Swaziland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the king may deny these rights at his discretion, and the government severely restricted these rights in prior years. Amendments to the STA and Public Order Act adopted by the government during the year reduced antiterrorism, sedition, and public order restrictions. Officials impeded press freedom. Although no law bans criticism of the monarchy, the prime minister and other officials cautioned journalists against publishing such criticism with veiled threats of newspaper closure or job loss.

Freedom of Expression: The law severely restricts free speech and gives police wide discretion to detain persons for lengthy terms without trial or public hearing. Those convicted of sedition may be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

The king may suspend the constitutional right to free expression at his discretion, and the government severely restricted freedom of expression, especially regarding political issues or the royal family. Individuals who criticized the monarchy risked exclusion from the patronage system of the traditional regiments (see section 1.f.). This exclusion could also be applied to their family members.

For example, on August 1, the prime minister’s office forced a member of parliament (MP) to withdraw a statement made in the House of Assembly expressing his displeasure that the public had no role in the method used in appointing the country’s prime minister. The Prime Minister’s Office stated that the MP’s criticism constituted an attack on the constitution and the king. The MP was obliged to apologize and to donate cattle to the king as a token of contrition.

Press and Media Freedom: The law empowers the government to ban publications if it deems them “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Journalists expressed fear of judicial reprisals for their reporting on some High Court cases and matters involving the monarchy.

Daily newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency but generally avoided criticizing the royal family.

Broadcast media remained firmly under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. A controversial ministerial decree prohibiting MPs from speaking on the radio was apparently lifted. The government noted the decree had never been enforced. There was no instance, however, in which an MP had violated it. Despite invitations issued by the media regulatory authority for parties to apply for licenses, no licenses were awarded. Stations practiced self-censorship and refused to broadcast anything perceived as critical of the government or the monarchy.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of threats against journalists. For example, on January 13, the Times of Swaziland newspaper reported both the editor and a reporter from its affiliate, the Sunday Times newspaper, had been threatened with serious bodily harm or even death by a “highly placed government official” if they did not abandon a story concerning misconduct by a member of the security forces.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media practiced self-censorship due to fear of reprisals, such as losing paid government advertising, if their reporting was perceived as critical of the government, particularly the monarchy. According to civil society activists, letters to the editor critical of government or the monarchy were sometimes altered or not published.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In the Private and Cabinet First Quarter Report of 2015, the government press office stated that authorities monitored internet blogs, email, and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and internet chat rooms. An anonymous online site, Swazileaks, which criticized extravagant royal family spending, was inactive during the year, possibly due to government pressure.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 28.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Restrictions on political gatherings and the practice of self-censorship affected academic freedom by limiting the content and frequency of academic meetings, writings, and discourse on political topics. At the University of Swaziland, political research documents may be obtained only upon special request. The government withdrew a history book from the school curriculum because it discussed the People’s United Democratic Movement, a proscribed political entity.

There were no government restrictions on cultural events.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right. In August parliament enacted and the government implemented a new public order act that substantially loosened restrictions on public gatherings, including eliminating the requirement for prior consent for gatherings of fewer than 50 persons. The act completely removes restrictions on private gatherings. Nevertheless, reports of chiefs prohibiting political rallies in rural areas continued.

The government continued to harass opposition members and conducted surveillance on members of labor unions, political groups, and groups considered potentially political. When demonstrations took place, security officials were deployed in force, on occasion outnumbering protesters. Political activists stated authorities monitored their telephone calls.

For example, On May 16, the press reported the RSPS fired tear gas canisters to disperse peaceful protesters marching in the Sihoye community.

In February 2016 during a student protest at the University of Swaziland, an officer of the Operational Support Services Unit, a paramilitary branch of the RSPS, drove an armored vehicle at high speed into a crowd of hundreds of unarmed protesters. A second-year student, Ayanda Mkhwanazi, was severely injured and disabled by the vehicle. Following an investigation into the incident, the officer was charged with attempted murder. He was released on bail and restored to duty. No trial date had been set by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. The constitution does not address the formation or role of political parties. It states that individual merit shall be the basis for election or appointment to public office. While officials argued the constitution replaced and superseded the 1973 decree that banned political parties, there were no legal mechanisms for parties to register or contest elections. In previous years several prodemocracy groups had been declared terrorist organizations due to statements calling for disbanding the government system and their alleged connections to a bombing campaign in the mid-2000s. In August the STA was amended largely to conform to UN antiterrorism conventions, therefore precluding its application to prodemocracy groups.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. It also states provisions of law and custom that impose restrictions on the freedom of any person to reside in the country shall not contravene the freedom granted by the constitution.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. By traditional law and custom, chiefs have the power to decide who may reside in their chiefdoms; evictions occurred due to internal conflicts, alleged criminal activity, or opposition to the chief.

Foreign Travel: Nonethnic Swazi citizens sometimes experienced comparatively lengthy processing delays when seeking passports and citizenship documents, in part due to the country’s history of not treating mixed-race and white persons as “legitimate” citizens. Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of political activists and their families having difficulty obtaining passports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, including protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

Durable Solutions: The government permanently resettled refugees in the country. It allowed some refugees to compete for jobs and granted them work permits and temporary residence permits. The government also provided refugees with free transportation twice a week to buy and sell food in local markets. Refugees who lived in the country more than five years were eligible for citizenship, but many waited longer to acquire citizenship, sometimes more than 10 years, due to bureaucratic inefficiency and onerous requirements. The government continued to implement a psychological support program that provided counseling to refugees. Refugees could visit the neighboring countries of Mozambique and South Africa with ease.

Syria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The government also stifled criticism by invoking provisions of law prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media Freedom: The government continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their government sources in response to government requests. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with government connections, published during the year. In 2014 the government began allowing very limited use of Kurdish in state-run universities, following a decades-long, mostly ineffective ban prohibiting all Kurdish-language publications (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The government owned some radio and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news and entertainment programs for adherence to government policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the government jammed some Arab networks.

Books critical of the government were illegal.

Extremist organizations such as the HTS, Jund al-Aqsa, and ISIS also posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms.

Violence and Harassment: Government forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state. Harassment included attempts at intimidation, banning such individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the government routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the political opposition or the FSA and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country.

The government and ISIS routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI. During the year the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented the deaths of four journalists: Osama Nasr al-Zoabi, Syrian Medical Organization; al-Khateb, RT; Alaa Kraym, Qaboun Medical Center; and Mohamed Abazied, Nabd Syria Satellite Station.

According to the CPJ, the majority of reporters killed were covering politics and human rights issues. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimated 211 journalists and citizen journalists were killed between 2011 and March.

On August 2, a roadside bombing in the southwestern province of Daraa Osama killed Nasr al-Zoabi, a correspondent for the Syrian Media Organization . The CPJ reported al-Zoabi was on his way to report on the humanitarian effects of a government bombing campaign that took place in the Daraa Governorate in June. The car he was driving hit an improvised explosive device. The media organization reported that the explosion also killed al-Zoabi’s brother and a nephew.

The CPJ reported that six journalists remained missing in the country and seven remained imprisoned by the government. The reason for arrests was often unclear.

According to reports from media outlets operating in areas controlled by the PYD, they faced pressure and received online threats demanding they play pro-PYD songs. Reports indicated that members of the YPG detained and/or beat some opposition journalists affiliated with the Kurdish National Council.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to control the dissemination of information strictly, including developments regarding fighting between the government and armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The government prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. Censorship was usually greater for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups. The government required both domestic and foreign journalists who did not observe these guidelines to leave the country or targeted them for arrest, torture, or execution.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although the law prohibits imprisoning journalists for practicing their profession, the government continued to detain and arrest journalists who opposed the government. The government charged some of these individuals with libel.

National Security: The government cited laws protecting national security to restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: RSF reported that Syria had become the world’s deadliest country for journalists. According to the SNHR, from January to September, the government and its allied militias killed 15 media activists, ISIS killed seven, Russian forces killed four, armed opposition groups killed three, and the organization known as Fateh al-Sham killed one.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled and restricted the internet and monitored email and social media accounts. According to the 2017 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained one of the most dangerous and repressive environments for internet users in the world. The reported noted a slight improvement in internet access in areas liberated from ISIS. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by email, without prospect of reprisal. The government applied the law to regulate internet use and prosecute users. Other key developments reported during the year included that at least 15 citizen journalists remained imprisoned by the government on charges related to their digital activism and that hackers linked to Iran increased cyberattacks against Syrian opposition groups in an effort to disrupt reporting on human rights violations.

The government often monitored internet communications, including email, and interfered with and blocked internet service, SMS messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The government employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes such as monitoring email and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The government did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The government censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites for local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

The government also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. It obstructed connectivity through its control of key infrastructure, at times shutting down the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near government-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second- and third-generation (3G) cell phone network coverage.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread progovernment propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of progovernment computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post progovernment material. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the government and groups that it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed government personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers. Arbitrary arrests raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for online activities perceived to threaten the government’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on government critics and diverting email traffic to government servers for surveillance.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, 31.9 percent of individuals used the internet and 43.6 percent of households had internet access at home in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit teachers to express ideas contrary to government policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

ISIS and the HTS sought to restrict academic freedom severely and to curtail cultural events considered un-Islamic. Media sources reported that schools in ISIS-controlled Raqqa Governorate banned several academic subjects, including chemistry and philosophy.

During the conflict students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. The government, however, allowed 360 students from Moadimiyeh and 68 students from Madaya to travel to government-held areas to take exams in May 2016. Moreover, areas previously held by ISIS that SDF and Coalition forces liberated reopened local schools. Children in the city of Tabqa, for example, returned to school in September in buildings ISIS fighters previously used. Many of the school buildings required extensive repair and many administrators required assistance to obtain basic supplies for learning.

Authorities in some Kurdish-controlled areas reportedly forced schools to close if they refused to use an officially sanctioned Kurdish curriculum. Media reports indicated that the SDF proposed teaching Kurdish in Arab-majority Raqqa.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government restricted this right. Even after the 2011 repeal of the emergency law, a subsequent 2011 presidential decree was issued granting the government broad powers over freedom of assembly.

The Ministry of Interior requires permission for demonstrations or any public gathering of more than three persons. As a rule the ministry authorized only demonstrations by the government, affiliated groups, or the Baath Party, orchestrating them on numerous occasions. The government continued to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

The COI reported that residents who previously resided in ISIS-controlled Raqqa noted severe restrictions on assembly (prior to the liberation of Raqqa from ISIS). The HTS’s consolidation of power in Idlib threatened the ability of local actors and community leaders to assemble outside the authority of the HTS.

Syrians for Truth and Justice reported in November that some armed opposition groups in eastern Ghouta repressed local demonstrations calling for a cessation of fighting and the removal of checkpoints. The repression reportedly included the use of live bullets and stone throwing, which injured several demonstrators.

According to allegations by Kurdish activists and press reporting, the PYD and the YPG suppressed freedom of assembly and severely limited freedom of speech in areas under their control by attacking media and targeting political opponents for arrest.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution permits private associations but grants the government the right to limit their activities. The government restricted freedom of association, requiring prior registration and approval for private associations and restricting the activities of associations and their members. The executive boards of professional associations were not independent of the government.

The government often denied requests for registration or failed to act on them, reportedly on political grounds. None of the local human rights organizations operated with a license, but many functioned under organizations that had requisite government registration. The government continued to block the multi-year effort by journalists to form a countrywide media association. The government selectively enforced the 2011 decree allowing the establishment of independent political parties, allowing only progovernment groups to form official parties (see section 3). According to local human rights groups, opposition activists declined to organize parties, fearing the government would use party lists to target opposition members.

Under laws that criminalize membership and activity in illegal organizations as determined by the government, security forces detained hundreds of persons linked to local human rights groups and prodemocracy student groups. The government also searched these individuals’ personal and social media contacts for further potential targets.

According to media reports and reports from former residents of ISIS-controlled areas, ISIS did not permit the existence of associations that opposed the structures or policies of the “caliphate.”

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement “within the territories of the state unless restricted by a judicial decision or by the implementation of laws.” The government, ISIS, and other armed groups, however, restricted internal movement and travel and instituted security checkpoints to monitor such travel throughout the regions under their respective control. Government sieges in Homs, Damascus, rural Damascus, Deir al-Zour, and Idlib Governorates resulted in documented cases of death, starvation, and severe malnutrition (see section 1.g.). In areas under its control, ISIS restricted the movement of government supporters or assumed supporters, especially the Alawi and Shia populations. Other opponents of the government also restricted the movement of such individuals, but to a lesser extent.

The COI report issued on September 6 documented the government’s use of starvation through the implementation of siege warfare. The report stated that more than 600,000 men, women, and children remained trapped in besieged locations, and often in harsh conditions. Sieges executed by the government and its partners entailed routine denial of delivery of food, medicine, medical equipment, and other essential supplies to besieged enclaves. The government compounded these abuses with aerial targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.

In November in a report called, “We Leave or We Die: Forced Displacement Under Syria’s ‘Reconciliation’ Agreements,” AI reported that the government and its allies offered “reconciliation” agreements to communities “after prolonged sieges and bombardment and typically result not only in the evacuation of members of nonstate armed groups but also in the mass displacement of civilians.” In Daraya, according to the report, government forces blocked or restricted access to basic necessities to such an extent that one former resident described life in the area as living in “Stone Age-like conditions.”

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Both government and opposition forces reportedly besieged, shelled, and otherwise made inaccessible some Palestinian refugee camps, neighborhoods, and sites, which resulted in severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and humanitarian assistance, and civilian deaths.

In-country Movement: In government-besieged cities throughout the country, government forces blocked humanitarian access, leading to severe malnutrition, lack of access to medical care, and death. The violence, coupled with significant cultural pressure, severely restricted the movement of women in many areas. Additionally, the law allows certain male relatives to place travel bans on women.

The government inconsistently cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers. The government provided some cooperation to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The government relied on security checkpoints to monitor and limit movement and expanded them into civilian areas. The government also barred foreign diplomats from visiting most parts of the country and rarely granted them permission to travel outside Damascus. The consistently high level and unpredictability of violence severely restricted movement throughout the country.

ISIS and opposition groups also controlled movement, including with checkpoints.

Government forces reportedly used snipers to prevent protests, enforce curfews, target opposition forces, and in some cases prevent civilians from fleeing besieged towns. According to the COI, the drive through long desert detour routes exposed passengers and drivers to arbitrary arrest, unlawful search and seizure of property, demands for bribes, and detention and execution at checkpoints administered by ISIS, the government, and other armed actors.

ISIS reportedly did not permit female passengers to traverse territory it controlled unless accompanied by a close male relative.

Foreign Travel: While citizens have the right to travel internationally, the government denied passports and other vital documents based on the applicant’s political views, association with opposition groups, or ties to geographic areas where the opposition dominated. The government also imposed exit visa requirements and routinely closed the Damascus airport and border crossings, claiming the closures were due to violence or threats of violence. Additionally, the government often banned travel by human rights or civil society activists, their families, and affiliates. Many citizens reportedly learned of the ban against their travel only when authorities prevented them from departing the country. The government reportedly applied travel bans without explanation or explicit duration, including in cases when individuals sought to travel for health reasons. The government comprehensively banned international travel of opposition members, often targeting any such individual who attempted to travel. Local media and human rights groups repeatedly stated that opposition activists and their families hesitated to leave the country, fearing attacks at airports and border crossings. In June 2016 Turkish border guards killed 11 Syrian refugees when they attempted to flee the country.

There were reports ISIS destroyed Syrian passports and legal records and produced its own passports, not recognized by any country or entity. These policies disproportionately affected children, because many left the country before obtaining a passport or identification card. Additionally, Syrians born abroad to parents who fled the conflict and remained in refugee camps generally did not have access to Syrian citizenship documents. In 2015 the government began allowing Syrians living outside of the country, whose passports expired, to renew their passports at consulates. Many who fled as refugees, however, feared reporting to the government against which they may have protested or feared the government could direct reprisals against family members still in the country.

Women over age 18 have the legal right to travel without the permission of male relatives, but a husband may file a request with the Interior Ministry to prohibit his wife from departing the country.

ISIS explicitly prohibited women from foreign travel.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The government largely did not facilitate humanitarian assistance for IDPs and provided inconsistent protection. During the year violence continued to be the primary reason for citizens to leave the country, with much of the violence attributed to government and Russian aerial attacks. Years of conflict repeatedly displaced persons; each displacement depleted family assets and eroded coping mechanisms.

By the last quarter of the year, the United Nations estimated there were more than 6.3 million IDPs in the country. The government generally did not provide sustainable access for services to the IDP population and did not offer IDPs assistance or protection. UN humanitarian officials reported that most IDPs sought shelter with host communities or in collective centers, abandoned buildings, or informal camps.

In September the United Nations reported that some humanitarian organizations operating in Raqqa continued to assert concerns about IDP screening procedures carried out by the SDF. (see section 1.g.).

The SARC functioned as the main partner for international humanitarian organizations working inside the country to provide humanitarian assistance in both government- and opposition-controlled areas. Access difficulties–including those imposed by the government, ISIS, and opposition groups–hindered the delivery of aid to persons in need. NGOs operating from Damascus faced extensive bureaucratic obstruction when attempting to provide relief to populations in need. The SARC and UN agencies sought to increase the flow of assistance to opposition-held areas to meet growing humanitarian needs. The government routinely disrupted the supply of humanitarian aid to rebel-held areas, particularly medical assistance (see section 1.g.).

The humanitarian response to the country was one of the largest in the world, coordinated through a complex bureaucratic structure. The crisis inside the country continued to meet the UN criteria for a Level 3 response–the global humanitarian system’s classification for response to the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises. Cross-border operations from Turkey and Jordan provided humanitarian assistance for Syrians. Additional assistance came through cross-line operations originating from Damascus. Since the International Syria Support Group’s Humanitarian Task Force began advocating for expanded access in February 2016, the United Nations assisted persons in 17 besieged areas. Assistance reached many besieged and hard-to-reach towns several times. Despite these efforts, however, the Assad government continued to hinder UN access, and many communities continued to suffer and surrender to the government’s tactics.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR and UNRWA were able to maintain limited protection areas for refugees and asylum seekers, although violence hampered access to vulnerable populations. In coordination with both local and international NGOs, the United Nations continued to provide such individuals essential services and assistance.

UNHCR estimated that at least 95,000 persons, mainly Yezidi Iraqis, entered the country following ISIS attacks on Sinjar District in Iraq, beginning in 2014. Many initially fled to Mount Sinjar but managed to evacuate the mountain with the assistance of military strikes led by the Western coalition and support from Syrian Kurdish groups, which transported many Yezidis into the country. The majority of these persons returned to Iraq through the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; however, as of early December, UNHCR had received an estimated 28,000 Iraqis in Syria’s al-Hasakah Governorate.

Employment: The law does not explicitly grant refugees, except for Palestinians, the right to work. While the government rarely granted non-Palestinian refugees a work permit, many refugees found work in the informal sector as guards, construction workers, street vendors, and in other manual jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The law allows for the issuance of identity cards to Palestinian refugees and the same access to basic services provided to citizens. The government also allowed Iraqi refugees access to publicly available services, such as health care and education, but residency permits were available only to those refugees who entered Syria legally and possessed a valid passport, which did not include all refugees. The lack of access to residency permits issued by authorities exposed refugees to risks of harassment and exploitation and severely affected their access to public services. The approximately 54,000 non-Palestinian refugees in the country faced growing protection risks, multiple displacements, tightened security procedures at checkpoints, and difficulty obtaining required residency permits, all of which resulted in restrictions on their freedom of movement. UNHCR reported a rise in sexual- and gender-based violence and child protection concerns among refugees, including child labor, school dropouts, and early marriages.

STATELESS PERSONS

Approximately 190,000 Kurds in the country are not entitled to Syrian nationality under the law. The government considers the Kurds to be foreigners, which denies them access to services. Following the 1962 census, approximately 150,000 Kurds lost their citizenship. A legislative decree had ordained the single-day census in 1962, and the government executed it unannounced with regard to the inhabitants of al-Hasakah Governorate. Anyone not registered for any reason or without all required paperwork became “foreign” from that day onward. In a similar fashion, authorities recorded anyone who refused to participate as “undocumented.” Because of this loss of citizenship, these Kurds and their descendants lacked identity cards and could not access government services, including health care and education. They also faced social and economic discrimination. Stateless Kurds do not have the right to inherit or bequeath assets, and their lack of citizenship or identity documents restricted their travel to and from the country.

In 2011 President Assad decreed that stateless Kurds in al-Hasakah Governorate, who were registered as “foreigners,” could apply for citizenship. UNHCR reported that approximately 40,000 of these remained unable to obtain citizenship. Likewise, the decree did not extend to the approximately 160,000 “unregistered” stateless Kurds. The change from 150,000 to 160,000 reflected an approximate increase in population since the 1962 census.

Children derive citizenship solely from their father. Because women cannot confer nationality on their children, an unknown number of children whose fathers were missing or deceased due to the continuing conflict were at risk of statelessness. Mothers could not pass citizenship to children born outside the country, including in neighboring countries operating refugee camps.

Tajikistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.

In March police in Khujand arrested Hasan Abdurazzoqov, a resident of Sughd Province, allegedly for offending the reputation of President Rahmon. According to media reports, Abdurazzoqov took down a picture of Rahmon from a city wall and threw it to the ground in front of observers. The Prosecutor’s Office launched a criminal case against Abdurazzoqov, accusing him of defaming the president, hooliganism, and vandalism. Authorities did not comment on the case, and reportedly no lawyers agreed to represent Abdurazoqov. If found guilty, Abdurazoqov faced up to eight years in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including, among other matters, questions regarding financial improprieties of those close to the president, or content regarding the banned IRPT.

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government, “Guidelines for the Preparation of Television and Radio Programs,” stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”

The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs. In November 2016 the independent news media outlet Tojnews closed its doors following government harassment. The outlet’s chief editor left the country due to personal security concerns and the threat of prosecution.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.

In late spring the Ismoili Somoni District Court of Dushanbe found journalist Mizhgona Halimova, a reporter for Ozodagon news agency, guilty of “not reporting on and concealing a crime.” The court claimed that Halimova had failed to disclose information concerning a citizen traveling to Syria to join ISIS and fined her 25,000 somoni ($2,850). During the hearing Halimova did not have legal representation, but journalists helped her pay the fine. Halimova did not appeal the decision, reportedly believing the appeal process would be flawed. Some sources speculated that authorities brought charges against Halimova because of her conflict with the chairwoman of the Committee on Women and Family Affairs, arising from a question Halimova asked the chairwoman at a press conference regarding women wearing the hijab. Until 2015 Halimova had worked for Najot, an official weekly newspaper of the IRPT, and the Nahzat.tj news website.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages.

Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including emails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet.

According to a World Bank report issued in June, 17 percent of the population used the internet regularly.

There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, although some of the restrictions were lifted during the year. The State Communications Service, the official communications regulator, routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the GKNB to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

On July 12, the Majlisi Milli, the upper house of parliament, passed a law giving law enforcement bodies the right to track citizens using the internet. According to the new bill, the security agencies can monitor internet traffic and have access to information regarding which internet sites citizens visit and the type of information they seek.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Some female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave. In January the Ministry of Education signed a decree obliging all female teachers, university students, and schoolchildren to wear traditional dress, starting from March 1 until the end of the academic year in June.

In July and August, government authorities increased the urgency of their effort to dissuade citizens from wearing “foreign clothing,” primarily focused on the hijab, which covers the hair, ears, and neck. According to media reports, the government’s Committee on Women and Family Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, conducted informational campaigns, or “raids,” in public areas against women wearing the hijab, threatening those who refused to remove their hijab with a 1,000 somoni ($115) fine and six months’ imprisonment. In addressing these media reports, the ministry denied that such measures existed and claimed the government was conducting a public campaign to promote national culture and clothing.

A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons under age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.

The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.

The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours. On April 1, police dispersed participants of a two-day international education fair in Dushanbe. The director of the organizing company reported on Facebook that she had obtained all the necessary permissions for the education fair, but police nevertheless entered the exhibition hall and shut down the event. Police also destroyed a promotional video and photograph materials from the event. The Ministry of Education subsequently released a statement claiming the organizers had lacked the necessary documentation for the event.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review for fear of retribution. There was no official censorship, however, of films, plays, art exhibits, music presentations, or other cultural activities.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association through requirements to obtain permission from local governments and through frequent inspections by various government agencies.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government required that individuals obtain permission from the government to stage public demonstrations. Individuals considering the staging of peaceful protests reportedly chose not to do so for fear of government reprisal.

On August 16, the Vanj District Court in the Gorno-Badakhshon Province sentenced six district residents to 10 to 12 days’ imprisonment for protesting in front of the local police building. On August 8, local police had detained the same six residents for holding a protest the previous day in front of the local Department of Internal Affairs building. The residents were protesting the arrest of four of their relatives for alleged membership in banned Salafi groups. Authorities accused the six of violating public order and encouraging other local residents to gather in front of the Department of Internal Affairs building.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution protects freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. As in the previous year, civil society organizations reported a noticeable increase in the number and intensity of registration and tax inspections by authorities. The government continued to enforce the ban on activities held under the banner of the IRPT. As a result of a 2016 constitutional referendum, nonsecular political parties became illegal.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, repatriation, but the government imposed some restrictions.

The government rarely cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, or other persons. There were some cases of refoulement.

In-country Movement: The government prohibits foreigners, except diplomats and international aid workers, from traveling within a 15-mile zone along the borders with Afghanistan and China in the Khatlon Region and the Gorno-Badakhsan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) unless they obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Officials did not always enforce the restrictions along the western border with Afghanistan, although the government continued to require travelers (including international workers and diplomats) to obtain special permits to visit the GBAO. The government also continued to enforce a policy barring Afghan refugees from residing in urban areas.

Foreign Travel: On May 14, border guards with the State Committee on National Security stopped Fayzinisso Vohidova, a prominent human rights attorney, at the Tajik-Kyrgyz border as she was departing for Kyrgyzstan to attend her nephew’s funeral. Border guards detained her for eight hours, claiming there was a “defect” in her passport and that she “had no right to leave Tajikistan.” In the weeks preceding her detention, security services interrogated Vohidova on several occasions after she made critical remarks concerning the government’s imprisonment of Buzurgmehr Yorov, a human rights lawyer. Vohidova alleged the problem with the passport was a pretext to prevent her from leaving the country.

The government abused international law enforcement mechanisms, such as Interpol Red Notices, in an attempt to locate and repatriate into its prison system Tajik dissidents living abroad. Such dissidents are detained on the basis of politically motivated extremism charges. On October 8, Mirzorakhim Kuzov, a senior IRPT leader, was detained by Greek police at Athens International Airport during his transit after attending a human rights conference in Warsaw, Poland. He remained detained at year’s end.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government in some cases forced asylum seekers or refugees to return to countries where they may face persecution or torture. During the first seven months of the year, the government deported 11 asylum seekers and refugees to Afghanistan. The deportees included refugees whose status was revoked based on violation of the law prohibiting such persons from residing in urban areas as well as cumbersome preconditions that preclude a claimant from registering as a refugee. The cases of revoked status were under appeal in court with the support of UNHCR. The deportations took place despite the incomplete appeal processes. In some cases there was risk of refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Nevertheless, the process for making asylum status determinations remained uncertain and lacking transparency, and administrative and judicial procedures did not comply with international standards. Although not required by law, government officials required refugees and asylum seekers to obtain a visa and a valid travel document before entering the country. Government officials without due process detained and deported individuals not in possession of a visa.

The government processed asylum applications through the National Refugee Status Determination Commission and granted applicants documents to regularize their stay and prevent deportation. Formal notifications of administrative and legal decisions provided little insight into the rationale for adjudications. In some instances, when denying claimants refugee status, officials cited, in broad terms, a lack of evidence of persecution in the refugee’s home country or “malpractice” on the part of refugees applying to renew their status, such as violation of the prohibition of living in big cities, including in Dushanbe. Unofficially, some refugees claimed authorities could deny cases if sufficiently high bribes were not paid.

The government continued to place significant restrictions on claimants, and officials continued to enforce a law decreed in 2000 prohibiting asylum seekers and refugees from residing in the capital and all major cities in the country. Security officials regularly monitored refugee populations. Asylum seekers and refugees regularly reported to UNHCR that security officials harassed them, often for allegedly lacking personal identification, and attempted to extort money. Police subjected them to raids if they were believed to be residing in prohibited areas.

During the year increased government scrutiny of persons living in areas annexed to Dushanbe, coupled with the retroactive application of Government Resolution 325, a law that prohibits refugees from living in major urban areas including Dushanbe, led to a significant increase in administrative cases brought against refugees. As a result, up to 40 refugees and their families were at risk of penalty or deportation.

The law stipulates that refugee status be granted for as long as three years. Since 2009 the Department of Citizenship and Works with Refugees, under the Passport Registration Services within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, has had responsibility for refugee issues. Refugees must reregister yearly to receive an extension of refugee status. According to government statistics, the country had 2,185 registered refugees, 98 percent of whom were Afghan. An additional 141 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan, were seeking refugee status.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees are not permitted to live in major urban areas, including Dushanbe, according to Government Resolution 325, restricting their ability to find work and go to school.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to education and health services alongside local citizens. The Ministry of Education allowed Afghan parents to send their children to local schools without paying fees. UNHCR partners provided books, school uniforms, and some language classes to these children. The law provides registered refugees with equal access to law enforcement, health care, and the judicial system, although in practice refugees did not always have equal access. Vulnerable refugee families received assistance with medical expenses. Refugees were subjected to harassment and extortion. In such situations UNHCR’s legal assistance partner assisted clients in obtaining judicial redress while providing training and awareness-raising sessions to local authorities to strengthen their understanding of refugee rights.

Durable Solutions: Following the amended Constitutional Law on Nationality adopted in 2015, the government removed provisions for expedited naturalization, leaving refugees on equal standing with nonrefugee foreigners when applying for citizenship.

STATELESS PERSONS

In April the government adopted by-laws to the 2015 Constitutional Law on Nationality that provide practical guidance on its implementation. Since the nationality law outlines only a general framework on citizenship issues, there was a need to clarify procedures for applicants and government officials. The by-laws’ implementing regulations set clear guidance on required documents to be submitted, mandate responsibilities for each government agency accepting and processing those documents, create a decision-making mechanism and authority on nationality-related issues, outline responsibilities of government agencies to provide within a specific time frame information on decisions made, and describe the rights of applicants to appeal to courts decisions and actions of government agencies. The adopted by-laws are designed to provide a more transparent and effective process of nationality-related cases as well as an overall greater effectiveness in reduction of statelessness in the country.

UNHCR jointly with the government and NGO partners continued to implement a project to identify and find solutions for stateless persons and persons with undetermined nationality in three pilot provinces of the country (Khatlon, Soghd, and Districts of Republican Subordination). As of July 31, 27,809 stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness had been identified and registered; 13,607 of those registered used the assistance to confirm their citizenship. Some registered individuals, however, struggled to achieve a durable solution because they lived in remote areas and lacked the financial means to pay for transportation and fees associated with confirming their citizenship. In May UNHCR jointly with its NGO partners developed vulnerability criteria and procedures to assist the most vulnerable stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness with meeting the costs associated with confirming citizenship.

Tanzania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech but does not explicitly provide for freedom of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could criticize the government both publicly and privately, but some persons expressed concern about doing so in public. In March police threatened former minister of information, culture, art, and sport Nape Nnauye with a firearm as he attempted to begin a press conference, forcing him to leave the venue (he was later able to address the press informally at a different location). Authorities used the Cybercrime Act to bring criminal charges against individuals who criticized the government in a variety of electronic media. In 2016 Isaac Abakuki was convicted of insulting the president on his Facebook page and sentenced to a fine of seven million Tanzanian Shillings (TZS) ($3,109) or three years in prison.

Press and Media Freedom: In 2016 the government revised the laws governing the media with the Media Services Act, and in February the government issued the Media Services Regulations implementing the act. The independent media on the mainland were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, although media outlets often practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government. The union Ministry of Information, Culture, Arts, and Sports reported there were 148 radio stations, 32 television stations, nine cable television providers, and six yearly, 230 monthly, 160 weekly, and 37 daily newspapers. In Zanzibar the government controlled the only local daily newspaper (mainland newspapers were available), one of 12 television stations, and three of the 25 radio stations.

Two mainland newspapers (Daily News and Habari Leo) were owned by the government, one (Uhuru) by the ruling Party of the Revolution (CCM), and another (Daima) by the chair of the Party of Democracy and Development (Chadema) opposition party. The remaining newspapers were independent, although close associates of political party members owned some of them. In July the government introduced new regulations implementing the 2016 Media Services Act that revised the requirements for registering print media. All print media were required to reregister under the new regulations by October 15. The new rules include a requirement that print media outlets provide curriculum vitae and technical certificates for all editors and journalists employed by the outlet. Newspaper registration was at the discretion of the registrar of newspapers at the information ministry on both the mainland and Zanzibar. Acquiring a broadcasting license from the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) took an estimated six months to one year, and the TCRA restricted the area of broadcast coverage. The TCRA imposes mandatory registration and annual fees for commercial and community radio stations. The fee structure disproportionately disadvantages the existence and creation of small community radio stations.

The Zanzibari government-owned daily newspaper had an estimated circulation of 25,000. There was one privately owned weekly newspaper with a much smaller circulation. The government of Zanzibar controlled content on the radio and television stations it owned. There were government restrictions on broadcasting in tribal languages; broadcasts in Kiswahili or English were officially preferred. The seven private radio stations on Zanzibar operated independently, often reading the content of national dailies, including articles critical of the Zanzibari government.

On the mainland the government generally did not restrict the publication of books. The publication of books on Zanzibar was uncommon.

Violence and Harassment: On September 7, opposition MP and president of the Tanganyika Law Society Tundu Lissu, a prominent critic of the government, was shot multiple times by unknown gunmen but survived what appeared to be an assassination attempt.

Law enforcement authorities and crowds attacked, harassed, and intimidated journalists during the year. In March the regional commissioner for Dar es Salaam entered the offices of Clouds TV with an armed police escort to insist the station broadcast a program he had provided.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law authorizes police to raid and seize materials from newspaper offices without a warrant and authorizes the minister of information to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety.”

A permit was required for reporting on police or prison activities, both on the mainland and in Zanzibar, and journalists needed special permission to cover meetings of the Tanzanian National Assembly or attend meetings in the Zanzibar House of Representatives. Anyone publishing information accusing a Zanzibari representative of involvement in illegal activities was liable to a fine of not less than 250,000 TZS ($115), three years’ imprisonment, or both. Nothing in the law specifies whether this penalty stands if the allegation is proven true. The government may fine and suspend newspapers without warning.

There were examples of the government repressing information, extending to online newspapers and journals. For example, in January the president warned that newspapers deemed to incite dissent would be closed. On June 15, the Kiswahili weekly newspaper Mawio was banned for two years by the minister of information, culture, arts, and sports using his discretionary power under the 2016 Media Services Act. The reason given for the ban was for defying a presidential order not to publish information relating to alleged involvement of past presidents with a controversy over mining concessions. As of November, three other newspapers had been issued bans of varying duration. The LHRC reported journalists from both private and public media were concerned about censorship of stories by editors fearful of criticizing government leaders or policies. The LHRC reported the government uses the Media Services Act to control content in both print and broadcast media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides for arrest, prosecution, and punishment for the use of seditious, abusive, or derogatory language to describe the country’s leadership. The Media Services Act of 2016 makes defamation a criminal act. Defamation is defined as any matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to his reputation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

While the government did not restrict access to the internet, it monitored websites and internet traffic that criticized the government. According to the TCRA’s April-June report, 19.9 million persons (40 percent of the population) used the internet in 2016. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10 percent of the population used the internet that year.

The Cybercrimes Act of 2015 criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Individuals who made critical comments about the government on electronic media were charged under the act, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true.

On February 21, four university students in Dar es Salaam were charged with defamation for distributing images of President Magufuli wearing a headscarf.

On August 24, a court began hearing a case against the founders of Jamii Forums, a popular online forum for political discussions. The charges involve obstructing justice by failing to reveal the identities of users who post details of suspected corrupt officials. Two other cases against the defendants on other charges are still pending.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this right.

The government requires organizers of rallies to obtain police permission. Police may deny permission on public safety or security grounds or if the permit seeker belongs to an unregistered organization or political party. The government and police continued to limit the issuance of permits for public demonstrations and assemblies to political parties, NGOs, and religious organizations. The only political meetings allowed are by MPs in their constituencies; outside participants, including party leaders, are not permitted to participate. Restrictions are also applied to nonpolitical gatherings deemed critical of the government. On June 3, police barred the Tanzania Student Networking Program and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and members of the public from a venue that they had booked and paid for to launch a book titled The Voice of Human Rights Defenders in Universities. THRDC National Coordinator Onesmo Olengurumwa was arrested and charged with criminal trespass.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. Thousands of NGOs and societies operated in the country. Political parties were required to register and meet membership and other requirements. Freedom of association for workers was limited (see section 7.a.).

The registration process for associations outside Zanzibar was slow, particularly for religious and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex organizations. The law makes a distinction between NGOs and societies and applies different registration procedures to the two. It defines a society as any club, company, partnership, or association of 10 or more persons, regardless of its purpose, and notes specific categories of organizations not considered societies, such as political parties. The law defines NGOs to include organizations whose purpose is to promote economic, environmental, social, or cultural development; protect the environment; or lobby or advocate on issues of public interest. Societies and organizations may not operate until authorities approve their applications. In August the government began a verification exercise that required all NGOs to re-register. Registration of new NGOs was suspended until December 1.

Religious organizations are registered as societies and wait the longest–an average of four years–for registration. From July 2016 to March, the Registrar of Societies received 296 registration applications from NGOs. The registrar registered 162 societies and rejected 10 applications; 124 applications remained unprocessed. The government rarely registered societies within the legally required 14-day period. The Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly, and Children registered other NGOs.

NGOs in Zanzibar apply for registration with the Zanzibar Business and Property Registration Agency. While registration generally took several weeks, some NGOs waited months if the registrar determined additional research was needed.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. In late 2015 the government banned official international travel by civil servants without authorization from State House.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees apprehended more than 2.5 miles outside their camps without permits are subject by law to sentences ranging from a fine up to a three-year prison sentence. UNHCR reported that when police apprehended refugees outside the camp without permits, they were normally held in the prison nearest to where they were arrested. Usually these people were prosecuted and sentenced in local courts. Some were only given warnings and advised to return to the camp. UNHCR advocated for the return of refugees to the camp, but the response was dependent on the officer handling the case.

Sexual and gender-based violence of refugees continued. UNHCR worked with local authorities and residents in the three refugee camps to strengthen coordination and address violence, including sexual violence, against vulnerable persons. UNHCR reported the most frequent gender-based violence crimes were rape and physical assault, followed by psychological and emotional abuse. The public prosecutor investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of abuses in the camp, although international NGOs provided assistance to the legal team when requested by a survivor. Local authorities and the public prosecutor handled most cases of refugee victims of crime and abuse outside the camp. Residents of the refugee camps suffered delays and limited access to courts, common problems also faced by citizens.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has an established system for providing protection to refugees. The National Eligibility Committee is mandated to meet regularly and make determinations on asylum applications, but as of September had not met during the year.

In January the government ceased granting prima facie refugee status for asylum seekers from Burundi. All new arrivals were required to undergo individual refugee status determination (RSD). An ad hoc committee was constituted and the first phase of RSD reviews began in June. As of September 5, 1,342 cases had been reviewed with a high rejection rate. More than 33,000 additional asylum seekers had claims pending review. There were also reports of asylum seekers being prevented from entering Burundi by immigration officials.

The international NGO Asylum Access reported many persons with refugee claims were living in Dar es Salaam. The government often treated these individuals as undocumented immigrants, deporting or imprisoning them if they faced criminal charges. Arrest was often the only situation in which urban asylum seekers were exposed to the government. Observers believed many urban asylum seekers, if given the opportunity, would be able to demonstrate a need for international protection that would qualify them for refugee status. Since urban asylum seekers were not formally registered with UNHCR and the government, however, they had very little access to health care and education, and employment opportunities were limited to the informal sector. There was no policy or infrastructure to serve this group.

UNHCR processed irregular migrants arrested by authorities when the persons in custody were asylum seekers or were in the process of accessing the asylum process at the time they were apprehended.

During the year the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) continued to support training for law enforcement officers on the use of biometric registration equipment intended to provide irregular migrants a basis for either regularizing their status or voluntary return to their places of origin. An additional 280 persons were registered in Kigoma and Tanga regions during the reporting period. IOM supplied 122 biometric registration equipment sets to immigration and prison authorities across the country.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: No policy for blanket or presumptive denials of asylum exists for applicants arriving from “safe country of origin” or through a “safe country of transit.” All asylum applications are evaluated individually. The law provides that, unless the transit country is experiencing a serious breach of peace, an asylum claim can be refused upon failure to show reasonable cause as to why asylum was not claimed in the transit country prior to entry into the country.

Freedom of Movement: Encampment policy does not allow refugees to travel more than 2.5 miles outside the boundaries of official refugee camps without permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The ministry generally granted permission for purposes such as medical referrals and court appearances.

Employment: The government generally did not permit refugees to pursue employment and restricted refugees’ attempts to farm land within the camps.

Durable Solutions: In 2014 the Ministry of Home Affairs granted citizenship to 1,514 members of the Wazigua ethnic group (formerly known as Somali Bantu) and 162,156 Burundian refugees. In June the government began verification of the roughly 60,000 remaining members of the 1972 Burundi population (many children born in Tanzania) not yet naturalized as captured by this process.

Thailand

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Broad NCPO orders restricting freedom of expression, including for the press, issued following the 2014 coup, remained in effect at year’s end. Invoking these orders, officials suspended media outlets, blocked access to internet sites, and arrested individuals engaging in political speech. In addition to official restrictions on speech and censorship, NCPO actions resulted in significant self-censorship by the public and media. The NCPO routinely banned dissemination of information that could threaten the NCPO or “create conflict” within the country.

Freedom of Expression: The NCPO enforced limits on free speech and expression using a variety of regulations and criminal provisions.

Article 112 of the criminal code, the so-called lese majeste law, makes it a crime–punishable by a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment for each offense–to criticize, insult, or threaten the king, queen, royal heir apparent, or regent. The government continued to use this law to prosecute anyone who was in any way critical of the monarchy or members of the royal family. The law also allows citizens to file lese majeste complaints against each other. The government regularly conducted lese majeste trials in secret and prohibited public disclosure of the content of the alleged offenses. The government also frequently tried lese majeste cases in military courts that provided fewer rights and protections for civilian defendants, notwithstanding a September 2016 order that ended the practice of trying violations of Article 112 in military courts for offenses committed after that date (see section 1.e.). International and domestic human rights organizations and academics expressed concern about the lese majeste law’s negative effect on freedom of expression.

Official statistics varied by agency, but new lese majeste cases increased dramatically following the 2014 coup. According to local NGO Internet Dialogue on Law Reform, as of September, 90 new lese majeste cases had been filed since the 2014 coup. In some of these cases, the accused committed the alleged offense prior to the 2014 coup, but authorities only filed charges afterwards. According to the Department of Corrections, the government detained 135 persons under lese majeste laws as of August (including a number of persons convicted for corruption-related offenses under Article 112 for misuse of royal title to further business interests).

In April a military court sentenced a 34-year-old man from Chiang Mai to 70 years in prison, reduced to 35 years in consideration of his guilty plea, for 10 counts of lese majeste related to messages he posted on a friend’s Facebook page deemed defamatory to the monarchy. Human rights groups claimed the sentence was the longest ever for a lese majeste case.

There were numerous reports of security forces harassing citizens who publicly criticized the military government. In May police arrested eight persons, including political activists and victims’ relatives, who had organized a mime performance on Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong Road to commemorate the seven-year anniversary of the killing of nearly 90 persons during political protests in 2010. Authorities later released without charge those arrested.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active but faced impediments to operating freely. Many media contacts reported concerns about NCPO orders authorizing government officials to limit press freedom and suspend press operations without a court order.

The 2017 constitution requires owners of newspapers and other mass media to be citizens. Government entities owned and controlled most radio and broadcast television stations.

Violence and Harassment: Senior government officials routinely made statements critical of media. Media operators also complained of harassment and monitoring.

In August police officials from the Technology Crime Suppression Division charged journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk with two counts of sedition and computer crimes for posting comments on his Facebook page critical of the military regime and its response to flooding in the country’s northeastern provinces. The Thai Journalists Association released a statement calling on the government to cease using sedition laws to intimidate media and the public.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The NCPO restricted content deemed critical of or threatening to it, and media widely practiced self-censorship. NCPO Order 41/2016 empowers the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to suspend or revoke the licenses of radio or television operators broadcasting content deemed false, defamatory to the monarchy, harmful to national security, or unnecessarily critical of the military government. Authorities monitored media content from all media sources, including international press.

The emergency decree, which remained in effect in the conflict-affected southernmost provinces, empowers the government “to prohibit publication and distribution of news and information that may cause the people to panic or with an intention to distort information.” It also authorizes the government to censor news considered a threat to national security.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by a maximum fine of 200,000 baht ($6,125) and two years’ imprisonment. Military and business figures filed criminal defamation and libel cases against political and environmental activists, journalists, and politicians.

There were several high-profile cases of criminal defamation against human rights defenders and government critics. In 2016 officials from the military’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 filed criminal defamation and computer crimes charges against three of the principal drafters of a report documenting cases of alleged torture by security forces in the southernmost provinces. In March ISOC Region 4 officials announced their decision to drop charges against the three report drafters, and they formally dismissed all charges in October.

In February police officials filed a complaint against Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation, and retired police colonel Viru Sirisawatdibut, accusing them of defaming police during a January public academic discussion on the “Efficiency of the Royal Thai Police.”

Private companies also continued to invoke criminal defamation laws against critics. In April Myanmar Ponpipat Co. Ltd, a mining company based in Bangkok, filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against Pratch Rujivanarom, a journalist with English-language daily newspaper The Nation, accusing him of defaming the company by reporting on the impact of mine operations on persons living nearby.

The government also charged several critics with sedition. In August police charged former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan and Puea Thai Party politician Watana Muangsook with sedition for their Facebook commentary critical of the country’s political and economic problems under NCPO rule. Watana was also charged with sedition for separate Facebook posts in support of deposed prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Human rights groups argued these charges violated the country’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

National Security: Various NCPO orders issued under Section 44 of the interim constitution, later extended by the 2017 constitution, provide authorities the right to restrict distribution of material deemed to threaten national security. Media associations expressed alarm regarding the sweeping powers they complained lacked clear criteria for determining what constitutes a threat to national security.

In February, following a complaint from the military, the NBTC suspended for seven days a political program of channel Voice TV, finding that a discussion of “the role of the judiciary in conflict resolution” broadcast in January violated NCPO orders prohibiting the dissemination of information deemed detrimental to national security or critical of the NCPO. The NBTC later suspended the license of Voice TV for seven days in March for violating an NCPO order prohibiting “dishonest criticism” of the military regime.

On August 9, the NBTC suspended for 30 days the broadcast license of Peace TV, a television channel operated by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, on allegations the channel’s content threatened national security and the morality of the country.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to restrict or disrupt access to the internet and routinely censored online content. There were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The amended Computer Crimes Act, endorsed by the king on January 23, establishes procedures for the search and seizure of computers and computer data in certain criminal investigations and gives the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society authority to request and enforce the removal of information disseminated via the internet. The government may impose a maximum five-year prison sentence and a 100,000 baht ($3,060) fine for posting false content on the internet found to undermine public security, cause public panic, or harm others, based on vague definitions. The law also obliges internet service providers to preserve all user records for 90 days in case authorities wish to access them. Any service provider that gives consent to or intentionally supports the publishing of illegal content is also liable to punishment. By law authorities must obtain a court order to ban a website, although officials did not always respect this requirement. Media activists criticized the law, stating it defined offenses too broadly and some penalties were too harsh.

Individuals and groups generally engaged in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, although there were numerous restrictions on content, including proscribing lese majeste, pornography, gambling, and criticism of the NCPO.

The government closely monitored and blocked thousands of websites critical of the monarchy. The prosecution of journalists, political activists, and other internet users for criminal defamation or sedition for posting content online further fostered an environment of self-censorship. Many political online message boards and discussion forums closely monitored discussions and self-censored to avoid being blocked. Newspapers disabled or restricted access to their public comment sections to minimize exposure to possible lese majeste or defamation charges. The NBTC also lobbied foreign internet content and service providers to remove or locally censor lese majeste content. Human rights contacts reported that police sometimes asked detained political activists to reveal passwords to their social media accounts.

Internet access was widely available in urban areas and used by citizens, including through a government program to provide limited free wi-fi access at 300,000 hotspots in cities and schools. The government also undertook an initiative to expand internet access to rural areas throughout the country. International monitoring groups estimated 46 million citizens (67 percent of the population) had access to the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The NCPO intervened to disrupt academic discussions on college campuses, intimidated scholars, and arrested student leaders critical of the coup. Universities also practiced self-censorship.

University authorities reported the regular presence of military personnel on campus, monitoring lectures and attending student events. There were numerous accounts of authorities arresting students for exercising freedom of speech and expression.

In August police charged Chiang Mai University professor Chayan Vaddhanaphuti and four others with violating NCPO restrictions on public gatherings related to their participation in the International Conference on Thai Studies held at the university in July. The five were photographed holding posters that read, “An academic forum is not a military barracks,” in apparent protest of military monitoring of the academic conference.

In June soldiers removed artwork from two Bangkok galleries exhibiting work depicting the 2010 military crackdown on protesters, which authorities deemed a threat to public order and national reconciliation.

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The 2017 constitution grants the freedom to assemble peacefully, subject to restrictions enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals, or to protect the rights and liberties of others.”

NCPO orders, invoked under authority of Article 44 of the interim constitution and extended under the 2017 constitution, prohibit political gatherings of five or more persons and penalize persons supporting any political gatherings. Human rights groups argued the prohibition violated the country’s obligations under the ICCPR. According to a human rights advocacy group, the NCPO disrupted at least 13 public events through July and more than 157 events since seizing power in 2014. In May the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand announced police had ordered the club to cancel a scheduled panel discussion entitled “Memories of 1932: The Mystery of Thailand’s Missing Plaque.”

In June police banned public gatherings in Bangkok to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the end of absolute monarchy in the country in 1932. According to activists, students and professors reported that police telephoned or visited them in their homes and encouraged them not to participate in any planned commemoration activities. Several students reported that security officials also warned their parents not to allow the students to participate in any event.

Surat Thani, Phuket, and Phang Nga Provinces have regulations that prohibit migrant workers–specifically persons from Cambodia, Burma, and Laos–from gathering in groups, while Samut Sakhon Province prohibits migrant gatherings of more than five persons. Authorities did not enforce these provisions strictly, particularly for gatherings on private property. Employers and NGOs may request permission from authorities for migrant workers to hold cultural gatherings.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The interim constitution did not explicitly provide for freedom of association. The 2017 constitution grants individuals the right to free association subject to restrictions by law enacted to “protect public interest, peace and order, or good morals.”

The law prohibits the registration of a political party with the same name or logo as a legally dissolved party.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The interim constitution and the 2017 constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions for “maintaining the security of the state, public peace and order or public welfare, town and country planning, or youth welfare.”

Following the 2014 coup, the NCPO issued orders prohibiting travel outside the country for approximately 155 persons, the majority of which were lifted in 2016. Nevertheless, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Center (TLHR) estimated there were an additional 300 persons who, when summoned to appear before the NCPO following the 2014 coup, signed agreements as a condition of their release consenting not to travel abroad without NCPO approval. According to the TLHR, the NCPO had not revoked the restrictions contained in these agreements.

The government usually cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, although with some restrictions. Cooperation with UNHCR to protect certain groups remained uneven, which limited UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to all nationalities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In 2015 authorities confined in IDCs and shelters approximately 870 Rohingya and Bangladeshi persons who arrived in the country irregularly by boat during the mass movement in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea in May 2015. As of September approximately 140 persons (mostly Rohingya) remained in detention.

Authorities continued to treat refugees and asylum seekers from Burma who lived outside of designated border camps, including Rohingya boat arrivals, as illegal migrants. Persons categorized as illegal migrants are legally subject to arrest and detention. Although reinstated in 2013, authorities had not permitted bail for detained refugees and asylum seekers since mid-2016.

International humanitarian organizations noted concerns about congested conditions, lack of exercise opportunities, and limited freedom of movement in the IDCs.

In-country Movement: The government restricted the free internal movement of members of hill tribes and other minority groups who were not citizens but held government-issued identity cards. Authorities prohibited holders of such cards from traveling outside their home districts without prior permission from the district office or outside their home provinces without permission from the provincial governor. Offenders are subject to fines or a jail term of 45 to 60 days. Persons without cards may not travel at all. Human rights organizations reported police at inland checkpoints often asked for bribes in exchange for allowing stateless persons to move from one district to another.

Foreign Travel: Local authorities also required other long-time noncitizen residents, including thousands of ethnic Shan and other non-hill-tribe minorities, to seek permission for foreign travel. A small number of Burmese refugees, who were approved for third-country resettlement but not recognized as refugees by the government, had awaited exit permits for years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers remained inconsistent. Nevertheless, authorities hosted significant numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, generally provided protection against their expulsion or return, and allowed persons fleeing fighting or other incidents of violence in neighboring countries to cross the border and remain until conflict ceased. Moreover, authorities permitted non-Burmese refugees recognized by UNHCR and registered Burmese refugees residing in official refugee camps to resettle to third countries.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where they would face threats to their lives or freedom because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Outside the camps, government officials did not distinguish between asylum-seeking Burmese and other undocumented Burmese, regarding all as illegal migrants. Authorities generally took those arrested outside of the camps to the border and deported them back to their home country. Authorities generally did not deport persons of concern holding valid UNHCR asylum-seeker or refugee status; however, in 2015 authorities forcibly deported a vulnerable migrant group of 109 ethnic Uighurs to China. As of December approximately 60 Uighurs remained in detention in the country.

Immigration police in Bangkok arrested and detained asylum seekers and refugees, including women and children. There were approximately 200 refugees and asylum seekers residing in IDCs.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Burmese asylum seekers and refugees who reside outside official refugee camps are by law considered illegal migrants, as are all non-Burmese asylum seekers and refugees in the country if they do not hold a valid passport and visa. If arrested they are subject to indefinite detention at IDCs in Bangkok and other provinces.

UNHCR remained limited in its ability to provide protection to some groups of refugees outside the official camps. Its access to asylum seekers in the main IDC in Bangkok and at Suvarnabhumi International Airport to conduct status interviews and monitor new arrivals varied throughout the year. UNHCR had access to provincial IDCs where authorities detained ethnic Rohingya to conduct refugee status determinations. Authorities allowed resettlement countries to conduct processing activities in the IDCs, and humanitarian organizations were able to provide health care, nutritional support, and other humanitarian assistance.

The government allowed UNHCR to monitor the protection status of approximately 102,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers living in nine camps along the border with Burma, but it prohibited UNHCR from any assistance role in the camps. NGOs funded by the international community provided basic humanitarian assistance in the camps, including health care, food, education, shelter, water, sanitation, vocational training, and other services. UNHCR issued identification cards to registered refugees living in the camps.

The government facilitated third-country resettlement for 1,600 Burmese refugees from camps as of August. Refugees residing in the nine camps along the border who had not registered with the government were ineligible for third-country resettlement.

Freedom of Movement: Refugees residing in the nine refugee camps on the border with Burma had no freedom of movement, and authorities confined them to the camps. A refugee apprehended outside the official camps is subject to harassment, fines, detention, deregistration, and deportation.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not eligible to participate in the official nationality-verification process, which allows migrant workers with verified nationality and passports to travel throughout the country.

Employment: The law prohibits refugees from working in the country. The government allowed undocumented migrant workers from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos to work legally in certain economic sectors if they registered with authorities and followed a prescribed process to document their status (see section 7.d.). The law allows victims of trafficking and witnesses who cooperate with pending court cases to work legally during and up to two years after the end of their trial involvement.

Access to Basic Services: The international community provided basic services for refugees living inside the nine camps on the border with Burma. For needs beyond primary care, a medical referral system allows refugees to seek other necessary medical services. For the urban refugee and asylum seeker population living in Bangkok, access to basic health services was minimal. Since 2014 two NGOs provided primary and mental health-care services. UNHCR coordinated referrals of the most urgent medical cases to local hospitals.

Since Burmese refugee children living in the camps generally did not have access to the government education system, NGOs provided schooling opportunities, and some were able to coordinate their curriculum with the Ministry of Education. In Bangkok some refugee communities formed their own schools to provide education for their children. Others sought to learn Thai with support from UNHCR, because the law provides that government schools must admit children of any legal status who can speak, read, and write Thai with some degree of proficiency.

Temporary Protection: The government continued to extend temporary protection status to the migrants of Rohingya and Bangladeshi origin who arrived during the 2015 maritime migration crisis in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government continued to identify stateless persons, provide documentation to preclude statelessness, and open paths to citizenship for long-time residents. According to the government, an estimated 485,500 persons, mainly residing in the northern region, were likely stateless or at risk of statelessness, including persons from Burma who did not have evidence of Burmese citizenship, ethnic minorities registered with civil authorities, and previously undocumented minorities.

The government pledged to attain zero statelessness by 2024 and in 2016 approved a cabinet resolution that provides a pathway to Thai nationality for approximately 80,000 stateless children and young adults. The resolution covers persons born in the country, whose parents are ethnic minorities, who are registered with the government, and who have resided in the country for a minimum of 15 years. The new resolution also applies to stateless youths certified by a state agency to have lived in the country for 10 years whose parentage is unknown.

Birth within the country does not automatically confer citizenship. The law bases citizenship on birth to at least one citizen parent, marriage to a male citizen, or naturalization. Individuals may also acquire citizenship by means of special government-designated criteria implemented by the Ministry of Interior with approval from the cabinet or in accordance with nationality law (see section 6, Children). Recent amendments to the law allow ethnic Thai stateless persons and their children, who meet the added definition of “displaced Thai,” to apply for the status of “Thai nationality by birth.”

The law stipulates every child born in the country receive an official birth certificate regardless of the parents’ legal status. Many parents did not obtain birth certificates for their children due to the complexity of the process, the need to travel from remote areas to district offices, and a lack of recognition of the importance of the document.

By law stateless members of hill tribes may not vote or own land, and their travel is restricted. Stateless persons also may not participate in certain occupations reserved for citizens, including farming, although authorities permitted noncitizen members of hill tribes to undertake subsistence agriculture. Stateless persons had difficulty accessing credit and government services, such as health care. Although education was technically accessible for all undocumented and stateless children, it was usually of poor quality. School administrators placed the term “non-Thai citizen” on these students’ high school certificates, which severely limited their economic opportunities. Some public universities charged stateless and undocumented students higher tuition rates than citizens.

Without legal status, stateless persons were particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse (see section 6, Children and Indigenous People).

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future