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Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights.

Press and Media Freedoms: All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most important medium of mass communication. There were a number of alternatives to the state-owned radio station, Radio Centrafrique. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka, and anti-Balaka militias. International media broadcast within the country.

The government monopolized domestic television broadcasting (this was available only in the capital and for limited hours), and television news coverage generally supported government positions.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of journalists being targeted for violence by the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no reports the government attempted to censor the media. Three journalists arrested in 2014 had not been tried by year’s end. Local and international journalists used a variety of social media platforms to broadcast updates and commentary during the elections, without restriction.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The transitional and newly elected government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 4 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports the transitional or newly elected government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

Many schools remained closed or without adequate resources. The country’s sole university was open.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and legal prosecutions to curb critical reporting.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of one to three million CFA francs ($1,700 to $5,110). Despite a 2010 media law that abolished prison sentences for defamation or insult, authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.

In August authorities banned two singers from performing on government-owned television and radio after they performed songs calling for the payment of back salaries for public-sector employees and denouncing the high cost of living.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government subsidized the only daily newspaper and owned a biweekly newspaper. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

According to Freedom in the World 2016, “broadcast media were controlled by the state, and the High Council of Communication exerted control over most content on the radio,” which remained the most important medium of mass communication. The government-owned Radiodiffusion Nationale Tchadienne had several stations. There were approximately a dozen private stations, which faced high licensing fees and threat of closure for critical coverage, according to Freedom House. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

The country had three television stations–one owned by the government and two that were privately owned.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation.

For example, on June 24, police arrested Madjissembaye Ngardinon, a reporter for the Abba Garde newspaper, during an operation to evict persons in N’Djamena who had lost a legal battle with the owner of the land. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Ngardinon was detained after photographing police officers subduing a woman who was resisting their efforts to evict her. In a June 20 article, Ngardinon also had criticized irregularities in the judicial handling of property disputes. Authorities initially charged Ngardinon with contempt of court, punishable by one to six months in prison, but subsequently changed the charge to “rebellion,” punishable by three months to two years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 CFA francs ($850). RSF called the charges “trumped up” and accused the government of manipulating the criminal code to serve private interests. Ngardinon remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.

INTERNET FREEDOM

On April 10, the day of the presidential election, the government shut down all access to the internet and SMS/text messaging; they had been used to criticize how military voting was conducted and to organize antigovernment protests. Although internet access was restored two days later, social media–such as Facebook and SMS/text messaging–remained blocked. On April 21, the day provisional election results were announced, authorities restored SMS/text messaging, but access to social networks was not fully restored until December 3.

At the same time, the government blocked access to international data roaming, including Blackberry access, allegedly for security reasons; the government claimed criminals and terrorists from Nigeria and Cameroon were using international roaming to communicate with each other while in Chad. The government also claimed the blockages were due to technical problems, a claim met with widespread skepticism.

According to multiple sources, between 2.7 and 10.2 percent of citizens had access to the internet through a computer; as much as 99 percent of the population had access to limited internet via mobile phones.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution states that citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration,” although authorities generally did not respect these rights, especially when they conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued tight control of print, broadcast, and electronic media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens could discuss many political topics privately and in small groups without official punishment. The government, however, routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or in remarks to the media remained subject to punitive measures.

In late February prominent real estate developer Ren Zhiqiang criticized President Xi’s call for media outlets to display absolute loyalty to the CCP. In two social media posts, Ren urged the CCP not to waste taxpayer money and opined, “Since when did the people’s government become the party’s government?” The government consequently stripped Ren Zhiqiang of his social media accounts, which had an estimated 37 million followers. The New York Times reported on March 11 that Xinhua News Agency employee Zhou Gang issued an online letter accusing government censors of silencing critics, apparently in response to the Ren case.

Two weeks after President Xi’s visit to state media, anonymous authors posted a letter online calling for him to resign “for the future of the country and the people.” The authors claimed to be “loyal Communist Party members.” Authorities promptly shut down Wujie News, the news website that carried the letter, and detained journalists, such as Jia Jia, whom security agents apprehended at the Beijing airport en route to Hong Kong. According to contacts and news reports, all Wujie News staff were later released.

In April online commentator Tian Li (also known as Chen Qitang) was tried for “inciting subversion of state power.” His verdict was suspended for a third time, with no announcement made before the end of the year. The charges stemmed from six political commentaries Chen had posted, three of which he had personally written. The prosecution said the articles represented a “harsh attack” on the CCP.

In November, Liu Feiyue, the founder of the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch website, was detained on charges of “inciting state subversion” in Hubei Province. He had been detained and released earlier in the year when he tried to cover the CCP Central Committee’s sixth plenary session in Beijing.

Huang Qi, founder of the Tianwang Human Rights Center, was detained on November 28 and formally charged with “illegally providing state secrets abroad” on December 16. Authorities had long taken action against Huang for his efforts to document human rights abuses in the country on his 64Tianwang.com website. Previously convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegally possessing state secrets” in 2003 and 2008, he served five and three years in prison, respectively.

Press and Media Freedoms: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, or broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order that they not be reported at all.

The government continued to strictly monitor the press and media, including film and television, via its broadcast and press regulatory body, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT). The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) regulates online news media. All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. As in the past, nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. There were growing numbers of privately owned online media. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval. The SAPPRFT announced that satellite television channels may broadcast no more than two imported television programs each year during prime-time hours and that imported programs must receive the approval of local regulators at least two months in advance.

In a well-publicized February 19 visit to the three main state and CCP news organizations–the Xinhua News Agency, CCTV, and the People’s Daily–President Xi said, “Party and state-run media are the propaganda battlefield of the party and the government, [and] must bear the surname of the party. All of the party’s news and public opinion work must embody the party’s will, reflect the party’s ideas, defend the authority of the Party Central Committee, [and] defend the unity of the party.”

In March the prominent Chinese financial magazine Caixin defied the government by highlighting censorship of its online content. On March 5, Caixin published an article pointing out how the CAC had deleted an interview with Jiang Hong, a delegate to the advisory Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, because it touched on the issue of free speech. The CAC told Caixin editors the interview contained “illegal content” and “violated laws and regulations.”

Both the SAPPRFT and CAC continued efforts to reassert control over the country’s growing world of new media. In December the SAPPRFT announced that commercial social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo are not allowed to disseminate user-generated audio or video programs about current events and are only supposed to distribute content from those that hold state-issued audiovisual online transmission licenses.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics. A journalist could face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenged the government.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. In March authorities detained the siblings of the Germany-based writer Zhang Ping after he wrote an article criticizing the government for its role in the disappearance of journalist Jia Jia. The family members, detained in Xichong County, Sichuan Province, were released several days later, and Zhang later publicly said he had “cut off ties” in order to protect them.

Uighur webmasters Dilshat Perhat and Nijat Azat continued to serve sentences for “endangering state security.” During the year additional journalists working in traditional and new media were also imprisoned.

Liu Yuxia, front-page editor of the Southern Metropolis Daily, once considered a bastion for relatively independent views, was dismissed in March after the headline of one of the newspaper’s front-page stories about the burial of a prominent reformer was seen as a veiled criticism of President Xi’s admonition that the media “bear the surname of the party.” If the Chinese characters of the headline about the sea burial were read vertically in conjunction with the headline about President Xi’s call for loyalty by the media, as both headlines appeared in proximity on the same page, the combined headline could be interpreted as “the souls of Chinese media have died because they bear the party’s name.”

Li Xin, another former editor for the Southern Metropolis Daily’s website, disappeared in Thailand and reappeared in China under detention after reportedly seeking political asylum in Thailand. Yu Shaolei, who edited the newspaper’s cultural section, also resigned in late March. Yu reportedly posted a photograph of his resignation form on Weibo, citing his “inability to bear your surname.” One Southern Metropolis Daily journalist was quoted as stating, “We think it won’t get any worse and then it does. We are being strangled.”

Four of the five Hong Kong booksellers who disappeared between October and December 2015 were released but remained under surveillance (see section 1.b.). In June, Zhu Tiezhi, the deputy editor in chief of Qiushi, the CCP’s foremost theoretical journal, reportedly hanged himself in the garage of the building where the journal was housed. Media outlets reported that Zhu had been depressed by ideological infighting within the CCP and was linked to Ling Jihua, one of former president Hu Jintao’s closest aides, who became a prime target in President Xi’s anticorruption campaign.

In December security officials in Gannan County, Heilongjiang Province, detained and beat journalists Liu Bozhi and Liu Dun from China Educational News after they investigated reports of financial irregularities in public school cafeterias.

In July the state-controlled Chinese Academy of National Arts announced on its website that it had removed the existing management of the monthly magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, including its 93-year-old publisher and cofounder Du Daozheng. The magazine was known as an “intellectual oasis” in which topics like democracy and other “sensitive” issues could be discussed, and it had a reputation for publishing views on politics and history that challenged CCP orthodoxy. Observers saw the removal of Du along with several other senior staff including Hu Dehua, the son of late reformist CCP leader Hu Yaobang, as a threat to one of the country’s last strongholds of liberal thought. The magazine’s chief editor Yang Jisheng quit in 2015 in protest of increasing censorship. Following the forced reshuffle, Du suspended the publication on July 19, and it had not resumed operations by year’s end.

In September journalists were attacked, detained, and expelled from Wukan, a fishing village in Guangdong Province, as they tried to conduct interviews following protests over alleged land seizures and the detention of the elected village chief. Wukan was the site of protests in 2011 over land seizures and corruption, to which the provincial government responded by allowing villagers to elect their local leader.

Foreign journalists based in the country continued to face a challenging environment for reporting. According to the annual Reporting Conditions survey of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) conducted during the year, 98 percent of respondents did not believe reporting conditions in the country met international standards. In addition, 48 percent of respondents believed working conditions had stayed the same since the previous year, while 29 percent believed conditions had deteriorated. Fifty-seven percent said they had been subjected to some form of interference, harassment, or violence while attempting to report from the country.

Restrictions on foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments remained strict, especially during sensitive times and anniversaries. Foreign press outlets reported that local employees of foreign news agencies were also subjected to official harassment and intimidation and that this remained a major concern for foreign outlets. The FCCC’s survey reported that 26 percent of respondents described interference or obstruction by police or “unidentified individuals” while reporting. Eight percent of respondents reported being subjected to “manhandling or physical violence,” a 3 percent increase from 2015. In addition, FCCC members reported physical and electronic surveillance of their staff and premises.

Although authorities continued to use the registration and renewal of residency visas and foreign ministry press cards to pressure and punish journalists whose reporting perturbed authorities, wait times were reportedly shorter for many applicants than in previous years. Many foreign media organizations continued to have trouble expanding their operations in the country due to the difficulty of receiving visas for new positions. Government officials continued to require regular meetings with journalists at the time of their renewals or after seeing reports they deemed “sensitive,” at which officials commonly made clear to reporters they were under scrutiny for their reporting. Security personnel often visited reporters unannounced and questioned them about their reporting activities.

Authorities continued to enforce tight restrictions on citizens employed by foreign news organizations. The code of conduct for citizen employees of foreign media organizations threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers information that projects “a good image of the country.” Several FCCC members reported local assistants had been summoned for meetings with security officials that the assistants found extremely intimidating. One foreign correspondent said security officials had called her local assistant a “traitor” and asked her why she was willing to help the foreign press with its “anti-China bias.”

Media outlets that reported on commercial issues enjoyed comparatively fewer restrictions, but the system of postpublication review by propaganda officials encouraged self-censorship by editors seeking to avoid the losses associated with penalties for inadvertently printing unauthorized content.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The State Council’s Regulations on the Administration of Publishing grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported. While the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily press briefing was generally open, and the State Council Information Office organized some briefings by other government agencies, journalists did not have free access to other media events. The Ministry of Defense continued allowing select foreign media outlets to attend monthly press briefings.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspended or closed publications. Self-censorship remained prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties of ranging severity.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by authoritative official departments when reporting on officials suspected of involvement in graft or bribery. Throughout the year the Central Propaganda Department issued similar instructions regarding various prominent events. Directives often warned against reporting on issues related to party and official reputation, health and safety, and foreign affairs. The orders included instructions for media outlets not to investigate or report on their own. The CAC and SAPPRFT strengthened regulations over the content online publications are allowed to distribute, reiterating long-standing rules that only state-licensed news media may conduct original reporting.

The FCCC reported that it was still largely impossible for foreign journalists to report from the TAR, other Tibetan areas, or Xinjiang without experiencing serious interference. Those who took part in government-sponsored trips to the TAR and other Tibetan areas expressed dissatisfaction with the access provided. Of those who tried to report from Tibetan areas, 60 percent reported problems, while 44 percent had trouble in Xinjiang. Foreign reporters also experienced restricted access and interference when trying to report in other sensitive areas, including the North Korean border, coal mining sites where protests had taken place, and other sites of social unrest, such as Wukan village in Guangdong Province.

Authorities continued to jam, with varying degrees of success, Chinese-, Uighur-, and Tibetan-language broadcasts of the Voice of America (VOA), the BBC, and Radio Free Asia. English-language VOA broadcasts generally were not jammed. Internet distribution of streaming radio news and podcasts from these sources was often blocked. Despite the jamming of overseas broadcasts, the VOA, the BBC, Radio Free Asia, Deutsche Welle, and Radio France International had large audiences, including human rights advocates, ordinary citizens, and government officials.

Overseas television newscasts, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were occasionally subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines occasionally were banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive.

Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released.

In November the NPC Standing Committee passed a Cybersecurity Law containing a provision that appeared to be aimed at deterring economists and journalists from publishing analysis that deviated from official views on the economy. Article 12 of the law criminalizes using the internet to “fabricate or spread false information to disturb economic order.” In January authorities blocked Reuters’ social media account on the Chinese platform Sina Weibo following a report that the country’s securities regulator Xiao Gang had offered to resign. The government stated that the Reuters report was not accurate, but a month later state media announced Xiao had been forced out.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. The SAPPRFT controlled all licenses to publish. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications could not be printed or distributed without SAPPRFT approval and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other sanctions. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating that books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published.

Actions to Expand Press Freedom: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs began implementing a new system for journalist visa renewals and press card issuance. There were few complaints, but there was insufficient evidence to comment on the situation at the year’s end. Delays persisted in the approval process to expand foreign bureaus as well as visa applications for short-term reporting tours.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The internet continued to be widely available and used. According to an official report released in August by the China Internet Network Information Center, the country had 710 million internet users, accounting for 51.7 percent of its total population. The report noted 21.3 million new internet users in the first half of the year, with approximately 191 million going online from rural areas. Major media companies estimated that more than 500 million persons, mainly urban residents, obtained their news from social and online media sources. According to the 2016 Chinese Media Blue Book, online media organizations accounted for 47 percent of the country’s entire media industry.

Although the internet was widely available, it was heavily censored. The government continued to employ tens of thousands of individuals at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications and online content. The government also reportedly paid personnel to promote official views on various websites and social media and to combat those who posted alternative views. Internet companies also employed thousands of censors to carry out CCP and government injunctions.

During the year there was a steady stream of new regulatory efforts to tighten government control of the online media space that had grown rapidly in the last four years, including draft regulations on strengthening government control of internet news services and online publishing.

The government’s updated definition of “internet news information” includes all matters pertaining to politics, economics, defense, diplomacy and “other social public issues and reports and comments of breaking social events.” Draft regulations require that all news reports conform to official views, establish a “dishonesty blacklist” system, and expand criminal penalties for violators.

In June the State Internet Information Office published a Circular on Further Strengthening the Management and Control of False News, which prohibits online platforms from publishing unverified content as news reports and strengthens regulation on the editing and distribution of news on online platforms, including microblogs and WeChat. The circular prohibits websites from publishing “hearsay and rumors to fabricate news or distort facts based on speculation.”

During the year the State Internet Information Office reportedly strengthened efforts to “punish and correct” false online news, reprimanding numerous popular portals, such as Sina, iFeng, and Caijing, and calling on the public to help monitor and report on “illegal and harmful information” found online.

On June 25, the CAC released New Regulations on Internet Searches that took effect August 1. The regulations specifically ban search engines from showing “subversive” content and obscene information, longstanding prohibitions for local website operators.

On June 28, the CAC released new Regulations on the Administration of Mobile Internet App Services that also took effect on August 1. The new rules expand the application of some requirements to app stores, such as Apple’s iTunes App Store, and developers and require mobile app providers to verify users’ identities with real-name registration, improve censorship, and punish users who spread “illicit information” on their platforms. The rules prescribe broad and vaguely worded prohibitions on content that “endangers national security,” “damages the honor or interests of the state,” “propagates cults or superstition,” or “harms social ethics or any fine national culture or traditions.” At year’s end authorities required Apple to remove the New York Times English- and Chinese-language news apps from its iTunes App Store in the country. At least three apps were known to have been blocked since April.

In August the CAC called for an “editor in chief” system, ensuring that senior staff are responsible for online editorial decisions contrary to the government’s wishes or censorship guidelines. In September media outlets also reported the CAC had launched a campaign to clean up the comments sections on websites, which a CAC official described as an effort to make it easier for individuals to report illegal or harmful content.

In April, GreatFire.org, a website run by activists tracking online censorship in the country, reported that 21 percent of more than 40,000 domains, web links, social media searches, and internet protocol addresses that it monitors in the country were blocked. In addition to social media websites such as Facebook, the government continued to block almost all access to Google websites, including its e-mail service, photograph program, map service, calendar application, and YouTube.

Government censors continued to block websites or online content related to topics deemed sensitive, such as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, Tibet, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and all content related to the Panama Papers. The Economist, for example, was blocked in April after it printed an article critical of President Xi’s consolidation of power. Many other websites for international media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, remained perennially blocked, in addition to human rights websites, such as those of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Authorities continued to jail numerous internet writers for their peaceful expression of political views. In June authorities in Yunnan Province detained citizen journalists Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” as a result of their reporting. Li and Lu compiled and catalogued daily lists of “mass incidents”–the official term for protests, demonstrations, and riots–and disseminated their findings to the public via social media platforms, such as Weibo. Public security officials reportedly beat Lu, choked him, and twisted his arms until he was badly bruised. Reporters without Borders stated that Lu and Li were among 80 detained citizen journalists and bloggers.

In addition, there continued to be reports of cyberattacks against foreign websites, journalists, and media organizations carrying information that the government restricted internet users from accessing. As in the past, the government selectively blocked access to sites operated by foreign governments, including instances involving the website or social media platforms of health organizations, educational institutions, NGOs, and social networking sites as well as search engines.

While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from websites hosting sensitive content, some users circumvented online censorship through the use of various technologies. Information on proxy servers outside the country and software for defeating official censorship were available inside the country, but the government increasingly blocked access to the websites and proxy servers of commercial, academic, and other virtual private network providers.

The State Secrets Law obliges internet companies to cooperate with investigations of suspected leaks of state secrets, stop the transmission of such information once discovered, and report the crime to authorities. Furthermore, the companies must comply with authorities’ orders to delete such information from their websites; failure to do so is punishable by relevant departments, such as police and the Ministry of Public Security.

At the World Internet Conference in China in November, Ren Xianling, the vice minister for the CAC, called on participants to embrace state control of the internet and likened such controls to “installing brakes on a car before driving on the road.” Xi Jinping opened the conference with a videotaped address in which he reasserted earlier claims that the government exercised absolute control over the internet in the country through “cyber sovereignty.”

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. Restrictive SAPPRFT and Central Propaganda Department regulations and decisions constrained the flow of ideas and persons. In 2013 the South China Morning Post reported that the CCP issued secret instructions to university faculty identifying seven “off-limits” subjects, including universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civil rights, an independent judiciary, elite cronyism, and the historical errors of the CCP. Some academics self-censored their publications, faced pressure to reach predetermined research results, or were unable to hold conferences with international participants during politically sensitive periods. Foreign academics claimed the government used visa denials, along with blocking access to archives, fieldwork, or interviews, to pressure them to self-censor their work.

In 2015 then minister of education Yuan Guiren restricted the use of foreign textbooks in classrooms. Domestically produced textbooks remained under the editorial control of the CCP. In January, Reuters reported that the CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had set up a team at the Ministry of Education that was “increasing supervision and inspection of political discipline” with the stated purpose, among other things, of preventing CCP members on university campuses from making “irresponsible remarks about major policies.” In addition, schools at all levels were required to merge “patriotic education” into their curriculum and extracurricular activities. The government and the CCP Organization Department controlled appointments to most leadership positions at universities, including department heads. While CCP membership was not always a requirement to obtain a tenured faculty position, scholars without CCP affiliation often had fewer chances for promotion.

In July, Chen Baosheng became minister of education, and one of his first acts was to establish a Commission on University Political Education to strengthen ideological discipline within the higher education system. At a press conference in March, Yuan highlighted the centrality of political indoctrination in the education system, declaring “the goal and orientation of running schools is to make our students become people qualified to inherit and build up socialism with Chinese characteristics.” The CCP continued to require undergraduate students, regardless of academic major, to complete political ideology coursework on subjects such as Marxism, Maoism, and Deng Xiaoping thought.

In December, Xi Jinping chaired the National Ideology and Political Work Conference for Higher Education and called for turning the academy into a “stronghold that adheres to party leadership.” Xi stressed that “China’s colleges and universities are institutions of higher learning under the Party’s leadership; they are colleges and universities with Chinese socialist characteristics.” Xi further asserted that strengthening the role of Marxism in the curriculum was needed to “guide the teachers and students to become staunch believers in the socialist value system.” Xi specifically called on professors to become “staunch supporters of the Party’s rule.”

Authorities on some occasions blocked entry into the country of individuals deemed politically sensitive and frequently refused to issue passports to citizens selected for international exchange programs who were considered “politically unreliable,” singling out Tibetans, Uighurs, and individuals from other minority nationality areas. A number of other foreign government-sponsored exchange selectees who already had passports, including some academics, encountered difficulties gaining approval to travel to participate in their programs. Academics reported having to request permission to travel overseas and, in some cases, said they were limited in the number of foreign trips they could take per year.

Censorship and self-censorship of artistic works was common, particularly those artworks deemed to involve politically sensitive subjects. In addition, authorities scrutinized the content of cultural events and applied pressure to encourage self-censorship of discussions. In March a cafe was effectively prevented from a holding an event discussing online censorship in the country after security agents threatened one of the visiting Chinese participants.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, an unfettered internet, and a generally supportive government combined to promote freedom of speech and of the press on most matters. During the year, however, media groups complained about what they viewed as increasing challenges in this area. (For further detail, please see Press and Media Freedoms section below).

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly or privately or to discuss matters of general public interest without reprisal. However, free speech advocates and educators voiced concern in August following the Education Secretary’s public comments warning teachers who “advocate” Hong Kong independence on campus must “bear responsibility and consequences,” including the loss of their teaching licenses. Subsequently, in September Chief Executive Leung said schools in Hong Kong had “no space to discuss independence.” Educators, media outlets, and free speech advocates also voiced concern over comments made by Central Government officials based at Hong Kong’s Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO). CGLO officials suggested publicly that discussion of Hong Kong’s independence amounted to “a violation of laws in Hong Kong” and suggested it could be considered sedition and/or treason under Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance if such speech was deemed to occur in the context of a “large-scale discussion in the hopes of gathering a large group to act together.”

The Education Bureau made no formal changes to its policy following the Chief Executive’s and Education Secretary’s public comments. Members of the Professional Teachers Union reported there had been no changes to the guidance about how the union certifies its teachers.

Prospective candidates for public office reported Hong Kong’s Electoral Affairs Commission implemented changes to its established procedures for filing legislative candidacy that limited free speech in the political arena. On July 12, the Electoral Affairs Commission instituted a new requirement that all LegCo candidates sign a pledge stating that Hong Kong is an “inalienable part” of China in order to run for office. Despite signing the required form and fulfilling other eligibility requirements, an Electoral Affairs Commission officer disqualified Hong Kong Indigenous convener Edward Leung and several other candidates for standing for election. The Electoral Affairs Commission said Leung’s disqualification was due to Leung’s proindependence comments earlier in the year, which the returning officer said was evidence that Leung was insincere in his loyalty pledge to the SAR. Leung’s supporters voiced concern the new procedures infringed on freedom of speech and the right of Hong Kongers to stand for public office, rights guaranteed in the Basic Law.

On July 20, Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the CGLO, warned the Hong Kong government against allowing the LegCo elections in September to be used to promote “proindependence remarks and activities.” Zhang suggested that allowing free speech on the matter violated the Basic Law and warned of “calamity” if proindependence views continued to spread in Hong Kong. While the CGLO Director has no legal standing, many local observers and free speech advocates said his public comments had a chilling effect on Hong Kong society.

Hong Kong residents also expressed concern about the potential implications of the November 7 NPCSC interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 on the SAR’s free speech protections. The interpretation barred legislators-elect from taking office if they refused to take the oath, altered the wording of the oath, or failed to demonstrate sufficient “sincerity” or “solemnity” when taking the oath. Some observers and legal experts voiced concern that the NPCSC’s interpretation could subject sitting legislators to legal sanctions if they “engage in conduct in breach of the oath” at any point in their respective terms. Prodemocracy advocates, particularly those who identify as “localists”, expressed fears that the interpretation created a mechanism for the central government to exclude from office, or potentially evict from office, those who espoused or were suspected of harboring political views that the central government found objectionable. The interpretation stated that the requirements and preconditions contained within it applied to legislators-elect and all other public officers and candidates for public office referred to in Article 104. Some legal experts downplayed these concerns, noting the Basic Law’s Article 77 protects legislators from legal recourse stemming from any speeches they deliver in the normal course of their representative duties, while other legal experts have noted that the central government’s powers over Hong Kong are not subject to any legal supervision, which manifests in the NPCSC’s continued assertion of a power to interpret the Basic Law at its discretion.

Many in the media and civil society organizations further alleged the central government exerted indirect pressure on media organizations to mute criticism of its policy priorities in the SAR. They also voiced concern about increasing self-censorship among the local and regional press corps.

Press and Media Freedoms: In July the Hong Kong Journalists Association in its yearly report on press freedoms in Hong Kong said its Press Freedom Index indicators declined for the second straight year, from 38.9 to 38.2 points for journalists and from 48.4 to 47.4 for the general public. Nearly 85 percent of surveyed Hong Kong journalists thought that press freedom had worsened over the previous year. The report, which this year focused on increasing mainland influence on Hong Kong media outlets, cited as challenges continuing violence against journalists by police and protestors related to media coverage of local riots, lack of government transparency, the government’s “questionable” policy on granting of television and radio licenses, and refusal to accredit online and student reporters (online reporters have since been granted accreditation). The Association called on the government to undertake a number of actions, including to “take a strong approach to protect the one country, two systems principle given the threats to Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy as promised in the Basic Law.”

Violence and Harassment: No violent attacks on media-related personalities took place during the year.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship continued during the year. Most media outlets were owned by companies with business interests on the mainland, which led to claims that they were vulnerable to self-censorship, with editors deferring to the perceived concerns of publishers regarding their business interests. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than half of Hong Kong’s media owners held official roles in the PRC political system, either as delegates to the NPC or to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Mainland companies and those with significant business dealings on the mainland reportedly boycotted advertising in the Next Media Group publications, known for its criticisms of the central government and the SAR government. Next Media Group’s popular newspaper Apple Daily said it took special measures to circumvent regular hacking attacks, including the use of sophisticated email security software and asking its lawyers to use couriers instead of email. A private cybersecurity company that works with Next Media Group told Reuters in late 2015 that it had connected denial of service attacks against Apple Daily with professional cyber spying attacks that bore the hallmarks of a common source and suggested the hacker’s apparent objectives matched the central government’s.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were no reports the government or individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, defamation, or blasphemy to restrict public discussion.

National Security: There were no reports of restrictive media distribution to protect national security. Following the November 7 NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law, Chief Executive Leung and some presumptive Chief Executive candidates indicated that the government would again consider national security legislation. No such legislation was under consideration by LegCo at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no government restrictions on access to the internet, although prodemocracy activists, legislators, lawyers, religious leaders, and protesters claimed central government authorities closely monitored their e-mails and internet use. The internet was widely available and used extensively.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks against private persons and organizations.

In late 2015 the head of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party said his party had repeatedly faced sophisticated cyberattacks on its website and against members’ personal email accounts that appeared to originate from the central government. Before district council elections in November 2015, Reuters found that hackers had broken into at least 20 Gmail accounts belonging to the Democratic Party. Private cybersecurity company FireEye said attacks launched on Dropbox, in which specific victims were trapped into downloading infected files, targeted “precisely those whose networks Beijing would seek to monitor.” The company said half its customers in Hong Kong, or two and a half times the global average, were attacked by government and professional hackers in the first half of 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Some scholars suggested Hong Kong-based academics practiced self-censorship in their China-related work to preserve good relations and research and lecturing opportunities in the mainland.

In July, Hong Kong’s Tiananmen Museum closed after two years of operation. The museum had been the only museum on PRC soil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. According to CNN and Time, the Hong Kong Alliance, a prodemocracy group that operated the museum, said the closure was due to pressure from the owners’ committee of the building, which made it difficult for the museum to operate by restricting visitor numbers, filing a lawsuit disputing the usage of the space as a museum, and forcing visitors to provide their names and personal information–a requirement that discouraged visitors from the mainland. The museum operators also cited high rent and other fundraising challenges, but said they kept the museum’s exhibits and hoped to move to a new and bigger location in the future.

In August and September, the Education Secretary and the Chief Executive warned educators against the discussion of independence in schools. In September, Chief Executive Leung said schools in Hong Kong had “no space to discuss independence.” However, at the year’s end, the Education Bureau had made no policy changes in response to their comments, and members of the Professional Teachers’ Union reported their union had made no changes to the regulations governing the accreditation of teachers and the issuance of teaching credentials. For further information, please see section 2.a.

On October 1, the national holiday marking the PRC’s founding in 1949, students at eight universities in Hong Kong hung banners in support of Hong Kong independence. Media reports indicated that school officials promptly removed the banners.

Hong Kong-based international NGOs voiced concern about pro-Beijing media outlets’ sustained criticism of their activities, which the newspapers characterized as interference by foreign forces. NGO staff members reported that these efforts to discredit their work in the SAR made it difficult for the groups to continue their existing partnerships with academic institutions and their public outreach. NGOs also voiced concern about the mainland’s Foreign NGO Management Law, slated to enter into effect on January 1, 2017, noting the law would impose onerous restrictions on the ability to operate and implement social services delivery, advocacy work, and aid services. The law specifically defines Hong Kong-based organizations as covered by the law’s requirements. In April the New York-based broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD-TV) leased the Heung Yee Kuk Grand Theater in Hong Kong to hold a dance competition. NTD-TV received a notice from the theater in May stating that the Hong Kong Government requested the theater for the same date for use in association with the September Hong Kong LegCo election. The theater canceled NTD-TV’s lease in June and offered a full refund for the contract, as well as assistance in identifying an alternative venue. NTD-TV then arranged to hold the competition at another venue, the government-subsidized Macpherson Stadium, in August, but the second venue also later revoked permission to use its premises. NTD-TV ultimately relocated the competition to Taiwan. NTD-TV is associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which is banned in mainland China, but not in Hong Kong. Falun Gong advocates allege that the Hong Kong Government and the CGLO pressured these venues not to allow the dance competition to be held on their premises because of NTD-TV’s association with Falun Gong.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and expression, and the government generally respected these rights.

The law criminalizes treason, secession, subversion of the PRC government, and theft of “state secrets,” as well as “acts in preparation” to commit these offenses. The crimes of treason, secession, and subversion specifically require the use of violence, and the government stated it would not use the law to infringe on peaceful political activism or media freedom.

The Macau Penal Code states that anyone who initiates or organizes, or develops propaganda that incites or encourages, discrimination, hatred, or racial violence, will be liable to imprisonment for one to eight years. The law also states that anyone who, in a public meeting or in writing intended for dissemination by any means or media, causes acts of violence against a person, or group of persons on the grounds of their race, color, or ethnic origin, or defames, or insults a person, or group of persons on those grounds with the intention of inciting or encouraging racial discrimination, will be liable to imprisonment for between six months and five years.

During the year there were no arrests or convictions under this article.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide range of views, and international media operated freely. The government heavily subsidized major newspapers, which tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues, such as Taiwan; however, they generally reported freely on the SAR, including criticism of the SAR government. Two independent media websites known to be critical of the Macau government alleged cyberattacks and intrusions prior to PRC Premier Li Keqiang’s October visit to the Macau SAR.

Violence and Harassment: Activists alleged that authorities misused criminal proceedings to target government critics. There were no significant instances of violence or harassment directed at journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Activists raised concerns of media self-censorship, particularly because news outlets and journalists worried certain types of coverage critical of the government might limit government funding. Activists also reported the government had co-opted senior media managers to serve in various consultative committees, which also resulted in self-censorship. Journalists expressed concern the government’s limitation on news releases about its own activities and its publishing of legal notices only in preferred media outlets influenced editorial content.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to the Statistics and Census Service, as of July there were 317,981 internet subscribers of a population of 646,800. This total did not take into account multiple internet users for one subscription, nor did it include those who accessed the internet through mobile devices.

The law criminalizes a range of cybercrimes and empowers police, with a court warrant, to order internet service providers to retain and provide authorities with a range of data. Some legislators expressed concern the law granted police authority to take these actions without a court order under some circumstances.

Twitter, which the PRC banned on the mainland, was available on the government-provided free Wi-Fi service. Activists reported they freely used Facebook and Twitter to communicate. Activists also reported the government had installed enterprise-grade software capable of censoring, decrypting, and scanning secured transmissions on its free Wi-Fi service without notifying users.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics reported self-censorship and also reported that they were deterred from studying or speaking on controversial topics concerning China. Scholars also reported that they were warned not to speak at politically sensitive events or on behalf of certain political organizations. University professors reported the SAR’s universities lacked a tenure system, which left professors vulnerable to dismissal for political reasons.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Tibet

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons outside the country, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e-mail, or the internet were subject to harassment or detention under “crimes of undermining social stability and inciting separatism.” During the year authorities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas sought to strengthen control over electronic media and to punish individuals for the ill-defined crime of “creating and spreading of rumors.” According to official news reports in January, TAR officials punished 141 individuals for “creating and spreading rumors” online between June 2015 and January.

In March public security authorities charged Tashi Wangchuk, an entrepreneur and education advocate from Jyekundo in the Tibetan Region of Kham, now part of the Yushu TAP in Qinghai Province, with “inciting separatism,” according to The New York Times. Tashi’s lawyer told the Times in August that public security case files he had reviewed indicated that the charge was based on Tashi’s participation in a late 2015 Times report about the lack of Tibetan language education in Tibetan areas. Tashi was detained in January, but his family members were not informed until late March, and he remained in detention awaiting trial at the year’s end. Tashi had no known record of advocating Tibetan independence or separatism, according to the Times, and has denied the charges against him.

On May 9, the Wenchuan County People’s Court sentenced Jo Lobsang Jamyang, a monk at Kirti Monastery and a popular writer who addressed issues such as environmental protection and self-immolation protests, to seven years and six months in prison on charges of “leaking state secrets” and “engaging in separatist activities.” The trial was closed, and his family and lawyers were barred from attending. Soon after he was detained in April 2015, 20 Tibetan writers jointly called for his release and praised his writings. Authorities held Jamyang incommunicado and reportedly tortured him during more than a year of pretrial detention.

On May 14, authorities detained Jamyang Lodroe, a monk from Tsinang Monastery in Ngaba TAP, without providing any information about his whereabouts or the reason for his detention to the monastery or to his family. Local sources told RFA reporters that it was widely believed that authorities detained Lodroe on account of his online publications.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government continued to severely restrict travel by foreign journalists. Foreign journalists may visit the TAR only after obtaining a special travel permit from the government, and this permission was rarely granted. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China’s annual report stated that reporting from “Tibet proper remains off-limits to foreign journalists.” This same report noted that many foreign journalists were also told that reporting in Tibetan areas outside the TAR was “restricted or prohibited.”

Authorities tightly controlled journalists who worked for the domestic press and could hire and fire them on the basis of political reliability. In February TAR Television announced job vacancies with one of the listed job requirements to “be united with the regional party committee in political ideology and fighting against separatism.” CCP propaganda authorities remained in charge of local journalist accreditation in the TAR and required journalists working in the TAR to display “loyalty to the Party and motherland.” The deputy head of the TAR Propaganda Department simultaneously holds a prominent position in the TAR Journalist Association, a state-controlled professional association to which local journalists must belong.

Violence and Harassment: Chinese authorities arrested and sentenced many Tibetan writers, intellectuals, and singers for “inciting separatism.” In February the Malho (Hainan) Prefecture Intermediate People’s Court in Qinghai Province sentenced Druklo (pen name: Shokjang), a writer and blogger from Labrang in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, to three years in prison for “inciting separatism.” According to various sources, Shokjang wrote poetry and prose about Chinese government policies in Tibetan areas that enjoyed significant readership among Tibetans. Chinese security officials took Shokjang from the monastic center of Rebkong in March 2015, and no information was known about his welfare or whereabouts until the sentencing almost a year later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Domestic journalists were not allowed to report on repression in Tibetan areas. Authorities promptly censored the postings of bloggers who did so, and the authors sometimes faced punishment.

Since the establishment of the CCP’s Central Leading Small Group for Internet Security and Informatization in 2014, the TAR Party Committee Information Office has further tightened the control of a full range of social media platforms. According to multiple contacts, security officials often cancelled WeChat accounts carrying “sensitive information,” such as discussions about Tibetan language education, and interrogated the account owners. Many sources also reported that it was almost impossible to register websites promoting Tibetan culture and language in the TAR.

The Chinese government continued to jam radio broadcasts of Voice of America and RFA’s Tibetan and Chinese-language services in some Tibetan areas as well as the Voice of Tibet, an independent radio station based in Norway. As part of a regular campaign cracking down on unauthorized radio and television channels, the TAR Department of Communications conducted an investigation in the Lhasa area in June and found zero “illegal radio programs.”

According to multiple sources, authorities in Qinghai Province confiscated or destroyed “illegal” satellite dishes in many Tibetan areas. In addition to maintaining strict censorship of print and online content in Tibetan areas, Chinese authorities sought to censor the expression of views or distribution of information related to Tibet in countries outside the PRC. In February the PRC ambassador to Bangladesh pressured organizers of the Dhaka Art Summit to remove an exhibit that displayed the handwritten final writings of five Tibetans who had self-immolated in protest of Chinese government repression.

National Security: In 2015 China enacted a new National Security Law that includes provisions regarding the management of ethnic minorities and religion. The PRC frequently blamed “hostile foreign forces” for creating instability in Tibetan areas and cited the need to protect “national security” and “fight against separatism” as justifications for its policies, including censorship policies, in Tibetan areas.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities curtailed cell phone and Internet service in the TAR and other Tibetan areas, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time, during periods of unrest and political sensitivity, such as the March anniversaries of the 1959 and 2008 protests, “Serf Emancipation Day,” and around the Dalai Lama’s birthday in July. When Internet service was restored, authorities closely monitored the Internet throughout Tibetan areas. Reports of authorities searching cell phones they suspected of containing suspicious content were widespread. Many individuals in the TAR and other Tibetan areas reported receiving official warnings after using their cell phones to exchange what the government deemed to be sensitive information.

In February the head of the TAR Party Committee Internet Information Office asserted that “the Internet is the key ideological battlefield between the TAR Party Committee and the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique.”

In November the National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a cybersecurity law that further strengthened the legal mechanisms available to security agencies to surveil and control content online. Some observers noted that provisions of the law, such as Article 12, could disproportionally affect Tibetans and other ethnic minorities. Article 12 criminalizes using the internet to commit a wide range of ill-defined crimes of a political nature, such as “harming national security,” “damaging national unity,” “propagating extremism,” “inciting ethnic hatred,” “disturbing social order,” and “harming the public interest.” The law also codifies the practice of large-scale internet network shutdowns in response to “major [public] security incidents,” which public security authorities in Tibetan areas have done for years without a clear basis in law. A work conference held in Lhasa on November 8 urged the TAR and other provinces with Tibetan areas to step up coordination in managing the internet.

Throughout the year, authorities blocked users in China from accessing foreign-based, Tibet-related websites critical of official government policy in Tibetan areas. Well-organized computer-hacking attacks originating from China harassed Tibet activists and organizations outside China.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Authorities in many Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend regular political education sessions, particularly during politically sensitive months, in an effort to prevent “separatist” political and religious activities on campus. Authorities frequently encouraged Tibetan academics to participate in government propaganda efforts, such as making public speeches supporting government policies. Academics who refused to cooperate with such efforts faced diminished prospects for promotion.

Academics in the PRC who publicly criticized CCP policies on Tibetan affairs faced official reprisal. The government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials as well as the publication of historically or politically sensitive academic books. Authorities frequently denied Tibetan academics permission to travel overseas for conferences and academic or cultural exchanges. Authorities in Tibetan areas regularly banned the sale and distribution of music they deemed to have sensitive political content.

In May senior officials of the state-run TAR Academy of Social Science encouraged scholars to maintain “a correct political and academic direction” and held a conference to “improve scholars’ political ideology” and “fight against separatists.”

Policies promoting planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, expansion of the tourism industry, forced resettlement of nomads and farmers, and the weakening of both Tibetan language education in public schools and religious education in monasteries continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs.

Tibetan and Mandarin Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages appeared on some, but not all, public and commercial signs. Inside official buildings and businesses, including banks, post offices, and hospitals, signage in Tibetan was frequently lacking, and in many instances forms and documents were available only in Mandarin. Mandarin was used for most official communications and was the predominant language of instruction in public schools in many Tibetan areas. Private printing businesses in Chengdu needed special government approval to print in the Tibetan language.

A small number of public schools in the TAR continued to teach mathematics in the Tibetan language, but in June the Tibet Postreported that TAR officials have replaced Tibetan language mathematics textbooks in all regional schools with Mandarin versions. Sources reported that WeChat users in the TAR discussing the issue were subsequently visited by public security officers and given warnings.

According to sources, there were previously 20 Tibetan language schools or workshops for local children operated by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Sichuan Province’s Kardze TAP. After the 2015 release of the Kardze TAP Relocation Regulation for Minors in Monasteries, authorities forced 15 of these schools to close and relocated their students to government-run schools.

The Kardze TAP has the highest illiteracy rate (above 30 percent) in Sichuan Province, compared with a national rate of 4 to 5 percent. Despite the illiteracy problem, in late April the central government ordered the destruction of much of Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist education center, a focal point for promoting both Tibetan and Chinese literacy.

China’s Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law states that “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the media of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, high school, and college students had limited access to Tibetan language instruction and textbooks, particularly in the areas of modern education.

China’s most prestigious universities provided no instruction in Tibetan or other ethnic minority languages, although classes teaching the Tibetan language were available at a small number of universities. “Nationalities” universities, established to serve ethnic minority students and ethnic Chinese students interested in ethnic minority subjects, offered Tibetan language instruction only in courses focused on the study of the Tibetan language or culture. Mandarin was used in courses for jobs that required technical skills and qualifications.

Comoros

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and expression, but there were some limitations on press freedom.

Press and Media Freedoms: Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of the newly elected and installed government hampering press freedom. Nevertheless, some journalists on all three islands continued to practice self-censorship.

On May 18, the director general of the government newspaper al-Watwan, Ahmed Ali Amir, was dismissed by former president Ikililou a week before he left office. Amir had published the results of the Anjouan presidential election’s third round of voting prior to official confirmation by the National Independent Commission for Elections, and in violation of a prohibition issued by the Ministry of Interior. On June 21, Amir was reappointed after President Azali Assoumani assumed office.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 7.5 percent of individuals used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press only insofar as it “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” Laws banning criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda carry penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government had little tolerance for public criticism of government officials or programs and limited public debate of issues considered politically sensitive. State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent fora for debates on cultural and social topics to force them to stop discussing issues deemed controversial. Forum organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Several government workers reported being fired for expressing dissenting opinions or affiliating with independent organizations. For example, in August local radio station journalist Jose Ramirez Pandoja was fired for publishing a controversial speech by the deputy director of the CP’s official newspaper, Granma, on his personal blog. The speech cited young journalists leaving traditional media outlets due to censorship policies and low salaries.

Several university professors and researchers reported they were forced from their positions or demoted for expressing ideas or opinions outside of government-accepted norms.

During the year some religious groups reported greater latitude to express their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, although most members of the clergy continued to exercise self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and even the country’s leadership without reprisals. The Roman Catholic Church operated a cultural and educational center in Havana that hosted debates featuring participants expressing different opinions about the country’s future. On January 8, the government closed open-air churches in Camaguey and Las Tunas and detained three pastors associated with the Apostolic movement, an unregistered network of Protestant churches. The government claimed that the pastors erected the churches without permission, but the pastors denied that claim. One of the pastors was later charged and convicted of violating neighborhood noise ordinances related to his Sunday sermons.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and all widely available sources of information. News and information programming was generally uniform across all outlets, with the exception of broadcasts of Venezuelan government news programming. The government also controlled nearly all publications and printing presses, and the CP must give prior approval for printing of nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government also limited the importation of printed materials. Foreign correspondents in the country had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. They also struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, official journalists who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government restricted the ability of official journalists to work for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. Granma correspondent Jose Antonio Torres remained in prison at the end of the year; he was sentenced in 2012 to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of espionage for articles he wrote.

Violence and Harassment: The government does not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists sometimes faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions involved independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of #TodosMarchamos activists. Several journalists were detained, had their equipment confiscated, and were harassed for covering the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Some independent journalists reported interrogations by state security agents for publishing articles critical of government institutions.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers or magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content–interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health–was not allowed and could result in harassment and detention.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable, such as those taken during arrests and detentions. Activists reported interrogations and confiscations at the airport when arriving from the United States. On August 1, human rights activist Ivan Hernandez Carillo reported being detained and beaten when he arrived at the airport in Havana after he refused to go to a small room to have his belongings searched. On August 12, independent lawyer Laritza Diversent was briefly questioned when she returned from testifying on freedom of expression before the UN special rapporteur. Security officials confiscated all materials related to this event. Independent think tank Convivencia reported nine police citations and interrogations in September and October during which state security questioned members about their participation in international conferences.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government uses defamation of character laws to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored some online content, and there were credible reports that the government monitored without appropriate legal authority the limited e-mail and internet chat rooms and browsing that were permitted. The government controlled all internet access, except for limited facilities provided by a few diplomatic missions and a small but increasing number of black market facilities.

While the International Telecommunication Union reported that 31 percent of citizens used the internet in 2015, access often was limited to a national intranet that offered only e-mail or highly restricted access to the World Wide Web. Other international groups reported lower internet penetration, with approximately 5 percent of the population having access to open internet.

The government selectively granted internet access to certain areas in the city and sectors of the population consisting mostly of government officials, established professionals, some professors and students, journalists, and artists. Others could access e-mail and internet services through government-sponsored “youth clubs,” internet cafes, or Wi-Fi hot spots approved and regulated by the Ministry for Information, Technology, and Communications. Users were required to purchase prepaid cards and provide personal information in order to access the internet in these centers.

During the year the government increased the number of Wi-Fi hot spots at computer centers to more than 200 countrywide. The government also expanded Wi-Fi hot spots in areas outside computer centers and proposed a pilot program to install internet in the homes of a limited number of persons in Old Havana. Authorities reviewed the browsing history of users, reviewed and censored e-mail, employed internet search filters, and blocked access to websites considered objectionable. Access cost approximately two convertible pesos (CUC) ($2) per hour, still beyond the means of many citizens, whose average official income was approximately 23 CUC ($23) per month.

While the law does not set specific penalties for unauthorized internet use, it is illegal to own a satellite dish that would provide uncensored internet access. The government restricted the importation of wireless routers, reportedly actively targeted private wireless access points, and confiscated equipment.

The use of encryption software and transfer of encrypted files are also illegal. Despite poor access, harassment, and infrastructure challenges, a growing number of citizens maintained blogs in which they posted opinions critical of the government, with help from foreign supporters who often built and maintained the blog sites. The government blocked local access to many of these blogs. In addition, a small but growing number of citizens could use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels to report independently on developments in the country, including observations critical of the government. Like other government critics, bloggers faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse.

Foreigners could buy internet access cards from the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers, where internet access could be purchased only in hard currency. Access usually cost between five and 10 CUC ($5 to $10) an hour, a rate well beyond the means of most citizens. Citizens usually could purchase internet access at the national telecommunications provider and use hotel business centers.

Human rights activists reported frequent government monitoring and disruption of cell phone and landline services prior to planned events or key anniversaries related to human rights. The government-owned telecommunications provider ETECSA often disconnected service for human rights organizers, often just before their detention by state security, or to disrupt planned activities.

During the 54-day hunger strike of activist Guillermo “Coco” Farinas, the government reportedly disrupted Farinas’ telephone service and intercepted calls to provide false information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled the curricula at all schools and universities, emphasizing the importance of reinforcing “revolutionary ideology” and “discipline.” Some academics refrained from meeting with foreigners, including diplomats, journalists, and visiting scholars, without prior government approval and, at times, the presence of a government monitor. Those permitted to travel abroad were aware that their actions, if deemed politically unfavorable, could negatively affect them and their relatives back home. During the year the government allowed some religious educational centers greater space to operate.

Outspoken artists and academics faced some harassment and criticism orchestrated by the government. For example, in April academic Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva was expelled from the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana for “indiscipline” and for having “unauthorized conversations with foreign institutions,” which included talking to foreign press and criticizing the government’s slow pace of economic reforms.

In June art historian Yanelys Nunez Leyva was fired from a cultural magazine for contributing to a developing online platform called the Cuban Museum of Dissent featuring leaders in Cuban history who had rebelled against political doctrines.

Public libraries required citizens to complete a registration process before the government granted access to books or information. Citizens could be denied access if they could not demonstrate a need to visit a particular library. Libraries required a letter of permission from an employer or academic institution for access to censored, sensitive, or rare books and materials. Religious institutions organized small libraries. Independent libraries remained illegal but continued to exist and faced harassment and intimidation.

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law allow for freedom of speech and press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.

On January 14, authorities arrested Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, university professor and journalist and publisher of biweekly opposition magazine l’Aurore, after he published a picture of a child killed during the December 2015 incident. Ibrahim spent one night in custody and was then released. On January 19, a judge suspended Ibrahim’s magazine for two months and gave him a suspended two‑month jail sentence. In February 2015 Ibrahim was fired by presidential decree from his position at the university for expressing political beliefs in the workplace.

Another opposition member and two persons linked to the December 2015 incident were also fired by presidential decree from their government positions.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.

On April 2, the government expelled BBC journalists, including BBC’s Africa security correspondent, from the country. According to government officials, the BBC journalists did not have proper media accreditation to report on the presidential election scheduled for April 8. The BBC asserted they did have official media accreditation and interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition candidate on April 1, after which authorities detained the journalists and deported them the next morning.

Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via e-mail and social media sites. President of the Djiboutian Human Rights League (LDDH) Omar Ali Ewado published a list of persons who allegedly died in the December 2015 incident; the number of names exceeded the government’s official death toll. Government officials stated Ewado fabricated the names and death toll. Authorities charged Ewado with defamation, and he spent 45 days in pretrial detention. On February 14, authorities granted Ewado probation. On April 30, the Supreme Court dropped all charges against him.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

In 1992 the Ministry of Communication created a Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. After the April cabinet reshuffle, the ministry selected members for the Communication Commission, but had yet to issue an official press release with all the names of members to formalize the commission.

Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.

For example, on January 11, gendarmes arrested and detained La Voix de Djibouti journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss for allegedly reporting on court cases of opposition members. He was in Gabode Prison on pretrial detention until January 17. Authorities dismissed his case on January 24 for lack of evidence.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media laws and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship.

Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.

In August, Youssouf Ahmed, editor of independent magazine Le Renard, was arrested and detained on charges of libel for criticizing high-level government officials. He was released after 48 hours. Authorities first sentenced Ahmed to one month in prison and a 9.96 million Djiboutian franc ($56,270) fine, but he settled his case out of court. According to opposition and human right groups, his case was dismissed contingent upon him no longer commenting on high-level government officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government (see section 1.c.).

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.71 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. Following the December 2015 incident, there was a presidential decree issued for security reasons that forbade any cultural, political, or religious gatherings for two months. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs postponed a regional folkloric dance and a regional conference of Muslim religious leaders due to the decree until after the presidential election in April.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press but includes a clause stating, “it may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals. Individuals also faced societal and official harassment for speech viewed as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, such as using a hand gesture showing four fingers, a reference to the 2013 security operation to disperse the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” The president stated in a September speech that lying was a form of terrorism. Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities could use the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On February 20, a Bulaq Abu el-Ela appellate misdemeanor court sentenced author Ahmed Naji to two years in prison on charges of violating public morals based on the publication of an excerpt of his novel, The Use of Life, which contained explicit descriptions of sexual acts and illegal drug use. Authorities had acquitted Naji of the same charges in January, but prosecutors appealed the decision. Numerous writers and intellectuals decried the verdict, describing it as part of a larger government campaign against free expression. On December 18, a court suspended the implementation of Naji’s sentence pending the appeal of his sentence. Naji’s next hearing was scheduled for January 1, 2017.

In May authorities arrested the five members of the satirical group Street Children after it released a video criticizing supporters of the president and the increasing number of arrests. Band members were reportedly under investigation on charges of attempting to topple the regime, publishing offensive videos, and inciting citizens against authorities. In May authorities released one band member on bail and released the remaining four members in September pending investigations.

Press and Media Freedoms: The constitution, penal code, and media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers and those of opposition political parties. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

The more than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The term for the governmental Higher Press Council, which had the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets, expired in January. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) sometimes criticized the government, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 25 imprisoned journalists in the country. Authorities continued to keep journalist Ismail Alexandrani in detention without formal charges at year’s end. Authorities detained him in November 2015 on arrival at Hurgada airport. On November 20, a court ordered his release, but authorities successfully appealed the release order. According to local rights groups, Alexandrani was under investigation for “reporting false news” and “joining a banned group.” Alexandrani’s reporting and scholarly work focused on the Sinai.

On May 1, authorities raided the press syndicate headquarters and arrested two journalists, Mahmoud el-Sakka and Amr Badr, according to members of the syndicate. Both journalists worked for an opposition news site, Bawabet Yanayer. The Interior Ministry claimed it had not raided the headquarters, and the journalists had willingly surrendered to authorities. Authorities referred el-Sakka and Badr to trial on charges of spreading false news and possession of firearms and Molotov cocktails. On August 27, a court ordered Badr’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. On September 29, a court ordered el-Sakka’s release on bail of LE 5,000 ($275) pending investigations. The journalists’ arrests followed arrests of dozens of others on April 25, in connection with protests against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the government determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fell under Saudi sovereignty. According to a local rights group, authorities released most of those detained that day after a short incarceration.

On November 19, a court sentenced Yehia Kalash, president of the press syndicate, and Gamal Abdel Reheem and Khaled el-Balshy, two syndicate board members, to two years in prison for harboring fugitives (el-Sakka and Badr) inside the syndicate’s headquarters and spreading false news in connection with the May 1 raid on the syndicate headquarters. The three were sentenced in absentia; they appealed the verdict, and the hearing was scheduled for January 14, 2017.

On August 27, according to media reports, an administrative court referred Azza al-Henawy, an anchor for state-owned al-Qahera TV, to trial on charges including insulting the president. Al-Henawy had criticized the president and made allegations of corruption during a March television broadcast.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued statements condemning articles critical of the country in international publications, sometimes citing the authors by name.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state and nonstate actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.

On May 23, authorities denied French news correspondent Remy Pigaglio entry into the country when he arrived at Cairo International Airport after returning from vacation in France. Pigaglio claimed officials at first prevented him from contacting the French ambassador in Egypt and, and after detaining him for more than 24 hours, deported him.

In June security officers took British-Lebanese journalist Lilian Daoud from her Cairo home by security officers immediately following the end of her employment contract with ONTV. Authorities briefly detained and then deported her, according to media reports. On her television show, The Full Picture, Daoud had hosted protesters and youth leaders as well as government officials. The program had expressed views critical of the government.

In September 2015 the Cairo Criminal Court began a trial of 48 defendants accused of being Muslim Brotherhood members and charged with participating in the 2014 protest in Ain Shams during which journalist Mayada Ashraf was shot and killed while covering the clashes between protesters and police. The next hearing was scheduled for February 13, 2017.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. On February 3, art-house cinema Zawya stated that the country’s Censorship Authority refused to authorize the screening of three short films as part of Zawya’s Short Film Festival. Zawya’s director speculated to media that in the case of two of the three films, authorities objected to the content of the films, which included sexual content and discussions of atheism.

In August government officials confiscated copies of an issue of privately owned Sout Alomma newspaper, which included an article about the health of the president’s mother and articles critical of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine.

Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported several cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, primarily targeting Christians but also Muslims.

On January 26, al-Khalifa Misdemeanor Court convicted writer Fatima Naoot in her absence and sentenced her to three years in prison and a fine of LE 20,000 ($1,100) for denigrating Islam by describing the Islamic ritual of sacrificing sheep during Eid al-Adha as a “massacre,” in a 2014 Facebook post. On March 31, the Sayeda Zeinab Appellate Misdemeanor Court confirmed the sentence. After Naoot appealed the decision, on October 20, the same court ordered her release pending investigations. On November 24, an appeals court reduced her sentence to a six months suspended.

On February 25, Bani Mazar Juvenile Misdemeanor Court sentenced four Christian high school students to five years’ imprisonment for denigrating Islam after the students appeared in video pretending to perform a Muslim prayer. The same court sentenced the students’ teacher, Gad Youssef Younan, who reportedly filmed the video, to three years in prison for denigrating Islam in December 2015.

Authorities released Mohamed Hegazy, also known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, from prison in July after spending more than two years in detention based on accusations that he had denigrated Islam in a symposium in 2009. A court ordered his release in June; however, over a period of several weeks, prison authorities claimed to have lost the court order and moved him to another prison without informing his attorney, according to media reports. During this time Hegazy recorded a video from prison in which he stated that he was reverting to Islam from Christianity; authorities released him shortly thereafter. Boulous unsuccessfully sued the Ministry of Interior in 2009 to recognize his conversion from Islam to Christianity, testing the constitutional right of freedom of religion.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security. Judges may issue and have issued restraint orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. For example, on April 30, a court issued such an order in the case of protesters arrested during demonstrations against the government’s announcement of a maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia in which the bilateral agreement determined that Tiran and Sanafir islands fall under Saudi sovereignty. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news” contradicting official Ministry of Defense statements. The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists.

An amendment to the police authority law, approved by parliament on August 9, bars police from providing information related to their work to media without permission from the Interior Ministry. An international NGO argued the amendment illustrated the government’s continuing effort to undermine transparency.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not generally restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, albeit with some exceptions. The constitution protects the right to privacy, including on the internet. The constitution provides for the confidentiality and “inviolability” of postal, telegraphic, and electronic correspondence; telephone calls; and other means of communication. They may not be confiscated, revealed, or monitored except with a judicial order, only for a definite period, and only in cases defined by law. The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications. Law enforcement agencies occasionally restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period of time and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor occasionally prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications between suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum time period.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in northern Sinai by cutting telecommunication networks: mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines. Cuts generally occurred from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Networks were again fully accessible at approximately 8 p.m. and sometimes later. This tactic disrupted operations of government facilities and banks. The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, which can allow security forces to obtain information about activities of specific customers, which could lead to lack of online anonymity. Individuals widely used social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, during demonstrations and included widespread criticism of the government and security forces.

In July, Internet Live Stats estimated internet penetration to be 33 percent. A local civil society organization estimated 57 percent of families had internet access at home and four million persons used Twitter. A digital consulting company stated 28 million persons used Facebook.

There were reports that authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On January 13, police arrested three administrators of Facebook pages that allegedly promoted antigovernment protests scheduled for the fifth anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, according to media reports. Two of the three were Muslim Brotherhood members, according to state-owned media.

In April international media reported that in December 2015 Facebook terminated its Free Basics Service, which provided mobile phone users with free access to a limited suite of internet services, because the company would not allow the government to circumvent the service’s security to conduct surveillance. The government previously stated that it had only granted the mobile carrier Etisalat a temporary permit to offer the service for two months.

On December 19, Open Whisper Systems claimed that Egyptian authorities were blocking access to its encrypted messaging application Signal.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom. In October, Minister of Higher Education Ashraf al-Shihy published a statement requiring private universities to review all research papers and thesis dissertations to assure they do not include any “direct or indirect insult to societies or individuals belonging to any brotherly or friendly countries.” According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, allegedly existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. In February media reported that in December 2015, Cairo University revoked permission for one of its professors, Kholoud Saber, to pursue her doctoral degree abroad. Saber told media the decision came from an office connected to the Interior Ministry. Separately, Cairo University President Gaber Nassar told media that security forces did not intervene in the university’s academic affairs. Days after publication of the news reports, Cairo University reversed its decision to revoke Saber’s permission to study abroad.

There was censorship of cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On January 20, authorities cancelled a scheduled concert by the band Elawela Balady, according to an announcement by the group, which is widely associated with the January 25 Revolution. A local human rights group described the move as an attempt by authorities to silence voices connected to the revolution.

Independent film center, Cimatheque, associated with Khaled Abdalla from the prominent revolutionary documentary The Square and the sister production company Zero Productions, remained closed since October 2015 and received regular visits from authorities. In February authorities allowed Townhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, which was closed by authorities in December 2015, to reopen under what its director told press were new legal restrictions; he alleged that some restrictions amounted to state control of its work. Townhouse’s affiliated Rawabet Theater, which was also raided in December 2015, also reopened. The Merit Publishing House, which authorities raided in December 2015, remained open. Authorities quickly released the Merit employee detained in December 2015.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the law grants authorities extensive powers to restrict media activities, and the government limited these rights. The government restricted journalistic activity by exercising its right to official prepublication censorship. The media remained weak and under government influence or control. Persons close to the president owned the few private media outlets that existed. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance and threats.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, or security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others.

Press and Media Freedoms: The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Starting a periodical or newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists, who must register with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio. International newspapers or news magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers present in the country. Visiting journalists for foreign media outlets and some independent local journalists could not operate freely, and there were reports government agents followed and observed both groups. During the presidential election, for example, the government limited accreditation for journalists and restricted them from traveling throughout the country to visit polling stations.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system, RTVGE. The president’s eldest son, Vice President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, owned the only private broadcast media, Television Asonga and Asonga Radio. Journalists for these entities were not allowed to report freely.

For example, after the August flood in Luba, officials at RTVGE interrupted a live interview with a flood victim when he began to accuse the government of discrimination and lack of support.

Requests by political parties to establish private radio stations were denied or remained perpetually pending. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including the French-language Africa24 television channel, which the government partially owned.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

In June authorities arrested Enrique Nsolo, a well-known local human rights activist, for photographing and recording the arrest of a fraudulent document seller in front of a foreign embassy. Nsolo was held incommunicado without charge in deplorable conditions before his release several days later.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict publication through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions, particularly of the 19 publishing principles in Article 2 of the Law on the Press, Publishing, and Audiovisual Media. The only marginally independent newspaper practiced self-censorship and did not openly criticize the government or the president.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against defamation and libel, both of which are criminalized, to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. For example, in March 2015 the government blocked WhatsApp, Facebook, Diario Rombe, and Radio Macuto to prevent communication during student protests, and the websites remained blocked at year’s end.

The government also blocked access to websites maintained by domestic political opposition and exile groups. Users attempting to access these sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message the website did not exist. The internet was the primary way opposition views were expressed and disseminated, and the most overt criticism of the government came from the country’s diaspora. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16.4 percent of inhabitants used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Members of opposition political parties, faculty members, and students complained of government interference in the hiring of teachers, the employment of unqualified teachers, and official pressure on teachers to give passing grades to failing students with political connections. Teachers with political connections but no experience or accreditation were employed and reportedly seldom appeared at the classes they were assigned to teach. Most professors reportedly practiced self-censorship.

Cultural events required coordination with the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, the Department of Culture and Tourism, or both. The resulting bureaucratic delay was a disincentive for prospective organizers, who often did not know the criteria used for judging proposals or their chances for approval.

The Cultural Center of Rebola, which the government closed in August 2015 for promoting music and other productions critical of the ruling party, was reopened in October with a warning against holding anti-government events.

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents, including books, be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including a newspaper published in three languages, three radio stations, and all local television broadcasters.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable by law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.

The government permitted satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities and increasingly in the countryside. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained in previous years and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government monitored some internet communications, including e-mail, without obtaining warrants. Government informants frequented internet cafes. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on land-based internet service provision. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to the most recent data released by the International Telecommunication Union, 1.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.

With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students had to complete military training at Sawa before being allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).

The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. The government discouraged students from seeking information on international study and exchange programs and frequently denied them passports or exit visas. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.

The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers.

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the state of emergency regulations included restrictions on these rights. Authorities harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and others perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment of self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The state of emergency regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and resulted in detention or disappearance of numerous independent voices. The regulations prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest (interpreted to include the popular Oromo protest sign of raising crossed arms over one’s head), any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating text, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity, exchange of information by any individual with a foreign government in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and any political parties from briefing journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermines sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored as a result of these prohibitions.

Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed persons for criticizing the government. NGOs reported cases of torture of individuals critical of the government. The government attempted to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists and those who express critical opinions online and opposition activists, and monitoring of and interference in activities of political opposition groups. Some feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made statements publicly or privately deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.

Press and Media Freedoms: The state of emergency prohibited listening to, watching, or reporting information from Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromo Media Network.

Independent journalists reported problems using government printing presses. Access to private printing presses was scarce to nonexistent.

In Addis Ababa, nine independent newspapers and magazines had a combined weekly circulation of 70,711 copies. Four independent monthly and biweekly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation of 21,500 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined circulation of 85,500 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily MonitorAddis Standard magazine temporarily suspended the print edition of its publication soon after the state of emergency was declared.

Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Six private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one private radio station broadcast in the northern Tigray Region, and at least 19 community radio stations broadcast in the regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Radio, which was reportedly affiliated with the ruling party.

The government periodically jammed foreign broadcasts. The law prohibits political and religious organizations and foreigners from owning broadcast stations.

Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. As of mid-December, at least 12 journalists remained in detention.

In December 2015 police detained Fikadu Mirkana, who worked as news anchor and senior reporter for Oromia State TV. He was released in April.

In December 2015 authorities detained journalist Getachew Shiferaw, editor in chief of a web-based opposition-affiliated newspaper. On May 19, authorities charged him with terrorism and his trial continued at year’s end.

The trial of two journalists affiliated with Radio Bilal whom authorities arrested in February 2015 and charged with terrorism continued at the Federal High Court.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government harassment caused journalists to avoid reporting on sensitive topics. Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government through article placement requests and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship, especially after the October 8 implementation of the state of emergency. The government reportedly pressured advertisers not to advertise in publications that were critical of the government.

National Security: The government used the ATP to suppress criticism. Journalists feared covering five groups designated by parliament as terrorist organizations in 2011 (Ginbot 7, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the OLF, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab), citing ambiguity on whether reporting on these groups might be punishable under the law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It periodically blocked social media sites and internet access in areas of Oromia and Amhara regions, especially during protests. At times the government blocked access throughout the country. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.

On June 7, parliament passed the Computer Crime Proclamation. There were concerns its provisions were overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among people, and another provision that provides for a prison sentence for intimidation.

In July officials blocked social media sites for days across the country until the national school examination concluded. The government stated blocking these sites was necessary to provide for an “orderly exam process.” In May the national exams were reportedly leaked on social media, causing the government to postpone the exams.

On August 6 and 7, the government imposed a nationwide internet blackout.

The state of emergency regulations included prohibited agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.

Starting in early October, the government shut down mobile access to the internet in Addis Ababa, most parts of Oromia Region, and other areas. Wired access to several social media and communication sites were also denied. These included social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.

The government periodically and increasingly restricted access to certain content on the internet and blocked numerous websites, including blogs, opposition websites, and websites of Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Several news blogs and websites run by opposition diaspora groups were not accessible. These included Ethiopian Review, Nazret, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.

Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails. Authorities took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and e-mail. There were reports such surveillance resulted in arrests. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

In March 2015 Citizen Lab, a Canadian research center at the University of Toronto, reported on attempts in 2014 to infect the computers of U.S.-based employees of ESAT with spyware. ESAT is a diaspora-based television and radio station. According to Citizen Lab, its research suggested involvement of the government and that the attacker may have been the Ethiopian Information and Network Security Agency.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including student enrollment, teachers’ appointments, and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. The state of emergency regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions and closing them or damaging property, gives authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any student or staff member who violates the prohibitions in the regulations, and provides law enforcement the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.

The ruling party, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members commented that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation.

Authorities limited teachers’ ability to deviate from official lesson plans. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested non-EPRDF members were more likely to be transferred to undesirable posts and bypassed for promotions. There were reports of teachers not affiliated with the EPRDF being summarily dismissed for failure to attend party meetings. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.

A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities focused heavily on the social sciences.

Reports indicated a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on suspicion of their holding dissenting opinions or participation in peaceful demonstrations. According to reports there was an intense buildup of security forces (uniformed and plainclothes) embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, and in response to student demonstrations.

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although the government suspended one newspaper for one month and issued warnings to two others for publishing “defamatory” articles.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The one major daily newspaper is affiliated with the government. Approximately 36 privately owned weekly or monthly newspapers represented independent views and those of political parties, but some appeared only irregularly due to financial constraints. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media, although the main opposition-affiliated television station did not have the technical means to broadcast countrywide. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, domestic law did not meet international standards on freedom of expression and media freedom.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being harassed and intimidated during the year.

For example, on July 23, gendarmes arrested and beat a journalist from French press agency Agence France-Presse. On September 10, authorities denied entry to the country to a journalist from the French publication Le Monde Diplomatique. Officials stated the journalist “lacked evidence on the length and the purpose of his stay.”

During the night of August 31, masked gunmen attacked media outlet Radio Television Nazareth, owned by Pastor Bruno Ngoussi, a member of civil society, and set the station on fire.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Journalists at these newspapers practiced occasional self-censorship to placate owners.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are treated as either a criminal offense or a civil matter. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for two to six months and fined 500,000 to five million CFA francs ($856 to $8,560). Penalties for libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and a three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses. The National Communication Council (CNC) advocated for the removal of criminal penalties for libel.

There was evidence that in several cases libel laws were applied to discourage or punish critical coverage of the government. For example, the CNC suspended two publications during the year. In June authorities fined newspaper La Une and suspended it for three months for criticizing the government. In September the CNC suspended opposition-leaning newspaper Le Mbanja for one month for printing an interview with an unnamed security official who alleged there were plans to kill anyone who disputed the president’s reelection.

INTERNET FREEDOM

On August 30, following the disputed presidential election, the government blocked access to the internet and social media. On September 5, authorities re-established access to the internet for 12 hours a day but continued to block access to all social media sites. On September 29, full access to both the internet and social media was restored. The president stated in an interview on al-Jazeera the shutdown was a result of citizens having too many cell phones and “saturating” the internet.

According to the International Telecommunication Union 23.5 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government restricted press freedoms.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach due to the low literacy rate (41 percent) and the high cost of newspapers. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, libels and allegations could result in government reprisals, including suspensions and fines. For example, after being accused of being an accessory to insult of the president of the republic, a journalist of private radio station Milo FM was sentenced on June 22 by the Court of First Instance of the prefecture of Kankan (Upper Guinea) to pay a fine of one million Guinean francs (GNF) ($112).

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of direct physical attacks, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by members of the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) political party affiliated with the government and law enforcement agents.

In June presidential guards severely beat a journalist who had taken a picture of the president attending a political meeting of his party and confiscated his equipment.

Law enforcement officials also confiscated reporters’ equipment.

A journalist was killed while covering a February political meeting, allegedly by a stray bullet.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized stations and journalists who broadcast items criticizing government officials and their actions.

Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting with inappropriate pressure and bribes. Others hired bodyguards, and many practiced self-censorship.

The president publicly admonished the Radio France International correspondent for asking a question about his son’s involvement in a mining corruption scandal during a May press conference.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are subject to heavy fines. Officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders.

For example, a journalist hosting a talk show in June, on which a caller insulted the president, was fined one million GNF ($112) for complicity and insult of the head of state.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 4.7 percent of individuals had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, there were reports the government did not always respect these rights. For example, upon his appointment in June as prime minister, Baciro Dja fired the heads of state-owned television and radio. On June 9, the dismissed head of the state-owned radio stated his dismissal was politically motivated and filed a lawsuit seeking its annulment. The case was pending at year’s end. There were reports of journalists receiving threats and practicing self-censorship.

Press and Media Freedoms: There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them.

In May the country’s leading pro-opposition blog Ditadura do Consenso was hacked. Critics accused the government of responsibility as part of its efforts to impede criticism and stifle freedom of speech. On July 7, the state-owned radio station’s general manager fired his news director and editor-in-chief for having disregarded an order not to broadcast a press conference by PAIGC Chairman Domingos Simoes Pereira, one of the president’s main political opponents.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. For example, following firings at the state-owned radio station, a private radio station called Capital FM broadcast a program in which callers discussed and debated the dismissals. Capital FM’s director subsequently received several anonymous, written death threats.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were allegations, however, that on May 21, a pro-Vaz hacker succeeded in breaking into the country’s leading pro-opposition blog Ditadura do Consenso.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 3.54 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Lack of infrastructure, equipment, and education severely limited access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Iran

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and of the press, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the penal code, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.” The law also provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to bring ordinary citizens into adherence with the government’s moral code.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Although the government issued a Citizen’s Rights Charter with protections for free expression that states, “no one can be persecuted merely for his or her beliefs” on December 19, the law continues to limit freedom of speech, including by members of the press. Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the country’s judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions as well as those who publicly criticized the president, the cabinet, and the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament). The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and insulting the regime based on letters, e‑mails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

According to AI retired university professor Mohammad Hossein Rafiee Fanood, who was in prison on charges of “spreading propaganda against the state,” and “membership in an illegal group” was briefly hospitalized in August and returned to prison before full recovery. He was released on medical furlough in September, and has been banned from political and journalistic activities for two years.

Former President Mohamed Khatami remained barred from giving public remarks, and the media remained banned from publishing his name or image.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (“Ershad”) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country by requiring foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limiting their ability to travel within the country, and forcing them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through the government agency, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB). Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens (especially in rural areas with limited internet access), reflected the government’s political and socio-religious ideology. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations. There were reports of government “downlink” jamming of satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines up to 90 million rials ($2,800). Police launched campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country under warrants provided by the judiciary. According to media reporting, Basij militia destroyed 100,000 confiscated satellite dishes on July 24.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the audiovisual policy agency; a council composed of representatives of the president, the judiciary, and parliament oversees the agency’s activities. The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release, and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting. The government also harassed many journalists’ families. Reporters without Borders estimated that 19 journalists and 15 netizens remained in prison at year’s end. International NGOs reported that authorities forced several citizen journalists into internal exile during the year.

Journalist Reyhaneh Tabatabaee began serving a one-year sentence on January 12 on charges of “propaganda against the regime” and was barred from using social media for two years. She was granted a four-day furlough on June 17.

There were updates in the cases of Issa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, Afarin Chitsaz, and Saman Safarzaie, arrested in 2015 on charges of membership in “an infiltration group connected to the United States and United Kingdom.” Saharkhiz was sentenced to three years in prison on August 8 for “insulting the supreme leader” and “propagating against the state,” and spent time in solitary confinement. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Prison Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that Saharkhiz be released on medical grounds, but he remained in prison. According to reports on October 9, he has been on several hunger strikes. According to ICHRI Mazandarani was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, reduced to five years by the appeals court. He was temporarily released for medical treatment in October after suffering a heart attack while on hunger strike. Human Rights Watch reported that Chitsaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison on April 25 on charges of “assembly and collusion against national security,” and “contact with foreign governments.” The appeal court reduced her sentence to two years and a two-year ban from practicing journalism. She received a medical furlough for knee surgery in August. Safarzaie received a five-year imprisonment sentence in April for “assembly and collusion against national security.” Tehran’s appeals court reduced his sentence to two years in August, and according to ICHRI, as of November, he could be eligible for conditional release for lack of prior record and time already served in prison.

Cartoonist Atena Farghadani, imprisoned in 2014 for “spreading propaganda,” “insulting members of parliament,” and “insulting the supreme leader, was released on May 3 after an appeals court reduced her 12-year sentence to 18 months.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” During the year the government censored publications–both reformist and conservative–that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees.

Officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including closure, suspension, and fines. According to the IHRDC, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets.

According to media reporting, the Press Supervisory Board temporarily revoked the publishing license of Yalasarat al-Hosein weekly paper in January for an article deemed insulting to the Vice President for Family and Women’s Affairs, Shahindokht Mowlaverdi, and again in July for “offensive” comments about the spouses of prominent artists at an annual Television and Cinema awards ceremony in Tehran.

The Tehran Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor’s office banned the daily Qanun newspaper on June 20 after the IRGC Intelligence Organization brought a case of “defamation” against Qanun for a June 11 article, “Damned 24 Hours,” detailing the treatment of detainees in an unspecified Tehran prison. According to media reporting, the paper resumed publication on October 22 and was acquitted of the charges of “insulting religious sanctities” but found guilty of “publishing falsehoods.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. According to the new crimes bill passed this year, “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are on Iranian soil, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to reform but not undermine the government are considered a political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or internet platforms that criticized the government, to arrest, prosecute, and sentence individuals for crimes against national security.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Although Twitter is officially banned in the country, the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and various other government-associated officials and entities.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, monitored private online communications, and censored online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online. The Ministries of Culture, Information, and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems in the country. The office of the supreme leader also houses a Supreme Council on Cyberspace charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

According to the Ministry of Culture, 70 percent of Iranian youth between the ages of 15 and 29 used the internet. NGOs reported the government continued to filter content on the internet to ban access to particular sites and to filter traffic based on its content. The computer crimes law makes it illegal to distribute circumvention tools and virtual private networks, but the law is not clear whether the use of such tools is illegal, according to internet activists.

The ministry must approve all internet service providers. The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that comprise the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites, the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These include the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the MOIS, and the Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Local media reported on the launch of Iran’s “National Information Network,” on August 14 to provide a “faster, more secure” service. Internet activists reported many individuals were unable to access Facebook and several other social media outlets, even when using various circumvention tools, after the program was launched. RWB reported that this National Information Network is intended to act like an “intranet,” system, with full content control and user identification. Authorities can disconnect this network from World Wide Web content and reportedly will use it to provide government propaganda while blocking access to independently reported news or freely gathered information.

The same law that applies to traditional media applies to electronic media, and the Press Supervisory Board and judiciary invoked the law to close websites during the year. Six media outlets–BornaMawjBaharPuyeshPersian Khodro9 Sobh, and Memari–were blocked and/or reprimanded in September for reporting on corruption scandals in several Tehran property developments. They received official reprimands for violating the cybercrimes law, according to local media reports.

Authorities continue to block online messaging tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The IRGC Center for Combating Organized Crime website reported on August 23 that IRGC forces had summoned, detained, and warned some 450 administrators of social media groups over “immoral” content.

An estimated 20 million Iranians use the online messaging application Telegram, which has security features that make the content of users’ communications more difficult to be read by a third party. CPJ nevertheless reported in June that users were at risk of being monitored, as had happened with other similar applications in the past. Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace announced on May 29 that Telegram had one year to move all of its data to servers inside Iran or risk being closed entirely. Telegram users in Iran continued to be harassed for content posted through its servers. According to local media reports, the Iranian Cyber Police arrested three Telegram channels administrators on August 9 for publishing material “insulting religious sanctities.”

Government organizations, including the Basij “Cyber Council,” the Cyber Police, and the Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyber threats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on social networking websites officially banned by the Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems. Radio Zamaneh reported on April 21 that hackers who may have been associated with governmental security offices hacked Vice President Shahindokht Mowlaverdi’s private e‑mail account and sent spearfishing e‑mails to her contacts.

International media reported that Iranian national soccer team player, Sosha Makani, was suspended from the league in June for “inappropriate conduct” after photos emerged online of him wearing yellow “SpongeBob” pants.

Eight online models were arrested, and an unannounced number of online Instagram, Telegram, and Facebook pages were closed in May for “immoral content” after images were posted that did not adhere to government-sanctioned dress requirements. The Tehran Prosecutor General announced the arrests were part of operations “Spider I” and “Spider II,” which sought to identify illicit modeling activity online.

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access. The government periodically reduced internet speed to discourage downloading material; however, in general there were slight improvements to speed as the government expanded access to 3G services for mobile devices.

According to the UN special rapporteur’s reports, serious difficulties persisted, including severe content restrictions, intimidation and prosecution of users, and limitations on access through the intentional slowing of service and filtering. The most heavily blocked websites were in the arts, society, politics, and news categories. RWB reported there were more than 800 cases of censorship since the start of the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by prohibiting independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who pursued education through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education (BIHE) (see International Religious Freedom Report).

The government maintained controls on cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits, and censored those deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism, non-Islamic ideas about women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism. According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture made up of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films can also be arbitrarily barred from the screen even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

According to the IHRDC, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ali Jannati pulled the film Fifty Kilos of Sour Cherries from theaters after its initial screening in Tehran, for promoting the “disintegration and demise of the family and providing an inappropriate example through the actress’s makeup.”

The ministry’s Film Evaluation and Supervision Department banned five filmmakers–Mostafa Kiyai, Alireza Sartipi, Abdollah Alikhani, Sayyed Amir Parvin-Hoseini, and Reza Mirkarmi–and three film companies–Filmiran, Nur-e Taban, and Puya Film–in August from receiving permits or services in response to allegations they had advertised on foreign-based Persian-language satellite TV channels and “hostile networks run by the enemies of the Islamic Republic.”

Filmmaker Kayvan Karimi, initially sentenced in 2015 to six years in prison for “insulting the sanctities” in his documentary film on political graffiti, had his sentence reduced to one year by an appeals court in February. He was also sentenced to 223 lashes for “having illegitimate relations” with a woman who is not a relative.” Authorities originally arrested Karimi on these charges in 2013. He began serving his sentence on November 23.

According to international media reports, authorities released filmmaker Mostafa Azizi in April; he had been sentenced in June 2015 to eight years in prison for “propaganda against the state,” “acting against national security in cyberspace,” and “insulting the supreme leader.”

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve a song’s lyrics, music, and album covers as complying with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

Mehdi Rajabian, Hossein Rajabian, and Yousef Emadi, originally arrested in 2013, were found guilty of “insulting Islamic sanctities,” “spreading propaganda against the system,” and “illegal audio-visual activities” in May for the distribution of unlicensed music. They were sentenced to three years’ detention and fined 200 million rials ($6,178). Authorities shut down their website, and AI reported the three were allegedly beaten and given electric shocks while in detention. According to ICHRI the two Rajabian brothers started hunger strikes on September 8 to protest their separation in different wards and lack of access to medical care for Mehdi Rajabian for symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Rapper Amir “Tataloo” Hossein Maghsoodloo, was detained by police on August 23 in Tehran for “spreading depravity among youth.”

Authorities in several provinces cancelled concerts they deemed “inappropriate” throughout the year. Local authorities cancelled the concerts of singer Salar Aghili and musicians Shahram Nazeri and Kayvan Kalhor, despite having received the necessary prior permits from the Ministry of Culture. Prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi of Khorasan Razavi Province announced in August that no more music concerts would be allowed to take place in the province.

Iraq

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution broadly provides for the right of free expression that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Ba’ath party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The main limitation on individual and media exercise of these rights was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, government and KRG oversight and censorship interfered with media operations, at times resulting in closures of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately, but not without fear of reprisal. On April 27, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission closed the Baghdad offices of al-Jazeera. The station’s Baghdad bureau chief reported the government closed the office because it did not approve of al- Jazeera’s editorial policies. The bureau chief also said unidentified armed men repeatedly threatened the bureau and its employees.

In April the media provided live coverage of Baghdad demonstrations, including protesters’ first breach of the International Zone. When a second breach occurred, local media were quiet, with no live coverage or commentary. According to directors of two satellite channels, they received calls from “officials” telling them that covering the protests exacerbated the situation and asked them to “tone it down.”

Press and Media Freedoms: An active media expressed a variety of views largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. The media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against violating public order and because of a fear of reprisal, particularly by nongovernmental forces, but also by political figures. Media outlets, unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue, overwhelmingly relied upon political funding, which diminished their ability to report unbiased news. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print media publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

On July 13, the parliament introduced legislation on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstrations. NGOs, such as the Iraqi Union for Freedom of Expression, voiced concern about the legislation, specifically, that the law called for a one-year minimum prison sentence for insulting a religious symbol or figure, and required 10 days’ notice to the government to obtain a permit for a protest.

International and local organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists as well as closure of media outlets covering politically sensitive topics, including poor security, corruption, and weak governmental capacity. The deterioration in the security situation exacerbated harassment of journalists. Government and KRG security authorities sometimes prevented journalists from reporting citing security pretexts.

Local and national media extensively covered recurring protests in the South; however, security forces did not always allow coverage. For example, on February 12, security forces prevented a reporter for al-Baghdadiya TV from passing the security cordon to cover a demonstration. They told the reporter their security procedures prevented it.

On April 9, security forces wearing civilian uniforms reportedly attacked a Kurdistan News Network (KNN) cameraman in an Erbil mosque while the KNN crew was covering a protest there. As the cameraman attempted to film the protest, one of the uniformed security force members placed a weapon against the cameraman’s head to force him to stop.

In the IKR, government authorities continued to try, convict, and take legal action against journalists, despite a 2008 law that decriminalizes publication-related offenses. According to Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate officials, the 2008 law is the sole basis for prosecution of journalists for publication offense under the regional counterterrorism law, for public morality violations and other crimes.

While in December 2015 the KRG reopened Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) offices that it originally closed in October 2015, Gorran-affiliated KNN offices in Erbil and Dahuk Governorates remained closed because of KRG pressure.

Violence and Harassment: According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists and media workers were killed during the year. Five Iraqi journalists were killed covering the war with Da’esh, four by unknown gunmen, and one in a bombing in Baghdad.

Reporting from Da’esh-controlled areas was increasingly difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government, militia, and Da’esh forces faced serious threats to their safety, with several instances of journalists being killed or injured. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted access of journalists particularly to areas with active fighting, but primarily to outlets not affiliated with the ruling party.

Media workers often reported they were under pressure from persons and institutions, including politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders, not to publish articles critical of them. Media workers reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. Mohammed al-Jabari, a correspondent for al-Made Satellite TV in Basrah, said he received a threatening phone call from someone at the Basrah Intelligence Directorate. He said this person was upset because al-Jabari reportedly recorded him talking about the deteriorating security situation with other intelligence officers at the governorate building. Al-Jabari left Basrah because of the threat.

During his coverage of a local teachers’ demonstration, one of the security officers guarding the Basrah governor’s office verbally harassed and beat al-Sharqiya News Channel correspondent Mazin al-Tayyar when he asked why the demonstration coordinator and another protester were arrested.

In April according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, Sarmad al-Qasim, the editorial manager of the Lex News agency, received death threats for his work reporting government corruption in Diyala Governorate.

Throughout the IKR there were numerous beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore military or police uniforms. Many attacks targeted independent and former opposition media, mainly the independent NRT; Payama Television, affiliated with the Kurdistan Islamic Group; and the KNN Television, affiliated with the Gorran Party. According to HRW, Wedat Hussein Ali, a Kurdish journalist who security services had previously interrogated, was abducted and later found dead on August 13 (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions displeasing to political factions inhibited free expression. Public officials reportedly influenced content through rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the pro-government Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned Iraqi television stations operating outside of the country.

In 2013 the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament passed the Access to Information Law, to provide for access to information for journalists, media outlets, and ordinary citizens. As of September, however, the KRG had not made efforts to implement the law. Moreover, local government, political parties, and officials, regularly discriminated against some media outlets regarding access to information based on party affiliation. For example, in KDP stronghold areas Dahok and Erbil, KDP-affiliated outlets Rudaw and KTV had access to all KRG departments, while in the PUK and Gorran stronghold of Sulaimaniyah, PUK-affiliated outlets such as GK TV and Kurdsat TV received more access to government and party information than other outlets.

All books published in the country as well as imported books required the Ministry of Culture’s approval and were therefore subject to censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits defamation and provides penalties of up to one month in prison or a fine of 50,000 to 250,000 dinars ($45 to $225). Many in the media complained this provision prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally resorted to libel charges under criminal and civil law, which in some cases resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, the courts usually sided with the journalist, according to local media-freedom organizations.

Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law as well, and judges may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists and family members were targets of terrorists, religious groups that rejected media independence, criminals, corrupt officials, and unknown persons or groups wishing to limit the flow of news. Journalists were harassed, kidnapped for ransom, or killed in deliberate attacks for reporting information critical of Da’esh.

In April an armed group threatened two civil activists in Amara after they criticized Ammar al-Hakim, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq president and Iraqi National Alliance chairman, on their Facebook pages. Hasaneen al-Manshad and Ali al-Dilfi wrote on Facebook that the Islamic parties were not fulfilling the needs of Iraqis and had failed to manage the country, in addition to criticizing Hakim’s speech. The two activists were at a friend’s wedding on April 7 when armed men from the Jihad and Construction Movement forcibly entered and threatened to kill them. The armed men held them at gunpoint until guests negotiated their release in return for the activists’ public apology to Hakim and deleting the offending Facebook posts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were overt government restrictions on access to the internet, and there were credible reports, but no official acknowledgement, that the government monitored e-mail and internet communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize corrupt and ineffective politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media channels. According to the World Bank, approximately 17 percent of the population used the internet in 2015, compared with 5 percent in 2011.

The government acknowledged that it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country due to the deterioration in the security situation and Da’esh’s disruptive use of social media platforms. Representatives from the State Company for Internet Services reported they had pursued internet gateway projects that would give them greater control over incoming internet feeds as well as the ability to restrict internet content, but these projects had stalled. During the year there were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter for communications that the government considered “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.

There were no reports the Ministry of Communications imposed social media blackouts. Sporadically throughout the year, the government shut down the internet during school exams, reportedly so students could not cheat. Additionally, at times the government shut down the internet during protests for a few hours.

Da’esh also restricted access to the internet and telephone service in areas under its control.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and granting of academic positions. The country’s universities did not pursue gender-segregation policies. Da’esh continued to limit female education beyond the primary level in areas that it controlled.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict and in Da’esh-controlled territory. Following Da’esh’s 2014 seizure of Mosul, the group began reshaping education at the elementary, high school, and university levels, including printing textbooks for elementary school children that glorify violence and Da’esh history. For example, local and international media reported that at Mosul University, Da’esh altered the programs of study to comply with Da’esh ideology in the colleges of law, fine arts, physical education, languages, social sciences, and archeology. Da’esh extremists also targeted libraries, museums, and academic institutions in violent attacks and abducted students and faculty.

Extremists and armed groups limited cultural expression by targeting artists, poets, writers, and musicians. For example, Iraqi media continued to report that Da’esh had issued a directive banning all stores in Mosul from selling movies or music CDs, and had instructed businesses to stock only CDs containing Quranic verses or religious programs. On February 16, Da’esh publicly beheaded 15-year-old Ayham Hussein of Mosul for listening to western music, according to an HRW report.

In the IKR, according to local NGOs, senior professorships continued to be easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

Jordan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights. Authorities applied articles of the Counterterrorism Law, the Cybercrimes Law, and the penal code to arrest local journalists.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or stirring sectarian strife and sedition. During the year the government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression and for criticizing foreign governments. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employing official gag orders issued by the Media Commission.

On August 13, authorities arrested writer Nahed Hattar for posting an editorial cartoon on his Facebook page that included a personification of God. The prosecutor charged him with inciting sectarian strife and racism and insulting religion under the penal code. On September 8, authorities released him on bail. On September 25, a lone gunman shot and killed Hattar as he was entering the courthouse. Authorities detained the shooter. Hattar’s family stated that Hattar and his lawyer had requested additional protection, which the government did not provide. The same day authorities reportedly identified 10 social media users that they intended to refer to the prosecutor general for spreading hate speech related to the cartoon and the shooting.

On September 22, authorities detained social media personality Zain Karazon on charges of slander and libel. Karazon has a following of more than one million on social media platform Snapchat. Reasons for her arrest were unclear at year’s end. Some media sources speculated that a doctor or hospital sued her for criticizing a botched surgery, while other media sources suspected that someone had filed a suit related to a controversy involving a gay Lebanese online personality. On September 29, authorities released Karazon on bail. Charges were pending at year’s end.

In January the State Security Court found Ali al-Malkawi guilty of insulting the king and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment. Since authorities had already detained al-Malkawi for six months, authorities sentenced him to time served and released him immediately after sentencing. Authorities had arrested al-Malkawi in July 2015 for a posting on his Facebook page criticizing Arab and Islamic inaction in protecting Burmese Muslims.

All public-opinion polls and survey research require authorization from the Bureau of Statistics, although the law was not enforced. NGOs stated that the measure could be enforced, even retroactively, and called for the government to rescind it.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent print media existed, including several major daily newspapers, although such publications must obtain licenses from the state to operate. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restriction, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the Intelligence Directorate, using language deemed offensive to religion, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials attempted to influence reporting and place articles favorable to the government through bribes, threats, and political pressure.

The Audiovisual Law grants the head of the Media Commission the authority to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. The Media Commission cannot grant a new broadcasting license to a company unless all shares are Jordanian-owned. Additionally, those with licenses should not broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, the economy, national security, or Jordan’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary.

Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.

On February 14, authorities arrested al-Ra’i journalist Zaid Murafai for publishing an article on a protest by judges and court employees regarding losses in their pension fund. The court charged Murafai with slander and defamation under the Cybercrimes Law, as well as reporting on a pending case. Authorities released Murafai on bail four days later; charges remained pending at year’s end.

The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the Intelligence Directorate’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.

Media observers noted that, when covering controversial subjects, government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.

By law any book can be published and distributed freely. If, however, the Press and Publications Directorate deems passages religiously offensive or “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.

In its 2015 semiannual report Media Freedom in the Arab World, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists documented 15 incidents of serious violations against journalists in the country in 2015: 10 detentions, two cases of physical assault, two cases of humiliating treatment, and one injury.

The center documented 50 violations against 28 journalists covering the September 20 parliamentary elections. Violations included cases of poll workers obstructing journalists’ work, withholding information, and preventing photography. There was once case of deleting photographs from a camera.

On February 22, private television station Ro’ya News wrote that security officials beat and arrested one of their journalists who had been covering a protest in front of parliament.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms and exercised influence over reporting and that Intelligence Directorate officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. On occasion, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. Journalists reported self-censorship due to the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian Dollars (JD) ($210,000). At times, editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including the withholding of financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.

During the year the Media Commission issued several gag orders restricting discussion of certain topics in all forms of media, including social media. For example, the government issued gag orders restricting discussion of the court cases against Amjad Qourshah and Nahed Hattar, as well as the shooting of Nahed Hattar.

The annual report of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists noted that 93 percent of journalists surveyed in 2015 said they practiced self-censorship.

The government continued to enforce bans on the distribution of selected books for religious, moral, and political reasons. The Media Commission banned 41 books during the year for violating public norms and values (such as by including sexual content), disrespecting religion, or insulting the king.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens.

On January 5, authorities charged comedian Omar Zorba with slander and defamation under the Cybercrimes Law for criticizing a song that aired on the official television station promoting the national census. The presenter who hosted the segment filed the suit. Charges remained pending at year’s end.

On May 17, authorities arrested and detained ad-Dustour journalist Anas Sweileh for publishing an article on an abandoned building used by unemployed youth for repeated threats of suicide. The owner of the building filed a complaint. The court charged Sweileh with slander, defamation, and libel. Authorities released Sweileh on bail the same day; charges remained pending at year’s end.

National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials. The government also issued gag orders restricting discussion on all forms of media after a fatal shooting by a lone gunman at an Intelligence Directorate office in Balqa on June 6 and a suicide bombing against a northeast border installation on June 21.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were government restrictions on access to the internet. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. Authorities blocked a news website for one week in August for a licensing issue. The website published a statement saying that the block was under a false legal pretext, and that some governmental and regulatory bodies were critical of the website’s having published articles attacking the mufti and the media commission.

The registration fee for a news website is 1,400 JD ($1,960). The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparaging individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”

According to journalists, security forces reportedly demanded websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal e-mail.

According to UNESCO’s Media Development Indicators published in September 2015, internet penetration was 76 percent during the year, up from 38 percent in 2010.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing intelligence presence in academic institutions, including monitoring academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the Intelligence Directorate must clear all university professors before their appointment and that the university administration must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars, which in turn clears potentially controversial material through the Intelligence Directorate. Authorities edit commercial foreign films for sexual content before screening in commercial theaters.

On April 26, the government withdrew authorization for a planned concert by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese alternative rock band. The Ministry of Tourism stated that the performance would have been at odds with the “authenticity” of the venue, a historic amphitheater. The band wrote that authorities unofficially told them that their political and religious beliefs were at odds with the country’s customs and traditions.

Kazakhstan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the government limited freedom of expression and exerted influence on media through a variety of means, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, internet restrictions, and criminal and administrative charges. Judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by government officials, led to the suspension of several media outlets and encouraged self-censorship. The law provides for additional measures and restrictions during “social emergencies,” defined as “an emergency on a certain territory caused by contradictions and conflicts in social relations that may cause or have caused loss of life, personal injury, significant property damage, or violation of conditions of the population.” In these situations the government may censor media sources by requiring them to provide their print, audio, and video information to authorities 24 hours before issuance/broadcasting for approval. Political parties and public associations may be suspended or closed should they obstruct the efforts of security forces. Regulations also allow the government to restrict or ban copying equipment, broadcasting equipment, and audio and video recording devices and temporarily seize sound-enhancing equipment.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government limited individual ability to criticize the country’s leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit criticism of their actions in local media. The law prohibits insulting the president or the president’s family.

The 2015 criminal code penalizes “intentionally spreading false information” with fines of up to 12.96 million tenge ($40,000) and imprisonment for up to 10 years. For example, Kazkommertsbank, one of the largest banks in the country, sued the web portal nakanune.kz for publishing a reader’s letter. The bank claimed the website published false information implicating the bank in corruption. On May 23, Baydalinova was sentenced to 18 months’ incarceration. On July 12, the court suspended her sentence.

The criminal code penalizes “inciting social, national, tribal, racial, or religious discord” with imprisonment of up to 20 years. Civil society activist Zhanat Yesentayev was arrested in Uralsk on May 17, amid land reform protests. He was charged with incitement of interethnic discord in social media. In July he agreed to a plea bargain and was sentenced to two years and six months of restriction of freedom and a ban on participation in public protests, public performances, and posting any messages in social media on public, political, social, or environmental issues.

On January 21, a court in Astana sentenced civil society activist Bolatbek Blyalov to three years of restriction of freedom, meaning he was restricted to his city of residence and required legal supervision in the manner of parole, for instigation of ethnic and social discord. Blyalov had posted videos against the use of heptyl fuel, a highly toxic Russian Proton rocket fuel, at Baikonur cosmodrome.

On January 23, a court in Almaty convicted Serikzhan Mambetalin and Yermek Narymbayev, finding that their October 2015 social media postings incited social discord and insulted the honor and dignity of the country. The court sentenced Narymbayev to three years in jail and Mambetalin to two years in jail. On January 29, Mambetalin was released from prison after he publicly repented his actions. His prison term was replaced with a one-year restriction of freedom and a three-year ban on public activity. On March 30, a court replaced Narymbayev’s prison term with three years’ restriction of freedom and prohibited him from participating in public activities for five years. On July 14, he reportedly fled the country.

Press and Media Freedoms: Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The lack of transparency in media ownership and the dependence of many outlets on government contracts for media coverage are significant problems. Companies allegedly controlled by members of the president’s family or associates owned many of the broadcast media outlets that the government did not control outright. According to media observers, the government wholly or partly owned most of the nationwide television broadcasters. Regional governments owned several frequencies, and the Ministry of Investment and Development distributed those frequencies to independent broadcasters via a tender system.

All media are required to register with the Ministry of Information and Communication, although websites are exempt from this requirement. The law limits the simultaneous broadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a locally based station’s weekly broadcast time. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to create programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision. Foreign media broadcasting does not have to meet this requirement.

Violence and Harassment: According to the NGO Adil Soz, through August authorities prevented reporters from carrying out their duties in 86 instances; 57 of them occurred during the May 21 land protests. Adil Soz found that authorities denied or significantly restricted journalists’ access to public information 114 times.

Journalists working in opposition media and covering stories related to corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.

The president of the Kazakhstan Union of Journalists and former spokesman for President Nazarbayev, Seitkazy Matayev, was arrested in Almaty on February 22 on charges of tax evasion and embezzlement of state funds related to his news agency KazTAG’s government contracts. (Like many other media outlets in the country, KazTAG maintained contracts with the government for media coverage.) On October 3, a judge in Astana sentenced Matayev to six years in prison and his son, Aset, the director of the news agency, to five years and confiscation of business-related real estate property and assets.

On April 19, Tamara Kaleyeva from the NGO Adil Soz was elected to replace Matayev as the new head of the Union of Journalists. Since her appointment, however, she and the organization have been subjected to three on-site tax audits.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law enables the government to restrict media content through amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious discord. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to restrict media freedom.

The law allows the prosecutor general to suspend access to the internet and other means of communication without a court order. In cases where communication networks were used “for criminal purposes to harm the interests of an individual, society, or the state, or to disseminate information violating the Election Law… or containing calls for extremist or terrorist activities, riots, or participation in large-scale (public) activities carried out in violation of the established order,” the prosecutor general may suspend communication services.

By law internet resources, including social media, are classified as forms of mass media and governed by the same rules and regulations. Several bloggers and social media users were charged with inciting social discord through their posts and sentenced to imprisonment. Civic activists and bloggers Serikzhan Mambetalin and Yermek Narymbayev were sentenced to two and three years in jail respectively on January 22 on charges of “inciting interethnic hatred discord” by posting excerpts of an unpublished book about Kazakhstan’s dependence on Russia. Their sentences were later reduced to house arrest.

Pavlodar resident Ruslan Ginatullin was detained July 5 after posting social media page links to two YouTube videos, one discussing “Russian Nazis” and the other on the conflict in Ukraine. Ministry of Justice “experts” determined content in the two videos incited interethnic discord. Ginatullin’s lawyer said the charges were baseless, and his client was a staunch pacifist who posted the videos to warn individuals against war and extremism. A blogger in Aktobe, Sanat Dosov, went on trial November 29, also charged with inciting social discord for allegedly posting articles critical of Russian President Putin.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides enhanced penalties for libel against senior government officials. Private parties may initiate criminal libel suits without independent action by the government, and an individual filing such a suit may also file a civil suit based on the same allegations. Officials used the law’s libel and defamation provisions to restrict media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad liability for libel, with no statute of limitation or maximum amount of compensation. The requirement that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists prove the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, encouraged self-censorship at each level.

The law includes penalties for defamatory remarks made in the mass media or “information-communication networks,” including heavy fines and prison terms. Journalists and human rights activists feared these provisions would strengthen the government’s ability to restrict investigative journalism.

NGOs reported that libel cases against journalists and media outlets remained a problem. Media freedom NGO Adil Soz reported 47 criminal libel charges, with four ending in conviction, and 55 civil libel lawsuits filed against journalists and media. Only 17 cases were ruled in favor of journalists. Adil Soz indicated the numbers represented a nearly fourfold increase in criminal cases against media outlets and individual journalists over the last two years. On July 12, an Almaty court ruled an article in the independent Tribunanewspaper harmed the dignity and honor of Sultanbek Syzdykov, the former director for organizing the Asian Winter Games “Asiada-2011,” and imposed an administrative fine of five million tenge ($15,000) on the author of the publication and the newspaper. The newspaper filed an appeal that the courts rejected in October.

National Security: The law criminalizes the release of information regarding the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information, such as data about mineral reserves or government debts to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding the president and his family.

The law prohibits “influencing public and individual consciousness to the detriment of national security through deliberate distortion and spreading of unreliable information.” Legal experts noted the term “unreliable information” is overly broad. The law also requires owners of communication networks and service providers to obey the orders of authorities in case of terrorist attacks or to suppress mass riots.

The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies “extremism” or “incites social discord,” terms that international legal experts noted the government did not clearly define. The government subjected to intimidation media outlets that criticized the president; such intimidation included law enforcement actions and civil suits. Although these actions continued to have a chilling effect on media outlets, some criticism of government policies continued. Incidents of local government pressure on media continued.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Observers reported the government blocked or slowed access to opposition websites. Many observers believe the government added progovernment postings and opinions in internet chat rooms. The government regulated the country’s internet providers, including majority state-owned Kazakhtelecom. Nevertheless, websites carried a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. Official statistics reported more than 70 percent of the population had internet access in 2016.

The Ministry of Information and Communication controlled the registration of “.kz” internet domains. Authorities may suspend or revoke registration for locating servers outside the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.

The government implemented regulations on internet access that mandated surveillance cameras in all internet cafes, required visitors to present identification to use the internet, demanded internet cafes keep a log of visited websites, and authorized law enforcement officials to access the names and internet histories of users. In 2014 the president signed a law further restricting freedoms of communication (see section 2.a.).

NGO Adil Soz reported that during the first nine months, courts blocked 55 websites for propaganda of religious extremism and terrorism.

In several cases the government denied it was behind the blocking of websites. Bloggers reported anecdotally their sites were periodically blocked, as did the publishers of independent news sites ratel.kzzonakz.net, and uralskweek.kz, as well as the website of the banned newspaper Respublika. Radio Azattyk reported that some of its news reports were not accessible in the country. During the May 21 protest rallies, there were multiple reports that access to social media, including YouTube, was partially or fully blocked.

Government surveillance was also prevalent. According to the 2016 Freedom on the Net report, Facebook users who planned to take part in protests reported several times they received police visits to their residences to “discuss their Facebook posts” and warn them against going to an unsanctioned gathering. The report noted internet users reported difficulties in accessing social media and communication apps during the land reform protests. In January activists utilizing social media announced and coordinated an unauthorized peaceful rally in support of the ADAMbol magazine, but authorities detained key participants–including journalists and human rights activists–near their residences as they were heading to the gathering. Civil society activists who discussed on social media their plans to take part in the May 21 land protests reported police visits to their residences to warn them against going to an unsanctioned gathering. On December 9, the Almaty specialized administrative court convicted civil society activist Almat Zhumagulov for re-posting another activist’s Facebook statement calling people to rally on the Independence Day and sentenced him to a 15-day administrative arrest.

Freedom on the Net reported during the year that the country maintained a system of operative investigative measures that allowed the government to use surveillance methods called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI). While Kazakhtelecom maintained that it used its DPI system for traffic management, there were reports that Check Point Software Technologies installed the system on its backbone infrastructure in 2010. The report added that a regulator adopted a new internet monitoring technology, the Automated System of Monitoring the National Information Space.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although general restrictions, such as the prohibition on infringing on the dignity and honor of the president and his family, also applied to academics. Many academics practiced self-censorship.

Kuwait

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted approximately two dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds. On September 22, the public prosecutor ordered the arrest and detention for 21 days, under state security charges, of the activist Sara al-Drees for postings she made on social media protesting government actions that suppressed freedom of expression. She turned herself in on September 25, and on October 6, the Criminal Court released her on bail of 500 dinars ($1,650) pending trial.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The 2006 Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the Penalty Law 16/1960. Topics banned for publication include religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the emir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his/her religion; and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, which included criticism of the emir. Any citizen may file charges against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.

In November, Human Rights Watch published a report highlighting laws that Gulf governments, including Kuwait, use to limit freedom of expression. The accompanying interactive website profiled 140 prominent Gulf-based social and political rights activists, including 44 from Kuwait, who have struggled against government attempts to silence them.

The courts convicted approximately two dozen individuals for insulting the emir, the judiciary, neighboring states, or religion on their social media sites. In April a criminal court found activist Sara al-Drees innocent of contempt of religion charges after she was sued by a group of private citizens when she posted messages about her religious opinions on social media.

In January 2015 charges were filed against MP Abdul Hamid Dashti after he criticized Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the conflict in Yemen. Prosecutors released him on bail of 1,000 dinars ($3,300). In July, Dashti was sentenced in absentia to 14 years in prison by the criminal court.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views generally without restriction. All print media were privately owned, although their independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the emiri system of government. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. In October the government banned media coverage of tribal caucuses in order to enforce the law from 1996 banning them.

Broadcast media are a mix of government and privately owned stations, subject to the same laws as print media.

Before the annual international book fair held in November, the Ministry of Information requires publishers to submit a list of books they might offer at the event. Censor officers at the Ministry of Information review books to determine if content is appropriate. If an officer determines that a book should be censored, the book is referred to a censor committee consisting of 9 to 10 members who determine the appropriateness of the book. The author can appeal the censor committee findings to an appeals committee comprising four to five members. If the appeals committee upholds the censoring, the author has final recourse to appeal the finding in the courts. Members of both committees are selected by the under secretary and assistant under secretaries on an annual basis and also includes members of the academic community and members of the writers guild. In November the government added more than 100 books to a list of banned books, including the book Smile due to its depiction of gender integration. Most of the books on the banned list revolved around religion, politics, and public morality.

Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books are made available in the country. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books religious in nature. The government did not impose additional restrictions on online newspapers or journals.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials deemed illegal per the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but most self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics like the emir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain social topics, such as the role of women in society and sex were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required education material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.

National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers and social media outlets under the new cybercrime law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law.

INTERNET FREEDOM

In July 2015 the government passed a cybercrime law that criminalizes online activity to include illegal access to IT systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. The law was implemented in January with the publishing of the law in the National Gazette. Fines ranged from 3,000 dinars ($9,900) and a three-year prison term for online blackmail to 50,000 dinars ($165,000) and a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering.

The government monitored internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications continued to block websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by e‑mail and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the 2006 Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law.

In July the government implemented the Electronic Media Law that establishes regulations and oversight for online commercial and private internet websites and activities. The law requires individuals to procure a license to establish internet sites and businesses and identifies the Ministry of Information as the regulatory body. The law states an individual must be at least 21 years old to apply for a license. As of September the government had issued 148 licenses with 126 applications pending.

The government filtered the internet to block pornography primarily, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material, some secular sites, and sites critical of Islam.

The country had a high internet penetration rate due in large part to pervasive ownership of smart phones. The World Bank reported an internet penetration rate of 82 percent.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the emir or Islam.

The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events and those it considered politically or morally inappropriate.

Laos

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government severely restricted political speech and writing and prohibited most public criticism it deemed harmful to its reputation.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law provides citizens the right to criticize the government but also forbids slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, which civil society considered was a direct result of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance. The chilling effect of the disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate caused lesser-known local activists to believe they had little hope of avoiding a similar fate if they were too outspoken.

In 2015 police arrested Bounthanh Thammavong, a Polish citizen of Lao heritage, for a posting on Facebook and an article he published in 1997 critical of the government. The Vientiane Supreme Court found Bounthanh guilty of “‘disseminating propaganda against the government with the intention of undermining the state”‘ under Article 65 of the penal code and sentenced him to four years and nine months in prison for “‘complaining about and carrying out activities against the regime.”‘

Press and Media Freedoms: The state owned and controlled most domestic print and electronic media. Local news in all the media reflected government policy. The government permitted publication of several privately owned periodicals of a nonpolitical nature, including ones specializing in business, society, and trade. A few foreign newspapers and magazines were available through private outlets that had government permission to sell them. In November 2015 the government issued a decree providing a legal framework to require foreign media to submit articles to the government before publication. Authorities did not indicate how the government would enforce these new controls and made no effort to enforce them.

Although the government closely controlled domestic television and radio broadcasts, it did not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Citizens had 24-hour access to international stations via satellite and cable television. The government required owners of satellite receivers to register them and pay a one-time licensing fee, largely as a revenue-generating measure, but otherwise made no effort to restrict their use.

Violence and Harassment: The government required foreign journalists to apply for special visas and restricted their activities. Authorities continued to deny journalists free access to information sources but often permitted them to travel without official escorts. When the government required escorts, they reportedly were at journalists’ expense.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials reviewed all articles in privately owned periodicals after publication (not in advance) and could penalize those whose articles did not meet government approval. Publishers and journalists were generally aware of what content the government would approve for publication and therefore tended to practice self-censorship. The Ministry of Information and Culture’s Mass Media Department did not confirm if the government disapproved any publication during the year. The Mass Media Department punishes violations through warnings, fines, and prosecution. The only punishment used during the year was in the form of warnings.

Authorities prohibited dissemination of materials deemed indecent, subversive of national culture, or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to national culture faced a fine of one to three times the value of the item or a maximum imprisonment of one year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled domestic internet servers and sporadically monitored internet usage but did not block access to websites. The government maintained infrastructure to route all internet traffic through a single gateway, thereby enabling it to monitor and restrict content. The National Internet Committee under the Prime Minister’s Office administers the internet system. The office requires internet service providers to submit quarterly reports and link their gateways to facilitate monitoring.

In 2015 the government passed a cybercrime law designed to protect databases, server systems, and computerized information. The law criminalizes dissent and puts user privacy at risk. In 2015 authorities also arrested persons for online activities, including one who posted on Facebook photos of alleged police extortion and another who alleged a governor granted a controversial land concession to a developer (see section 2.a.).

On May 30, the Ministry of Public Security newspaper reported the results of investigations of Somphone Phimmasone and Lodkham Thammavong, who was arrested on February 22, and Soukane Chaithad, who was arrested on March 4. According to a government official, authorities charged all three for violating the 2012 Penal Code, but the government did not specify which provisions of the law. The three remained under detention in Phonthan Prison at year’s end.

A 2014 decree prohibits certain types of content on the internet, including deceptive statements, pornography, and statements against the government and party. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has authority to direct internet service providers to terminate internet services of users found violating the decree. A government newspaper quoted Prime Minister Thongloun as encouraging “‘young people to use the internet carefully.”‘

Many poor and rural citizens lacked access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 20 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for academic freedom, but the government imposed restrictions. The Ministry of Education tightly controlled curricula, including in private schools and colleges. In 2014 the government initiated a policy permitting only government-run universities to award degrees, but it allowed private universities whose curricula met the standards of state schools to resume awarding degrees. The government allows citizen students to study abroad.

Both citizen and noncitizen academic professionals conducting research in the country may be subject to restrictions on travel, access to information, and publication. Although the government exercised control through requirements for exit stamps and other mechanisms affecting the ability of state-employed academic professionals to travel for research or obtain study grants, the government actively encouraged research and study opportunities worldwide and approved virtually all such proposals.

The government requires producers to submit films and music recordings produced in government studios for official review. Uncensored foreign films and music were available in video and compact disc formats. The Ministry of Information and Culture attempted to limit the influence of Thai culture on local music and entertainment, but these attempts had little effect.

Libya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various militias, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014 and the GNA since taking seat in Tripoli in March, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because armed groups threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.

Press and Media Freedoms: Press freedoms were limited in practice because increased threats, including abductions and killings by a range of assailants, including militias and violent extremists forced many journalists to practice self-censorship. These limits were present in print media, broadcast media, and book publication.

There were few reports of the closing of media outlets, but there were some reports of raids by unidentified actors on organizations working on press freedom. Indirect restrictions on press freedom imposed by both foreign and domestic actors further polarized the media environment.

Violence and Harassment: Reportedly, attacks on the media, including harassment and killings of; and threats, abductions, and violence against media personnel continued to the point where it was nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.

While harassment of journalists was commonplace during the year, more serious crimes against journalists were widespread. There were reports of the arbitrary detention and torture of journalists. On July 29, authorities detained Libyan photojournalist, Selim al-Shebl, while he covered antigovernment protests in Tripoli, but authorities released him without any charges after a few days of detention at the Ain Zara district.

In August, Misratan forces arbitrarily detained two journalists who worked for a major foreign newspaper and tortured one before releasing them without charge.

Unknown assailants killed several journalists.

On June 24, photojournalist Khaled al-Zintani was shot in Benghazi, and on July 21, photojournalist Abdelqadir Fassouk was killed while covering clashes between pro-GNA forces and Da’esh in Sirte.

On October 2, Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans was killed in Sirte.

Kidnapping of journalists was also widespread throughout the year. In January media worker Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi was kidnapped from his workplace in Tripoli.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. The unstable security situation and militia fighting created areas of hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing sides. Additionally journalists practiced self-censorship due to lack of security and intimidation.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad.” In view of the prevalence of self-censorship and the pressure and intimidation of nonstate actors, the government did not resort to its use during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: The control of Derna, Sirte, and parts of Benghazi by violent extremist organizations restricted freedom of expression. Militias, terrorist and extremist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Islamist-affiliated violent extremists, other armed actors also limited freedom of expression.

Reports from NGOs indicated various parties, including civilians, attacked journalists and media outlets, noting that lack of professionalism in the media sector exacerbated violence from those who disagreed with what media reported.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year. Nor were there credible reports that the government censored online content.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low, and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere. According to a World Bank study, 19 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

The government did not exercise effective control over civilian infrastructure for most of the year. Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial communications. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, militia intimidation, and the uncertain political situation. Some activists reported finding what appeared to be “kill lists” targeting civilian dissenters on social media websites affiliated with certain Islamist militias.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare.

Mauritania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who oppose government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly or privately but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government has used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government owned two daily newspapers and most broadcast media; five radio stations and five television stations were independent. Several independent daily publications generally expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year, incidents of government retaliation against media deemed too outspoken increased.

For example, on April 16, Deyloul (a news website close to the opposition) reported two journalists (Jedna Deida of Mauriweb and Babacar N’Diaye of Cridem news websites) were tried on April 15. They were arrested and then released following a complaint for defamation filed by the eldest son of President Aziz.

Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reported incidents of violence against and harassment of journalists. On January 27, the president of the country’s journalist syndicate, Moctar Salem, stated during a television broadcast that 12 journalists faced complaints filed by various government officials with the Ministry of Justice–a tactic used by the government to intimidate journalists.

For example, on January 25, Sidi Ali Ould Belemech, a journalist with the Mourassiloun news website, was detained and questioned by police after Ministry of Finance official filed a complaint against Belemech for criticizing him.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no effective access to official media. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening the solvency of several independent stations.

On February 15, the Wali (provincial governor) of Hodh El Chargui Region prevented a press crew from the Essirage news group from completing interviews with some communities that were in conflict over a well. The crew allegedly lacked formal authorization from authorities in Nouakchott.

In February the government notified all private media outlets of a temporary suspension of all government funded subscription services and commercial advertising, which had provided financial support to private media. The government stated it planned to use the six billion ouguiyas ($17 million) typically spent annually on media subscriptions and advertising to more equitably support private media. Because of the suspension, however, the private media struggled to survive. On September 18, private media around the country organized a “Day without Press” to protest the government’s subscription and advertising suspension, which remained in place at year’s end. This was the country’s first media strike since 1991.

Some journalists practiced self-censorship when covering topics deemed sensitive, including the military, corruption, and the application of sharia, and there were reports police detained and questioned journalists in connection with their coverage of those topics as well as of slavery.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2015 approximately 15 percent of the population used the internet.

The parliament adopted a bill on cybercrime in December 2015 that establishes protection of systems and data. Journalists alleged the legislation would permit authorities to prosecute them for almost anything published online. The legislation would also bring encryption technology under heavy state regulation, and nullify previous laws extending protections to journalists using digital technologies.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Mozambique

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected this right; however, the government did not always effectively protect nor respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that continued to restrict freedom of speech and press. Allegations included the use of threatening messages via text and Facebook, physical confrontations, and widely circulated “WhatsApp” messages targeting anyone critical of the government. The abduction and shooting of independent journalist Jose Jaime Macuane (see Violence and Harassment) caused particular concern.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or restriction on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal, particularly since the March 2015 murder of prominent jurist Gilles Cistac remained unsolved. Multiple civil society figures, including LDH President Mabota, received anonymous threatening text messages after criticizing the government. One academic said the local head of Frelimo visited his mother and threatened her. At least one academic temporarily left the country after receiving such messages.

On March 18, PRM officials arrested Eva Anadon Moreno, a Spanish citizen who worked with various women’s empowerment groups and had lived in the country for six years, for her part in a “street action” organized by women’s rights umbrella group Forum Mulher (Women’s Forum). The protest was intended to draw attention to gender-based violence in schools across the country. The PRM released Anadon several hours after her arrest. Immigration officials later visited her at her apartment the night of March 29 and asked her to accompany them to their headquarters. Instead, they took her to Maputo’s international airport where they detained her overnight. Immigration officials deported Anadon on a commercial flight to South Africa the following day. She did not receive a hearing or a chance to appeal her deportation.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media. The NGO Selekani reported that media outlets and journalists frequently self-censored to avoid government retaliation. In May, Isaque Chande, the minister of justice, constitutional, and religious affairs, threatened to trigger “accountability mechanisms” against the Portuguese news agency Lusa for publishing local residents’ allegations of a mass grave containing 120 bodies in Sofala Province. The government denied the existence of any mass graves, and security forces kept journalists away from the alleged location.

Violence and Harassment: In May unidentified gunmen posing as police officers abducted journalist Jose Jaime Macuane outside his home in Maputo and drove him to a rural area in Maputo Province. They told him they had orders to cripple him and shot him four times in the legs. Macuane was a cohost of the political talk show Pontos de vista (“Points of View”) on STV, an independent television station. Local media speculated that he was targeted for criticizing the government. In response to the shooting, Tomas Viera Mario, chair of the country’s Higher Mass Media Council, said journalists were “facing a serious assault against human rights.” The government did not criticize the shooting.

In June, PIC officers questioned Joao Chamusse and Egidio Placido, manager and editor in chief, respectively, of the print weekly newspaper Zambeze, for several hours regarding their sources after they published an article. The article claimed that Renamo fighters killed an unknown number of Zimbabwean soldiers who were on a combat mission in the central part of the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no official government guidelines for media. Media officials reported the government’s Information Office convened regular editorial board meetings to coordinate and direct news content released by state-controlled media. Some journalists reported pressure to self-censor. Some media officials stated critical reporting could result in cancellation of government and ruling party advertising contracts. The largest advertising revenue streams for local media came from ministries and state-controlled businesses. Selekani noted the government asserted its control over state-owned media by giving media outlets their annual budgets in small increments, with the amounts determined by how faithfully articles hewed to official positions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content. Members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored e-mail and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups. Local internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government. Government officials expressed interest in discovering the identity of “Unay Cambuma,” a pro-Renamo person or group that published Facebook posts critical of the government and that appeared to have intimate knowledge of government operations.

According to the World Bank, 6 percent of persons in the country used the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, certain academics reported self-censorship. Despite the law providing for separation of party and state, primary school teachers in Gaza Province reportedly included Frelimo party propaganda in their curriculum.

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