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Afghanistan

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 the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: While the law provides for freedom of speech, which was widely exercised, there were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Freedom of speech was also considerably more constrained at the provincial level, where local power brokers, such as former mujahedin-era military leaders, exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedoms: While media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking. At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. There were concerns, however, that media independence and safety remained at high risk in light of increased attacks. Due to high levels of illiteracy, television and radio were the preferred information source for most citizens. Radio remained more widespread due to its relative accessibility, with approximately 75 percent radio penetration, compared with approximately 50 percent for television.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has authority to regulate the press and media. In 2015 the ministry dissolved the Media Violations Investigation Commission, whose evaluations of complaints against journalists were criticized as biased and not based on the law. Human Rights Watch reported the ministry routinely ignored officials who threatened, intimidated, or even physically attacked members of the press. While the ministry has legal responsibility for regulating media, the council of religious scholars (the Ulema Council) had considerable influence over media affairs.

In January the information ministry created the Independent Mass Media Commission. The commission is responsible for reregistering all media outlets in the country. Media activists condemned the new reregistration process, citing the high fees to undergo the process would hurt media outlets, particularly the smaller radio and television stations in the provinces. As of September media advocates had been able to delay the implementation of the new reregistration regulation.

In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces. As of September none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee.

In May parliament members criticized the lack of full implementation of the 2014 Access to Information law. The Commission on Monitoring Access to Information stated a lack of budget and lack of government support resulted in weak implementation of the law.

Violence and Harassment: Government used threats, violence, and intimidation to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, government officials, and powerful local figures. The AJSC reported that 50 percent of 101 incidents of attacks against journalists, including 13 cases of killings, 30 cases of beatings, 35 cases of intimidation, 17 cases of abuse, and six cases of injury, were attributed to government officials. In an October 30 press conference, Nai, an NGO supporting media freedom, reported that violence against media workers had increased to approximately 370 cases, in comparison with 95 cases in 2015. According to Nai, nearly 300 journalists left their jobs during the year due to threats. For example, according to reports, on June 5, police beat a reporter from Kawoon Ghag Radio while he reporting on an event where donations were distributed to poor families.

On August 29, while the president visited Bamyan Province to inaugurate the refurbished provincial airport, progovernment forces, including the president’s protective detail, allegedly harassed and beat protesters and journalists. Some journalists reported government security forces used violence against them and removed film or digital photographs from their equipment. Human Rights Watch received reports of NDS forces detaining journalists and activists for 24 hours. The Presidential Palace first rejected claims of journalists being beaten or detained during the August Bamyan visit, but later the president ordered an investigation.

On August 28, the leading independent daily newspaper, Hasht-e-Subh, intentionally left an entire page empty of content in all Herat city editions to highlight censorship of a news feature detailing corruption and smuggling allegations against Herat provincial council chief Kamran Alizai. The newspaper’s editor in chief, Parwiz Kawa, publicly stated the blank page demonstrated what he termed was a “preventive and protective” protest against an unnamed “powerful official.” He said editors were responding to threats against their regional offices by Alizai, who also maintained an illegal private militia. On the following day, Hasht-e-Subh published an article claiming the AGO assured editors that Alizai was under investigation, had been suspended from his duties, and had been banned from leaving the country. In the meantime the president’s deputy spokesperson, Shah Hussain Murtazawi, told Hasht-e-Subh, “Anyone who challenges independent media would be harshly confronted by the government.”

Prevailing security conditions created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not specific targets. Media organizations and journalists operating in remote areas were more vulnerable to violence and intimidation because of the increased level of insecurity and pronounced fear from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

On August 24, the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The new initiative entails the creation of a joint national committee in Kabul and separate committees in provincial capitals, a coordination center to investigate and identify perpetrators of violence against journalists, and a support committee to be run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. The joint committee, to be chaired by the second vice president, was expected to register new cases, call for support from judicial bodies to prosecute perpetrators, and publicly share statistics on cases. Activists welcomed the government’s initiative.

An independent organization focused on the safety of journalists continued to operate a safe house for journalists facing threats. It reported law enforcement officials generally cooperated in assisting journalists who faced credible threats, although limited investigative capacity meant many cases remained unresolved. The Afghan Independent Bar Association established a media law committee to provide legal support, expertise, and services to media organizations.

Women constituted approximately 20 percent of media workers, compared with 30 percent in 2015. Some women oversaw radio stations across the country, and some radio stations emphasized almost exclusively female concerns. Nevertheless, female reporters found it difficult to practice their profession. Poor security, lack of training, and unsafe working conditions limited the participation of women in the media. The AJSC released a special report in March on the situation of female journalists, noting that sexual harassment continued to be wide spread in the media industry. If not subjected to sexual harassment and abuse at work, female journalists often faced pressure by their families to leave the media profession or at least not to show their faces on television.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly sought to restrict reporting on topics deemed contrary to the government’s messaging.

Some media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Fearing retribution by government officials, media outlets sometimes preferred to quote from foreign media reports on sensitive topics and in some cases fed stories to foreign journalists.

Nai conducted a survey in Kabul and five different provinces that revealed 94 percent of local social media users practiced self-censorship, fearing security threats and intimidation,

Libel Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometime used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the Access to Information law to avoid disclosing certain information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists continued to face threats from the Taliban and other insurgents. Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. In February, two Afghan Adib radio workers in Pol-e Khomri in Baghlan Province were brutally attacked, leaving one in a coma. Taliban forces reportedly were behind the attack, although no group claimed responsibility.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported local and foreign reporters continued to be at risk of kidnapping.

The Taliban continued to threaten journalists associated with two privately owned Afghan television outlets, ToloNews TV, and 1TV. The Taliban’s military commission designated both outlets as “military objectives” due to their perceived disrespectful coverage and claims that they broadcast propaganda, ridiculed religion, and injected the minds of youth with immorality. The Taliban for the first time openly threatened ToloNews in 2015, after the news channel reported allegations of executions, rape, kidnappings, and other abuses by the Taliban when Kunduz fell to the antigovernment group. On January 20, a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul targeted and struck a minibus carrying Kaboora production staff, an affiliate of ToloNews, killing seven. On June 8, unknown gunmen launched a grenade attack on Enikas Radio in Jalalabad, just three days after an American journalist and a translator embedded in a local security forces convoy were killed by an ambush in Helmand Province on June 5.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media (for example, Twitter) to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, inadequate local content, and illiteracy.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reports that the government imposed restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events during the year.

Zimbabwe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public safety, public order, state economic interests, public morality, and public health.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Security authorities restricted freedom of speech and arrested individuals, particularly those who made or publicized comments critical of President Mugabe or made political statements opposing ZANU-PF or the government’s agenda. CIO agents and informers routinely monitored political and other meetings. Authorities targeted persons deemed to be critical of the government for harassment, abduction, interrogation, and physical abuse.

Government authorities arrested individuals for violating Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, routinely invoked against political and human rights activists as well as ordinary citizens for allegedly undermining the authority of or insulting the president.

On July 27, police arrested Douglas Mahiya, the ZNLWVA secretary for information and publicity, as well as four others for denigrating President Mugabe in a communique issued after a July 18 meeting. The government also accused Mahiya of undermining President Mugabe’s authority during an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation transmitted on July 21. Their trial was pending at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government restricted freedom of the press. The Ministry of Media, Information, and Publicity exercised control over state-run media. High-ranking ZANU-PF officials used these media to threaten violence against critics of the government.

Despite threats and pressure from the government, independent newspapers continued to operate.

Security services also prevented journalists from covering events that would expose government excesses. On January 7, Presidential Spokesman and Information Ministry Permanent Secretary George Charamba threatened to take action against privately owned media outfits, warning journalists against reporting on allegations of security sector officials interfering with ZANU-PF internal succession politics. Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe also warned journalists not to write on security sector issues.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zim) issued a statement criticizing the “ongoing police onslaught” against journalists during nationwide protests and demonstrations. MISA-Zim reported police assaulted or harassed more than 12 journalists from local and international media organizations while covering demonstrations between July 6 and September 12. On August 26, police arrested and detained photojournalist James Jemwa for more than five days at Chikurubi Maximum Prison for covering demonstrations in Harare.

The government used accreditation laws to prevent international media journalists’ entry into the country. For example, on July 8, authorities deported two Sky News journalists for entering the country without accreditation. Presidential Spokesman and Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Charamba told AFP “their deportation should serve as a warning to foreign journalists who may attempt to sneak into the country without permits.” Government officials detained the two Sky News journalists overnight at Harare International Airport before deporting them the next morning. Most international media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC, however, continued to operate in the country.

Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. Star FM and ZiFM, both radio stations with close links to ZANU-PF, continued broadcast operations. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, the two stations included independent voices in their programming. Of the eight urban commercial radio stations licensed by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) in 2015, four had started operating by September.

The government did not license any community radio stations during the year, despite previous years’ promises by officials to do so.

The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s only domestically based television broadcasting station, operated one television channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces arbitrarily harassed and arrested journalists who reported unfavorably on government policies or security operations. Senior ZANU-PF officials also criticized local and foreign independent media for allegedly biased reporting that discredited President Mugabe and misrepresented the country’s political and economic conditions.

On July 6, Marimba police detained Alpha Media Holdings journalists Elias Mambo, Tafadzwa Ufumeli, and Richard Chidza and freelance journalist Godwin Mangudya, who were covering protests in the Mufakose suburb of Harare. On August 3, members of the riot police assaulted journalists covering protests by unemployed graduates. As the marchers approached parliament, police beat a group of seven journalists with baton sticks.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government used the law to control media content and the licensing of journalists, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.”

On July 4, the BAZ issued a warning to broadcasters not to broadcast “programs that incite, encourage, or glamorize violence or brutality.” The notice stated that broadcasters must avoid broadcasting “obscene and undesirable comments” from participants, callers, and audiences in accordance with section 26 of the Broadcasting Services (Licensing and Content) Regulations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the previous constitution outlaws criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remain in force.

On February 3, the Constitutional Court ruled all laws assigning criminal penalties for conviction of defamation contradict constitutional provisions for press freedom, including Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by MISA-Zim and four journalists, including Nqaba Matshazi. In 2011 police arrested Matshazi and his editor, Nevanji Madanhire, of the private independent weekly newspaper The Standard on charges of criminally defaming Munyaradzi Kereke, chairman of a defunct health insurance company and a prominent ZANU-PF official.

Newspapers also exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.

National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act makes it a crime to divulge any information acquired in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions, and the government sometimes restricted access to the internet. For example, the government blocked Blackberry’s internet services for Blackberries registered in the country, including its encrypted messaging service that prevented enforcement of the law, allowing the government to intercept and monitor communications.

Despite the restrictive environment for traditional media, internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, threatened to regulate internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent.

On April 3, the government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper quoted President Mugabe as saying the government needed to stop “abuses on the internet” and would emulate China in the use of security measures to regulate access to certain websites.

The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media. For example, on July 6, a local internet service provider (ISP) stated the government instructed local ISPs and mobile telecommunications companies to slow down their service and to hinder the instant messaging platform, WhatsApp, following a planned day of nationwide protests. The government instructed companies to return service to normal later that same day. Government authorities publicly denied having issued the instruction. Telecommunication service providers interviewed by journalists refused to reveal the cause of the outage.

On July 7, the Posts and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), the national telecommunications regulator, published a statement warning members of the public against what it termed “social media abuse.” POTRAZ announced that any person caught in possession of, generating, sharing, or passing on “abusive, threatening, subversive, or offensive telecommunication messages” would be arrested and “dealt with accordingly in the national interest.”

Parliamentary and legal watchdog Veritas stated regulations under the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) along with the Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations, 2014 (SI 95 of 2014) facilitated eavesdropping and call interception. Under ICA law, enforcement officers may apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing law enforcement to intercept communications, including calls, e-mails, and messages. Using the statutory instrument, officers may apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities, and ZANU-PF controls the Ministry of Higher Education. The law restricts the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities.

CIO personnel at times assumed faculty and other positions, or posed as students, at public and some private universities to intimidate and gather intelligence on faculty and students who criticized government policies and actions. CIO officers regularly attended classes in which noted MDC activists were lecturers or students. In response both faculty and students often practiced self-censorship.

On February 23, the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) reported security officials routinely visited rural schools ahead of visits by senior ZANU-PF officials to ensure that teachers delivered the “correct lessons” to students. RTUZ representatives stated these actions created significant stress on teachers and negatively affected their performance in classrooms.

State-run universities frequently cancelled scheduled events organized by foreign embassies and refused public lectures by foreign diplomats.

The government on occasion restricted human rights activists from using cultural platforms to criticize the ruling party, the president, or political violence.

On March 10, the Zimbabwe Censorship Board upheld its 2015 decision to prohibit distribution of a feature-length documentary focused on the drafting of the 2013 constitution. The documentary, Democrats, followed two politicians appointed to lead the country through the constitutional reform process. In a March letter to Upfront Films, the acting secretary of the Censorship Board announced DVDs of the film were banned and prohibited because the film “is not suitable for public showing as previously recommended.”

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