There were no reported prosecutions for blasphemy in 2014. One individual convicted of blasphemy in 2013 was serving a 20-year prison sentence; no further information on a reported 2013 blasphemy prosecution was available during the year.
In October local media reported on an “anti-Islam” article published by an English language publication. Religious leaders and government officials condemned the article and called for the arrest of the writer for violating the media law’s provision against blasphemy. Subsequent media reporting revealed the author lived in the Netherlands, and the editor of the paper fled Afghanistan before the article was published. The Ministry of Interior arrested, and later released, five people associated with the paper.
Due to fear of persecution, Christians continued to avoid situations where they might be perceived as seeking to spread their religion to the larger community. During a session of parliament in July 2013, four members of parliament called for the execution of converts to Christianity and the speaker of parliament’s lower house stated that security officials should investigate the spread of Christianity in the country. No information on any ongoing investigation was available during the year.
The government banned the pan-Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir – which calls for the overthrow of existing governments to create a unified Muslim state – on the basis that it is an “extremist organization.”
The right to change one’s religion was not respected either in law or in practice. Muslims who converted from Islam risked annulment of their marriages, rejection by their families and villages, loss of employment, and possibly the death penalty.
In previous years, Hindus and Sikhs stated they were not able to cremate the remains of their dead in accordance with their customs, due to interference by those who lived near the cremation sites. While the government had provided land for this purpose following the intervention of a Sikh senator, some Sikhs complained that the land was far from any major urban area and in an insecure region, which rendered it unusable. A member of parliament allegedly usurped the land bestowed to the Sikh community in Lut-o Band, outside of Kabul, and reportedly threatened to kill anyone who attempted to cremate a body there. During the year, the government designated a cremation site within the city and provided police support to protect the Sikh and Hindu communities while they performed their rituals. Members of the Bahai Faith, however, continued to face challenges and discrimination when attempting to attend to their dead in accordance with their customs.
The Office of Fatwa and Accounts interpreted Hanafi jurisprudence when a judge needed assistance in understanding its application. Courts continued to rely on Hanafi interpretations of Islamic law, even in cases that conflicted with the country’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
At least two Sikhs served in government positions, including one as the ambassador to Canada and one as a presidentially appointed member of the upper house of parliament. Sikh leaders stated they lacked political representation, and said that most Afghans failed to distinguish between Hindus and Sikhs despite significant religious differences.
Four Ismailis served as members of parliament; however, some members of the Ismaili community complained of exclusion from positions of political authority.
The government provided free electricity to mosques. In previous years, the Hindu and Sikh communities did not receive free electricity for their mandirs (Hindu temples) and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship). At the beginning of the year, the government responded to previous complaints regarding equal treatment for the Hindu and Sikh communities and approved the provision of free electricity for mandirs and gurdwaras.
Sikh and Hindu sources reported that members of their communities expressed concerns over land disputes and that they often chose not to pursue restitution through the courts for fear of retaliation, particularly when powerful local leaders occupied their property. While Sikhs and Hindus had recourse to dispute resolution mechanisms such as the Special Land and Property Court, members of the two communities reportedly felt unprotected. Sikh and Hindu community members stated they generally did not take civil cases to court; rather, they preferred to settle disputes within their communities.
Senior members of the Ulema Council, – a group of influential Sunni and Shia scholars, imams, and Muslim jurists from across the country – met regularly with the president and advised him on Islamic moral, ethical, and legal issues. The council was nominally independent of the government, but its members received financial support from the state. Through contacts with the presidential administration, the parliament, and ministries, the council or its members advised on the formulation of new legislation or the implementation of existing law. Although well represented in some provincial capitals, the council had much less reach in villages and rural areas, where decisions were made based on tradition and local interpretations of Islamic law. The council urged individuals to avoid conduct that could be perceived as insulting local traditions and religious values, on the grounds that “safeguarding our national honor and Islamic values is the obligation of every citizen.”
MOHRA was the primary ministry handling religious affairs. Its responsibilities included sending citizens on pilgrimages (Hajj and Umrah), collecting revenues to fund religious activities, identifying and acquiring property for religious purposes, issuing fatwas, testing imams, and raising public awareness of religious problems. Both Sunnis and Shia were permitted to go on pilgrimages, and the government imposed no quota for either group.
The government continued to emphasize ethnic and Muslim intrafaith reconciliation indirectly, through support to the judicial, constitutional, and human rights commissions composed of members of different ethnic and Islamic religious (Sunni and Shia) groups. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and MOHRA worked together to give women the opportunity to attend mosques. A new institution, called the Moderation Center of Afghanistan, was inaugurated in March. This institution is not part of a ministry, but was supported by the government and affiliated with an organization supported by the Government of Kuwait. The center focused on intrafaith communication and promotion of what the government judged to be a moderate interpretation of Islam. The center sent Shia and Sunni clerics to Kuwait for training and then appointed them as teachers in various provinces to train other clerics. The center received full governmental support.
The MOE’s Directorate of Curriculum Development had responsibility for creating curriculum guidelines for public schools. A number of government-affiliated madrassahs, in the capital and in provinces where there was sufficient security, offered Islamic and secular education in accordance with MOE curricula. The MOE-mandated curriculum for madrassahs is 60 percent religious education and 40 percent general education. In principle, the MOE required independent madrassahs to be accredited and disclose their funding sources. There were 1,100 MOE-sponsored madrassahs throughout the country serving about 340,000 students, notably in Kabul, Balkh, Nangarhar, and Herat provinces. The MOE estimated there were an additional 2,200 unaccredited madrassahs. MOHRA did not formally operate primary-level madrassahs; rather, students at that level attended mosques for primary religious studies. Graduates from government madrassahs were eligible to attend state universities. The country had 70 higher-level madrassahs that bestowed a degree equivalent to an associate’s degree, including four higher-level madrassahs for female students.
The Department of Islamic Education within the MOE provided a standardized curriculum to accredited madrassahs. Madrassahs registered with the MOE were required to route funding from private or international donations through the MOE or risk being banned. This system allowed the government to monitor assistance to institutes of learning funded by known entities. The government solicited donations for the support of madrassahs from Muslim countries and private individuals. The MOE did not have good control over non-registered madrassahs, particularly in the provinces.
There were three government-sponsored schools for Sikh children in Kabul, Helmand, and Ghazni provinces. There was one Sikh school in Jalalabad financially supported by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, a Swedish nongovernmental organization (NGO). The government provided proportional funding for Sikh schools compared to other schools. The MOE provided curricula for Sikh schools, except for religious studies. The community appointed a teacher for religious studies, and the MOE paid that teacher’s salary. A few Sikh children attended private international schools. There was one Sikh student in university, studying medicine at Kabul University. There were no Christian schools. Hindus did not have separate schools but sometimes sent their children to Sikh schools.