of particular concern, or CPC, minorities, including in Uttar Pradesh in 2013, Odisha
under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) in 2007-2008, Gujarat in 2002, and Delhi in 1984. In
for systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of reli- 2013, in Muzaffarnagar district, Uttar Pradesh, vio-
gious freedom. lence between Hindus and Muslims left more than 40
people dead, at least a dozen women and girls raped,
Background and upwards of 50,000 displaced, many of whom still
India is the worlds largest democracy with about 1.26 have not returned to their homes. In Odisha in 2007-
billion people, or about a one-sixth of the total world 2008, violence between Hindus and Christians killed
nearly 40 people, destroyed churches and homes, and

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displaced nearly 10,000. In Gujarat in 2002, violence these communities report that targeting of them has
between Hindus and Muslims left between 1,200-2,500 increased under the BJP government. Christian-affili-
Muslims dead, destroyed homes, and forced 100,000 ated NGOs and religious leaders report that Christians
people to flee. The 1984 anti-Sikhs riots resulted in are particularly at risk in states that have adopted
deaths of more than 3,000 Sikhs. India established Freedom of Religion Act(s), commonly referred to
special structures, such as Fast-Track Courts, Special as anti-conversion laws. Sikh communities, who have
Investigative Teams (SITs), and independent commis- long pursued justice for the 1984 violence or advocated
sions, to investigate and adjudicate crimes stemming for Sikhism to be recognized as separate from Hindu-
from these incidents. However, their impact has been ism, also have been targeted by the Indian government
hindered by limited capacity, an antiquated judiciary, for years. Muslim communities report that since the
inconsistent use, political corruption, and religious 2008 and 2010 terrorist attacks in India, Muslims have
bias, particularly at the state and local levels. Many faced undue scrutiny and arbitrary arrests and deten-
cases stemming from these incidents are still pending tions, which the government justifies as necessary to
in the India court system. counter terrorism.

Since the BJP assumed power, religious minority communities

have been subject to derogatory comments by BJP politicians and
numerous violent attacks and forced conversions
by affiliated Hindu nationalist groups....

Minority religious leaders and laity, including A USCIRF delegation planned to visit India in
from the Muslim, Christian, and Sikh communities, March 2016, but the Indian government failed to issue
and non-government organizations (NGOs), attri- visas to the group, in effect a denial.
bute Indias recent decline in religious freedom and
communal harmony to religiously-divisive campaign- Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
ing in advance of the countrys 2014 general election Violations against Muslims
and the BJPs victory in that election. Since the BJP During the past year, the Muslim community in India
assumed power, religious minority communities reported increased harassment, violence, and targeted
have been subject to derogatory comments by BJP hate campaigns. Muslims often are accused of being
politicians and numerous violent attacks and forced terrorists; spying for Pakistan; forcibly kidnapping,
conversions by affiliated Hindu nationalist groups, converting, and marrying Hindu women; and disre-
such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sangh specting Hinduism by slaughtering cows. The Muslim
Parivar, and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). The BJP is community reports that these abuses come from Hindu
a Hindu nationalist party that was founded in col- nationalists, including local and state politicians, and
laboration with the RSS, and the two maintain close the national government has failed to address these
ties at the highest levels. These groups subscribe to problems and, at times, contributes to them. Members of
the ideology of Hindutva (Hinduness), which seeks the BJP and RSS have stoked religious tensions by claim-
to make India a Hindu state based on Hinduism and ing that Muslim population growth is an attempt to
Hindu values. The BJP officially adopted the Hindutva diminish the Hindu majority. For example, high-rank-
ideology and agenda in 1998. ing BJP parliamentarians, such as Yogi Adityanath and
While Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and other Sakshi Maharaj, reportedly called for laws to control the
minority communities recognize that religious free- Muslim population. In a February 2015 video of a Sangh
dom issues in India predate the current government, Parivar meeting, participants called for corner[ing]

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Muslims and destroy[ing] the demons; several BJP state two years have used alleged violations of beef ban laws
and national political leaders are visible in the video, to inflame Hindus to violently attack Indian Muslims.
including sitting on the dais. Muslims indicate that
they rarely report abuses because of societal and police Violations against Christians
bias, and police intimidation by the RSS. Additionally, Christian communities, across many denomina-
Muslim community leaders and members report that tions, reported numerous, and increased, incidents
mosques are monitored and young boys and men are of harassment and attacks in the last year, which
detained regularly and indiscriminately and held with- they attribute to Hindu nationalist groups with the
out charges on the pretext of countering terrorism. BJPs tacit support. In early 2016, an advocacy group

Christian communities, across many denominations,

reported numerous, and increased, incidents of harassment and
attacks in the last year, which they attribute to Hindu nationalist
groups with the BJPs tacit support.

Restrictions on Cow Slaughter reported that there were at least 365 major attacks on
Article 48 of the Indian constitution and most Indian Christians and their institutions during 2015, com-
states (24 out of 29, as of 2015) significantly restrict or pared to 120 in 2014; these incidents affected more
ban cow slaughter, which is required for Muslims during than 8,000 Christians. For example, in November 2015,
Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). The application Hindu nationalists severely beat 40 Christians wor-
of these provisions also economically marginalizes shipping in a private home in Telangana state, killing
Muslims and Dalits (who adhere to various religious one womans unborn child. In February 2016, a mob
faiths); many members of these communities work in of 35 people beat Father Jose Kannumkuzhy of the
the beef industry, including slaughter for consumption, Ramanathapauram Syro-Malabar diocese and three
hauling items, and producing leather goods. Under lay church officials in Tamil Nadu state. Reportedly,
state criminal laws, individuals can face up to 10 years local police seldom provide protection, refuse to accept
in jail or a fine of up to 10,000 rupees (US$150) for the complaints, rarely investigate, and sometimes encour-
slaughter or possession of cows or bulls or the con- age Christians to move or hide their religion.
sumption of beef, and mere accusations of violations In 2015, local governments appeared to capitu-
can lead to violence. For example, in September 2015, late to demands for or compel accusations of forced
in Bisahra village, Uttar Pradesh, a mob of nearly 1,000 conversation made by the RSS to curtail the activities
people killed Mohammad Akhlaq for allegedly killing of Christian groups, leading to government-sanctioned
a cow, and seriously injured his son. Eight people were restrictions. For example, in February 2016, the Dahar
arrested and charged with murder and rioting, but no village council in Madhya Pradesh state issued a 5,000
additional information was available by the end of the rupees fine (US$75) to the local Christian community for
reporting period. In October 2015, in Indian-adminis- breaching peace and harmony, after local RSS mem-
tered Kashmir, Zahid Rasool Bhat was set ablaze and bers claimed that they were trying to convert Hindus. In
later died of his injuries for allegedly transporting cows May 2015, authorities in Dhar District, Madhya Pradesh,
to be slaughtered. Five people were arrested for murder, banned on law and order grounds a Pentecostal meet-
rioting, conspiracy, and the use of explosives. A state ing that occurs annually. The community reported that
government spokesman said a fast-track court would be they sought and were issued the appropriate permits,
established. According to members of the Muslim com- which were revoked later due to what the community
munity, members of the BJP and the RSS over the last believes was RSS pressure. According to human rights

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groups, over 50 villages in the Bastar District of Chhat- members of the ruling BJP party, including the partys
tisgarh State effectively banned all non-Hindu rites, president Amit Shah, called for a nationwide anti-con-
meetings, and practices. In October 2015, the states version law.
Supreme Court lifted the ban, noting that it violated the
fundamental right to preach and propagate religion. Hindu Nationalist Groups and Forced Conversions
However, reports continue that Christians in the area In December 2014, Hindu nationalist groups
are still subjected to social boycotts; denied food, clean announced plans to reconvert thousands of Chris-
water, and employment; and physically attacked or tian and Muslims families to Hinduism as part of a
forced to convert to Hinduism. so-called Ghar Wapsi (returning home) program. In

Observers note that [anti-conversion] laws create a hostile, and

on occasion violent, environment for religious minority communities because
they do not require any evidence to support accusations of wrongdoing.

Anti-Conversion Laws advance of the program, the Hindu groups sought to

Six Indian states Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, raise money for their campaign, noting that it cost
Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunanchal Pradesh, and nearly 200,000 rupees (US$3,200) per Christian and
Odisha have so-called Freedom of Religion Act(s), 500,000 rupees (US$8,000) per Muslim. After domes-
commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws. Rajas- tic and international outcry, the RSS postponed their
than states parliament also passed an anti-conversion plans. Nevertheless, smaller-scale forced conversions
bill, but it was never signed by the states Chief Min- of members of Indias religious minority communities
ister. These laws, based on concerns about unethical were reported in 2015. For example, in July 2015, 15
conversion tactics, generally require government Dalit Christians reportedly were forced to recon-
officials to assess the legality of conversions out of Hin- vert in Kerala. In addition, in February 2016, the RSS
duism only, and provide for fines and imprisonment reportedly placed signs in train stations throughout
for anyone who uses force, fraud, or inducement to India that said Christians had to leave India or convert
convert another. While the laws purportedly protect to Hinduism or they will be killed by 2021.
religious minorities from forced conversions, they are
one-sided, only concerned about conversions away Article 25 of the Constitution
from Hinduism but not towards Hinduism. Observers Article 25 of Indias constitution states that Hindus
note that these laws create a hostile, and on occasion shall be construed as including a reference to persons
violent, environment for religious minority commu- professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the
nities because they do not require any evidence to reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be con-
support accusations of wrongdoing. For example, in strued accordingly. The lack of recognition of Sikhism,
January 2016, police detained 15 Christians in Kar- Jainism, and Buddhism as distinct religions subjects
nataka state after members of two Hindu nationalists members of these faiths to Hindu Personal Status Laws.
groups, Bajrang Sal and VHP, alleged that the church Since members of these groups are considered Hindus,
leaders were forcibly converting Hindus; they were they are forced to register their marriages, inherit their
released later without charge. In December 2015, properties, and adopt children by classifying themselves
eight Christians were acquitted of forced conversion as Hindus. Additionally, since they are considered
in Puttar town, in Dakshina Kannada district, Karna- Hindu by law, they are denied access to social services
taka state. They originally were charged in 2007, and or employment and educational preferences available to
were released until the hearing. In 2015, high-ranking other religious minority communities.

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Violations against Sikhs Christians and Muslims, do not qualify for the official
In addition to the violations resulting from Article 25, reserves for jobs or school placement available to Hindu
Sikhs often are harassed and pressured to reject reli- Dalits, putting these groups at a significant economic
gious practices and beliefs that are distinct to Sikhism, and social advancement disadvantage.
such as wearing Sikh dress and unshorn hair, and carry-
ing religious items, including the kirpan. The Sikh com- Foreign (Contribution) Regulation Act
munity also reports that the Indian government ignores The 2010 Foreign (Contribution) Regulation Act regu-
their religious freedom concerns by targeting Sikhs lates the inflow and use of money received from foreign
under the countrys sedition law regardless of whether individuals, associations, and companies that may
they in fact support the Khalistan movement (a political be detrimental to the international interest. In April
movement seeking full legal recognition of Sikhism 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs revoked the licenses
and a Sikh state in the Punjab). For example, in October of nearly 9,000 charitable organizations. The Ministry
2015, Sikhs protested in Chandigarh, Punjab state after stated that the revocations were for non-compliance with
pages from the Sikh Holy Scripture (Guru Granth Sahib) the Acts reporting requirements, but numerous reli-
were found desecrated. Police officers opened fire at the gious and non-religious NGOs claimed that they were in
unarmed protestors, killing two and injuring 70 others, retaliation for highlighting the governments poor record
and several Sikh protesters were arrested under the on human trafficking, labor conditions, religious free-
sedition law. dom and other human rights, environmental, and food

In several cases, Hindu Dalits were prohibited from entering temples,

by higher caste individuals or local political leaders.

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Dalits) issues. Among the affected organizations were Christian
Dalits, or individuals within the Scheduled Castes and NGOs that receive money from foreign co-religionists to
Scheduled Tribes, officially are estimated at over 200 build or fund schools, orphanages, and churches, and
million people, although this only includes Hindu, Sikh, human rights activists and their funders. For example,
Buddhist, and Jain Dalits since the Indian government two NGOs, the Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice
does not view non-Hindus (as it defines that term) as and Peace (CJP), which run conflict-resolution programs
Dalits. In January 2016, Rita Izsk-Ndiaye, the UN Spe- and fight court cases stemming from the 2002 Gujarat
cial Rapporteur on Minority Issues, reported that crimes riots, had their registrations revoked. Additionally, the
against Dalits in India appeared to have increased in U.S.-based Ford Foundation, which partially funds the
2015. Hindu Dalits also faced religious discrimination Sabrang Trust and CJP, was put on a watch list when
in 2015. In several cases, Hindu Dalits were prohibited the Ministry of Home Affairs accused it of abetting com-
from entering temples, by higher caste individuals munal disharmony.
or local political leaders. For example, in seven villages
in Tirupur district, Tamil Nadu state, Dalits report- Communal Violence
edly were not permitted to enter or worship at temples The states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar,
because their entrance would unsanctify the tem- Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya
ples. A district court case challenging this prohibition Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan tend to have the
is pending. As of June 2015, reportedly there were 13 greatest number of incidents of religiously-motivated
cases in eight districts in the state of Gujarat over the attacks and communal violence, as well as the largest
last five years where Dalits were forbidden from enter- religious minority populations. According to Indias
ing temples. Additionally, non-Hindu Dalits, especially Union Home Ministry, in 2015, India experienced a

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17% increase in communal violence, when compared government to review several incidents that occurred
to the previous year. In 2015, there were 751 reported during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Reportedly, the SIT has
incidents of communal violence, up from 644 in 2014. not released any reports on their investigations, nor filed
In 2015, 97 people were killed, and 2,246 people injured. any new cases.
Uttar Pradesh had 155 incidents, including 22 deaths
and 419 injured. Other states that had significant num- U.S. Policy
bers of communal violence incidents in 2015 were Bihar India and the United States have increased ties over
(71), Maharashtra (105), Madhya Pradesh (92), Karna- the last several decades, with India now described as a
taka (105), and Gujarat (55). Religious minority commu- strategic and natural partner of the United States. In
nities, especially Muslims, claim that the government 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched
often categorizes attacks against them as communal the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue, through which the
violence, to whitewash the religiously-motivated nature countries discuss a wide range of bilateral, global,
of the violence. and regional issues, such as economic development,

The Indian courts are still adjudicating cases stemming from large-scale
Hindu-Muslim communal violence in Uttar Pradesh (2013) and
Gujarat (2002); Hindu-Christian communal violence in Odisha (20072008);
and Hindu-Sikh communal violence in Delhi (1984).

Redress for Past Large-Scale Violence business and trade, education, technology, counter-ter-
The Indian courts are still adjudicating cases stemming rorism, and the environment. Issues related to religious
from large-scale Hindu-Muslim communal violence in freedom have not been included in any dialogues. In
Uttar Pradesh (2013) and Gujarat (2002); Hindu-Chris- 2015, the relationship with India expanded to become
tian communal violence in Odisha (2007-2008); and the U.S.-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue.
Hindu-Sikh communal violence in Delhi (1984). NGOs, As part of the initiative to build ties between the
religious leaders, and human rights activists allege United States and India, the Obama Administration has
religious bias and corruption in these investigations made significant overtures to the Indian government.
and adjudications. Additionally, religious minority The first state visit President Barack Obama hosted after
communities claim that eye-witnesses often are intim- taking office was for then-Prime Minister Manmohan
idated not to testify, especially when local political, Singh in November 2009. In November 2010, President
religious, or societal leaders have been implicated in Obama made a three-day state visit to India, and he
cases. In February 2016, the first major verdict of the returned in January 2015 to be the chief guest at Indias
2013 Muzaffarnagar riots acquitted 10 people charged annual Republic Day festivities, becoming the first U.S.
with arson and murder for lack of evidence. Six rape President to travel to India twice.
cases registered with police are pending in the courts or During his 2015 visit, and again in February 2015
are still being investigated. In August 2015, the Indian at the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama
government gave a 15,000 rupee (US$225) compensation made notable remarks on Indias religious freedom con-
to 12 victims of the Odisha violence; other court cases cerns. In his speech at a town hall event in New Delhi,
are still pending. Court cases connected to the Gujarat and again a few weeks later at the Prayer Breakfast, Pres-
violence also are ongoing. However, there have been ident Obama underscored the importance of religious
numerous credible reports that the government targets freedom to Indias success, urging the country not to be
lawyers and activists for their work in seeking justice. splintered along the lines of religious faith and stated
In February 2015, a new SIT was formed by the Indian that India is a place where ...religious faiths of all

164 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16
types have, on occasion, been targeted by other people violence has occurred or is likely to occur and meet-
of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs - ings with religious communities, local governmental
acts of intolerance that would have shocked [Mahatma] leaders, and police;
Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
Press the Indian government to allow USCIRF to
In mid-February 2015, at an event honoring Indian
visit the country, and urge the United Nations Spe-
Catholic saints, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated
cial Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to
publicly, for the first time, that his government will
visit India;
ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that
everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt Urge India to boost training on human rights and
the religion of his or her choice without coercion or religious freedom standards and practices for the
undue influence. This statement is notable given long- police and judiciary, particularly in states and areas
standing allegations that, as Chief Minister of Gujarat with a history or likelihood of religious and com-
in 2002, he was complicit in anti-Muslim riots that munal violence;
occurred in that state.
Urge the central Indian government to press states
In March 2016, USCIRF sought to visit India due
that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or
to longstanding and increasing concerns about reli-
amend them to conform with internationally-rec-
gious freedom conditions in the country. USCIRF had
ognized human rights standards; make clear U.S.
the full support of the U.S. State Department and the
opposition to laws that restrict freedom of thought
U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The Indian government,
and association; and
however, failed to issue visas to the USCIRF delegation,
in effect a denial. State Department Spokesman, John Urge the Indian government to publicly rebuke
Kirby, in response to a reporters question, stated that government officials and religious leaders that make
the Department was disappointed by this news. The derogatory statements about religious communities.
Indian government also failed to issue visas to USCIRF
in 2001 and 2009.

Since 2004, the United States and India have pursued a
strategic relationship based on shared concerns about
energy, security, and the growing threat of terrorism, as
well as shared values of democracy and the rule of law.
As part of this important relationship, USCIRF recom-
mends that the U.S. government should:

Integrate concern for religious freedom into bilat-

eral contacts with India, including the framework
of future Strategic Dialogues, at both the federal
and provincial level, and encourage the strength-
ening of the capacity of state and central police to
implement effective measures to prohibit and pun-
ish cases of religious violence and protect victims
and witnesses;

Increase the U.S. Embassys attention to issues of reli-

gious freedom and related human rights, including
through visits by the Ambassador and other officials
to areas where communal and religiously-motivated

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166 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings toward religious communities, which has helped

Incidents of discrimination against religious minorities mitigate some religious-based violence. The government
and attacks on religious properties continue to occur is working on a religious protection bill that is expected
in Indonesia, typically isolated incidents localized in to address issues such as houses of worship and the
certain provinces. Radical groups perpetrate many of treatment of non-recognized religious groups. Those
these attacks and influence the responses of local gov- familiar with drafts of the bill, including Indonesias
ernment officials when violence occurs. These groups independent National Human Rights Commission,
target non-Muslims, such as Christians, and non-Sunni Komnas HAM, have raised concerns it includes prob-
Muslims whose practice of Islam falls outside what the lematic language from existing policies and regulations.
groups deem acceptable. Encouragingly, in 2015, Pres- In the meantime, existing discriminatory policies are
ident Joko Widodo, Religious Affairs Minister Lukman still in place.
Hakim Saifuddin, and other government officials regu-
larly spoke out against religious-based violence. While
such statements are in stark contrast to the previous ...the Setara Institute calculated a
administrations open support for radical groups, the 33 percent increase in incidents of
longstanding policies and practices that motivate and violence over the previous year,
provide cover for radical groups actions against reli- many committed by police.
gious communities remain in place and continue to mar
Indonesias prospects for genuine religious freedom.
Based on these concerns, in 2016 USCIRF again places
Indonesia on Tier 2, where it has been since 2003. Komnas HAM and local non-governmental orga-
nizations assessed significant increases in religious
Background freedom violations and violence in 2015. For example,
Indonesia is the worlds most populous Muslim-ma- the Setara Institute calculated a 33 percent increase
jority country: more than 87 percent of the nearly 256 in incidents of violence over the previous year, many
million population identify as Muslim. While the vast committed by police. Violations rarely are investigated
majority of Indonesias Muslims are Sunni, up to three and attackers, whether police or radical mob groups,
million are Shia and up to 400,000 Ahmadi. Christians continue their abuses with relative impunity.
represent seven percent of the population, Catholics In August 2015, a USCIRF Commissioner-led dele-
nearly three percent, and Hindus nearly two percent. gation visited Indonesia, meeting in the capital, Jakarta,
However, in some areas of the country, Christians or and the city of Bogor in West Java with government offi-
Hindus comprise the majority. Indonesia recognizes six cials, representatives from multiple religions and faiths,
religions: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Muslim organizations, and civil society organizations.
Hinduism, and Confucianism. Smaller segments of the The delegation raised specific cases of religious-based
population practice unrecognized faiths, such as Sikhs, violence and discussed policies to protect religious
Jews, Bahais, and Falun Gong. freedom. Government officials described their efforts to
President Joko Jokowi Widodo and his adminis- promote understanding across faiths, support religious
tration have demonstrated a more inclusive approach education, and teach local officials about religious regu-
lations. Government officials acknowledged to USCIRF

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that some groups and individuals, such as the Indone- stating that violence harms diversity. Although the gov-
sian Council of Ulema (MUI) and the Islamic Defenders ernment deployed additional police and military troops
Front (FPI), target Muslims they perceive to be practic- in the area, thousands of mostly Christian residents fled
ing Islam in unacceptable ways. the province. Due to the lack of permits, the authorities
tore down several of the churches. In July, hardliner
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 groups and local Muslim residents also protested sev-
General Conditions eral churches in Yogyakarta over alleged permit issues.
During USCIRFs visit to Indonesia, several interlocutors Similarly, local officials closed the Indonesian
noted that their religious communities experienced Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin in Bogor, West Java
challenges in certain parts of the country but otherwise after hardliners pressured the local government to
spoke of generally fair conditions for religious freedom. suspend the churchs permit in 2008. Despite a 2010
Individuals of many faiths even beyond the six offi- Supreme Court ruling ordering the church be reopened,
cially recognized religions have the flexibility to prac- it remains closed. In 2015, the city revealed plans to
tice, worship, and teach freely. Some religiously diverse relocate the church, which the congregation rejected
neighborhoods have long traditions of interfaith inter- because they had not been consulted. At Christmas, the
action and cooperation. Komnas HAM has expanded its GKI Yasmin church joined with fellow West Java church,
investigations into religious freedom violations, and has the Filadelfia Batak Church (HKBP) closed by the Bekasi
noted the difficulties in preventing local officials from city government in 2011, in holding outdoor services
discriminating against religious minorities and remind- across from the Presidential Palace in Jakarta.
ing them of their responsibility to follow national laws Christian churches are not the only houses of
and policies. worship targeted. In July 2015, a crowd of approxi-
mately 200 people threw rocks and set fire to a mosque
Forced Closures of and Violence against in Tolikara, Papua when local Muslims gathered to
Religious Properties perform Idul Fitri prayers. The fire spread to several
In some parts of the country, local governments com- nearby shops and forced the evacuation of approxi-
monly restrict or prevent religious practice pursuant to mately 200 local residents.
government policy, specifically the 2006 Joint Regula-
tion on Houses of Worship, which requires permits for
houses of worship. Under the 2006 Regulation, obtain- ...a reported mob of hundreds
ing a permit requires: a list of 90 congregation mem- attacked and set fire to two of the
bers; signatures from 60 local households of a different churches [in Aceh Singkil District];
faith; recommendations from the local religious affairs one man was killed.
office and local Religious Harmony Forum (FKUB); and
approval from the sub-district head. The Regulation
provides local governments the latitude to deny permits
to smaller congregations and the authority to close or Ahmadis
tear down houses of worship built prior to 2006. Komnas The governments 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree bans
HAM and local NGOs have raised concerns about the Ahmadis from spreading their faith, and the MUI issued
violence and conflict caused by the 2006 Regulation. a fatwa (religious edict) declaring the Ahmadiyya faith to
For example, in October 2015, protestors in Aceh be deviant and heretical. Over the years, some religious
Singkil District in the province of Aceh demanded the leaders and entire provinces have expanded restrictions
local government close 10 churches without permits. on Ahmadis, banning all Ahmadiyya activities; some
Perceiving the government to be acting too slowly, a Ahmadiyya mosques have been closed as a result. While
reported mob of hundreds attacked and set fire to two meeting USCIRF, Ahmadis described facing challenges
of the churches; one man was killed. The next day on in some parts of the country in building new mosques
Twitter, President Jokowi urged an end to the violence, and obtaining ID cards. They also reported being blocked

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by mobs during Friday prayers and poor responsiveness Bahais

from local police, including inaction against harassment Indonesias Bahai community still experiences gov-
and attacks. However, Ahmadis expressed optimism in ernment discrimination because of their faith. Despite
the Jokowi government, citing its openness to speak with Religious Affairs Minister Lukmans 2014 statement
members of their community. that the Bahai faith should be recognized as a religion
Beginning in June 2015, protestors in South Jakarta, protected by the constitution, the government has not
some belonging to FPI, prevented Ahmadis from changed official policy. Bahai followers are not able to
performing Friday prayers at the An Nur Mosque on obtain state recognition of civil marriages, have lim-
two non-successive Fridays, and on July 8 the mosque ited educational opportunities, and must state a faith
was sealed. Jakarta Governor Basuki Ahok Purnama other than their own on their ID cards. Only recently
ordered the mosque reopened, but it remained closed have some Bahais been allowed to leave blank the
at the end of the reporting period. Basukis support is a religion field on their ID cards. Although some schools
welcome development, including his decision to allow now allow Bahais to provide their own religious
Ahmadis in the area to worship from home. Meanwhile, education, Bahai instruction is not part of the official
Ahmadis in other parts of the country also experience curriculum on religion set by the national standards
restrictions and abuses. A total of 118 Ahmadis remain board, and some Bahai students instead are forced to
internally displaced in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara study Protestantism or Catholicism.
after sectarian violence forced their eviction more than
nine years ago. Constitutional Court Fails to Protect
Interfaith Marriage
Shia Muslims In June 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled against a
Like Ahmadis, Shia Muslims are viewed as practicing request for judicial review of the 1974 Marriage Act to
a deviant or heretical form of Islam. Throughout fully legalize interfaith marriages. Some government
2015, conservatives and hardliners within the Sunni officials and religious leaders interpret Article 2(1) of
majority, including those affiliated with the Anti-Shia the Act in a way that prevents couples of different faiths
National Alliance, continued to harass and threaten Shia from obtaining marriage licenses or having their mar-
Muslims. Shia Muslims who spoke with the USCIRF riages officially recognized unless one spouse changes
delegation during its visit reported that members of their religions. Government officials, including Religious
community face discrimination in civil service positions Affairs Minister Lukman, lauded the Courts decision for
and accusations of blasphemy. However, they noted few protecting religion; Lukman said interfaith marriage is
not possible.

Blasphemy Law
In October 2015, Bogor Mayor Bima
Arya Sugiarto banned the Government officials told USCIRF that the laws crim-
Shia Muslim commemoration of Ashura. inalizing blasphemy and other forms of perceived
religious insults are in place to protect citizens from
violence. One official admitted the government limits
speech in order to prevent societal chaos. Interlocutors
restrictions establishing mosques, although Shia Mus- told USCIRF that blasphemy cases are now typically
lims in Indonesia generally do not seek to build their own tried under criminal defamation laws rather than the
mosques. Approximately 300 Shia Muslims from East 1965 Blasphemy Law. Other interlocutors noted that the
Java have been displaced since 2012 after a mob attacked Blasphemy Law, whether directly in use or not, provides
their village and forced them from their homes. In Octo- the majority the right to persecute the minority, particu-
ber 2015, Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto banned the larly at the regional and local level where pressure from
Shia Muslim commemoration of Ashura. Protestors in intolerant, hardline groups can be most severe.
Bandung interrupted Ashura celebrations as well.

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Responses to Terrorism and Perceived Threats Barack Obama. The two presidents released a joint
to Islam statement agreeing to enhance the U.S.-Indonesia Com-
Indonesias experience with and fear of terrorism shape prehensive Partnership and further cooperate on key
the governments position on certain freedoms, includ- issues of bilateral interest, including: maritime affairs,
ing religious freedom. The government has struggled to defense, economic growth and development, energy
respond to a secretive religious sect known as the Fajar development and energy security, and people-to-peo-
Nusantara Movement, or Gafatar. On January 19, 2016, ple contacts. A new Ministerial Strategic Dialogue was
a mob set fire to houses belonging to former Gafatar established, reflecting both countries intent to deepen
members in West Kalimantan; in total, several thousand the bilateral relationship at all levels. In a speech during
residents fled or were evacuated. The government and the visit, President Jokowi welcomed U.S. engagement
Muslim leaders are suspicious of the group believed in East Asia and announced Indonesias intention to
to combine aspects of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism join the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional free trade
although no link to terrorism has been proven. In Febru- agreement.
ary 2016, the MUI issued a fatwa pronouncing the group Although the Comprehensive Partnership facili-
to be heretical, and the government announced plans tates multiple avenues for bilateral engagement, human
to re-educate the members so they better understand rights have not been featured prominently despite coop-
real Islam. On January 14, 2016, terrorists affiliated with eration between the two countries on broader issues,
the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) detonated such as democracy and civil society. While in Malaysia,
bombs and opened fire in Jakarta, Indonesias capital, attending the November 2015 Association of Southeast
killing eight people, including four of the terrorists. The Asian Nations Summit, President Obama praised Indo-
police have since arrested or detained several dozen other nesia for representing tolerance and peace.
suspected terrorists linked to the attack. In response, Following the Southeast Asia refugee and migration
the government revised the 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law crisis in 2015, in which thousands of Rohingya Muslims
to expand police capabilities to prevent attacks and left Burma and Bangladesh by sea for other countries,
detain suspected terrorists, but human rights advocates Indonesia sheltered at least 1,800 Rohingya Muslims,
criticized the draft for curtailing rights and opening the most of whom were from Burma. The vast majority
door to abuse of power; the revisions were still pending in resided in makeshift camps in Aceh Province. In May
parliament at the end of the reporting period. 2015, both Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to provide

Although the Comprehensive Partnership facilitates multiple avenues for

bilateral engagement, human rights have not been featured
prominently despite cooperation between the two countries on
broader issues, such as democracy and civil society.

U.S. Policy temporary shelter to thousands of refugees for up to one

In a region plagued by democratic backsliding, stalled year to allow time for resettlement to third countries.
reforms, and the lingering vestiges of military or author- Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees,
itarian control, Indonesia has made more democratic and Migration Anne Richard visited Aceh in June 2015.
progress than its neighbors, serving as a role model in By early 2016, countries in the region, including Indone-
the region. Thus, the bilateral U.S.-Indonesia relation- sia, had convened two iterations of the Special Meeting
ship carries strategic significance. on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean, to discuss
In October 2015, President Jokowi made his first how to assist individuals fleeing and the root causes of
official visit to the United States and met with President their movement. However, reports indicate that many of

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the Rohingya Muslims from Bangladesh were repatri- discriminate or commit acts of violence against reli-
ated to that country and those from Burma have left the gious communities;
Aceh camps, likely to make their way to Malaysia.
Prioritize funding for governmental, civil society,
and media programs that promote religious free-
dom, counter extremism, build interfaith alliances,
Indonesias democratic success makes it an important
expand the reporting ability of human rights
partner for U.S. engagement and leadership in the Asia
defenders, train government and religious officials
Pacific, a collaboration that will strengthen if Indonesia
to mediate sectarian disputes, and build capacity
becomes a beacon not just of democracy, but of protect-
for legal reform advocates, judicial officials, and
ing human rights pursuant to international standards,
parliamentarians to better fulfill Indonesias obliga-
including freedom of religion or belief. The United States
tions under international human rights law; and
must encourage the Indonesian government to prevent
radical hardliners from shaping religious policies and Help to train Indonesian police and counter-terror-
take other measures to protect followers of all faiths. In ism officials, at all levels, to better address sectarian
addition, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. govern- conflict, religion-related violence and terrorism,
ment should: including violence against places of worship,
through practices consistent with international
Urge the Indonesian government, at central, pro-
human rights standards, while ensuring those offi-
vincial, and local levels, to comply with the Indone-
cers have not been implicated in past human rights
sian constitution and international human rights
abuses pursuant to Leahy Amendment vetting
standards by:
overturning the 2008 Joint Ministerial Decree on
the Ahmadiyya community and any provincial
bans on Ahmadiyya religious practice;

amending or repealing Article 156(a) of the Penal

Code and releasing anyone sentenced for devi-
ancy, denigrating religion, or blasphemy;

amending the 2006 Joint Regulation on Houses of

Worship to allow religious communities the right
to build and maintain their places of worship free
from discrimination and threats;

Offer technical assistance to the Indonesian gov-

ernment as it drafts legislation protecting religious
freedom, as appropriate;

Create specific bilateral working groups as part

of the Comprehensive Partnership meetings with
Indonesia to discuss human rights, religious free-
dom, and rule of law issues and establish concrete
measures to address them;

Raise in public and private with Indonesian officials

the need to protect Indonesias tradition of religious
tolerance and pluralism by investigating, arrest-
ing, and prosecuting individuals or groups who

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172 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings high membership thresholds and bans unregistered

Although the government of Kazakhstan promotes religious activity; it restricts areas of permitted religious
religious freedom for traditional religious groups activity and teaching, distribution of religious materials,
at the international level, domestic religious freedom and training of clergy; and it sets new penalties for alleged
conditions further deteriorated in 2015. The countrys violations. While the religion law declares that all reli-
restrictive 2011 religion law bans unregistered religious gions are equal under the law, its preamble recognizes
activity and has been enforced through the closing of the historical role of Hanafi Islam and Orthodox Chris-
religious groups, police raids, detentions, and fines. The tianity, suggesting preferred official status. The gov-
laws onerous registration requirements have led to a ernment also supports anti-sect centers that promote
sharp drop in the number of registered religious groups, intolerance against certain religious minorities. Religious
both Muslim and Protestant. Based on these concerns, groups are subject to police and secret police surveil-
USCIRF again places Kazakhstan on Tier 2 in 2016, lance, but many members of vulnerable groups hesitate to
where it has been since 2013. discuss this issue out of fear of state reprisals.
Under the 2011 laws complex registration rules, all
Background religious organizations had to re-register by October
Kazakhstans population is estimated at 17.7 million. 2012. Groups had to register with national, regional,
About 65 percent are Muslim, mostly following the and/or local Ministry of Justice authorities, with
Hanafi school of Sunni Islam; Russian Orthodox are varying membership numbers needed for registration
estimated at 25 percent; and other groups are under five (50 at the local level; 500 in at least two regions on the
percent, including Jews, Roman and Greek Catholics, regional level; 5,000 in each region on the national
various Protestant denominations, and others. During level). Many previously-registered groups could not
the Soviet period, many non-Kazakhs (mostly Russians) meet the new thresholds and the countrys total num-
moved to Kazakhstan to expand agricultural output ber of registered religious groups fell sharply. Of the
and eventually outnumbered native Kazakhs. After the 48 non-traditional religious organizations, only 16
countrys independence, many non-Kazakhs emigrated were re-registered. The 11,000 members of the Union
and official repatriation, mainly of ethnic Kazakhs from of Evangelical Christian Baptists refuse to register as
China, resulted in an increase of about one million a matter of conscience. By 2013, only Muslim groups
ethnic Kazakhs. affiliated with the state-backed Muslim Board were

Religious groups are subject to police and secret police surveillance....

Before its 2011 religion law, Kazakhstan was seen as registered. Shia and Ahmadi Muslims were denied
one of the most liberal post-Soviet Central Asian states in legal status, as were mosques attended mainly by
regard to freedom of religion or belief. The religion law, particular ethnic groups. Catholic communities were
however, sets complex registration requirements with exempt from registration due to a government agree-
ment with the Holy See.

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Observers view the two-year-long criminal prose- register the Tatar-Bashkir community in the city of Pet-
cution that began in May 2013 of retired Presbyterian ropavl and, in late 2015, attempted, but failed, to auction
Pastor Kashkumbayev of Astanas registered Grace that communitys mosque to a registered entity.
Church and the severe harassment of his family a sym-
bol of the countrys steep decline of respect for religious Penalties for Unregistered Religious Activity
freedom. In a return to Soviet-style methods, during one The most frequent violations of the 2011 religion law that
month of his imprisonment, Pastor Kashkumbayev was result in fines are for distributing religious texts without
forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs. a license, discussing religion without the required mis-
In July 2014, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarba- sionary registration, and holding unregistered worship
yev amended the countrys administrative and criminal meetings. There are 25 Council of Churches Baptists
implementation codes. The new administrative articles who refuse to pay fines for unregistered religious activity
largely maintain the previous penalties for alleged and are on the Justice Ministrys list of debtors unable to
violations in regard to religion or belief, while the new leave Kazakhstan. Jehovahs Witnesses also have been
criminal provisions place restrictions on convicts. The prosecuted for committing this offense. In December
amended codes took effect on January 1, 2015. 2015, courts upheld large fines against two female Jeho-
The UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Reli- vahs Witnesses, including a 74-year-old pensioner, for
gion or Belief and Freedom of Assembly and Associa- talking about their faith.
tion visited Kazakhstan in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Treatment of Protestants
Belief expressed concern that non-registered religious In December 2015, a court in Astana sentenced Sev-
groups can hardly exercise any collective religious enth-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov to two years
functions in Kazakhstan. The Special Rapporteur in a labor camp, increasing the penalty from the seven
on Freedom of Assembly and Association noted that, years of house arrest a lower court had imposed the
although the right to freedom of association is con- previous month. According to Forum 18 News Service,
stitutionally guaranteed, a web of laws and practice the 54-year-old father of eight was convicted of incite-
limit the real world freedom...[including] of religious ment to religious violence for discussing his faith. In
associations to operate. January 2016, police in Aktau raided a worship meeting
Since 2004, the Kazakh government has sponsored of the New Life Pentecostal Church, which has been a
and hosted the Congress of Leaders of World and Tradi- frequent target of official harassment. The two local pas-
tional Religions, a major international inter-faith meet- tors were ordered to bring church documents to police.
ing. In June 2015, Kazakhstan hosted the fifth session of In July 2015, police raided a childrens summer camp
that Congress. near Almaty run by the registered Baptist Church in

Criminal charges of extremism are regularly brought against

various individuals for peaceful religious activity.

Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 Kapshagai. Videos of the police raid were given to local
Registration Issues media outlets, which repeated the official accusation
According to reports, Kazakh officials continued to that camp organizers were illegally teaching religion.
obstruct activities of unregistered religious groups, such
as a Protestant church in Atyrau, and of certain registered Extremism Charges
communities including the registered Hare Krishna Criminal charges of extremism are regularly brought
group in Kostanai. Kazakh officials continued to refuse to against various individuals for peaceful religious

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activity. Court hearings on whether materials are some booksellers with official permits prefer not to sell
extremist are not announced. There is an extensive religious texts to avoid trouble with the state. The import
list of banned texts on government websites. In 2015, of 14 Jehovahs Witnesses texts have been banned due
extremism charges remained pending against atheist to court rulings that they reject fundamental teachings
writer Aleksandr Kharlamov, who was detained for of Christianity. In April 2015, an Administrative Court
five months in 2013, including one month of psychiat- in Oral fined Eldar Sundetkaliyev one months average
ric exams. The Muslim missionary movement Tabligh wages for selling a computer program on Muslim prayer
Jamaat was banned in 2013, and trials of alleged that the government deemed Salafist. In February and
members are closed. Forum 18 reported in February May 2015, police in Kyzylorda raided two bookstores
2016 that 25 individuals were known to have been suspected of selling Muslim religious texts, including
convicted for alleged Tabligh Jamaat membership the Quran, without official permits and in May and
since December 2014. Thirteen of these were given September, the booksellers reportedly were each fined
prison terms, and the other 12 given sentences of over four and a half months official minimum wage and
restricted freedom. Three more individuals were on banned from selling books for three months. Council
trial and one more in pre-trial detention as of the end of Churches member Nikolai Novikov faced a possi-
of the reporting period. ble three-year jail term for failing to pay a 2013 fine for
publicly offering uncensored religious texts, but after
Increased Government Control of Muslims international protests, the criminal case against him
The Muslim Board, which is closely tied to the Kazakh reportedly will be dropped. Along with dozens of Coun-
government, oversees mosque construction, theologi- cil of Churches Baptists with unpaid fines, Novikov is on
cal exams and background checks for aspiring imams, the Justice Ministrys list of those subject to an interna-
and hajj travel. Reportedly, the Muslim Board requires tional travel ban.
mosques aligned with it to transfer one-third of their
incomes for its use and pressures non-aligned imams
and congregations to join or face mosque closures. The government censors all
Increased official surveillance of mosques has fueled religious texts and restricts
official discrimination and popular resentment, partic- where [they] may be sold.
ularly in western Kazakhstan. Since the passage of the
2011 religion law, Kazakh officials have closed prayer
rooms in many public buildings, such as colleges, pris-
ons, hospitals, and airports. In July 2015, the Shymkent U.S. Policy
city administration and the local secret police closed After the Soviet Unions collapse, the United States was
the Muslim prayer room at a city market. Nazarbayev the first country to recognize Kazakhstans indepen-
University in Astana no longer allows prayer rooms; dence, and is now the largest direct foreign investor
students are told that they can only pray alone in their in Kazakhstans economy. Key bilateral issues include
dormitory rooms. In June 2015, three Turkish academics regional security, including efforts to stabilize Afghan-
at the Ahmet Yesevi University in Turkestan were fined istan, and nuclear nonproliferation. Kazakhstan plays
and later deported from Kazakhstan on accusations of a leading role in nuclear security; in 1991, President
illegal missionary activity for allegedly teaching about Nazarbayev closed down the Semipalatinsk nuclear test
Sufi Islam. site. Kazakhstan is a candidate for a non-permanent
seat (allocated to the Asia-Pacific group) on the United
Restrictions on Religious Materials Nations Security Council for 2017-18.
The government censors all religious texts and restricts In September 2015, President Obama met with
where religious materials may be sold. Under the Kazakh President Nazarbayev. In November 2015, the
religion laws strict rules, only Hanafi Sunni Muslim United States and all five post-Soviet Central Asian
materials can be sold, and only in a few bookshops. Even states (C5+1) signed a Joint Declaration of Partnership

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and Cooperation declaring their commitment to greater Recommendations for U.S. Policy
cooperation, including holding regular meetings, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:
protecting human rights, developing democratic insti-
tutions and practices, and strengthening civil society Urge the Kazakh government to adopt the rec-
through respect for recognized norms and principles of ommendations of the UN Special Rapporteurs on
international law. Freedom of Religion or Belief and on Freedom of
The United States and Kazakhstan discuss Association and Assembly issued after their visits to
numerous bilateral issues such as regional cooper- Kazakhstan regarding legal reform and changes in
ation, democratic reform, rule of law, human rights, enforcement policies;
civil society, economic development, energy, science, Call on the Kazakh government to invite to the
technology, and people-to-people contacts through Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Reli-
the U.S.-Kazakh Strategic Partnership Dialogue (SPD), gions a representative array of religious communi-
which was set up in 2012. There are working groups ties peacefully residing in Kazakhstan, including
on this range of issues. The fourth U.S.-Kazakhstan minority religious groups;
SPD was held in Kazakhstan during Secretary of State
John Kerrys November 2015 visit to that country. Both Urge the Kazakh government to agree to visits by
sides expressed optimism that the newly launched the three OSCE Personal Representatives on Toler-
C5+1 framework would contribute to stability and ance, set a specific date for a joint visit, and provide
development in Central Asia and pledged to deepen the full and necessary conditions for such visits;
cooperation in countering the threats of terrorism and Ensure that the Strategic Partnership Dialogue
violent extremism. The United States thanked Kazakh- includes discussion of concerns about freedom of
stan for hosting a regional conference on countering religion or belief;
violent extremism in June 2015. Kazakhstan and the
United States also have entered into a five-year plan Advocate for the release of prisoners of conscience
to strengthen military cooperation through capaci- in U.S. public statements and private interactions
ty-building programs. In February 2015, Kazakhstan with the Kazakh government, and press the Kazakh
and the United States also signed a Mutual Legal government to ensure that every prisoner has
Assistance Treaty. greater access to his or her family, human rights
monitors, adequate medical care, and a lawyer;

Ensure that the U.S. Embassy, including at the

[The United States and Kazakhstan] ambassadorial level, maintains active contacts with
expressed optimisim that the human rights activists; and
newly launched C5+1 framework Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to
would contribute to stability ensure continued U.S. funding for RFE/RLs Uzbek
and development in Central Asia.... Service website, Muslims and Democracy, and
consider translating this material into Kazakh.

USAIDs programs in Kazakhstan helps support

civil society, increases access to information, strength-
ens citizen initiative groups, promote an independent
judiciary, and encourage human rights protection.
USAID also assists in forming civil society partner-
ships with the Kazakh government to implement
reforms, including human rights and the rule of law.

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Key Findings tions may influence how USCIRF will report on Laos in
Although the Lao government, along with other bodies, future annual reports.
widely disseminates religious policies, poor implemen-
tation and enforcement continue to result in ongoing
abuses against religious minority groups, abuses that The government recognizes four religions: Buddhism,
are most prominent in remote, rural areas. Lao gov- Christianity, Islam, and the Bahai faith. In addition to
ernment offices, largely at the village and district level, being the most widely practiced religion in Laos, Bud-
along with other official bodies, inconsistently interpret dhism is interwoven into many aspects of Lao culture,
and apply religious regulations, contributing to viola- providing the faith an extra degree of prominence
tions of religious freedom, particularly against religious within and protection from the government. Adminis-
minority groups such as Christians. In many parts of tration of religion falls under the purview of two bodies:
the country, religious freedom conditions are generally the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC), a mass
free, especially for the majority Buddhist community. organization of political and social entities that dissem-
However, the restrictions that some groups face in some inates and explains the governments religion policies,
provinces reflect shortcomings in the current regula- and the Ministry of Home Affairs, which has authority to
tions governing religion, as well as some local officials grant permissions for activities or establish new houses
lack of understanding in implementing these policies. of worship.
In some instances, local officials actions are based on More than 66 percent of the countrys nearly seven
suspicion of Christians, whom many in government million population practice Buddhism. Another 1.5
believe are too closely linked to foreigners, particularly percent practice Christianity (which includes Catholi-
the West and the United States. In fact, due to the gov- cism), while an estimated 31 percent follow some other
ernments targeting, some among the Christian com- religion or belief, such as animism or ancestor worship.
munity believe the government views them as enemies Smaller segments of the population practice Islam and
of the state. Christians who also are ethnic minorities the Bahai faith.

...Buddhism is interwoven into many aspects of Lao culture,

providing the faith an extra degree of prominence within
and protection from the government.

feel especially targeted and often experience greater In February 2016, USCIRF staff conducted a joint
incidences of discrimination and harassment. Based on visit to Laos with staff from the State Departments
these concerns, in 2016 USCIRF again places Laos on Office of International Religious Freedom, traveling to
Tier 2, where it has been since 2009. Positive develop- the capital, Vientiane, and the provinces of Savanna-
ments in religious freedom conditions stemming from khet, Khammouane, and Xiengkhuang. The delegation
the Lao governments efforts to revise religious regula- raised specific cases of religious freedom violations with
the Lao government and the LFNC at both the central

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and provincial levels. Although government officials This goodwill gesture often helps relations with local
said that the constitution and the 2002 Prime Minis- officials, but some local officials remain suspicious of
ters Decree on the Administration and Protection of religious activities.
Religious Activities, also known as Decree 92, guarantee The ambiguous relationship and roles of the Minis-
freedom of religion or belief in Laos, other interlocutors try of Home Affairs and the LFNC in administering and
reported that the government does not protect religious implementing religious policy creates confusion and
freedom in practice. misunderstanding, particularly at the local level. For
In conversations with USCIRF, provincial officials example, while some religious groups in some areas are
accused Christians of being uncooperative for declining able to practice without registration, others face difficul-
to participate in village activities, some of which are part ties with local officials. One provincial Ministry official
of Buddhist cultural traditions, and of lying to lure new said that registration requirements may not apply to a
followers to the faith. And despite Decree 92s protec- temple or church if it was built long ago and congregants
tions for the practice and sharing of Christianity, some have longstanding practices, but the same would not
local officials detain Christians in order to provide them hold true for a new temple or church. Some religious
guidance and education about how to follow reli- groups told USCIRF that they regularly communicate
gious regulations, and some still use forced renuncia- with both bodies, not out of necessity but out of an abun-
tions of faith and forced evictions as a means to threaten dance of caution.
and intimidate Christians. Central government officials have acknowledged
that religious groups generally act in the interest of
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 the people, promoting values such as harmony, unity,
General Conditions fairness, and justice. However, religious groups largely
During its February 2016 trip, USCIRF learned from are required to operate within the governments
several religious groups that their relations with the parameters. In practice, local government officials
government have improved over the years, allow- have additional latitude to determine whether a partic-
ing them more space in which to practice their faith. ular groups or individuals practice is consistent with
Many admitted that misunderstandings on both the rules and regulations. For example, local authorities
governments and religious groups sides sometimes reportedly confiscated Bibles in two villages in Nakai
lead to challenges at the local level, though generally District, Khammouane Province; the Bibles belonged
any confusion is resolved without incident. Religious to members of the government-recognized Laos Evan-
groups often invite those of other faiths to attend reli- gelical Church.
gious ceremonies and celebrations.

...while some religious groups in some areas are able to

practice without registration, others face difficulties with local officials.

The government generally permits religious Legal Restrictions on Religious Practice

organizations to conduct charitable work, but usually and Activities
requires coordination with officials to ensure that the Decree 92 is the set of regulations currently in place to
activities align with local development plans and ben- manage religious practice in the country. The Decree
efit all community members. Religious leaders some- requires LFNC approval for religious organizations
times willingly submit notice of religious activities, registration. The provincial-level LFNC bodies, along with
such as schedules of services, to government author- local and provincial government officials, must approve a
ities for their information, but not to seek approval. number of religious activities, such as building houses of

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worship and appointing religious personnel. Critics note location, government officials monitor Christians
several underlying weaknesses in Decree 92, such as: 1) and their activities, often ban them from government
outright denials or non-responses to registration applica- jobs or limit their ability to be promoted, question
tions from certain groups, particularly Protestant groups churches about their membership, and reportedly
not willing to join the government-recognized Laos prevent some Christians from applying for passports.
Evangelical Church or Seventh-day Adventist Church; The government only recognizes three Christian
2) cumbersome approval processes involving long waits groups the Laos Evangelical Church, the Catholic
and unanswered requests; and 3) confusion about the Church, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Some
requirements to qualify for registration. Misinterpreta- Christians practice underground as families; typically
tion and poor implementation at the local, district, and the government does not restrict this practice but has
provincial levels amplify these challenges. been known to pressure these groups to join a rec-
Over the last several years, the Lao government ognized church. Some Christians believe that most
initiated revisions to Decree 92. In a positive step, the arrests of Christians directly relate to their religion,
government solicited input on revisions from a number whereas in their view Buddhists rarely get arrested in
of key interlocutors across the country, including some connection with their faith.
religious organizations. One religious group informed Christians of various denominations also expe-
USCIRF that they urged the government to allow more rience pressure to renounce their faith, either from
people to openly practice from home. Lao govern- local officials or from members of the community,
ment officials also indicated they have consulted with including threats of expulsion from villages. For
Vietnam on the Decree 92 revisions and have plans to refusing to renounce their faith, Christians also expe-
consult other countries. rience restricted access to hospitals and schools. The

Christians of various denominations also experience pressure to renounce

their faith, either from local officials or from members of the community,
including threats of expulsion from villages.

Those familiar with the proposed changes report government at times discriminates against certain
that the revised Decree 92 will transfer more responsi- groups, including ethnic Hmong, particularly if they
bilities from the LFNC to the Ministry of Home Affairs, are Christian.
though details are limited about how this shift may Christians in Savannakhet Province face particu-
unfold in practice. Unless the division of labor is made lar challenges from local officials who either improp-
clear to religious groups and local Ministry and LFNC erly interpret the central governments regulations or
branches, the current confusion hampering religious discriminate against Christians out of fear, prejudice,
policy likely will continue. One religious leader noted or ignorance. Three churches in Xayaburi District
that revisions to Decree 92 will be most effective if the closed by local officials in 2011 and 2012 remained
central government implements the new policies at the off-limits to parishioners, except for some Christmas
local level, but that in practice much will depend on services. The churches reportedly have tried to obtain
specific local officials. registration approval to re-open, but local officials
told USCIRF the closures instead had to do with land
Abuses against Minorities usage and other administrative issues unrelated to the
Christians continue to experience the most govern- practice of their faith, meaning that registration would
ment restrictions and discrimination. Depending on not solve the dispute. In another example, in February

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2015, a provincial court in Savannakhet convicted and U.S. Policy
sentenced to nine months in prison five Christians August 2015 marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic
charged with practicing medicine without a license in relations between the United States and Laos. Although
connection with the 2014 death of a Christian woman. the bilateral relationship continues to strengthen, the
The five Christians denied the charges, stating that scars from the United States heavy bombing campaign
they prayed at the womans side. They were released in Laos between 1964 and 1973 run deep. Another rem-
in March 2015, but still had to pay fines. One of the nant from that period is the Lao governments mistreat-
Christians, Mr. Tiang Kwentianthong, died in Sep- ment of ethnic Hmong, many of whom the United States
tember 2015 from diabetes-related complications; his trained and armed during the Vietnam War in an effort
supporters claim that the denial of necessary medical to prevent a communist takeover.
care while he was in prison contributed to his death. Despite this legacy, U.S.-Laos direct engagement is
The remaining four filed appeals with the court, which increasing. Moreover, Laos 2016 Association of South-
remained pending at the end of the reporting period. east Asian Nations (ASEAN) chairmanship means more
In September 2015, local authorities in Kham- frequent U.S. high-level visits to the country. In January
mouane Province held two Christians for spreading 2016, Secretary Kerry visited Laos, meeting with Prime
their faith during their visit to a Christian family. Minister Thongsing Thammavong. Secretary Kerry will
(Officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs provin- travel to Laos again in July 2016 for the ASEAN Foreign
cial office disputed media reports the two men had Ministers Meeting, while President Barack Obama is
been arrested or even detained, arguing instead they scheduled to visit in September 2016 for the ASEAN
had been held and then released.) Earlier in the year, Summit. A gathering of civil society organizations that
police detained four Christians in Nakai District, also usually meets on the sidelines of the annual summit,
in Khammouane Province, and threatened them with known as the ASEAN Peoples Forum, will not be held
jail time if they refused to renounce their faith; police in Laos, but in Timor-Leste, which is not an ASEAN

To date, the United States has resettled

approximately 250,000 Hmong refugees and continues to
encourage Laos to improve transparency about the
conditions of those forcibly returned from Thailand.

reportedly banned Christian activities in the district. member. Both the Lao government and the involved
Other reports from Khammouane Province suggest civil society organizations prevented the gathering from
local authorities regularly threaten Christians, pres- being held in Laos.
suring them to renounce their faith and confiscating The United States supports a number of initiatives
religious materials. in Laos: health, nutrition, the environment, education,
Also in September 2015, Pastor Singkeaw Wong- wildlife and human trafficking, energy, disposal of
kongpheng from Na-ang Village in Luang Prabang unexploded ordnance, and several projects relating to
Province died of stab wounds after being attacked in the Mekong, including the Lower Mekong Initiative,
his home. Over the years, local officials reportedly among others. The year 2015 marked the 40th anniver-
pressured Pastor Singkeaw to stop preaching and sary of Hmong refugee displacement and resettlement
spreading Christianity. According to some reports, in the United States. In 1975, the United States began
one of the attackers belonged to the Luang Prabang transporting Hmong out of Laos and Thailand where
provincial police. many Hmong had already fled. To date, the United
States has resettled approximately 250,000 Hmong

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refugees and continues to encourage Laos to improve Support technical assistance programs that rein-
transparency about the conditions of those forcibly force the goals of protecting religious freedom,
returned from Thailand. human rights defenders, and ethnic minorities,
In December 2015, on the third anniversary of civil including: rule of law programs and legal exchanges
society leader Sombath Somphones disappearance, the that focus on revising Decree 92; training for Lao
Department of State issued a press statement express- police and security forces, provincial and local
ing concern for his well-being and calling on the Lao officials, and lawyers and judges in human rights,
government to conduct a thorough and transparent the rule of law, and religious freedom and tolerance;
investigation. Concern for his whereabouts contributed and capacity-building for Lao civil society groups
to civil societys decision to hold the ASEAN Peoples carrying out charitable, medical, and developmen-
Forum outside of Laos. tal activities;

Ensure that Lao police and security officials partic-

ipating in training or technical assistance pro-
From 2000 to 2003, USCIRF recommended Laos be
grams are thoroughly vetted pursuant to the Leahy
designated as a country of particular concern, or CPC
Amendment to confirm that they are not implicated
based on its egregious, ongoing, and systematic viola-
in human rights abuses, and deny U.S. training,
tions of religious freedom. That the country improved
visas, or assistance to any unit or personnel found
conditions meriting progress to USCIRFs Tier 2 (Watch
to have engaged in a consistent pattern of violations
List) demonstrates that such progress on religious
of human rights, including religious freedom;
freedom can have significant impact. At this critical
juncture in the bilateral relationship, the United States Continue to inquire consistently into the where-
should engage Laos on religious freedom and related abouts of Sombath Somphone given that the Lao
human rights and encourage additional improvements, governments inability to provide any information
particularly with respect to the proposed revisions to from its investigation into his disappearance is
Decree 92 to ensure its policies align with international emblematic of its overall approach to human rights,
human rights standards. Accordingly, USCIRF recom- civil society, and individual rights; and
mends that the U.S. government should:
Encourage the Broadcasting Board of Governors to
Initiate a formal human rights mechanism, similar provide adequate funding for the Voice of America
to existing U.S. human rights dialogues with Burma and Radio Free Asia Lao language broadcasts, and
and Vietnam and the European Unions Working increase efforts to provide access to uncensored
Group on Human Rights and Governance with Internet, and other information, into Laos.
Laos, to regularly and consistently address with the
Lao government issues such as ethnic and religious
discrimination, torture and other forms of ill-treat-
ment in prisons, unlawful arrests and detentions,
the lack of due process and an independent judi-
ciary, and revising Decree 92 in accordance with
international standards;

Continue to engage the Lao government on specific

cases of religious freedom violations, including but
not limited to forced evictions and/or forced renun-
ciations of faith, and emphasize the importance of
consistent implementation, enforcement, and inter-
pretation of the rule of law by officials at all levels of
government and law enforcement authorities;

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Key Findings segments of the population are Sikhs, Bahais, and ani-
In 2015, many in the Malaysian government, politi- mists. Religious groups deemed deviant, such as the
cal parties, and religious leadership prioritized the Shia Muslim, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Bahai, and Al-Ar-
Muslim faith and Malay identity in a manner that qam groups, are banned. The government or state-level
threatens religious freedom. Whether cracking down Shariah courts can force individuals considered to have
on religious activity, expression, or dissent, these strayed from Sunni Islam, including those from devi-
individuals and groups sought to expand the scope of ant sects or converts from Islam, into detention-like
Islam through law and practice and punish anyone camps known as rehabilitation centers and/or crim-
perceived to criticize their politically-driven agenda. inally prosecute them for apostasy, which is subject to
This occurred through arrests under the Sedition Act, prison terms or fines.
which was strengthened in 2015, efforts to expand Ethnic and religious identity is central to Malay-
Islamic punishments under Shariah law, legal ambi- sian politics, contributing to an entrenched system of
guity between civil and Shariah courts, and the polit- government that advantages the ruling party and the
ical manipulation of Islam. Moreover, the government Sunni Muslim Malay majority at the expense of ethnic
continues to ban several so-called deviant religious and religious minorities. Although Malaysia is officially
groups, such as the Shia Muslim, Ahmadiyya Muslim, secular, the state implements an increasingly exclusive
Bahai, and Al-Arqam communities. Collectively, these brand of Islam that is based, in part, on the constitu-
trends have resulted in diminished legal protections tional establishment of Islam as the official religion.
for ethnic and religious minorities, non-Muslims and To stave off perceived political threats and be seen as
non-Sunni Muslims alike. Based on these concerns, in protecting Islam, Prime Minister Najib Razak and the
2016 USCIRF again places Malaysia on Tier 2, where it ruling Barisan Nasional coalition crack down on indi-
has been since 2014. USCIRF will continue to monitor viduals who express dissent or criticism, accusing them
the situation closely to determine if these troubling of attacking Islam.
developments warrant a change in Malaysias status Over time, political opponents and members of
during the year ahead. civil society have criticized the government more

Although Malaysia is officially secular, the state implements

and increasingly exclusive brand of Islam...

Background openly, often through social media, calling for less

More than 61 percent of the countrys 30.5 million popu- corruption and more transparency. The most well-
lation are Muslim, while nearly 20 percent are Buddhist, known expression of this growing discontent is the
more than nine percent Christian, and more than six Bersih (clean) movement, which called for the Prime
percent Hindu; approximately one percent or less apiece Ministers resignation after nearly $700 million from
practice Confucianism, Taoism, or other faiths. Smaller Malaysias wealth fund, 1Malaysia Development Ber-
had (1MDB), was found in his personal bank account.

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In another example, on March 16, 2015, police arrested the force of law. In 2014, the Selangor Islamic Religious
Nurul Izzah Anwar after she publicly criticized the Fed- Council (MAIS) issued a fatwa declaring the Malaysian
eral Court for upholding an earlier sentence against her civil society organization Sisters in Islam (SIS) to be
father, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. His February deviant; the fatwa enabled MAIS to block SISs website
2015 conviction resulted in a five-year prison term and and confiscate its publications. SIS filed a judicial review
a ban from elected office for an additional five years application to challenge the fatwas constitutionality,
thereafter. and although the hearing was originally set for Novem-
In August 2015, a USCIRF Commissioner-led del- ber 2015, the High Court is now expected to hear the
egation visited Malaysia, meeting in the capital, Kuala case in June 2016.
Lumpur, and the administrative center, Putrajaya, with
government officials, religious representatives, and civil
society organizations. April 2015, intense pressure
from approximately 50 Muslim
Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
protestors prompted a
General Conditions
Christian church in Taman Medan
While Malaysians generally are free to worship, some to remove its cross.
within and outside government exploit politics and eth-
nicity to create divisions. Under the constitution, ethnic
Malays the predominant ethnic group are defined as
Muslim, and, in practice, the government only supports In response to the growing number of Malaysians
Sunni Islam. Through the federal Department of Islamic known to be working or affiliated with the Islamic State
Development Malaysia (JAKIM), the government funds of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to prevent home-grown
most Sunni mosques and imams and provides talking or ISIL-related attacks, in April 2015 the parliament
points for sermons, which regularly vilify religious approved the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The bill
minorities, such as Shia Muslims. Both the government notably re-establishes indefinite detention without trial,
and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which had not been permitted since the controversial
the countrys largest Islamic party, send individuals to Internal Security Act was abolished in 2012. On Decem-
Saudi Arabia for religious training; the stricter mindsets ber 22, Malaysias Senate approved the National Security
and more austere interpretation of Sunni Islam with Council Act that grants broad powers to the prime min-
which they return have caused concern that Malaysian ister to authorize searches and arrests without warrants.
Islam is becoming more Arabized.
Harassment of or attacks on non-Muslim houses of Restrictions on Belief and Expression
worship are infrequent, but they do occur, and non-Mus- In 2015, the government continued to suppress free
lims also report difficulties in obtaining government speech and religious expression. Muslims are allowed to
permission to build houses of worship. For example, in proselytize to non-Muslims, but not vice versa. Apostasy,
April 2015, intense pressure from approximately 50 Mus- considered a sin by Islamic authorities, has been crim-
lim protestors prompted a Christian church in Taman inalized in some states as a capital offense. Malaysias
Medan in the state of Selangor to remove its cross. In a vaguely-worded Sedition Act, which was amended in
positive sign, the central government called for a police 2015 to increase jail times and other penalties, is used as
investigation, local leaders swiftly organized a meeting a means to suppress political and religious dissent, and
with interested stakeholders, and, by the end of May, the authorities increasingly target individuals for expression
church planned to reinstall the cross. The investigation online. One provision of the 2015 amendments strength-
officially closed in December 2015 with no further action ens the Sedition Act to cover any insults to Islam.
against the protestors. In March 2015, police arrested five journalists
Increasingly, state and federal level religious coun- associated with online news portal The Malaysian
cils issue fatwas (religious edicts) that, in effect, carry Insider to investigate them under the Sedition Act for

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a story about the position of Malaysias nine sultans when the Federal Court refused any further review of
regarding a proposal to implement hudood punish- its 2014 decision upholding a ban on the newspapers
ments (commonly spelled hudud in Malaysia) in the use of the word. In another case, in June 2015, the
state of Kelantan (discussed below). Authorities raided Court of Appeals ordered the Malaysian government to
their offices and later released the five on bail. In July return to Jill Ireland, a Christian from Sarawak, eight
2015, police questioned publisher Ho Kay Tat for pub- Christian CDs with song titles with the word Allah
lishing stories critical of the 1MDB controversy involv- confiscated in 2008. In July 2014, the Kuala Lumpur
ing Prime Minister Najib. After The Malaysian Insider High Court first ordered the CDs returned, but the
continued to publish critical coverage, the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs refused. Then, the Federal
Communications and Multimedia Commission, a gov- Territories Islamic Council, the local-level body in
ernment regulatory body, blocked the news website in charge of religious affairs, applied to weigh in on the
February 2016, prompting the publisher to shut down case, claiming the right to regulate non-Muslims. The
the site entirely just weeks later. Court of Appeals decision dismissed this application,
Mohd Ezra Mohd Zaid, a publisher at ZI Publica- thereby upholding the High Courts order to return the
tions, faces prosecution for publishing books about CDs, but did not address Ms. Irelands question on the
Islam that the Selangor state government and religious constitutionality of using the word Allah. The CDs were
authorities deemed un-Islamic. In September 2015, returned in September 2015.
the Federal Court dismissed his attempt to invalidate

Also, the government continued to target Malaysian human rights lawyer

Eric Paulsen, charging him with sedition in February 2015...and arresting
him in March 2015 for tweets critical of hudood punishments.

the section of Selangor Shariah law on which their Hudood Punishments

objections were based. The ruling means Ezra will be In March 2015, the Kelantan State Assembly passed
prosecuted in Shariah court. In another case, in April a bill that would amend the states penal code to
2015, authorities charged a popular Malaysian cartoon- allow hudood, a set of Islamic criminal punishments
ist known as Zunar with nine counts of sedition for a outlined in the Quran and the Hadith (the Prophet
series of tweets critical of the governments prosecution Muhammeds sayings). Crimes punishable under
of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Zunar, whose trial hudood include apostasy, slander, adultery, and alco-
has been delayed several times, could face up to 43 years hol consumption; the punishments include amputa-
in prison. Also, the government continued to target tion, stoning, and flogging. Kelantan politicians want
Malaysian human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen, charging to expand hudood nationwide and have garnered sup-
him with sedition in February 2015 for criticizing JAKIM port among some in UMNO. Datuk Othman Mustapha,
and arresting him in March 2015 for tweets critical of director general of JAKIM, said the punishments would
hudood punishments. He was released on bail, but apply only to Muslims. The Kelantan State government
authorities continued to question and harass him is controlled by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS),
throughout the reporting period. whose push for hudood contributed to the partys split
from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition coalition in
Ban on the Use of the Word Allah 2015. Critics of the jockeying over hudood, including
The years-long legal battle over the use of the word former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, argue that
Allah by the Malay-language edition of a weekly proponents are encouraging stricter interpretations of
Catholic newspaper came to an end in January 2015 Islam for political gain.

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Forced Conversions and the Dual Court System one year to allow time for resettlement to third coun-
Civil courts increasingly cede jurisdiction to Shariah tries. As of April 2015, more than 46,000 Rohingya Mus-
courts, particularly with respect to family law. This lims were registered with UNHCR in Malaysia; UNHCR
has negative implications for non-Muslims, who have reportedly has asked the Malaysian government to issue
fewer rights in Shariah courts and cannot appear them work permits.
as witnesses. In one case, the Ipoh High Court ruled
that unilateral conversions to Islam of children by U.S. Policy
one parent without the others consent is unconsti- In 2015, Malaysia chaired the Association of Southeast
tutional. In December 2015, however, the Court of Asian Nations (ASEAN). While visiting Malaysia for
Appeals overturned that ruling and also determined the November 2015 ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lum-
that Shariah courts have sole jurisdiction in Islamic pur, President Barack Obama attended a civil society
matters, thereby establishing a precedent to eliminate roundtable and visited refugees, including Rohingya
the role of civil courts in family cases in which at least Muslims from Burma. In addition, the President met
one party is non-Muslim. The case revolves around M. bilaterally with Prime Minister Najib, and the two dis-
Indira Gandhi, a Hindu whose ex-husband converted cussed the importance of combatting violent extrem-
their three children to Islam without her knowledge. ism, the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional free trade
However, in another case, in February 2016, the Federal agreement, climate change, the South China Sea,
Court asserted the civil courts role in family law cases and general development issues. In public remarks
when at least one party is non-Muslim, granting each about their meeting, President Obama said, Malay-
parent full custody of one of the couples two children. sia, like Indonesia, is a majority-Muslim country that
The father in this case converted both children to Islam represents tolerance and peace. Secretary of State
and abducted the son; the court allowed him to keep John Kerry visited Malaysia in August 2015 in connec-
custody of the son, while the daughter was permitted to tion with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting and
live with her mother. related events.

During the year, the State Department issued remarks both praising and
criticizing Malaysia, including praise for Malaysias efforts
to assist Rohingya Muslim refugees and criticism of tighter
restrictions on freedom of expression, including under the Sedition Act.

In October 2015, reports surfaced from Sabah alleg-

ing Christians were converted forcibly to Islam. Prime Throughout 2015, the United States and Malaysia
Minister Najib publicly denied any government involve- worked on several components of the bilateral Com-
ment in these claims and encouraged individuals forci- prehensive Partnership launched in 2014, including
bly converted to reach out to Sabahs chief minister. on issues such as counter-terrorism and counter
proliferation. During the year, the State Department
Regional Refugee Crisis issued remarks both praising and criticizing Malaysia,
In May 2015, Malaysian authorities discovered more including praise for Malaysias efforts to assist Rohingya
than 100 graves believed to contain Rohingya Muslims. Muslim refugees and criticism of tighter restrictions
This discovery initially prompted Malaysia to turn away on freedom of expression, including under the Sedi-
additional Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma, although tion Act. At a January 2015 roundtable with Malaysian
later in May both Malaysia and Indonesia agreed to pro- media, Assistant Secretary Daniel R. Russel noted the
vide temporary shelter to thousands of refugees for up to role of religious leaders in countering false ideology

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that distorts religious teaching for bad political goals, as Encourage the Malaysian government to become
well as the importance of creating tolerant and inclusive party to the International Covenant on Civil and
political environments. Political Rights without reservations;
According to the State Department, the U.S. Embassy
Urge the Malaysian government to cease the arrest,
in Kuala Lumpur regularly engages government represen-
detention, or forced rehabilitation of individuals
tatives, religious groups of multiple faiths, and civil society
involved in peaceful religious activity, such as Shia
on religious freedom issues, including religious tolerance,
Muslim, Ahmadiyya Muslim, Bahai, and Al-Arqam
interfaith dialogue and roundtables, and inter-religious
groups, among others, and to release uncondi-
education. In July 2015, the State Department released its
tionally those detained or imprisoned for related
2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, upgrading Malaysia
charges; and
from Tier 3 those countries least in compliance with
the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to Tier 2. Critics Encourage the Malaysian government to establish
argued the upgrade was not deserved given the discovery independent institutions, such as the judiciary,
in Malaysia just months earlier of mass graves linked to office of the Attorney General, and law enforcement,
smugglers and traffickers who had taken advantage of and to address the human rights shortcomings of
Rohingya Muslims from Burma and other asylum seekers. the parallel civil-Shariah justice systems, in order to
guarantee that all Malaysians, regardless of ethnic-
Recommendations ity or religion, enjoy freedom of religion or belief.
Restrictions on freedom of religion or belief affecting
non-Muslim and non-Sunni Muslim religious minori-
ties are central to Malaysias mounting human rights
challenges and belie its own claims to be a moderate
Muslim country. The manipulation of both the constitu-
tion and Islam for political gain increasingly threatens
many rights and freedoms. The United States and the
international community must engage the Malaysian
government on these issues. In addition, USCIRF rec-
ommends that the U.S. government should:

Ensure that human rights and religious freedom

are pursued consistently and publicly at every level
of the U.S.-Malaysia relationship, including in the
Comprehensive Partnership and other discussions
related to military, trade, or economic and security
assistance, and in programs that address freedom
of speech and expression and civil society develop-
ment, among others, and follow up on these prior-
ities after agreements or deals are reached, such as
in the Trans-Pacific Partnership;

Press the Malaysian government to bring all laws

and policies into conformity with international
human rights standards, especially with respect to
freedom of religion or belief, freedom of assembly,
and freedom of religious expression, including the
rights to use the word Allah and to possess reli-
gious materials;

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Key Findings Muslim. Other religious groups each under five per-
Along with other human rights abuses, violations of reli- cent include Buddhists, Protestants, Roman Catholics,
gious freedom in Russia escalated in the past year. There Jews, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
were numerous criminal convictions, fines, and deten- (Mormons), Jehovahs Witnesses, Hindus, Bahais, Hare
tions, particularly of Muslims and Jehovahs Witnesses, Krishnas, pagans, Tengrists, Scientologists, and Falun
under an extremism law that does not require proof Gong adherents. The 2010 census listed 150,000 Jews;
of the use or advocacy of violence. The Constitutional the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia cites
Court ruled that material can be banned as extremist 750,000. Many Russian citizens who say they belong to a
for proclaiming the truth or superiority of one religion religious community are not observant.
or belief system. Other laws, including the recent- Russias 1997 religion law sets onerous registration
ly-amended 1997 religion law and a growing number of procedures for religious groups and empowers state offi-
harsh laws restricting civil society, limit the freedoms cials to impede registration or obstruct construction or
of religious groups and lead to abuses. An atheist was rental of worship buildings. The three types of religious
charged with blasphemy under a 2013 law, and was on associations groups, local organizations, and cen-
trial at the end of the reporting period. Rising xenopho- tralized organizations have varying legal status and
bia and intolerance, including anti-Semitism, are linked privileges. Some aspects of the public association law
to violent and lethal hate crimes that often occur with also apply to religious associations, including lengthy
impunity. Russian officials and local paramilitary in reporting requirements, annual compliance reviews,
Chechnya and Dagestan commit often violent religious and detailed data on the groups history, doctrine, and
freedom violations. Religious freedom violations also evolution. Russias arbitrary legal system means that
escalated in Russian-occupied Crimea and Russian-sep- government respect for freedom of religion or belief
aratist regions of eastern Ukraine. Based on these varies widely, often depending on a religious groups
concerns, in 2016 USCIRF again places Russia on Tier relations with local officials.
2, where it has been since 2009. Given Russias negative
trajectory in terms of religious freedom, USCIRF will
continue to monitor the situation closely during the year Russias 1997 religion law sets
ahead to determine if Russia should be recommended to onerous registration procedures for
the U.S. State Department for designation as a country religious groups and empowers state
of particular concern, or CPC, under the International officials to impede registration or
Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for systematic, ongoing, obstruct construction or rental
egregious violations of religious freedom. of worship buildings.
Russia is the worlds largest country by land mass. Its
estimated population of 142.5 million is 81 percent The religion laws preface, which is not legally
ethnic Russian plus some 160 other ethnicities. A 2013 binding, singles out Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and
poll reports that 68 percent of Russians view themselves Orthodox Christianity as the countrys four tradi-
as Orthodox Christian, while seven percent identify as tional faiths. Although the Russian constitution
guarantees a secular state and equal legal status for

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 191
all religions, the Moscow Patriarchate of the Rus- service. Another 2012 law requires foreign-funded NGOs
sian Orthodox Church (MPROC) which claims as engaged in vaguely-defined political activity to register as
adherents 60 percent of Russians is strongly favored, foreign agents or face fines or two years imprisonment.
including in chaplaincies, the education system, and Russias treason law was amended in 2012, threatening
state subsidies. Non-traditional religious groups do with 20-year prison terms those Russian citizens who
not receive state subsidies. Officials often refer nega- provide financial, material, technical, consultative, or
tively to religious and other minorities, which fosters a other assistance to a foreign state or an international or
climate of intolerance. foreign organization. A 2014 public order law requires
The major threat to religious freedom remains the prior official approval to conduct prayer and public
much-amended Russian anti-extremism law, which religious observance, even in places owned by religious
defines extremism in a religious context and does not groups. A July 2015 law banned undesirable foreign or
require the threat or use of violence. Among other pro- international organizations that allegedly threaten state
visions, the law qualifies as extremist propaganda of security, public order, or health; religious groups fear
the superiority of ones own religion. In February 2015, that it could also apply to religious bodies. A December
the Constitutional Court ruled that freedom of speech, 2015 law provided that Russian courts are not bound by
conscience, and religion is not infringed if material European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings if they
is banned as extremist for proclaiming the truth or contradict the Russian constitution.
superiority of one religion or belief system. If any Rus-
sian court rules any print or Web-based text extremist,
it is added to the Ministry of Justices (MOJ) Federal List In February 2015, the Constitutional
of Extremist Materials and banned throughout Russia. Court ruled that freedom of speech,
As of February 2016, that list reportedly totaled 3,291 conscience, and religion is not
items, including Jehovahs Witnesses texts, the writings infringed if material is banned as
of Turkish theologian Said Nursi, a 1900 sermon by extremist for proclaiming the
Greek Catholic Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky (who truth or superiority of one religion
risked his life to save Jews during the Holocaust), and a or belief system.
video of police-confiscated relics of the Russian Ortho-
dox Autonomous Church. Suspected extremist texts are
reviewed by the MOJs Scientific Advisory Board (SAB),
which is comprised of academics and representatives Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016
of the four traditional religions. In November 2015, New Legal Provisions on Religious Groups
President Putin amended the extremism law to prohibit Amendments to the religion law that took effect in July
the banning of the four sacred texts of the traditional 2015 appear to require all religious communities with-
religions: the Bible, the Quran, the Jewish Torah, and out legal status to notify state officials of their existence
the Tibetan Buddhist Kanjur. However, some 4,000 and activity, including the names and addresses of all
Jehovahs Witness Bibles are among millions of that members and addresses of meeting places. Registered
groups publications confiscated by Russian customs religious organizations only are required to give officials
for alleged extremism. a list of their founders. Nevertheless, no penalties are
A 2013 blasphemy law criminalized disrespecting or known to have been imposed against those who meet
insulting religious beliefs; a 2012 public protest in Mos- for worship without official notification. According to
cows main Orthodox cathedral over the MPROCs close Forum 18, the amendments also provide that, for the
Kremlin ties served as the official impetus for the passage first 10 years after registration, religious groups not affil-
of this law. Increasing legal restrictions on civil society iated with centralized religious organizations cannot
also impact religious groups. A 2012 law on unautho- form religious educational organizations, hold ceremo-
rized public meetings includes onerous fines and was nies in hospitals, prisons, and old peoples homes, or
used against a Protestant pastor for holding a religious invite foreigners to visit the country.

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Extremism Charges also underwent one month of psychiatric examinations in

Surveillance, investigations, and prosecutions of a local hospital.
Muslims and Jehovahs Witnesses for alleged extrem-
ism continued during 2015. For example, two Said Legal Status Issues
Nursi readers, Imam Komil Odilov and Yevgeny Kim, Despite a 2009 ECtHR finding that the 15-year exis-
were arrested in December 2015 and were in pre-trial tence rule for registration violated the European
detention at the end of the reporting period. Also in Convention on Human Rights, the Church of Scien-
December, a Krasnoyarsk court sentenced two other tology still is denied registration, as is an Armenian
Nursi readers; Andrei Dedkov was fined the equiva- Catholic parish in Moscow. State officials obstruct
lent of US$2,205 and Aleksei Kuzmenko was fined the construction or rental of worship buildings, particu-
equivalent of US$1,470. In December 2015, after a ten- larly for allegedly non-traditional groups such as the
month re-trial of Jehovahs Witnesses, 14 men and two Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons),
women received heavy fines (which the judge waived) non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox, the Hare Krish-
and suspended prison sentences at Taganrog City nas, and Old Believers. Muslim groups in many urban
Court. From September to December 2015, at least 35 areas face official obstacles to opening mosques.
individuals and three religious groups were prosecuted Although Moscow has the largest Muslim population
on charges relating to alleged extremist texts, a sharp of any European city, it only has six public mosques;
increase compared to a similar period in 2014. Courts the sixth opened in September 2015 after a decade of
imposed fines in 34 of these cases, and one Jehovahs construction.

In the last five months of 2015, at least 45 people and one religious group
faced administrative charges for peaceful public religious activities.

Witness received a six-day prison term; two individuals Penalties for Public Religious Activities
and one Jehovahs Witness community member were and Expression
acquitted. Of the 2015 prosecutions, 19 were for Islamic In the last five months of 2015, at least 45 people and one
texts or videos, 17 for Jehovahs Witness texts, and two religious group faced administrative charges for peaceful
for items by the Falun Gong. Despite the 2015 overturn- public religious activities. Most were Jehovahs Witnesses
ing of the Orenburg court ruling that 50 of 68 Muslim who offered religious texts in public, but Mormons, Hare
texts were extremist, it took several months for the Krishnas, Baptists, and a Muslim also were prosecuted;
texts to be removed from the banned list. Muslim lead- 31 received heavy fines. Additionally, human rights
ers protested an August 2015 Sakhalin court ban on groups report that some peaceful ethnic Russian and
a Quranic commentary. After the reporting period, a other converts to Islam face possible persecution and
Moscow regional court ruled that Scientology texts are criminal charges. For example, in 2015 Russian security
banned as extremist. police removed Vasily Tkachev from Belarus. In January
2016, reportedly he was tortured in a Chelyabinsk prison
Blasphemy Case and denied access to his family and lawyer; the charges
In October 2015, Victor Krasnov was charged in Stavropol against Tkachev are not known. A Tibetan Buddhist
under the 2013 blasphemy law for allegedly publicly lama who had been a legal resident in Russia since 2008
insulting Orthodox believers in 2014 by supporting athe- was deported from Tuva in 2015. Leading Russian Tatar
ism in social media; his closed preliminary hearing began imam Suleiman Zaripov from Kazan reportedly was dis-
in January 2016. Krasnov told RFE/RL he received death appeared under suspicious circumstances in early 2016,
threats from Orthodox Christian fundamentalists; he as were at least two other imams in recent years.

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Violent Hate Crimes against are accused of violence against political opponents,
Persons and Property critics, and human rights activists, in Russia and abroad.
Chauvinist violence against defenders of religious
minorities and migrants continues. In many parts Russias Illegal Annexation of Crimea
of Russia, local officials often fail to investigate hate In March 2014, Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian
crimes against ethnic and religious minorities, mainly Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which has some two
Muslim Central Asians and Jews. The Sova Center million people and a key Russian naval port. President
identified 38 xenophobic attacks in 2015, compared to Putin sought to justify this invasion due to the shared
101 in 2014. An increased number of criminal sen- Orthodox culture, civilization, and human values
tences were levied for such violence in 2015, along with of Russia and Ukraine. Almost all the 300,000 Muslim
a sharp increase of criminal sentences for xenophobic Crimean Tatars oppose Russian occupation and are
statements or for inciting hatred, but an unprece- persecuted. In January 2016, 12 Crimean Tatars were
dented number of jail terms were levied for allegedly arrested after meeting the visiting Council of Europe
offensive comments. Commission on Human Rights in Crimea. After the
reporting period, the Russian-installed prosecutor of
Violations in the North Caucasus Crimea announced the suspension of the Crimean Tatar
Human rights violations occur with almost total impu- representative assembly allegedly because it had been
nity in the North Caucasus. In Dagestan, the areas declared extremist even though the court proceedings
most violent region, Muslims alleged to be extremist or are ongoing.
Salafist are registered, sentenced, and may be tortured
or disappeared as suspected insurgents. Police continue Decline in Registration of Crimean
to raid and close Salafi mosques. Human rights lawyers, Religious Groups
independent journalists, and religious freedom activists Russia required all religious groups in Crimea to re-reg-
also are targeted for violence in Dagestan. In Chechnya, ister under Russias more stringent requirements by
the Kremlin-appointed president, Ramzan Kadyrov, January 1, 2016; of the over 1,100 religious communities
oversees mass violations of human rights, including that had legal status under Ukrainian law, only about 400
religious freedom. Kadyrov and his militia practice were re-registered. Re-registered groups include Moscow
collective justice, distort Chechen Sufi traditions, and Patriarchate Russian Orthodox Churches (MPROC),
run a repressive state. Under an official female virtue Muslims including the Crimean Muftiate, various Prot-
campaign, women must wear Islamic headscarves estant churches, Roman Catholics, various Jewish affilia-
and may be forced into illegal polygamous marriages. tions, Karaites, Jehovahs Witnesses, and Hare Krishnas.
Reportedly, there is a drive to urge young Chechen men The Greek Catholic Church was not registered, nor were
to fill out spiritual-moral questionnaires to document any Armenian Apostolic parishes. The Kiev Patriarchate
their views on Islam. At a February 2016 conference, Ukrainian Orthodox Church did not seek registration.
Kadyrov equated Salafism with terrorism and conflated Based on the Ministry of Justice Scientific Advisory

Russia required all religious groups in Crimea to re-register under

Russias more stringent requirements by January 1, 2016....

the peaceful preaching of a popular Ingush Salafi cleric, Council recommendations, certain Crimean religious
Sheikh Khamzat Chumakov, with the militant Salafism groups, such as the Crimean Muftiate, nine Catholic
of the North Caucasus insurgency and the Islamic State parishes, and Yaltas Augsburg Lutheran Church, had to
of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Kadyrov and his men also change institutional affiliations or alter their charters so

194 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

as to re-register. Some groups were denied re-registra- 10 Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church
tion, including St. Peters Lutheran Church in Krasnoper- priests were forced to leave Crimea; the churches of its
ekopsk, the Seventh-day Adventist Reformed Church in Crimea diocese, with about 200,000 members, were
Yevpatoriya, and the Tavrida Muftiate, the smaller of the targets of mob and arson attacks. The MPROC, that
two Crimean Muftiates. claims 35 million members in Ukraine, officially views
the Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a
Restrictions on Religious Activity in Crimea schismatic nationalist organization.
In January 2015, the Russian-installed Crimean govern-
ment issued a counter-terrorism plan that authorizes Russias Separatist Enclaves in the Donbas
police and security officials to identify and influence In those Donbas regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by
individuals to reject illegal and destructive activity, to Russian-backed separatists espousing MPROC suprem-
repent and to participate in preventive measures, par- acy, Protestants and Kievan Patriarchate Ukrainian
ticularly of undefined non-traditional sects. The plan Orthodox Church parishes have been targets of arrests,
also seeks to bring religious education under state con- violence, church damage, property confiscation, and
trol. According to Forum 18, Russian-installed officials discrimination. According to a March 2015 report by the
have raided many libraries, schools, Muslim homes, civic movement All Together, Donbas separatists in
and mosques and issued fines for owning allegedly 2014 murdered seven clergymen, questioned and beat
extremist Islamic and Jehovahs Witness texts. Among in detention more than 40 church ministers, and seized
those fined was the mufti of the Tavrida Muftiate, buildings and premises of 12 Christian communities, a
Ruslan Saitvaliyev. In October 2015, three Council of church orphanage, a Christian university, and three med-
Churches Baptists who refused to pay fines for a public ical rehabilitation centers. According to the All-Union
religious meeting were each sentenced to 20 hours Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, seven of their
community service and another Baptist was fined three churches were seized and three more were destroyed. In
weeks average local wages. February 2015, the Archbishop of the Donetsk Diocese of
the Kievan Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church said
that 30 out of its 40 parishes in the occupied territory had
ceased activity due to separatists pressure.
...Russian-installed officials [in Crimea] Separatist police in Slovyansk, Donetsk and
have raided many libraries, Horlivka have arrested many civilians; Russian Cos-
schools, Muslim homes, and mosques sacks also have wreaked havoc in various regions.
and issued fines for owning In Slovyansk, separatists abducted and killed four
allegedly extremist Islamic and Protestants in June 2014. In July 2014, a Greek Catholic
Jehovahs Witness texts. priest endured three mock executions during 12 days of
detention. Two Roman Catholic priests also were briefly
detained in the summer of 2014. As of March 2015,
reportedly 40 of Donetsks 58 varied religious com-
At least five of Crimeas madrassahs remain munities have to gather in homes or stop worshiping.
closed, as well as four of the five Crimean Muftiate Father Nikon, a MPROC priest, was held by Ukrainian
madrassahs. Clergy without Russian citizenship were authorities in Donbas from August until December
forced to leave Crimea, including Greek and Roman 2015 on suspicion that he was working for the separatist
Catholics and almost all Turkish Muslim imams and forces. In January 2016, security officials of the self-pro-
religious teachers. The lack of legal status for the Greek claimed Donetsk Peoples Republic detained 50 people
Catholic Church creates major difficulties for their allegedly linked to an attempt to blow up a Lenin statue,
four priests, who are not Crimea natives; they can including a Donetsk University Professor for History and
work for only three months before they must leave Religious Studies; reportedly police were suspicious of
for a month and re-apply for permits. In 2014, five of his contacts with religious faiths, including Muslims.

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 195
The United Nations reported that, as of November 2015, freezes under the Magnitsky Act. There is also an unpub-
more than 9,000 persons had died and some 18,000 had lished list of sanctioned officials, reportedly including
been wounded due to Russian aggression in the Donbas, Ramzan Kadyrov, as USCIRF had recommended.
including civilians, members of the Ukrainian armed The Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014
forces, and Russian-backed separatists, since fighting marked a new low in Russias international relations,
began in 2014. More than two million persons have including with the United States. The United States sus-
fled the region, including thousands of Jews, Muslims, pended its role in the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Commission.
Protestants and other religious minorities who faced The United States has issued numerous sanctions against
pressure and discrimination. Russia, including banning various bilateral commercial
transactions. It also has imposed sanctions against spe-
U.S. Policy cific Russian officials and their proxies involved in the
In a key foreign policy initiative, President Obama Crimean annexation and military support for separatists
sought to reset U.S.-Russia relations in 2010 to reverse in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
what he called a dangerous drift in bilateral relations On religious freedom, the State Department reports
by engaging the Russian government on common for- that the U.S. Ambassador and embassy and consulate
eign policy goals and by engaging directly with Russian officers met with Russian government officials to dis-
civil society groups. The reset goals included promoting cuss religious freedom issues, including the extremism
economic interests, enhancing mutual understand- law, registration issues and the federal list of extremist
ing, and advancing universal values. Arms control and material, as well as meeting with religious leaders and
foreign policy concerns took priority, but 16 working civil society groups.
groups in a new U.S.-Russia Bilateral Commission also
addressed civil society issues. U.S.-Russian relations Recommendations
began to worsen in September 2011, when then-Prime USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should:
Minister Putin said he would again run for president in
Urge the Russian government to amend its extrem-
March 2012. In October 2012, the Kremlin expelled the
ism law in line with international human rights
U.S. Agency for International Development and banned
standards, such as adding criteria on the advocacy
its Russia programs.
or use of violence, and to ensure that the law is not

The Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014 marked a new low in

Russias international relations, including with the United States.

In December 2012, the U.S. Congress normal-

used against members of peaceful religious groups
ized trade with Russia by repealing the Jackson-Vanik
or disfavored communities;
Amendment, but also passed the Magnitsky Act sanc-
tioning Russian officials responsible for gross human Press the Russian government to ensure that new
rights violations, including the 2009 death of lawyer laws, such as the expansion of the foreign agents
Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison; President Obama law, do not limit the religious activities of peaceful
signed the Act later that month. In response, the Russian religious groups; also encourage the Russian gov-
government denied Americans the opportunity to adopt ernment to implement ECtHR decisions relating to
Russian children, issued a list of U.S. officials prohibited religious freedom;
from entering Russia, and posthumously convicted Mag-
Under the Magnitsky Act, continue to identify
nitsky. By February 2016, the U.S. government had named
Russian government officials responsible for severe
39 Russian officials subject to U.S. visa bans and asset
violations of religious freedom and human rights,

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freeze their assets, and bar their entry into the violations of religious freedom imposed upon the peo-
United States; ple of Russia, and now including Crimea and Ukraine,
have only accumulated, with no sign of abatement nor
Raise religious freedom concerns in multilateral
any heed during this time by the Russian government
settings and meetings, such as the Organization for
of any of our concerns. The continued increase in the
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and
repression of religious freedom during this time in
urge the Russian government to agree to visits by
Russia beyond a doubt has come to include all of the
the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion
elements of the definition of systematic, ongoing, and
or Belief and the OSCE Representatives on Toler-
egregious violations of religious freedom. The Russian
ance, set specific visit dates, and provide the full
government has had far too long to address all of these
and necessary conditions for such visits;
areas of concern in Tier 2 status that we have annually
Call for and work to secure the release of religious raised and their indifference to them, along with a
prisoners and press the Russian government to concomitant increase in the religious freedom viola-
ensure that every prisoner has regular access to tions, I believe now requires that the State Department
his or her family, human rights monitors, adequate designate Russia a CPC.
medical care, and a lawyer; I also do not believe the case has been adequately
made to explain why the violations described in this
Ensure that the U.S. Embassy, including at the
report do not now, after all this time and expansion
ambassadorial level, maintains appropriate con-
rather than retraction, meet the criteria for CPC des-
tacts with human rights activists;
ignation. This report very well delineates all the areas
Encourage the Board of Broadcasting Governors of concern. But specifically in order to reiterate those
to increase U.S. funding for VOA Russian and offenses which particularly merit CPC designation, I
Ukrainian Services and for RFE/RLs Russian and want to highlight the following eight areas:
Ukrainian Services, and consider Russian trans- 1) In 2015, there was an increase in the number of
lation of the RFE/RL Uzbek Web site, Muslims and criminal convictions, fines, and detentions, particularly
Democracy; of Muslims and Jehovahs Witnesses for alleged extrem-
ism. A prisoner list compiled by an NGO includes at least
Ensure that violations of freedom of religion or
105 religious prisoners in Russia. 2) As of February 2016,
belief and related human rights are included in all
3,291 items had been banned as extremist, including
relevant discussions with the Russian government
Jehovahs Witnesses texts and the writings of Turkish
due to Russias illegal annexation of Crimea and its
theologian Said Nursi. Last year, the number was 2,634.
support of rebels in the Donbas, and work closely
3) In just part of the past year, from September to Decem-
with European and other allies to apply pressure
ber 2015, at least 35 individuals (Muslims, Jehovahs
through advocacy, diplomacy, and targeted sanc-
Witnesses, and Falun Gong) were prosecuted on charges
tions; and
relating to alleged extremist texts, a sharp increase over
Work to establish an OSCE monitoring presence in a similar period in 2014. 4) The Russian legal authorities
Crimea. have also continued to oppress religious minorities.
Russias Constitutional Court ruled in 2015 ruled that
material can be banned as extremist for proclaiming
Dissenting Statement of
the truth or superiority of one religion or belief system.
Vice Chair M. Zuhdi Jasser:
In 2015, an atheist, Victor Krasnov, was charged with
Russia has been designated a Tier 2 offender of reli-
blasphemy under the 2013 blasphemy law for insulting
gious freedom by USCIRF since 2009, meaning that the
Orthodox believers by supporting atheism on social
Commission has felt that at least one of the elements
media. He was on trial at the end of the reporting period,
of the systematic, ongoing, and egregious standard
and could receive one year in prison. 5) In Chechnya
for designation as a country of particular concern, or
and Dagestan, Russian officials and local paramilitary
CPC, were being met. During these seven years, severe

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continued to commit often violent religious freedom
violations, mostly against Muslims and with almost total
impunity. 6) Russia has imposed its repressive religion
law in Ukraines Crimea peninsula, which it illegally
annexed in 2014. By January 1, 2016, only 400 of the over
1,100 religious communities that had legal status under
Ukrainian law were re-registered under the Russian rules.
In the Donbas regions of eastern Ukraine controlled
by Russian-backed separatists, Protestants and Kievan
Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church parishes
have been targets of arrests, violence, church damage,
property confiscation, and discrimination. More than
9,000 individuals have died during the conflict and two
million have fled the region, including thousands of Jews,
Muslims, Protestants and other religious minorities who
faced pressure and discrimination. 7) Russian-installed
officials in Crimea have raided libraries, schools, Muslim
homes, and mosques; closed Islamic schools; and issued
fines for owning allegedly extremist Islamic and Jeho-
vahs Witness texts. Clergy without Russian citizenship
were forced to leave Crimea, including Greek and Roman
Catholics. Muslim Crimean Tatars, most of whom oppose
the Russian occupation, were particularly targeted. 8)
Rising xenophobia and intolerance, including anti-Sem-
itism in Russia, are also linked to violent and lethal hate
crimes that often occur with impunity.
The above clearly demonstrates a Russian govern-
ment that has perpetrated systematic, ongoing, and
egregious violations of religious freedom and thus mer-
its the designation of Russia by the State Department as
a CPC.

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200 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

Key Findings is through the Presidency of Religious Affairs, and of

Turkeys constitution is based on the French model of all other faiths is through the General Directorate for
lacit, strict secularism, which requires the absence of Foundations. Additionally, the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne,
religion in public life and in government. No religious a peace treaty between Turkish military forces and sev-
community, including the Sunni Muslim majority, has eral European powers, affords specific guarantees and
full legal status and all are subject to state controls that protections for the Greek and Armenian Orthodox and
limit their rights to own and maintain places of wor- Jewish communities, but they are not provided to other
ship, train clergy, and offer religious education. Other minority groups.
concerns relate to the compulsory religious education The Turkish government does not maintain pop-
classes in public primary and secondary schools, the ulation statistics based on religious identity, but an
listing of religious affiliation on national identity cards, estimated 75 to 85 percent of the countrys population
anti-Semitism, threats against Turkeys small Protestant is Sunni Muslim. Alevis comprise an estimated 15 to
community, and denials of access to religious sites in the 25 percent. The Turkish government and many Alevis
Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus. There were, view the community as heterodox Muslims, but many
however, several positive developments during the Sunni Muslims consider them non-Muslims. Some
reporting period, relating to minority property returns Alevis identify as Shia Muslim, while others reject
and public minority religious celebrations. Neverthe- Islam and view themselves as a unique culture. Tur-
less, based on limitations on religious freedom that keys non-Muslim religious minority communities are
continue to exist in the country, USCIRF again places small, estimated at between .1 and .3 percent of the total
Turkey on Tier 2 in 2016. population, but they are diverse and are historically and

Under the Turkish interpretation of secularism,

however, the state has pervasive control over religion and denies
full legal status to all religious communities.

Background culturally significant. The fewer than 150,000 Christians

Turkeys constitution, adopted in 1982, provides for in Turkey include Armenian and Greek Orthodox, Syriac
freedom of belief, worship, and the private dissemina- Christians, Jehovahs Witnesses, and Protestants, as
tion of religious ideas, and prohibits discrimination on well as small Georgian Orthodox, Bulgarian Orthodox,
religious grounds. Under the Turkish interpretation of Maronite, Chaldean, Nestorian Assyrian, and Roman
secularism, however, the state has pervasive control Catholic communities. The Jewish community com-
over religion and denies full legal status to all religious prises fewer than 20,000 persons. Other smaller com-
communities. This limits religious freedom for all munities exist in Turkey, including Bahais.
religious groups and has been particularly detrimental In August 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected
to the smallest minority faiths. Official control of Islam President of Turkey, after serving as the countrys
Prime Minister between 2003 and 2014. Turkey held

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two general parliamentary elections in 2015. After the the ability to train clergy in the country. The Greek
June 2015 election, neither the Justice and Development Orthodox Theological School of Halki remains closed,
Party (AKP) nor the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) as it has been since 1971. The Armenian Orthodox
secured a majority of seats, and efforts to build a coali- community also lacks a seminary, although there are 16
tion government failed. The AKP won a parliamentary Armenian Orthodox parish schools.
majority in the November 2015 election, although the
vote was marred by allegations of fraud and intimida- Religious Minority Properties
tion and incidents of election-related violence. Since Historically, the Turkish government expropriated reli-
2011, the Turkish government has attempted to revise gious minority properties. Beginning in 2003, and espe-
the constitution but these efforts have failed due to cially since a 2011 governmental decree, many proper-
political disagreements unrelated to religious freedom. ties have been returned or financial compensation paid
Nevertheless, despite the continuing constitutional when return was not possible. According to the Turkish
impediments to full religious freedom protections, the government, more than 1,000 properties valued at
Turkish government has shown that improvements for more than 2.5 billion Turkish Lira (1 billion U.S. Dol-
freedom of religion or belief are possible without a new lars) had been returned or compensated for between
constitution when sufficient political will is present. For 2003 and 2014. For example, in 2013, the government
example, over the past few years, the government has returned the deed for 244,000 square meters (over 60
returned or paid compensation for expropriated reli- acres) of land to the Syriac Foundation that maintains
gious minority properties and loosened restrictions on the historic Mor Gabriel Monastery. However, several
Islamic religious dress. That resolve, however, remains cases connected to Mor Gabriel remain pending before
lacking on other issues, such as the long-promised the European Court of Human Rights, including a case
reopening of the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary. regarding an additional 320,000 square meters (nearly
The overall landscape for democracy and human 80 acres) claimed by the Syriac community.
rights in Turkey has deteriorated over the last several In 2015, the Turkish government reports that out
years. The government has increased restrictions on of 1,560 applications, it returned an additional 333
social media and cracked down on journalists and properties and paid compensation for 21 properties. For
individuals or groups that criticize the government, example, in October 2015, the government returned 439
especially President Erdogan. acres of land to the Syriac Christian Mor Hananyo Mon-

The Turkish government continues to require that only

Turkish citizens can be members of the Greek Orthodox Churchs Holy Synod,
which elects that communitys Patriarch.

Religious Freedom Conditions 20152016 astery in Mardin. The same month, following 175 days of
Interference in Internal Religious Affairs protests by Armenians and various religious and ethnic
The Turkish government continues to require that only communities, the government returned the deed of
Turkish citizens can be members of the Greek Orthodox Camp Armen to the Armenian Protestant Church Foun-
Churchs Holy Synod, which elects that communitys dation. Camp Armen, confiscated by the government in
Patriarch. Since 2010, 30 foreign Metropolitans have 1983, was once part of a boarding school and orphanage
been approved for dual citizenship. The government for Armenian children. The remaining applications are
also has interfered in the selection process of the Arme- still under review.
nian Patriarchates leadership. In addition, the govern- Religious minority communities report that the
ment of Turkey denies religious minority communities government has rejected around 1,000 applications

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since 2011. The communities allege bias, delays, and National Identity Cards
insufficient compensation. The government states that In January 2015, responding to a 2010 European Court
denials are due to lack of proof of ownership, for exam- of Human Rights ruling that the mandatory listing of
ple when different religious communities are claiming religious affiliation on national identity cards violated
the same property. the European Convention, the parliament passed a law
removing the requirement on the cards. However, the
Education new ID cards, expected to be distributed in 2016, will
The constitution makes religious and moral instruc- include a microchip where religious affiliation may be
tion compulsory in public primary and secondary included, although it will not be required. This has led
schools, with a curriculum established by the Ministry to the concern that individuals who fail to list Muslim
of National Education. Non-Muslim children can be will automatically be deemed part of a minority com-
exempted, but to do so parents and students must reveal munity, which may lead to bias. Additionally, it is not
their religious affiliation, which can lead to societal known what affiliations will be permitted to be listed
and teacher discrimination. Alevis, however, are not on the microchips. In the past, some groups, such as
afforded the exemption option. In 2014, the European Bahais and atheists, were unable to state their affilia-
Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkeys compulsory tions on their identity cards because their faiths or belief
religious education violated the right of Alevi parents systems were not on the official list of options.
and others to have their children educated consistent
with their own convictions. The court ruled that Turkey
should institute a system whereby pupils could be Religious minority communities also
exempted from religion classes without parents having have complained that the
to disclose their religious or philosophical convic- textbooks used in the compulsory class
tions. To date, the Turkish government has not done were written from a Muslim worldview
so, although Forum 18 reported that the government is and included generalized and
reviewing the education system and plans to present an derogatory language about other faiths
action plan to respond to the European Court decision.
Religious minority communities also have com-
plained that the textbooks used in the compulsory class
were written from a Muslim worldview and included Alevis
generalized and derogatory language about other faiths. Alevis worship in gathering places (cemevi), which the
During USCIRFs 2014 visit to Turkey, the Ministry of Turkish government does not consider legal houses of
Education reported to USCIRF that it was aware of the worship and thus cannot receive the legal and finan-
complaints by religious communities and that it had cial benefits associated with such status. In December
made an effort to revise the books. The ministry shared 2014, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that
the revised textbooks with USCIRF. In late 2015, USCIRF Turkey discriminates against the Alevi community by
released an analysis of the books, Compulsory Reli- failing to recognize cemevis as official places of worship.
gious Education in Turkey: A Survey and Assessment of In November 2015, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu
Textbooks. The report found that the textbooks included presented to the Turkish parliament a new plan to
positive passages on religion and science, religion and grant legal status to Alevi houses of worship. Under this
rationality, good citizenship, religious freedom, and the plan, the Presidency of Religious Affairs would pay for
origins of differences in Islamic thought. However, the cemevis water and electricity bills and provide a salary
study also found that the textbooks had superficial, lim- for Dedes (Alevi religious leaders), as it does for Sunni
ited, and misleading information about religions other mosques and imams. At the end of the reporting period,
than Islam, including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, it was not clear if the Parliament had agreed to the Prime
and Buddhism, and linked atheism with the concept of Ministers proposal.

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Anti-Semitism years, religious communities on occasion were denied
Generally, the small Jewish community in Turkey is access to houses of worship, cemeteries, and other his-
able to worship freely; their community foundations torical and cultural sites.
operate schools, hospitals, and other entities; and
their synagogues receive government protection when Positive Developments Regarding Minority
needed. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism in Turkish society Religious Celebrations
and media remains a serious concern. Additionally, In the last year, there were some notable developments
there continue to be reports that government officials concerning public minority religious celebrations. In
have made anti-Semitic comments. A 2015 report by March 2015, the third largest synagogue in Europe,
the Hrant Dink Foundation found 130 examples of hate the Great Synagogue of Edirne in Turkeys northwest
speech in the Turkish print media that targeted the region, was reopened and a service held for the first
Jewish community in Turkey or the Jewish commu- time in nearly 50 years. In December 2015, the first
nity more broadly between May and August 2014. In public celebration of Hanukah in the Republics his-
addition, in January 2016, unknown vandals sprayed tory was held in Istanbuls historic Ortakoy Square; the
Terrorist Israel, there is Allah on the outside wall of countrys Chief Rabbi, Izak Haleva, lit a large meno-
Istipol Synagogue in Istanbuls Balat neighborhood. On rah, the head of the Jewish Communitys foundation

In December 2015, the first public celebration of Hanukah in the Republics

history was held in Istanbuls historic Ortakoy Square;
the countrys Chief Rabbi, Izak Haleva, lit a large menorah, the head of the
Jewish Communitys foundation delivered a speech, and
government officials reportedly attended.

a positive note, during the reporting period, the Turkish delivered a speech, and government officials report-
government took steps to publicly support the Jewish edly attended. In January 2015, the government also
community, as described below. sponsored the first-ever Holocaust Remembrance
Day ceremony, with the Parliamentary Speaker and
Protestants Minister of Culture and Tourism participating. In May
In August 2015, 15 Protestant churches and 20 church 2015, the Agios Konstantinos Greek Church, located
leaders received cyber-threats including through in the western province of Izmir, reopened after
SMS text messaging, email, and social media. The extensive renovations; a mass was held for the first
community and the Turkish government believe that time in 93 years, with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch
the threats came from religious extremists in Turkey present. In July 2015, for the first time in 188 years, the
affiliated with or sympathetic to the Islamic State of Alevi community held a religious service in the Hac
Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In one video released on Bektas- Veli dervish convent, located in the province
Twitter, militants threatened to commit mass murder of Nevsehir. However, the community was required to
in churches affiliated with the Association of Protes- get permission from the Turkish Culture and Tourism
tant Churches. Reportedly, the Turkish government is Ministry. In November 2015, for the first time in 60
investigating the cases. years, a religious service was held in the Protestant
Church in Artuklu, located in Mardin. It is unknown if
Northern part of the Republic of Cyprus these events were one-time occurrences or if they will
Turkey has occupied nearly one-third of the northern be allowed in the future.
part of Cyprus since 1974. In the past year, as in previous

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U.S. Policy Recommendations

Turkey is an important strategic partner of the United In its engagement with Turkey, the U.S. government,
States; it is a NATO ally and there is a U.S. airbase in at the highest levels, should continue to raise religious
Incirlik, Turkey. The U.S.-Turkey relationship includes freedom issues with the Turkish government. Specifi-
many matters, most importantly regional stability and cally, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government
security due to Turkeys shared borders with Syria, should urge the Turkish government to:
Iraq, and Iran, and the emergence of ISIL. The United
Revive the multi-party constitutional drafting
States continues to support Turkish accession to the
commission with the goal of drafting a new consti-
European Union. In addition, in the past, the United
tution consistent with international human rights
States worked to criminalize the sources of mate-
standards on freedom of religion or belief;
rial support for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) by
designating the PKK a Foreign Terrorist Organization Interpret the 1923 Lausanne Treaty to provide equal
and supported the Turkish military against the PKK in rights to all religious minority communities;
northern Iraq. However, since 2014, relations between
Comply with decisions made by the European
Turkey and the United States have soured over a num-
Court of Human Rights, including by:
ber of issues, including differences in their approaches
to the war in Syria and the threat of ISIL and anti-dem- removing the space listing religious affiliation on
ocratic domestic actions by the government of Turkey. official identification cards, both in print and on
Since President Jimmy Carter, every U.S. presi- future microchipped versions;
dent has called consistently for Turkey to reopen the
recognizing Alevi cemevis as official places of
Greek Orthodox Theological School of Halki under the
worship; and

instituting a system whereby pupils can be

exempted from religion classes without parents
Since President Jimmy Carter, having to disclose their religious or philosophical
every U.S. president has called convictions;
consistently for Turkey to reopen the
Without conditions, fulfill private and public prom-
Greek Orthodox Theological School of
ises that the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary be
Halki under the auspices of the
reopened, and permit other religious communities
Ecumenical Patriarchate....
to open and operate their seminaries;

Permit religious communities to select and appoint

their leadership in accordance with their internal
auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to take guidelines and beliefs;
specific steps to address concerns of the ethnic Kurdish
Publicly rebuke government officials who make
population and other minority communities. The U.S.
anti-Semitic or derogatory statements about reli-
government also cooperates with Turkey to assist in
gious communities in Turkey; and
the advancement of freedom of expression, respect for
individual human rights, civil society, and promotion of Ensure that, with respect to the northern part of
ethnic diversity. Like every country except Turkey, the the Republic of Cyprus, Turkish military author-
United States does not officially recognize the Turkish ities and Turkish-controlled local authorities end
Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, the United all restrictions on the access, use, and restoration
States government does discuss religious freedom with of places of worship and cemeteries for religious
Turkish Cypriot authorities and supports international minorities.
efforts to reunify the island.

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uring the past year, there was an increase in the as well as an Office of the Ombudsman in the Ministry of
number of interrogations, detentions, and arbi- Interior to ensure compliance with policing standards and
trary arrests of Shia Muslims, including clerics, receive reports of misconduct. However, the government
for peaceful protests and criticizing the governments still has not adequately held high-level security officials
human rights and religious freedom record. While the accountable for serious abuses, which included targeting,
Bahraini government has made significant progress imprisoning, torturing, and killing predominantly Shia
in rebuilding 30 mosques and religious structures it demonstrators. Bahraini courts have tried, prosecuted,
destroyed during unrest in the spring of 2011, it did not and convicted only a few lower-level police officers, with
meet its self-imposed deadline to complete the process little or no transparency about the trials, convictions, and
by the end of 2014. In addition, the government has yet length of prison terms; several have been acquitted. The
to fully implement recommendations from the Bahrain government has stated that there are ongoing investiga-
Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to redress tions of commanding officers related to the 2011 abuses,
past abuses against Shia Muslims and further improve but has not disclosed details.
religious freedom conditions.

Background [T]he government still has

With a population of approximately 1.3 million, about not adequately held high-level security
half are Bahraini citizens and half are expatriate work- officials accountable for serious abuses,
ers, primarily from South Asian countries. Almost half of which included targeting, imprisoning,
the expatriate workers are non-Muslim (approximately torturing, and killing predominantly
250,000-300,000). Bahraini citizens are estimated to Shia demonstrators.
be 60-65 percent Shia and 30-35 percent Sunni, with
approximately one to two percent non-Muslims, including
Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Bahais. Compared to
other countries in the region, Bahrain is among the most Ongoing Abuses and Discrimination
tolerant of non-Muslim religious minority communities. In October 2015, UN experts found that patterns of cultural,
The government officially recognizes at least 19 Christian economic, educational, and social discrimination against
denominations, a tiny Jewish community, Hindus, and Shia Muslims in Bahrain persisted in 2015. They found
Sikhs. A small Bahai community is recognized as a social that excessive use of force and abuses targeting Shia clerics
entity. Most Bahrainis acknowledge that their society continued, as did discrimination in the education system,
has been historically tolerant of all faiths and religiously media, public sector employment, and other government
pluralistic to a degree that is notable in the region. social policies, such as housing and welfare programs.
During the reporting period, Shia Muslims contin-
Progress and Concerns Related to ued to be interrogated, detained, and arrested, and, in
Accountability for Past Abuses some cases, convicted and sentenced to prison terms. For
Since the release of the 2011 BICI report, the Bahraini example, in August and December 2015, Shia cleric and
government has created entities to address accountabil- interfaith activist Maytham al-Salman was interrogated
ity for abuses, including a Civilian Settlement Office to about his criticism of Bahraini government policies and
compensate for deaths and injuries from the 2011 unrest, his advocacy of human rights and religious freedom. He

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was charged with expressing views regarding a case that the government had rebuilt 20 structures 15 fully in
still in court and inciting hatred against the regime use and five nearly complete but not yet in use and the
and his travel was restricted. At the end of the reporting Shia community itself had rebuilt seven structures. The
period, the charges were still pending. In June 2015, Shia government has stated that it helped secure legal permits
cleric and prominent opposition leader Ali Salman was for the structures built by the Shia community, but
sentenced to four years in prison on a range of securi- despite indicating willingness in the past, officials have
ty-related charges, including inciting regime change and not committed to reimbursing the community.
insulting the Ministry of Interior, which UN experts have Of the 27 completed or nearly complete, one
criticized as violations of the freedoms of expression, mosque the Mohamad Al Barbaghi mosque, which is
association, and religion. Salman originally was arrested religiously and historically significant to the Shia com-
and imprisoned in December 2014. At the end of the munity was rebuilt some 200 meters from its original
reporting period, he continues to appeal the sentence and site. The government has stated this was for security
remains in detention. reasons, since the original mosque site is next to a major
Furthermore, while government officials often make highway, but some members of the Shia community
public statements condemning sectarian hatred, pro-gov- continue to insist that the mosque can only be built on
ernment media continued to use inflammatory, sectar- the original location. Bahraini officials have committed
ian rhetoric. New media laws that would curb anti-Shia to an ongoing dialogue with the Shia community to
incitement, as recommended in the BICI report, have not resolve the remaining disputed cases, although some
been passed. According to interlocutors, members of the community representatives do not believe the govern-
Shia community still cannot serve in the active military, ment is fully committed to the negotiations.
only in administrative positions, and there are no Shia
Muslims in the upper levels of the Bahrain government Other Developments
security apparatus, including the military and police. In December 2015, Bahrains Shura Council approved
amendments to the law governing political societies
that ban clerics from delivering sermons and carry-
Despite a self-imposed end-of-2014 ing out religious duties while also being members of
deadline, the Bahraini government has political societies. In August, the Shura Council debated
not completed rebuilding destroyed criminalizing contempt of religion and insults to reli-
structures. gious sanctities, as well as hate speech that promotes
sectarian discord and undermines national unity. By
the end of the reporting period, no further action had
been taken. In October, there were numerous reports
Progress in Rebuilding Shia Mosques and that authorities removed Ashura banners in some loca-
Religious Structures tions where commemorations were taking place; clashes
Despite a self-imposed end-of-2014 deadline, the followed, resulting in injuries to dozens of protestors.
Bahraini government has not completed rebuilding
destroyed structures. In early 2014, the government Recommendations
increased to approximately US$8 million the amount to USCIRF urges the United States government to continue
rebuild Shia mosques and religious structures, nearly to press the Bahraini government to implement fully
twice what it pledged in 2012.It also moved the deadline the BICI recommendations, including those related to
from 2018 to the end of 2014 to complete rebuilding the freedom of religion and belief and accountability for
30 destroyed structures identified in the BICI report. In past abuses against the Shia community. In addition,
October 2015, the government stated publicly that 27 had USCIRF continues to encourage the Bahraini govern-
been completed and were approved for use and that three ment to reimburse the Shia community for expending
still required legal and administrative approval. Never- its own funds to rebuild seven mosques and religious
theless, as of February 2016, other credible sources found structures that were demolished in 2011.

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n 2015, violent extremists killed, threatened, percent of the total population, and all other faiths, includ-
assaulted, harassed, and intimidated religious ing Christians and Buddhists, are less than one percent.
minorities and self-described atheists or secular-
ist bloggers. While the government, led by the ruling Targeting of Religious Minorities
Awami League, has taken steps to investigate, arrest, and During the reporting period, religious minority lead-
prosecute perpetrators of violent attacks or threats, and ers and laity from the Christian, Shia Muslim, Hindu,
has increased protection for likely targets, religious and and Buddhist communities were killed, injured, or
civil society groups fear that increasing religious extrem- threatened, and some houses of worship were attacked.
ism will result in future threats and attacks. In addition, These incidents were either attributed to or claimed by
illegal land appropriations, commonly referred to as domestic and international extremist groups, including
land-grabbing, and ownership disputes remain wide- Jamaatul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) and the Islamic
spread, with religious minorities, especially Hindus and State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), although the gov-
Christians, being particularly vulnerable. Other concerns ernment of Bangladesh denies that ISIL is present and
include the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts operating in the country. On a positive note, religious
Accord and the situation of Rohingya Muslims. In March minority communities reported that the government
2015, a USCIRF staff member traveled to Bangladesh to and police actively have investigated, arrested, and
assess the religious freedom situation. prosecuted individuals for threats and attacks, and
have increased protection, especially during religious
holidays and festivals. Religious leaders also noted that
[R]eligious and civil society groups fear Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP Chairperson
that increasing religious extremism will Khaleda Zia, and religious leaders, including from the
result in future threats and attacks. Sunni majority, have made public statements con-
demning attacks against religious minorities. However,
religious communities also report that political parties
sometimes use religiously-divisive language and act in
Background ways that exacerbate religious and communal tensions
Bangladeshs political landscape is deeply divided between for political gain.
the ruling Awami League and the main opposition party,
the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The January 2014 Murders of and Threats against Bloggers
parliamentary election was not free and fair, and was fol- In 2015, four Bangladeshis Washiqur Rahman Babu,
lowed by violence in 16 out of 64 districts. The worst attacks Ananta Bijoy Das, Niloy Chatterjee, and Faisal Arefin
occurred in minority-dominated villages. Dozens of Hindu Dipan and one Bangladeshi-American, Avijit Roy, were
properties were looted or set ablaze, and hundreds of assassinated for their writings on secularism and freedom
Hindus fled their homes. Christian and Buddhist commu- of thought, religious and communal tolerance, and polit-
nities also were targeted. Most attacks were attributed to ical transparency and accountability. Groups such as Al
individuals and groups associated with the BNP and the Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Ansar al Islam,
main Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat). and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) claimed responsi-
Approximately 90 percent of Bangladeshs estimated bility. According to the government, over 30 people have
160 million population is Sunni Muslim. Hindus are 9.5 been arrested for the murders of Roy, Bijoy Das, Babu, and

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 209
Chatterjee. Additionally, on December 31, 2015, two men in south-eastern Bangladesh, nearly 50 percent of
were sentenced to death and six others to prison for the whom follow Theravada Buddhism. Additionally, in
2013 murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider. recent years the Hindu population has increased from
Due to threats made against them, including in Hit migration. According to the Bangladeshi government,
Lists of individuals targeted for assassination widely out of 72 articles of the CHT Accord, 48 have been fully
available on the Internet, dozens of individuals have implemented, 15 partially implemented, and nine have
either fled the country or their areas of residence. not been implemented. However, in February 2016, the
communities political organization asserted that two-
Land-Grabbing thirds of the CHT Accord articles are unimplemented.
Land-grabbing, including by police and political lead- On a positive note, the representation of ethnic and
ers, is a significant concern and is widespread through- religious groups in the CHT local police force reportedly
out Bangladesh. Attacks on property holders and arson has increased.
almost always accompanies incidents of land-grabbing.
Religious minorities, particularly Hindus, believe that Rohingya Muslims
a lack of political representation makes them especially For decades, Bangladesh has hosted, in two govern-
vulnerable targets. This problem affects all communi- ment-run camps in Coxs Bazaar, near the Bangla-
ties, which makes it difficult to determine if minorities desh-Burmese border, an estimated 30,000 official-
are targeted due to their faith, their vulnerable status as ly-recognized Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled
minorities, or the value of the property. religious persecution in Burma. An estimated 200,000 to
In January 2016, hundreds of Christians protested 500,000 Rohingya Muslims deemed illegal immigrants
against the governments attempted seizure of land live outside the camps, in deplorable conditions. In late
claimed by the St. Peters Church in Barisal district. At 2015, the Bangladesh government began conducting a
the end of the reporting period, the Bangladesh Christian census of the Rohingya population. Reportedly, partic-
Associations appeal to stop the seizure remains pending. ipants in the census will receive an identification card
from the International Organization for Migration,
Property Returns which will improve access to health care and education.
In 2011, the Vested Property Return Act established an
application process for families or individuals to apply Recommendations
for the return of, or compensation for, property seized by In its engagement with Bangladesh, USCIRF rec-
the government prior to and immediately after Bangla- ommends that the U.S. government should: provide
deshs independence from Pakistan in 1971. The Hindu technical assistance and encourage the Bangladesh
community was especially affected by the governments government to further develop its national counter
property seizures. Reportedly, in May 2015, the Act was terrorism strategy; urge Prime Minister Hasina and
amended to add an additional six thousand acres of all government officials to frequently and publicly
land eligible for return. Reportedly, in consultation with denounce religiously-divisive language and acts of reli-
the Hindu community, the government is considering giously-motivated violence and harassment; assist the
additional amendments to address concerns about the Bangladeshi government in providing local government
application process and the number of eligible proper- officials, police officers and judges with training on
ties for return. international human rights standards, as well as how to
investigate and adjudicate religiously-motivated violent
Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord acts; and urge the government of Bangladesh to investi-
(CHT Accord) gate claims of land-grabbing and to repeal its blasphemy
The CHT Accord is a political agreement and peace law. Additionally, the United States government should
treaty between the Bangladeshi government and the provide humanitarian parole for a limited number of
political organization representing the ethnic and Bangladeshi writers at imminent risk of assassination by
indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts area extremist groups.

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SCIRF continues to monitor the situation countrys six regions employs multiple religious affairs
in Belarus, where the government tightly officials, as does Minsk city. Officials from local Ideology
regulates religious communities through an Departments and the Belarusian secret police (which
extensive security and religious affairs bureaucracy, retains the Soviet-era title of Committee for State Secu-
which has driven some groups underground. Offi- rity (KGB)) also are involved in religious controls. The
cials are particularly hostile towards religious groups 2002 religion law, which includes compulsory state reg-
viewed as political opponents, such as Protestants. istration of all communities and geographical limits on
The government strictly controls foreign citizens who religious activity, is central to a wide web of regulations
conduct religious activity, particularly Catholic priests. that tethers all registered religious groups. The religion
The rights of prisoners to practice their religion or law recognizes the determining role of the Moscow
belief even those on death row are routinely denied. Patriarchate Belarus Orthodox Church (MPBOC) in
In 2015, Belarus adopted an alternative service law, national traditions and deems four faiths traditional
but it does not fully protect the right to conscientious Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Evangelical Luther-
objection to military service. anism but does not include the Old Believers and

[T]he government tightly regulates religious communities

through an extensive security and
religious affairs bureaucracy, which has driven some groups underground.

Background Calvinist churches, present in the country since the 17th

Of Belarus 9.6 million population, an estimated 68 century. Non-Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Chris-
percent belong to the Belarusian Orthodox Church of tian communities only can gain registration with the
the Moscow Patriarchate, 15 percent profess no reli- approval of a local MPBOC bishop.
gion, and 14 percent are Roman Catholic. The remain- Religious meetings in private homes must not
ing three percent are adherents of other religious occur regularly or involve large numbers. Use of houses
groups, which include Protestants, Muslims, Jews, of worship and any public exercise of religion requires
Ukrainian or Greek Catholics, other Orthodox commu- state permission, which is rarely granted for disfavored
nities, Old Believers, Lutherans, Jehovahs Witnesses, groups, particularly Protestants. Moscow Patriarchate
Apostolic Christians, Hare Krishnas, Bahais, The Orthodox and Catholic communities are less affected,
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), partly due to the states more positive view of them, but
and Armenian Apostolics. also because they are more likely to occupy historic
churches. The New Life Church, a 1,000-member Pente-
Government Control over Religious Activity costal congregation in Minsk, has struggled since 2002
A government agency, headed by the Plenipotentiary to keep control of its private church property, a reno-
for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, oversees an extensive vated cow barn that authorities claim cannot officially
bureaucracy to regulate religious groups; each of the be used as a church.

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Unregistered religious activity usually is treated as long attempts to register. In May 2015, riot police raided
an administrative offense punishable by a fine. Since the rented worship place of the Reformed Orthodox
registration is compulsory, the religion law makes no Transfiguration Church in Gomel; one month later, offi-
provision for those which do not wish to register, such as cials forbade the church from renting space, in effect a
the Council of Churches Baptists and a similar Pente- meeting ban. Its pastor, Sergei Nikolaenko, faces admin-
costal group. A religious group found to have violated istrative charges and his home was searched. Also in
the religion law must correct the alleged violation within May, armed police raided the Council of Churches
six months and not repeat it for one year or face closure. Baptists in Svetlogorsk. Three members were later fined
There is no legal avenue for religious groups to challenge for unauthorized worship meetings; others face simi-
such warnings, as the Belarus Constitutional Court lar charges, as does the owner of the home where the
noted in 2007. After that ruling, Jehovahs Witnesses church meets. In December 2015, police in Gorki raided
often have tried, but failed, to establish the legal right to a private religious meeting of a Council of Churches
challenge such rulings. Baptists congregation. Its leader, Mikhail Shulgan,

In a positive development, during the reporting period,

several religious groups were permitted to hold large
religious events outside registered places of worship.

was told he should not hold a meeting without state

Status of Public Religious Activity permission, but as of 2011 that is no longer an admin-
In a positive development, during the reporting period, istrative offense; his wife, however, was charged with
several religious groups were permitted to hold large the administrative offence of not using living premises
religious events outside registered places of worship. for their designated purpose. In February 2016, the
Protestants held outdoor baptisms in lakes, Catholic Plenipotentiary for Religious and Ethnic Affairs, Leonid
and Orthodox churches held large public processions, Gulyako, threatened to revoke the registration of Jeho-
and the Protestant Full Gospel Union received official vahs Witness communities, although he lacks the legal
permission for the first time in 20 years to rent a major authority to do so.
public sports venue in Minsk. However, although Hare
Krishnas were denied permits for large processions, Actions against Foreign Priests
they did hold small processions. Also, officials report- In July 2015, Belarusian border guards denied entry to
edly tried to prevent individuals from offering religious the U.S.-based Archbishop of the Belarusian Autoceph-
texts on the street, even if punishment is infrequent. In alous Orthodox Church. In December 2015, the govern-
June 2015, three Hare Krishnas were briefly detained ment denied entry to two Polish Catholic priests invited
in Vitebsk for offering religious texts to passers-by. In by the church to work in Belarus. The Catholic Bishops
November 2015, a lawyer who belongs to an unregis- Conference has noted publicly the increased difficulty
tered Protestant church in Minsk asked parliament their priests face in receiving official permission to enter
to explain why he was denied permission for a public Belarus. In February 2016, Plenipotentiary Gulyako
Bible reading although registered religious groups are was publicly critical of Catholic priests destructive
allowed to do so. activity and also criticized the Catholic Church for its
alleged failings in training clergy. According to Forum
Actions against Religious Minorities 18, the Plenipotentiarys Office impeded the required
In July 2015, the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox registration for the Catholic Theological Academy that
Churchs parish in the capital Minsk gave up its years- remains under construction in Minsk. The Conference

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of Catholic Bishops observed that training of clergy is an

internal issue and noted there are 19 students in Catho-
lic seminaries in Belarus and abroad.

New Alternative Service Law

In June 2015, Belarus adopted its first Alternative Service
Law, which will go into effect on July 1, 2016. Members of
pacifist religious communities will be eligible for civil-
ian alternative service, under the control of the Labor
and Social Security Ministry, for a term that is twice as
long as military service. The new law does not address
the status of objectors from religious communities that
are not formally pacifist or non-religious conscientious
objectors. Young men already in military service cannot
apply for alternative service if they change their views.

In June 2015, Belarus adopted its

first Alternative Service Law, which will
go into effect on July 1, 2016.

As of September 2015, one Jehovahs Witness conscien-

tious objector still faced conscription attempts, even
though criminal and administrative charges against
him were dropped. A second Jehovahs Witness consci-
entious objector was acquitted at his criminal trial.

After Russian forces invaded Ukraine in 2014, Belarus
has hosted several high-level international meetings on
the crisis. These meetings have included State Depart-
ment representatives, even though the United States has
not had an ambassador in Belarus since 2008. With such
increased U.S. government engagement with Belarus,
USCIRF recommends the State Department raise con-
cerns about religious freedom and related human rights
with Belarusian officials. In addition, the U.S. govern-
ment should raise publicly Belarusian religious freedom
violations at appropriate international fora, such as the
OSCE and the UN, particularly the need to reform the
religion law.

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eligious freedom violations are prevalent in constitution explicitly prohibits apostasy and names
a number of countries in the Horn of Africa the Quran and the Sunnah as the main source of the
region. As previously discussed in this report, law within the country.
USCIRF continues to recommend Eritrea and Sudan be
designated as countries of particular concern (CPCs) Societal and Governmental Intolerance
due to their governments systematic, ongoing, and Somalis are almost all Sunni Muslims. Christians in
egregious religious freedom violations. In addition, Somalia are persecuted by their family and their com-
Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia also are plagued by reli- munity. Somali clerics and al-Shabaab have stated that
gious freedom violations. The U.S.-designated terrorist Christianity, Christians, and churches are antithetical
organization al-Shabaab is responsible for many of the to Somalia. The Somali government also has shown an
abuses in Kenya and Somalia. However, the Ethiopian intolerance toward Christians. In 2013 and 2015, govern-
and Kenyan governments responses to terrorism and ment officials announced, and later rescinded, a ban on
increasing religious extremism also lead to religious Christmas celebrations in the country.
freedom violations. In Somalia, governmental and In a new development, Shia Muslims were harassed
societal religious intolerance contributes to that coun- in Somalia during the reporting period. On December
trys poor religious freedom record. 23, government authorities arrested and deported two

The U.S.-designated terrorist organization al-Shabaab is

responsible for many of the abuses in Kenya and Somalia.

Somalia Iranian nationals, accusing them of proselytizing. In

Background January 2016, the Somali government ended relations
The Federal Government of Somalia, the current tran- with Iran. On January 12, a Somaliland judge fined and
sitional government, was established in August 2012. imprisoned two Pakistani nationals for propagating
In January 2016, Somali political leaders agreed that Shia Islam.
a permanent government would be voted into power
during the August 2016 elections. In 2015, transitional Al-Shabaab
authorities continued the contentious effort to form a Al-Shabaab (also known as the Harakat Shabaab al-Mu-
federal state, and interim regional administrations still jahidin, Shabaab, Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement,
struggled to establish authority. Mujahideen Youth Movement, or Mujahidin Youth
Movement) came to prominence in Somalia as the mil-
Provisional Constitution itary wing of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006.
The Somali government continues to review the Its stated goals are to turn Somalia into an Islamic state,
provisional constitution, which includes a number of build a greater Somalia including areas in neighboring
provisions inconsistent with religious freedom. The countries with large ethnically-Somali populations, and
spread its strict version of Islam. Since 2007, al-Shabaab

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has fought both Somali and regional forces in its cam- non-Muslims, but al-Shabaab terrorists routinely seek
paign to control Somalia, at times holding large territo- to identify and isolate Christians during their strikes.
ries in the central and southern regions of the country. The most notable al-Shabaab attack in Kenya during
In February 2012, it pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. the reporting period occurred on April 2 at Garissa
In 2015, divisions emerged within al-Shabaab over its University College; 148 students were killed in the worst
allegiance to al-Qaeda, with a splinter group seeking terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 U.S. Embassy
to join forces with the Islamic State and the Levant bombing. On June 8, the Kenyan government charged
(ISIL). On October 22, senior al-Shabaab leader Sheikh five persons with terrorism for their involvement.
Abdiqadir Mumin and some 20 of his followers pledged
allegiance to ISIL. In response, al-Shabaab arrested and
executed some of these ISIL sympathizers, maintaining The most notable al-Shabaab attack
its allegiance to al-Qaeda. in Kenya during the
During the reporting period, the security situa- reporting period occurred on
tion in central and southern Somalia remained highly April 2 at Garissa University College;
volatile. Al-Shabaab executed frequent attacks on the 148 students were killed
African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Somali in the worst terrorist attack in
national army, and civilians in central and southern Kenya since the
Somalia and also perpetrated sporadic attacks in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing.
Puntland autonomous region. In Mogadishu, al-Shabaab
bombings killed Somali government officials, interna-
tional representatives, and Somali civilians. The group
assassinated federal government officials and their allies Operation Usalama Watch
whom it viewed as non-Muslims or apostates. In addition, In April 2014, the Kenyan government initiated Opera-
al-Shabaab continued to brutally enforce its extremist tion Usalama Watch to identify and arrest al-Shabaab
interpretation of Islamic law, killing Christians and those terrorists and sympathizers in Kenya. The operation
accused of sorcery. The militants also lashed individu- started in Nairobis largely Somali Eastleigh neighbor-
als accused of rape and adultery. hood, then expanded to the ethnically-Somali north-
east and majority Muslim coastal regions. Kenyan and
Kenya international human rights organizations have accused
Background security officials involved in the operation of targeting
The Kenyan constitution and other laws protect religious entire ethnic and religious communities and commit-
freedom, including the freedom to manifest any religion ting gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary
or belief through worship, practice, teaching, or obser- arrests, extortion, illegal detention, torture, killings, and
vance, and prohibit religious discrimination. However, disappearances. In September 2015, the independent,
government efforts to respond to al-Shabaab have resulted governmental Kenya National Commission on Human
in large-scale targeting and collective punishment of Rights (KNCHR) released a detailed report documenting
Somali citizens, ethnic-Somalis, and other Muslims. at least 4,000 arrests since April 2014, mostly of eth-
nic Somalis, many of whom suffered severe abuses in
Al-Shabaab detention; hundreds were later released and the charges
In October 2011, Kenya deployed its military to Somalia against them dropped for lack of evidence. Kenyas
to counter al-Shabaab gains in that country. Al-Shabaab Independent Oversight Policing Authority (IPOA) and
responded by expanding its attacks into Kenya, includ- international human rights groups reported that secu-
ing the September 2013 Westgate mall attack, June-July rity officers deployed to Nairobis Eastleigh neighbor-
2014 five-week campaign across Lamu and Tana River hood and elsewhere in the country beat scores of people;
counties, and dozens of other terrorist assaults through- raided homes, buildings, and shops; and extorted
out the country. The group has killed both Muslims and massive sums of money. In Mombasa, three prominent

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radical Muslim clerics were assassinated, purportedly income, and require clergy to pass a police clearance,
by Kenyan security officers. Also in Mombasa, mosques prove accreditation from an approved theological
accused of radicalism were closed and subsequently institution, and in the case of foreign clergy, provide
re-opened a short time later. work permits and a recommendation from their home
Operation Usalama Watch also ordered all Somali government. On January 28, the Kenyan government
refugees residing outside the Kakuma and Dadaab refu- withdrew the proposal from Parliament following
gee camps to immediately return to the camps. After the opposition from Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and
Garissa University attack, the government announced Muslim groups.

Kenyan and international human rights organizations have accused

security officials involved in the operation of
targeting entire ethnic and religious communities and
committing gross human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests,
extortion, illegal detention, torture, killings, and disappearances.

plans to close Dadaab refugee camp and repatriate all Ethiopia

Somali refugees in the country. Voluntary repatriations Background
started in August 2015. Ethiopia has a long history of religious tolerance and
inter-religious cooperation, and its constitution protects
Targeting of Human Rights Organizations freedom of religion or belief and provides for separation
On April 8, following the Garissa University attack, the of religion and state. In 2011-2012, however, in response
government classified a number of individuals, busi- to concerns about rising extremism, the government
nesses, and organizations as entities associated with imposed the al-Ahbash interpretation of Islam on
terrorist groups and froze their bank accounts. Muslims the countrys Muslim community, including through
for Human Rights (MUHURI) and HAKI Africa were required training for imams; interfered in the inde-
included in this list. These two Coast-based human pendence of the communitys representative body, the
rights organizations documented cases of extrajudi- Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC); and
cial killings and disappearances of alleged terrorism then arrested and prosecuted Muslims who opposed
suspects and Muslim clerics, purportedly at the hands these actions and engaged in peaceful protests.
of government security forces, and advocated for
accountability. The organizations challenged the gov- Convictions for Peaceful Protests
ernments actions, and on November 12 a judge cleared On July 6 and August 3, 2015 respectively, the Ethio-
both groups of any terrorism links after the government pian government convicted and sentenced 18 leaders
failed to present evidence. However, the government of the 2012 Muslim protest movement. They were con-
has yet to unfreeze their bank accounts, preventing the victed of plotting to institute an Islamic government
organizations from resuming their work. and sentenced to seven to 22 years in prison under
Ethiopias controversial Anti-Terror Proclamation.
Regulating Religious Communities U.S. government officials and human rights organiza-
In January 2016, the Kenyan government sought to tions have criticized the Ethiopian governments use
implement registration requirements on religious com- of the Anti-Terror Proclamation to silence critics. On
munities and clerics. The proposed legislation would September 16, the Ethiopian government pardoned
mandate that religious groups submit to the govern- six of those convicted.
ment a statement of faith and a list of their sources of

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 217
Increased EIASC Oversight of Mosques
The EIASC is the Ethiopian Muslim communitys repre-
sentative body, but due to the governments interference
since 2011 many in the community no longer support
it and view its members as government figureheads.
During the reporting period, the EIASC increased its
management of the Muslim community. It issued two
directives giving it greater oversight, and even own-
ership, of Ethiopias mosques. The directives include
detailed rules regulating the administration of mosques;
give the EIASC authority to issue internal mosque reg-
ulations and appoint mosque employees; and prohibit
public meetings, speeches and preaching, and fundrais-
ing events without the EIASCs written approval.

218 U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16

he Kyrgyz government restricts religious to require local council approval of the list of 200 founders
freedom through its 2008 religion law and necessary for registration.
other laws and policies. Pending religion law
amendments would sharply increase these controls, Proposed Religion Law Amendments
and, if enacted, could negatively affect Kyrgyzstans In 2014, the State Committee on Religious Affairs
status in USCIRFs next annual report. USCIRF has (SCRA) prepared draft amendments to the religion
monitored religious freedom conditions in Kyrgyz- law that would sharply increase the SCRAs authority;
stan for several years. privilege Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church over
other non-traditional religions; require 500 founders
Background for the required re-registration of all religious groups;
Over 80 percent of Kyrgyzstans population of 5.7 million require an annual SCRA license for any official or
is Sunni Muslim; 15 percent is Christian, mostly Russian worker in a religious group or religious educational
Orthodox; and the remaining five percent consists of institution; and further limit the sites for distribution of
very small Shia Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, religious materials. Draft administrative code amend-
Buddhist, and Bahai communities or individuals who are ments would increase the maximum fines for religious
unaffiliated with any religion. The countrys large ethnic offenses to the equivalent of 14 months average salary.
Uzbek community (up to 40 percent of the population In 2015, a Defense Council working group (to which the
of southern Kyrgyzstan) mostly adheres to the Hanafi SCRA director belongs) and the Prime Ministers Office
school of Sunni Islam. reportedly were reviewing and revising the proposals.
As of the end of the reporting period, Kyrgyz authorities
2008 Religion Law had not sent any proposed amendments to parliament.
The constitution purports to provide for religious free-
dom for all citizens, but Kyrgyzstans 2008 religion law Increased State Control of Muslims
criminalizes unregistered religious activity and imposes Countries in Central Asia face security threats from
burdensome registration requirements, including that groups using violence in the name of religion, and thou-
a religious group must have 200 resident citizens as its sands of Central Asians, including official estimates of
founders and at least ten members, of whom one must be 250 Kyrgyz, allegedly have joined ISIL (the Islamic State
a 15-year local resident. The Organization for Security and of Iraq and the Levant). However, the overly restrictive
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europes religion laws and repressive anti-extremism measures
Venice Commission, and the UN Human Rights Commit- applied by the Kyrgyz and other Central Asian govern-
tee have noted that the law violates international stan- ments run the risk of radicalizing otherwise peaceful
dards, including through its: registration requirements, religious adherents.
criminal penalties for unregistered activity, restrictions In 2015, Kyrgyzstan reportedly implemented a
on fanaticism and extremism, and limits on mission- 2014 Presidential Decree that increased state control
ary activity and the dissemination of religious materials. over the semi-autonomous Muslim Board, including
In 2015, some Kyrgyz officials reportedly ignored a 2014 by requiring the Muslim Board to elect imams and the
ruling of the Supreme Courts Constitutional Chamber Chief Mufti; mandating that government officials par-
that a registered religious groups activities cannot be ticipate in internal exams for imams; providing mone-
limited to its legal address and that it is unconstitutional tary rewards to Muslim clergy who excelled in meeting

U S C I R F | A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 16 219
internal criteria; and requiring the Board to check with activity. The church reportedly also was threatened
local and national law enforcement agencies whether with mob violence.
clerical candidates belong to extremist organiza-
tions, Forum 18 reported. The Muslim Board also was Forced Conversion and Violence against
instructed to select the Mufti, imams, regional imams, Religious Minorities
religious judges, and Council of Ulema members only In December 2015, Ahmadiyya Muslim Yunusjan Abdu-
from the Hanafi school of Islam officially deemed tra- jalilov was murdered in the Jalalabad region; police
ditional for Kyrgyzstans Muslims. arrested nine suspects and claimed they belonged to
In November 2015, a provincial court in Osh an ISIL-linked terrorist group. Local human rights
doubled the five-year prison term for inciting religious activists report that Kyrgyz officials ignore hate speech,
hatred imposed on Rashot Kamalov, a popular eth- including comments by imams and the Muslim Board,
nic Uzbek imam, despite his sermons against ISIL and in the media against religious and ethnic minorities. The
extremism. Reportedly, Kamalov also accused local Kyrgyz government also has not resolved the chronic
police of extracting numerous bribes by randomly problem of religious minorities being denied burials in
accusing individuals of ISIL membership. As a result, municipal cemeteries controlled by the Muslim Board.
some 200 ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan who For example, in August 2015, Osh city officials and a
could not afford to pay such bribes have been jailed. local imam did not allow a Protestant to bury her son
Unlike other post-Soviet states, Kyrgyzstan has not in their local cemetery and the imam pressured her to
banned Tabligh Jamaat, a Muslim missionary move- renounce her faith. The same month, 10 police officers
ment that reportedly is quite influential with some raided a Jehovahs Witness worship meeting in a rented
Kyrgyz officials. In 2014, the Kyrgyz government banned cafe in Osh and brought an imam to convert those
the Uzbek Islamic religious movement Akromiya as an present. Police beat one man who was filming the raid;
extremist organization. Lists of prohibited religious at the police station, officers strangled three Jehovahs
organizations reportedly are coordinated with intergov- Witnesses until they lost consciousness. According to
ernmental regional security organizations, in partic- Kyrgyz human rights activists, the government does not
ular, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the take legal action against police who commit violent acts
Collective Security Treaty Organization. during raids or against detainees.

Registration Issues Other Legal Issues

Some 700 of the countrys unregistered mosques have The Kyrgyz religion law limits conscientious objection to
been identified as illegal for lack of registration. In military service status to those who belong to registered
recent years, some religious groups were denied regis- religious groups. In addition, SCRA authority to censor
tration, including the Ahmadiyya Muslim community religious materials increased under 2012 amendments
and the Church of Scientology. In February 2016, the to the religion law seems particularly to apply to
Kyrgyz Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Jehovahs non-traditional Muslim, Protestant, and other minority
Witnesses against registration denials in four cities. religions.
In October 2015, two Jehovahs Witnesses, Nadezhda
Sergienko and Ok