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Special Reports

This issue update explains the legacy of Soviet-era legislation as well as the substantial influence of the western anti-cult movement on contemporary religious regulation in Russia and Central Asia. The report describes the institutions and highlights individuals driving the restrictions of religious freedom—including an ongoing crackdown on the Jehovah’s Witnesses—and offers policy recommendations to address the challenges that the region poses to these essential rights.
The freedoms of opinion and expression and of religion or belief are intricately intertwined—where violations occur against one, there are often violations against the other. Although these human rights are protected under articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), states around the world continue to pass and enforce laws that restrict both freedoms. This paper provides a survey and analysis of speech restrictions in Africa that have, or may, limit FoRB. Laws that restrict apostasy (the public renunciation of one’s religion), blasphemy (the insult of a religion or religious objects or places), and hate speech (generally encompassing communication that prejudices a particular group based on race, religion, ethnicity, or other factor) all limit freedom of expression. Such laws also have unique implications for citizens’ abilities to express and practice their faith. These laws are prevalent throughout Africa, where at least 9 countries have apostasy laws, at least 25 criminalize blasphemy, and at least 29 have laws against hate speech.
For 20 years, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has monitored and evaluated religious freedom conditions in Nigeria. This year also marks 20 years since Nigeria’s return to democracy and the adoption of the 1999 Constitution, which outlines the federal system of government and the hybrid application of religious, customary, and civil laws. The Constitution provides that states shall have High Courts, and may also have Shari’ah and Customary courts of appeal where required. During the same time period, 12 northern Nigerian states have also re-integrated Islamic criminal law in various ways. While the Shari’ah laws are based on long-standing practices, receive widespread support from Muslims, and apply only to Muslims, state enforcement of religious laws presents serious challenges to fully respecting freedom of religion or belief.    
In Nigeria, a range of state and societal violations have adversely impacted religious freedom conditions in the country. As a result, since 2009, USCIRF has recommended the U.S. Department of State designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC. Some of the most egregious are the denials of the right to life, liberty, and the security of people on the basis of religion or belief. Divides between religious communities and the spread of dangerous speech that incites further violence often prompt or escalate these violations.
The right to freely choose and change one’s religion is protected under international law, as is the right to manifest one’s beliefs through teaching those beliefs. While there is a right to propagate or proselytize, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also protects individuals from coercion that would impair their freedom to choose their religion or belief.
This follow-on contracted study reviews 22 middle and high school textbooks published by the Saudi government for the 2017-2018 academic year, including the 12 high school books previously reviewed by USCIRF in its May 2018 Special Report.
This report presents findings from a review of 12 Saudi high school textbooks for the current 2017-2018 academic school year. The books, numbering more than 2,000 pages and focusing only on religious subjects, are much more intolerant than the six religious books from 2012-2014 that were reviewed by USCIRF. Based on the books reviewed, it appears that they are even more intolerant than the 2011-2012 textbooks studied by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), which identified many intolerant passages. The 2017-2018 books are more akin to Saudi textbooks from the early years of the previous decade before the Saudi government promised to reform its curricula. The issues found in the books implicated religious freedom and other human rights.
This report examines Russian anti-extremist legislation, corresponding law enforcement practices, and their effects on freedom of religion or belief from 2011 to 2017. This research is focused on how the very regulations that ostensibly protect people and organizations in Russia from religious intolerance are instead used by authorities to sanction people and organizations for activity or speech based on their religious belief or lack thereof. 
The report documents ASEAN’s and the Member States’ approaches to the freedom of religion or belief, underscores the religious freedom-related chal­lenges in the region that transcend country borders, and emphasizes the strategic importance of robust U.S. engagement on these issues with ASEAN as a collective and the 10 individual Member States.