Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.
Freedom of Speech: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists were limited in their ability to criticize the government on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, including the use of the Berber flag during protests, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.
On March 27, authorities arrested Khaled Drareni, correspondent for the international press freedom group Reporters without Borders and cofounder of the independent news website Casbah Tribune. Police held him in a police station for two nights. On March 29, the Sidi M’Hamed criminal court of Algiers ordered Drareni’s detention in El-Harrach Prison. On March 30, authorities moved him to Kolea Prison. Police had first arrested Drareni on March 7 for assembling without a permit and held him for four days. After his release, Drareni continued covering the antigovernment protests, despite authorities forcing him to sign a letter vowing not to do so. On August 10, the Sidi M’Hamed court in Algiers sentenced Drareni to a three-year prison sentence and a fine. On September 8, an appellate court held a hearing and on September 15 upheld the conviction and sentenced him to two years in prison, where he remained at year’s end.
On May 30, police rearrested Issam Sayeh, an engineer and social media activist. On July 20, the court convicted Sayeh for “insulting the president and the army” and sentenced him to 18 months imprisonment. Authorities first arrested Sayeh in July 2019 and released him in September 2019.
On August 27, authorities arrested Mohamed Tadjadit (known as “the poet of the Hirak”) and placed him in pretrial detention. According to the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD), Tadjadit is under investigation for publications that may undermine national unity, insult the president, and expose lives to danger by inciting a gathering during the lockdown period.
NGOs reported during the year that following suppression of public activities in years past, they no longer hold events outside of private locations. They also report that owners of public gathering spaces have been told not to rent their locations to certain NGOs.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP CEO Larbi Ounoughi stated in August that the agency represented 60 percent of the total advertising market. Nongovernmental sources assessed most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. ANEP added it wished to preserve a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.
In August, Ammar Belhimer, Minister of Communication and government spokesperson, stated ANEP’s public advertising constituted a form of indirect aid to the press that if liberalized, could lead to the collapse of media outlets who would lose their funding. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising, however, permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.
On April 2, parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalized breaking the government-imposed COVID-19 lockdown rules and spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish between news reports, social media, or other media, entail prison terms of two to five years and fines.
On April 27, police arrested activist Walid Kechida in Setif for posting memes on Facebook. Authorities accused him of “insulting the president,” “insulting police officers during the performance of their duties,” and carrying out an “attack on religion.” His case is pending trial and he is in pretrial detention.
Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. Except for several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.
Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.
The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, most foreign media were not accredited. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”
The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.
On August 19, authorities arrested France 24 correspondent Moncef Ait Kaci and cameraman Ramdane Rahmouni. The gendarmerie had summoned Ait Kaci in November 2019 and in February. Ait Kaci did not provide reasons for the arrests or the summons, but denied they were related to his articles.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government. Press outlets report taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP.
On May 12, authorities blocked the news website Le Matin d’Algerie. On May 12, authorities blocked the news website l’Avant-Garde Algerie. No reason was cited to explain the blocks.
On April 9, authorities blocked internet access to Maghreb Emergent and Radio M, news sites belonging to the Interface Media Group. Kadi Ihsan, Maghreb Emergent editor-in-chief, reported the government denied authorization for his journalists to move in Algiers after curfew unlike some other journalists. Minister of Communication and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer stated the sites received foreign financing through crowdsourcing, and concluded the sites were funded through “foreign soft power.”
In September an El Watan article detailing large-scale alleged corruption by the sons of the late army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, prompted the government to suspend El Watan’s advertising revenue. The newspaper responded by emphasizing its support for the army.
Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and stated the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine. The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.
The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”
The government monitored certain email and social media sites.
Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.
Police arrested Abdelkarim Zeghileche, director of the independent radio station Radio Sarbacane, on June 23 and placed him in pretrial detention. On August 24, the Constantine court convicted and sentenced Zeghileche to two years in prison for “offense to the president of the Republic” and sharing social media posts “undermining national unity.”
There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. In March parts of the country continued to experience internet outages during hirak protests.
The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.
By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.
For a fourth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.
Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”
Importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After deciding, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.
A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.
The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government curtailed this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding organizers’ publicity and outreach efforts. The DGSN reported it arrested 3,017 protesters this year.
The Hirak protest movement, which began in February 2019, consisted of mass, peaceful protest marches taking place every Tuesday and Friday in many locations throughout the country. The protests stopped with the onset of COVID-19 but slowly resumed later in the year. Prior to COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of individuals marched peacefully demanding political reforms. The marches occurred mostly without incident, although police at times used tear gas and water cannons as methods of crowd control.
Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.
Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.
On the day of the presidential election in December 2019, protests occurred at numerous polling stations throughout the country. Security forces fired rubber bullets at antielection demonstrators in Algiers, Bejaia, Tizi-Ouzou, and Bouira. In Bouira protesters started a fire at the ANIE office. Authorities arrested protesters in those cities, as well as in Mostaganem and Setif. Thousands protested in central Algiers, prompting police forces to deploy water cannons and helicopters.
On March 17, President Tebboune banned gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, Hirak protests resumed in the Kabylie cities of Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia, and Bouira. Protesters and police reportedly clashed during the Bejaia protests.
On June 15, protesters in Tin Zaoutine protested a security barrier preventing access to the town’s water supply. One person was killed and four injured during the protest. Prompted by this event, protesters in Tamanrasset and Bordj Badji Mokhtar gathered to denounce the south’s marginalization in general, and the incident in Tin Zaoutine specifically.
On August 30, police arrested 40 demonstrators who attempted to resume Hirak demonstrations across nearly 30 wilayas (provinces), according to the CNLD. While authorities released most of the protesters late in the night, approximately 40 others remained in custody in jurisdictions across the country. In total, the arrests occurred in 28 wilayas.
According to the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, authorities arrested about 200 persons linked to the protests since the coronavirus restrictions came into effect. On June 19, the league reported 500 persons connected to the Hirak movement were arrested in 23 different wilayas. Authorities later released some of the protesters.
The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.
The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines and up to six months’ imprisonment.
According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations. Although the Ministry of Interior is responsible for authorizing associations, the government stated COVID-19 spurred the ministry to relax registration rules, specifically for health-care charities operating on the local level, as these organizations were better positioned to assist during the pandemic.
The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant, in an expeditious fashion, official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.
Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request even after calling the ministry and trying to register at local police stations. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.
The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparus (SOS Disappeared), Djazairouna, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.
The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 132,426 local and 1,734 national associations registered as of September, including 39,437 new local associations and 80 new national associations registered since January. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.
According to the Ministry of Interior, during the COVID-19 pandemic the government significantly eased local association requirements, giving local organizations the space to operate. The government determined local civil society organizations, specifically health-care-related charities, were better positioned to assist locally than the federal government. The Ministry of Interior relaxed its registration rules, allowing local governments to authorize local associations, resulting in more than 1,000 new local charity associations. National associations must still submit their applications to the Ministry of Interior for authorization.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted the exercise of these rights.
The government generally cooperated with 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.
In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government requires that foreign diplomats and private sector personnel have armed security escorts from the government if they travel outside of Algiers wilaya, El-Oued, and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations, and the Libyan border. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states that citizens have the right to enter and exit the country. The law does not permit those younger than 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women younger than 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.
f. Protection of Refugees
From October 2019 to January, the NGO Alarme Phone Sahara (APS) reported the government deported 4,722 individuals, including 2,582 Nigeriens, from Algeria to Niger. APS reported two types of deportation convoys from Algeria to Niger. Authorities, in coordination with the Nigerian government and pursuant to a bilateral agreement, transfer Nigeriens directly to Nigerien security forces at the Assamaka, Niger, border post. Convoys also leave citizens of various nationalities near Assamaka where they must walk the last 10 to 15 miles into Nigerien territory. APS reported the International Organization on Migration (IOM), Doctors without Borders (MSF), and Nigerien security forces look for deportees lost in the desert. According to APS, deportees include nationals from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Sudan, Somalia, Bangladesh, and Syria.
On October 9, Human Rights Watch reported that the country expelled more than 3,400 migrants of at least 20 nationalities to Niger, including 430 children and 240 women. Security personnel separated children from their families during the arrests, stripped migrants and asylum seekers of their belongings, and failed to allow them to challenge their removal or screen them for refugee status. Numerous asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR were among those arrested and expelled.
According to UNHCR’s March 2019 report on Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, the government protected a significant number of refugees in five large refugee camps in Tindouf and ran two other smaller camps near Tindouf, one surrounding a women’s boarding school, and another used for administrative purposes. UNHCR reported many Sahrawi refugees lost their jobs and other sources of income due to COVID-19. Simultaneously, a pulmonary livestock epidemic killed over 1,700 sheep and goats in the camps this year. Sahrawi refugees rely on these animals to supplement their diets and incomes.
In 2019 the government protected a smaller urban refugee population, primarily in Algiers. The report noted the refugee population included predominantly Syrians (an estimated 85 percent), as well as Yemenis, Congolese, Ivoirians, Palestinians, Malians, Central Africans, and other nationalities. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees.
IOM estimates 90,000 migrants enter the country every year. Authorities typically expel irregular migrants through the border with Niger. Nigerien nationals are brought to Assamaka via official convoys, based on an agreement between Algeria and Niger. They are then transported to Agadez, where IOM Niger provides humanitarian assistance. Authorities accompany third-country nationals (TCNs) of mixed nationalities (mainly from West Africa) to the border at Point Zero, a nine-mile desert location between Ain-Guezzam, Algeria, and Assamaka, Niger. IOM Niger provides assistance through humanitarian rescue operations. No publicly are available data on the number of migrants the government expelled from Algeria through these operations. The government suspended expulsions when COVID-19 necessitated border closures. As of July, IOM Niger assisted 6,546 migrants in Assamaka (19 percent Nigeriens, 81 percent TCNs).
In September, IOM organized a voluntary return flight for 114 migrants from Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Liberia who were stranded in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. IOM reported Algerian authorities facilitated their efforts.
In July, IOM organized a voluntary return for 84 Malian migrants from Algiers to Bamako, Mali. IOM reported this operation was possible thanks to an agreement between Algerian and Malian authorities to temporarily lift travel restrictions and enable IOM to facilitate the safe return of stranded migrants. Migrants residing outside of Algiers received inland transportation assistance; the inland movement was closely coordinated with and supported by relevant Algerian authorities.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that during government roundup operations of suspected migrants, some of those detained were raped, suffered sexual harassment, or both and that unaccompanied minors were sometimes rounded up and taken to the border for expulsion.
UNHCR reported refugees and migrants traversing land routes to and through the country continue to risk death, kidnapping, sexual- and gender-based violence physical abuse, and other violence.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into the country across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements.
In 2019 the CNDH stated the government had dedicated $12 million to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). Authorities conducted repatriations in coordination with consular officials from the migrants’ countries of origin, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government stated that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed. Air Algerie signed an agreement with the IOM agreeing to provide charter flights for humanitarian supplies and migrants returning voluntarily.
Access to Asylum: While the law generally provides for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. In 2019, UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.
In 2019 UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 7,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September 2019. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.
Employment: The government does not formally allow refugee employment; however, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.
Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario)-administered camps near the city of Tindouf. The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education. The government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants being turned away.
School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported some children had trouble integrating into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at health-care facilities.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees have not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara. The IOM leads an “Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration” program to help migrants return to their homes willingly with economic and social support, including personalized professional training and other socioeconomic assistance. Although the government is not a financial donor to the initiative, they do cooperate.
Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians, 7,000 of whom were registered as of September 2019, and Malians.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but the government severely restricted these rights, according to Freedom House. Authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb critical reporting.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres–the only daily newspaper–and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.
Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned Chadian National Radio. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for defamation. Local media reported that journalists faced regular arrest after publication, with most released fairly quickly, others held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles discussed impunity or criticized the president and his associates. Human rights defenders and journalists were also threatened, harassed, and intimidated by anonymous individuals.
On November 27, security forces broke up an interview with “citizen forum” organizers at the headquarters of radio station FM Liberte. Police used tear gas and detained approximately 70 attendees of an unrelated journalism training class for several hours. On December 1, independent radio stations organized a protest “day without radio.”
In September 2019 a court convicted Inoua Martin Doulguet, editor in chief of the newspaper Salam Info, of “criminal conspiracy, complicity, defamation, and insult” for an article concerning an alleged sexual assault by a former minister. On May 5, an appeals court acquitted him for procedural and substantive errors by the lower court.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship.
On June 8, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting (HAMA) suspended newspaper Abba Garde for 12 months, alleging defamation, unprofessional conduct, false news, and ethical breaches. HAMA also banned its director Moussaye Avenir De la Tchire from working as a journalist for the same period. On June 9, the Convention of Private Press Entrepreneurs in Chad noted the HAMA suspension of Abba Garde and its director and stated there were no provisions under the law for a 12-month suspension for defamation or dissemination of false news, or the suspension of a journalist in the exercise of his profession for the same alleged offenses.
On August 27, the minister of communication, spokesperson for the government, visited the private television stations Electron TV and Alnassour TV and remarked private media remained privileged partners and must properly do their work of awareness raising, education, and entertainment. Observers considered this a warning to private media to avoid sensitive topics.
On September 7, HAMA suspended 12 newspapers for three months pursuant to the law requiring newspaper publishers and managing editors to possess a postgraduate degree in journalism. According to Reporters without Borders, the HAMA decision suspended approximately one-quarter of the country’s privately owned print media outlets.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Authorities arrested and detained persons for defamation.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation the government monitored private online communications, blocked sites, and arrested activists for postings on social media.
In July the government banned social media throughout the country and cut internet access outside N’Djamena. This followed an incident the same month at the Champ de Fil market, where a member of the presidential guard allegedly killed a motorcycle mechanic and was subsequently rescued from an angry crowd after receiving a severe beating. The incident sparked critical commentary on social media, including calls for ethnic violence. On August 8, the president stated the government disrupted social media to prevent interethnic violence; he did not explain the restrictions to internet access. On October 2, authorities ended these restrictions. Throughout this period social media users in N’Djamena could access apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp with the use of a virtual private network.
There were government restrictions on academic freedom. The government banned large gatherings–including cultural events–due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly in limited circumstances, the government did not respect this right. The government regularly interfered with opposition protests and civil society gatherings. Authorities routinely banned gatherings and arrested organizers, and security forces used excessive force against demonstrators.
The law requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration five days in advance of demonstrations, although groups that provided advance notice did not always receive permission to assemble. The law also requires opposition political parties to meet complicated registration requirements for party gatherings.
Unlike in previous years, in January police peacefully escorted student protests for better conditions in university campuses.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the government banned meetings of more than 50 persons but selectively applied these restrictions to stifle political opposition.
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases dropped in June, the government eased restrictions on communal prayer but requested worshippers respect social distancing and use face coverings.
In October the government held a 600-person national forum to solicit and debate potential constitutional changes. Security forces encircled the headquarters of several opposition parties and civil society organizations and the homes of some opposition politicians during the forum to intimidate those who either boycotted or were not invited to the forum.
In November authorities banned an alternative “citizens’ forum,” citing COVID-19 restrictions limiting mass gatherings. In November and December, authorities banned efforts by opposition parties to hold assemblies or marches, also citing COVID-19 restrictions.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. While the law requires the Ministry of Public Security and Immigration to provide prior authorization before an association, including a labor union, may be formed, there were no reports the law was enforced. The law also allows for the immediate administrative dissolution of an association and permits authorities to monitor association funds. In late 2018 authorities modified the regulation on NGOs to exert greater control over development and humanitarian activities, requiring NGOs to contribute 1 percent of their budget to the “functioning of the structures of the Ministry of Planning.”
Authorities denied recognition to some opposition political groups (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation)
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government limited these rights.
In-country Movement: Lack of security in the east, primarily due to armed banditry, occasionally hindered the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide services to refugees. In Lake Chad Province, attacks by Boko Haram and simultaneous government military operations constrained the ability of humanitarian organizations to aid IDPs.
According to the International Organization for Migration, in August more than 360,000 persons were displaced in Lake Chad Province, more than one-half of the province’s population. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with an environmental crisis, the security situation continued to deteriorate, exacerbating humanitarian needs.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, and other persons of concern. The country hosted refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Nigeria, as well as IDPs, citizen returnees from CAR, and citizen returnees from the Lake Chad basin.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International observers reported numerous protection incidents in the Lake Chad area in February. According to international observers, these incidents included physical attacks, kidnappings, and homicides. Armed groups were suspected of a majority of the incidents, especially for cases of kidnapping and homicide.
Authorities rarely prosecuted perpetrators of sexual violence. The judicial system did not provide consistent and predictable recourse or legal protection. To overcome these problems, UNHCR enlisted a local NGO to support refugees through the judicial process. The Detachment for the Protection of Humanitarian Workers and Refugees was unable to provide humanitarian escorts consistently but was generally effective in providing protection inside refugee camps.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for asylum or refugee status. The government, however, has established a system for the protection of refugees. In cooperation with UNHCR, the government continued a project to strengthen the civil registration system for the issuance of civil status certificates (birth, marriage, and death certificates) to tens of thousands of refugees born before 2013.
Access to Basic Services: Although local communities hosted tens of thousands of newly arrived refugees, antirefugee sentiment existed due to competition for local resources, such as wood, water, and grazing land. Refugees also received goods and services not available to the local population, and refugee children at times had better access to education and health services than those in the surrounding local populations. Many humanitarian organizations included host communities in their programming to mitigate this tension.
Durable Solutions: Authorities continued to resettle refugees, although fewer than in previous years. As durable solutions became more difficult to achieve, UNHCR explored helping refugees secure protection by receiving admission to third countries.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. On June 10, a local human rights organization said authorities did not investigate police reports it filed after several attacks against its director between October and December 2019 that resulted in bodily injury to the director and theft of his car. On June 27, eight human rights organizations condemned a media attack against the director after he published a report on conditions in Gamassa Prison.
On February 16, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued executive regulations for the media law ratified in 2018. Among the regulations, newspapers are required to print their issues in Egypt at licensed printing houses registered with the council; news websites must host their servers in Egypt; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies all of published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The regulations also prohibit any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.
Freedom of Speech: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. Nonetheless, the government investigated and prosecuted critics for alleged incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or violation of public morals.
Between March and July, authorities arrested at least seven doctors and charged them with membership in a banned group, spreading false news, and misuse of social media after they criticized the government’s response to COVID-19. Between October and December, three doctors were released pending investigation. The Doctors’ Syndicate protested the arrests and called for release of all the doctors. On October 1, the State Security Prosecution ordered the 15-day pretrial detention of prominent lawyer Tarek Jamil Saeed pending investigations of disturbing the peace, spreading rumors, and misusing social media after he criticized candidates for parliament. Saeed was released on bail on October 11.
On December 27, a criminal court ordered the release of housing-rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine with probationary measures. Ezzedine remained in detention until the end of the year. According to a local human rights organization, he was held without notice beginning in June 2019 after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in November 2019 before the State Security Prosecution accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.
A criminal court on September 13 renewed the 45-day pretrial detention of Mohamed Ramadan, who was arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. After a court ordered Ramadan’s release on bail on December 2, the State Security Prosecution ordered him remanded into custody on December 8 on additional charges of joining a banned group based upon letters he sent while in detention.
The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers expressed concern that authorities used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.
Between January and September, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 96 violations of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. In June 2019 several political figures were arrested, including El-Aleimy and journalist Hossam Moanes, after they met to form the political Alliance of Hope to run in parliamentary elections. They remained in pretrial detention. On March 11, a misdemeanor court sentenced El-Aleimy to one year in prison for spreading false news and disturbing public peace as a result of a BBC interview in 2017. On April 18, a terrorism court added 13 defendants from the “Hope” case to the terrorism list, including former member of parliament and Social Democratic Party leader Ziyad El-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. On June 16, the Cairo Criminal Court turned down a challenge filed by Moanes against an August 2019 ruling to seize his money. On August 4, the Cairo Criminal Court upheld a freeze on the assets of 83 defendants in the case (No. 930/2019). On October 10, a criminal court ordered the release of four Alliance of Hope defendants, including activist Ahmed Tammam. On November 14, an administrative court heard the lawsuit filed by El-Aleimy to allow him to receive telephone calls and correspondence. Amnesty International reported he was being denied adequate health care by Tora Prison authorities even though his underlying medical conditions put him at particular risk if exposed to COVID-19.
On March 19, the State Security Prosecution ordered the release of 15 political figures in pretrial detention, including political science professor Hassan Nafaa and former president Sisi campaigner Hazem Abdel Azim. Nafaa was arrested in September 2019 with Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign, and journalist Khaled Dawoud. On December 27, a criminal court renewed Hosni’s and Dawoud’s pretrial detention for 45 days pending investigations of joining a banned group and spreading false news and ordered Hosni’s release. The State Security Prosecution ordered Hosni’s continued detention in a new case on November 4. On July 5, a criminal court overturned the public prosecutor’s 2019 decision to freeze Nafaa’s fixed assets and stayed the public prosecutor’s decision to seize his assets until the Supreme Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of Article 47 of the Antiterrorism Law.
On August 5, the writer and prominent leftist Sinai activist, Ashraf Ayoub, and his son Sherif, were detained in Arish city, North Sinai, and taken to an unknown location. According to a labor leader, Ayoub advocated for detainees. After 20 days, Ayoub appeared before the State Security Prosecution, which ordered his pretrial detention on charges of joining a terrorism group and spreading false news. According to local media, Ayoub’s son was released without charges in mid-August.
In May security forces arrested sports critic Awny Nafae while he was under government-imposed COVID-19 quarantine after returning from Saudi Arabia, according to local media. The arrest came after Nafae criticized the Ministry of Emigration for its handling of thousands of Egyptian nationals stranded abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He was held in pretrial detention on charges of spreading false news, misusing social media, and participating in a terrorist group, but he was released in October.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media issues. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of a majority of newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.
More than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority holds the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.
The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers as media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee of EGP 50,000 ($3,030), and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (Supreme Council) broad discretion to block their content.
According to media reports, on April 21, the Supreme Council fined the newspaper Al Masry Al Youm for an op-ed written by its founder Salah Diab under a pseudonym. The article suggested that Sinai should have one governor with expanded powers to better govern the entire peninsula. The Supreme Council ordered the newspaper to remove the op-ed, issue an apology, and suspend Diab’s opinion pieces for one month. On May 12, the Supreme Council ordered media not to publish or broadcast any material under pseudonyms without the approval of the Supreme Council.
On April 12, authorities arrested Mustafa Saqr, owner of the Business News company, and the State Security Prosecution detained him for 15 days pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist, spreading false news, and misusing social media. His arrest came after he published an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 27 journalists were imprisoned in the country.
During the year the government raided several newspapers, arrested employees, and released them shortly thereafter. On June 24, the security services arrested Noura Younis, editor in chief of the independent news website Al-Manassa and a former Washington Post correspondent. On June 26, authorities released Younis on bail pending trial on charges of creating a network account with the intent to commit a crime, possessing software without a license from the National Telecom Regulatory Authority, copyright infringement, and wrongfully profiting through the internet or telecommunication services.
On May 11, authorities arrested Al-Masry Al-Youm journalist Haitham Mahgoub, days after he published an article relating to the country’s response to COVID-19, according to media. Media reported that Mahgoub and his attorneys were not allowed to attend the June 7 hearing where the State Security Prosecution ordered his 15-day pretrial detention pending investigations of joining a banned group, financing a banned group, and spreading false news. Mahgoub was released on November 19 pending further investigation. On May 22, television stations broadcast confessions of four of 11 journalists and media workers whom the Interior Ministry claimed were part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to produce false reports for al-Jazeera. Human rights lawyers challenged the confessions and their pretrial publication as illegal.
Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested and imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. Foreign correspondents reported cases where the government denied them entry, deported them, and delayed or denied issuance of media credentials; some claimed these actions were part of a government campaign to intimidate foreign media.
On March 17, the State Information Service revoked the accreditation of a correspondent for the London-based Guardian newspaper, after it published a report addressing the spread of the COVID-19 in the country. On March 26, the Guardian reported that authorities forced the correspondent to leave the country.
On March 30, authorities ordered the detention of Mohamad Al-Eter, the Ultra Sawt website correspondent, for 15 days pending investigations. He was accused of joining a terrorist group, publishing false news, and misusing the online social networks. A court granted Al-Eter bail in May, and he was released on June 1 pending investigation.
According to Freedom House, multiple prominent digital activists and online journalists remained in prison. In many cases the individuals faced charges unrelated to their online activities, although their supporters argued they were arrested to prevent them from expressing their views. Spreading false news, affiliation with a terrorist or banned group, insulting the state, and inciting demonstrations were the prevailing allegations used to justify the arrest of human rights activists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The state of emergency empowered the president to monitor newspapers, publications, editorials, drawings, and all means of expression and to order the seizure, confiscation, and closure of publications and print houses. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.
In June the Supreme Council for Media Regulation stated that all media in any form had to use official sources to publish or broadcast any information about Libya, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the war against terrorism in Sinai, or COVID-19.
In June a media rights organization said that the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 media websites.
The rising number of arrests for social media posts had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the overall anti-Muslim Brotherhood and progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. On August 15, the National Translation Center published its translation guidelines, including conditions that books it translates do not “oppose religion, social values, morals and customs.” According to media, professional writers and translators denounced the rules as a form of censorship. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics such as sectarian tensions, sexuality, political detainees, military operations in the Sinai, and the military’s outsized role in the national economy.
Libel/Slander Laws: Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims. On June 21, the Alexandria Economic Misdemeanor Appeals Court upheld the February 27 three-year sentence against activist and blogger Anas Hassan for “insulting religion and misusing social media.” According to a local human rights organization, security forces arrested Hassan in August 2019 for his Facebook page “The Egyptian Atheists” that a police report stated contained atheistic ideas and criticism of the “divinely revealed religions.”
National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.
The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. In 2018 authorities established hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.
On March 10, the prime minister instructed relevant authorities to take all necessary, legal measures against anyone who broadcasts false news, statements, or rumors regarding COVID-19. On March 28, the Public Prosecution affirmed in a statement that it would address such “fake news” stories according to the law.
On March 18, security forces arrested Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, at his home in Aswan following a critical post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on April 14, which ordered his 15-day pretrial detention pending investigation.
A local independent human rights organization reported that journalist Basma Mostafa was detained for nine hours while covering a crowd of citizens waiting for a COVID-19 test at the Ministry of Health’s Central Laboratories in downtown Cairo. Media reported Mostafa was arrested on October 3 while covering the death of Luxor Governorate citizen Ewais al-Rawy (see section 1.a.) and ensuing protests; Mostafa was released on October 6.
On February 12, local media reported that the Supreme Council for Media Regulations sent a warning letter to 16 news websites and social network accounts concerning posting “false news” regarding a reported COVID-19 infection case in Tanta City. It also included a directive to ban publishing any information other than the Ministry of Health’s official data.
Judges may issue restraining orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities sometimes misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.
On March 11, authorities released, with probationary measures, blogger Islam al-Refai, known as Khorm, who ran a satirical Twitter account with 75,000 followers. He had been held in pretrial detention since 2017, according to his attorney. NGOs continued to claim that authorities used counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts unjustly to prosecute journalists, activists, lawyers, political party members, university professors, and critics for their peaceful criticism.
The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.
Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the 2003 Telecommunication Regulation Law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized the internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.
On August 25, a criminal court in a terrorism circuit sentenced in absentia the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Bahey Eldin Hassan, to 15 years in prison for publishing false news and insulting the judiciary. In March Hassan, who lived abroad, learned that a criminal court in a separate case sentenced him in September 2019 in absentia to three years in prison on charges of spreading false news and tweeting phrases that undermined and discredited the judiciary. Hassan criticized the Public Prosecution on Twitter in 2018.
The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period. On October 8, several UN human rights special rapporteurs in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the country was using “terrorism charges” and “terrorism circuit courts” “to target legitimate human rights activities,” silence dissent, and detain activists during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government issued implementing regulations for the law on August 27. On May 20, several local human rights organizations accused the government of restricting access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Media reported that authorities arrested a group of women in June and July who posted videos on the TikTok social media app. On July 27, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three others to two years in prison and fined each for “violating family values” based on the cybercrime law. An appeal was scheduled for January 10, 2021. On August 18, a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.
On August 6, authorities released TikTok influencer Manar Samy on bail pending an appeal. On September 19, a Tanta Economic Court upheld her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. Authorities also arrested members of Samy’s family for resisting authorities. On September 30, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter, Zumoroda, to six years in prison and fined each for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution. A court was scheduled to examine the appeal in January 2021.
There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.
The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.
The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.
There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
On June 25, a local media rights organization reported that since May 2017 the state had blocked at least 547 websites, including at least 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared intended to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations. On April 9, authorities blocked the newly established Daarb website run by human rights defender Khaled al Balshy, one month after its launch.
In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review was pending at year’s end.
There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, like that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic issues. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also must obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.
On May 8, authorities at the Cairo International Airport confiscated the passport of Walid Salem, a University of Washington doctoral student, preventing him from traveling. Authorities arrested Salem in May 2018 while he was conducting political science dissertation research on the Egyptian judiciary and released him in December 2018 with a travel ban and probationary measures pending trial. On February 22, the State Security Prosecution canceled the probationary measures and released him under guarantee of his place of residence.
There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree issued in 2018 declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement added to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.
On February 16, the Musicians Syndicate banned Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, in public and prohibited any dealings with Mahraganat singers without the syndicate’s permission. This decision came two days after a Cairo concert where Mahraganat singers used what the syndicate considered inappropriate words. A few hours after the decision, the Tourism Police prevented Omar Kamal from holding a concert in a Cairo hotel. The syndicate and the Department of Censorship of Artistic Works filed police reports against a number of Mahraganat singers.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly “according to notification regulated by law.” The demonstrations law includes an expansive list of prohibited activities, giving a judge the authority to prohibit or curtail planned demonstrations after submitting an official memorandum. Domestic and international human rights organizations asserted the law did not meet international standards regarding freedom of assembly. On January 18, an administrative court dismissed a lawsuit filed by a local human rights organization in 2017 challenging the law. A government-imposed exclusion zone prohibits protests within 2,600 feet (790 meters) of vital governmental institutions.
On March 22, President Sisi ratified amendments to the Prison Regulation Law, preventing the conditional release of those convicted of assembly crimes, among other crimes.
There were protests throughout the year, mostly small, and some occurred without government interference. In most cases the government rigorously enforced the law restricting demonstrations, in some instances using force, including in cases of small groups of protesters demonstrating peacefully.
On February 7, authorities detained Patrick George Zaki, a student at the University of Bologna, at the Cairo International Airport. Media reported he was beaten and subjected to electric shocks. On February 8, Zaki appeared before the prosecutor, who ordered his pretrial detention on charges of inciting individuals to protest in September 2019, spreading false news, promoting terrorism, and harming national security. A criminal court renewed his pretrial detention for 45 days on December 6.
On April 22, a local NGO reported that authorities released 3,633 of the 3,717 protesters detained after street demonstrations in September 2019. According to the report, approximately 1,680 defendants were released in 2019, approximately 1,983 were released in the first quarter of 2020, and an estimated 54 remained in detention. On February 5, the Al-Mokattam Emergency Misdemeanor Court ordered the acquittal of 102 individuals of charges of attacking the Mokattam police station in protest against the death in custody of Mohamed Abdel Hakim. Government investigators reported that Hakim had died from beatings by two police employees following his arrest in 2018.
On July 1, the Cassation Court reduced the prison sentence of a Central Security Forces officer, Yaseen Hatem, from 10 years to seven years for the death of activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh. Hatem was convicted of wounding that led to the death and deliberately wounding other protesters during a 2015 protest marking the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.
According to a local human rights organization, thousands of persons whom authorities arrested during 2013 and 2014 due to their participation in demonstrations (some of which were peaceful) remained imprisoned; however, authorities released others who had completed their sentences. Authorities reportedly held such individuals under charges of attending an unauthorized protest, incitement to violence, or “blocking roads.” Human rights groups claimed authorities inflated or used these charges solely to target individuals suspected of being members of groups in opposition to the government or those who sought to exercise the rights to free assembly or association.
On April 12, the State Security Prosecution ordered the release of 35 detainees on bail whom authorities had accused of spreading false news about COVID-19, some of whom had participated in a street march in Alexandria on March 23 after curfew, despite government restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic. On April 25, authorities released 20 detainees on bail who had participated in an April 23 street march after curfew in Alexandria to celebrate Ramadan and protest COVID-19.
On June 17, a local human rights organization filed an official complaint with the prosecutor general to release activist Mohamed Adel as he reached the two-year legal limit for pretrial detention since his June 2018 arrest on charges of violating the protest law. On December 21, State Security Prosecution ordered Adel’s detention for 15 days pending investigation in a new case on charges of joining and funding a terrorist group, meeting terrorist leaders in prison, and spreading false news. Reports indicated that in September more than 2,000 persons, including at least 70 younger than 18, were arrested in response to small demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the anticorruption protests of September 2019. On September 27, the Public Prosecution ordered the release of 68 of the 70 minors who had been arrested. In early November more than 400 persons arrested during the demonstrations were released from prison, and in early December approximately 67 additional individuals were also released.
The constitution provides for freedom of association. The law governing associations, however, significantly restricts this right.
A 2019 law governing NGOs eliminated prison sentences as penalties and removed formal oversight roles for security and intelligence authorities. It also required the government to issue executive regulations to clarify that NGOs will have exclusive access to and control of NGO funds as well as procedural protections, such as impartial administrative and judicial appeal mechanisms. On November 25, the cabinet approved the executive regulations. As of December 31, however, they had not been published in the official gazette.
The penal code criminalizes the request for or acceptance of foreign funds, materiel, weapons, ammunition, or “other things” from states or NGOs “with the intent to harm the national interest.” Those convicted may be sentenced to life in prison (or the death penalty in the case of public officials) for crimes committed during times of war or with “terrorist purpose.”
As of year’s end, lawyer Amr Emam remained in detention pending investigations on charges of colluding with a terrorist organization, publishing false news, and misusing social media to spread false information. Emam was arrested in October 2019 after he began a hunger strike and sit-in to protest the arrests, alleged abuse, and continued detention of journalist Esraa Abdel Fattah, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and lawyer Mohamed Elbakr. In late August Emam, along with Esraa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed Elbakr, was added to a new case on similar charges.
On September 6, after a criminal court ordered his release on August 26, the State Security Prosecution ordered the 15-day pretrial detention of Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy on new charges. This was the third case against Hegazy, a human rights lawyer and founder of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared, since his 2017 arrest at the Cairo International Airport while traveling to Geneva to participate in the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, and its NGO remained illegal, and the Muslim Brotherhood was listed as a designated terrorist organization.
Authorities continued investigations of local NGOs that received foreign funding under a case originally brought in 2011. On July 18, the Cairo Criminal Court denied a motion to lift the travel bans imposed on 14 defendants in the case, including Nazra for Feminist Studies founder Mozn Hassan and others, accused of receiving foreign funding to harm national security in connection with her NGO. On December 5, an investigative judge dismissed criminal charges, including receiving foreign funding to harm the national interests, and lifted the travel bans and asset freezes against 20 domestic NGOs involved in the 2011 case.
A court case brought by el-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (also registered under the name el-Nadeem for Psychological Rehabilitation) challenging a 2016 closure order remained pending an expert report ordered by the court. The organization asserted the closure was politically motivated, targeting el-Nadeem because of its work investigating torture, deaths in detention, and impunity for these crimes. The organization continued to operate in a limited capacity.
In November Mohamed Basheer, Karim Ennarah, and executive director Gasser Abdel Razek of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights were arrested on charges of “joining a terror group” and “spreading false news.” On December 3, authorities released the three pending investigation. On December 6, the Third Terrorism Circuit Court ordered a temporary freeze on the personal assets of the three employees.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with some exceptions, including the handling of potential refugees and asylum seekers.
In-country Movement: Citizens and foreigners may not travel freely in areas of the country designated as military zones. The government sought to prevent private individuals, journalists, civil society figures, and international organizations from entering North Sinai on safety grounds.
Foreign Travel: The constitution states, “No citizen may be prevented from leaving the State territory.” Nonetheless, men who have not completed compulsory military service and have not obtained an exemption may not travel abroad or emigrate. National identification cards indicated completion of military service.
Authorities required citizens between ages 18 and 40 to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to 16 countries: Georgia, Guinea, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, South Africa, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and Yemen. Enforcement of these regulations was sporadic. The government stated it intended these regulations to make it more difficult for citizens to join terrorist groups and to stop flight of criminals. These regulations also affected the ability of other individuals to travel outside the country. Authorities maintained a “no-fly” list that prevented some defendants in court cases from fleeing the country.
The government-imposed travel bans on human rights defenders and political activists under investigation or formally charged. Local human rights groups maintained that authorities used travel bans to intimidate and silence human rights defenders. A 2018 court ruling stated a travel ban “does not require the investigation of certain facts and their certainty,” but there must be “serious evidence that there are reasons for it and that the decision to prevent travel is due to security reasons and the interests of the state.”
Democracy activist Esraa Abdel Fattah remained unable to depart the country because of a travel ban (see section 1.c. regarding her arrest).
Exile: There was no government-imposed exile, and the constitution prohibits the government from expelling citizens or banning citizens from returning to the country. Some Mubarak- and Morsi-era politicians lived outside the country by choice and stated they faced government threats of prosecution.
On June 6, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not have to renew the passport of Ayman Nour, the president of the opposition New Ghad Party who was living abroad. Nour filed the lawsuit when the ministry refused to renew his passport at the Egyptian consulates in Turkey and Lebanon.
f. Protection of Refugees
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, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Media, NGOs, and UNHCR staff reported multiple cases of attacks against refugees, particularly women and children. According to UNHCR, refugees sometimes reported harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination. Refugee women and girls, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, faced the greatest risk of societal, sexual, and gender-based violence.
According to UNHCR and press reports, police security sweeps increased in neighborhoods known to house Syrian, Sudanese, and other African refugees, as well as migrants, resulting in increased detentions. Detainees reported authorities subjected them to verbal abuse and poor detention conditions.
Refoulement: Although the government often contacted UNHCR upon detaining unregistered migrants and asylum seekers, authorities reportedly sometimes encouraged unregistered detainees to choose to return to their countries of origin or a neighboring country to avoid continued detention, even in cases where the individuals expressed a fear of return. The number of these cases was unknown.
On January 8, the Supreme Administrative Court made a final ruling that the government could not extradite to Libya six former Libyan officials who were part of the government of former president Muammar Gaddafi. The court stated that according to domestic and international law, they were entitled to protection in Egypt.
UNHCR protested the government’s November 2019 deportation of a Yemeni asylee to Yemen. According to UNHCR, the asylee was arrested in August 2019 in Egypt for his alleged conversion from Islam to Christianity and subsequent proselytizing activities.
Access to Asylum: The constitution provides for the protection of political refugees, but the law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a comprehensive legal regime for providing protection to refugees. The government granted UNHCR authority to make refugee status determinations. UNHCR does not register Libyan citizens; neither does it register or assist Palestinian refugees in the country.
According to UNHCR as of March, asylum seekers in the country came mainly from Syria, as well as from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen.
In 2013 the government began applying a system of visa and security clearance requirements for Syrian nationals and Palestinian refugees from Syria, thus assuring no direct entries from Syria, since Egypt lacked consular services there. Following the UNHCR’s visit in 2017, the country relaxed its visa requirements for Syrians seeking family reunification.
Reports of irregular movements of individuals, including asylum seekers, and detention of foreign nationals attempting to depart the country irregularly via the Mediterranean, remained low during the year, according to UNHCR, following enactment and enforcement of a law dramatically increasing patrols on the country’s Mediterranean coast in 2016.
UNHCR and its partners usually had regular access, by request, to detained registered refugees and asylum seekers along the north coast. Local rights groups faced continued resistance from the government when trying to interview detainees at Qanater men’s and women’s prisons outside Cairo, which housed most detained refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities generally granted UNHCR access to asylum seekers at all prison and detention facilities. Authorities generally released asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, although frequently not detained migrants, many of whom were Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali, and Sudanese (who may have had a basis for asylum claims). Authorities often held detained migrants as unregistered asylum seekers in police stations until UNHCR or other aid agencies assisted them, although sometimes authorities sent some to regular prisons alongside convicted criminals or deported them.
The government has never recognized UNHCR’s mandate to offer services to Palestinians outside of the fields of operations of the UN Relief and Works Agency, reportedly due to a belief that allowing UNHCR registration would negate Palestinian refugees’ alleged right of return. Approximately 2,900 Palestinian refugees from Syria were also present in the country, the majority reportedly in Cairo. The Palestinian Authority mission in the country provided limited assistance to this population. The Swiss Red Cross also provided some humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees from Syria.
Employment: No law grants or prohibits refugees the right to work. Those seeking unauthorized employment were challenged by lack of jobs and societal discrimination, particularly against sub-Saharan Africans. Refugees who found work took low-paying jobs in the informal market, such as domestic servants, and were vulnerable to financial and sexual exploitation by employers.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees, in particular non-Arabic-speaking refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, received limited access to some services, including health care and public education. The Interior Ministry restricted access for some international organizations seeking to assist migrants and refugees in Sinai. UNHCR was unaware of any migrants detained in Sinai since 2016. UNHCR provided some refugees with modest support for education and health care, as well as small monthly financial assistance grants for particularly vulnerable refugees. The International Organization for Migration provided additional assistance to particularly vulnerable migrants and individual asylum cases that were either rejected or being processed by UNHCR.
Refugee children not enrolled in public schools mainly attended refugee-run schools or private schools, or they were home schooled. The law requires government hospitals to provide free emergency medical care to refugees, but many hospitals did not have adequate resources to do so. In some cases hospitals insisted that refugees provide payment in advance of receiving services or refused to provide services to refugees. One local refugee agency reported some refugees died due to the lack of medical care.
Of the eight stateless persons known to UNHCR, most were Armenians displaced for more than 50 years. According to a local civil society organization, the number of stateless persons in the country was likely higher than the number recorded by UNHCR. The government and UNHCR lacked a mechanism for identifying stateless persons, including those of disputed Sudanese/South Sudanese nationality and those of disputed Ethiopian/Eritrean nationality. A majority of the approximately 70,000 Palestinian refugees were stateless.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes insults against any divinity as blasphemy and penalizes offenders with fines. There were no reports of enforcement of this law or of convictions under it during the year.
Speech based on racial, ethnic, national, or religious discrimination is a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Detention is legitimate only in the case of serious violation of fundamental rights and hate crimes. Holocaust denial is an aggravating circumstance carrying additional penalties in judicial proceedings.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and defamation are criminal offenses punishable by up to three years of imprisonment, which may be increased if directed against a politician or government official. Public officials brought cases against journalists under libel laws. Criminal penalties for libel were seldom carried out.
Nongovernmental Impact: Reporters without Borders reported growing hostility toward reporters mainly due to organized crime-affiliated threats. According to the same organization, approximately 20 journalists, especially in and near the South, received around-the-clock police protection because of serious threats or murder attempts. In Rome reporters were at times harassed by neo-Fascist activists and became targets of criticism and harassment on social media platforms by private and political activists, including supporters of the Five Star Movement.
Reporters without Borders reported journalists exposed to threats by criminal organizations increasingly self-censored. On July 14, the national daily La Repubblica published transcripts of conversations of organized crime bosses describing television anchorman Massimo Giletti as an annoyance. Giletti had criticized the release of more than 300 organized crime bosses and associates due to the government’s emergency measures aimed at reducing COVID-19 in prisons.
The 2020 report of the Partner Organizations to the Council of Europe Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists cited concerns over physical and verbal attacks on journalists by neo-Fascist groups.
On April 8, Silvio Palazzolo, a reporter for La Repubblica, was threatened in a Facebook post by the brother of an organized crime boss detained in Sicily. Palazzolo had published an article asserting that the generosity of organized crime affiliates during the COVID-19 lockdown was aimed at increasing their infiltration in communities in Palermo. In July 2019 the National Federation of the Italian Press reported that two organized crime members were intercepted discussing a possible assault against Palazzolo. On April 18, the federation expressed solidarity with the editor of La Repubblica, Carlo Verdelli. According to investigators, Verdelli was the target of multiple Twitter attacks by far-right groups between January and April. On February 2, the founder and former editor of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, received six letters containing insults.
The National Federation of Italian Press also reported 83 cases of threats against journalists between January and June, of which approximately half were published online.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The National Center for the Fight against Child Pornography, part of the National Police, monitored websites for crimes involving child pornography.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other international and humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The uncertainty of EU member states’ willingness to accept a share of migrant arrivals and the fear of possible COVID-19 contagion affected the willingness of authorities to protect migrants and asylum seekers brought to the country by rescue vessels.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: International humanitarian and human rights organizations accused the government of endangering migrants by encouraging Libyan authorities, through cooperation and resources, to rescue migrants at sea and return them to reception centers in Libya. Aid groups and international organizations deemed Libyan centers to have inhuman living conditions.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, and NGOs reported labor exploitation of asylum seekers, especially in the agriculture and service sectors (see section 7.b.), and sexual exploitation of unaccompanied migrant minors (see section 6, Children).
The government uncovered corruption and organized crime in the management of resources allotted for asylum seekers and refugees. In June the Ministry of Interior suspended its contract with an NGO that managed a migration center in Cosenza after one of its managers was accused of corruption in an organized crime investigation.
Refoulement: Amnesty International and other NGOs accused the government of failing to protect migrants when it renewed the 2017 memorandum of understanding on illegal immigration with Libya on February 2. Italian authorities cooperated with the Libyan coast guard to rescue migrants in Libyan waters and take rescued migrants back to Libya. UNHCR did not consider Libya a “safe country” in light of the absence of a functioning asylum system, the widely reported difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, the lack of protection from abuses, and the lack of durable solutions.
Access to Asylum: On April 7, the minister for infrastructure and transportation signed a decree stating that Italian ports could not guarantee to meet the requirements to qualify as place of safety for migrants rescued by foreign-flagged ships outside the Italian search and rescue area due to the massive outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. The decree effectively continued the highly restrictive policy of former deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini. On May 6, the coast guard seized two humanitarian ships, one German and one Spanish, ostensibly because their equipment was inadequate.
NGOs and independent observers identified difficulties in asylum procedures, including inconsistency of standards applied in reception centers and insufficient referral rates of trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors to adequate services.
On October 5, the government adopted a decree reintroducing humanitarian protections for migrants who face risk of life in their countries of origin and authorizing local authorities to provide legal residency to asylum seekers, allowing them to access public services, such as health care and education. Regional adjudication committees took an average of five months to process asylum claims. If a case was legally appealed, the process could last up to two years. On July 31, migration centers hosted 85,000 migrants, a 19-percent decrease from the previous year. From January to June, the government reviewed 71,700 asylum applications.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country is party to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation and its subsequent revisions, which identify the member state responsible for examining an asylum application based primarily on the first point of irregular entry.
Freedom of Movement: The law permits authorities to detain migrants and asylum seekers in identification and expulsion centers for up to 180 days if authorities decide they pose a threat to public order or if they may flee from an expulsion order or pre-expulsion jail sentence. On March 24, in order to prevent COVID-19 contagion in the expulsion centers, the ombudsman for detainees asked the government to free some of the 381 irregular migrants who could not be repatriated and who were detained in expulsion centers. The government worked to reduce migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea on smuggler vessels and imposed restrictions on freedom of movement for up to 72 hours after migrants arrived in reception centers.
Employment: According to labor unions and NGOs, employers continued to discriminate against refugees in the labor market, taking advantage of weak enforcement of legal protections against exploitation of noncitizens. High unemployment in the country and the COVID-19 national lockdown also made it difficult for refugees to find legal employment.
Access to Basic Services: Authorities set up temporary housing for refugees in centers of varying quality, from high-quality centers run by local authorities to repurposed facilities, such as old schools, military barracks, and residential apartments. Some rescued asylum seekers were quarantined off Sicily’s coast aboard cruise ships leased by the government. Some refugees who tested positive for COVID-19 were hospitalized in military facilities. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations and NGOs reported thousands of legal and irregular foreigners, including refugees, were living in abandoned, inadequate, or overcrowded facilities in Rome and other major cities. They also reported refugees had limited access to health care, legal counseling, basic education, and other public services.
Some refugees and asylum seekers working in the informal economy could not afford to rent apartments, especially in large cities. They often lived in makeshift shacks in rural areas or squatted in buildings in substandard conditions. On April 9, authorities in Rome found at least 16 COVID-19-positive refugees squatting in a building with 600 other persons. NGOs and advocacy groups alleged the Rome municipal government failed to provide alternative public housing for evicted persons, including refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government’s limited attempts to integrate refugees into society produced mixed results. The COVID-19 lockdown caused an increase in unemployment among refugees and asylum seekers. The government offered refugees resettlement services. The government and the IOM assisted migrants and refugees who opted to return to their home countries.
Temporary Protection: Between January and July, the government provided special protection to 185 persons and subsidiary protection to 2,258 persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.
Freedom of Speech: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The House of Representatives, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, have done little to reduce restrictions on freedom of speech. Civil society organizations practiced self-censorship because they believed armed groups would threaten or kill activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.
International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and those opposed to the GNA. Many armed groups aligned with the GNA or LNA maintained databases of persons being sought for their alleged opposition activities or due to their identity. Some journalists and human rights activists chose to depart the country during the year rather than remain and endure harassment.
Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Armed groups reportedly used social media to monitor and target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted ad hominem attacks.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which seriously affected the operations of journalists in Tripoli.
Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.
Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.
On January 1, a group of youth activists launched the National Initiative for Peace calling for a ceasefire and were immediately attacked by both LNA- and GNA-affiliated media outlets as “traitors.” Several members received death threats against themselves and their families, and some were arbitrarily detained by LNA forces in Benghazi. Well known blogger and activist Khalid Sakran was among those briefly detained in January. In June he was summoned by LNA military intelligence authorities and held arbitrarily for 11 days before being released after intensive lobbying by UNSMIL and other local and international organizations.
On January 20, the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force abducted a Libyan journalist working for al-Wataniya from his office in Tripoli, allegedly for sharing information with the LNA. He was tortured then released in late January.
On January 16, LNA-aligned units set fire to a radio station in Sirte.
In July it was reported that journalist Ismail Abuzreiba al-Zwei was sentenced in May in a Benghazi military court to 15 years in prison for his affiliation with a satellite television channel deemed “hostile” to eastern Libyan interests. Human rights activists said he was tried in a closed hearing without access to his lawyer and sentenced under the country’s 2014 counterterrorism law, which provides for the arrest of civilians for perceived terrorist acts. He is one of possibly dozens of such journalists, activists, and other civilians who have been detained and tried in LNA military courts in recent years. Human rights defenders have voiced concern that the LNA unfairly applied the counterterrorism law to silence dissent.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.
Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalizes a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.
National Security: The penal code criminalizes speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision during the year.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.
The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were reports that GNA-aligned groups monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.f.).
Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.
Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. A significant body of evidence suggested that foreign actors sought to influence domestic opinion and incite violence in the country by spreading deliberate misinformation on social media and other platforms.
A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation by armed groups and the uncertain political situation.
There were no significant government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
Some members of the Tebu minority residing in southern Libya reported their access to higher education was limited as university campuses were located in geographic areas controlled by Arab tribes that routinely harassed or denied freedom of movement to members of the Tebu minority. Universities reportedly did not provide offsite learning alternatives to these Tebu students.
According to Freedom House, teachers and professors faced intimidation by students aligned with nonstate armed groups.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.
There were reports of several small public protests in Tripoli and other major cities, in which participants expressed frustration with civilian casualties and fatalities caused by the continuing conflict, lack of public utilities such as electricity, and poor service delivery by the national and municipal governments.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) are required to register with the GNA-affiliated Civil Society Commission (CSC) in Tripoli if they have activities in the west and with an eastern, parallel “CSC” in Benghazi if they have activities in the east. International and local CSOs report that the Tripoli and Benghazi commissions, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Directorate of International Affairs, are known to sometimes delay or deny their attempts to register or renew registrations, or unduly to scrutinize their activities. Registration obstacles included: 1) ad hoc preapproval processes that required interfacing with formal and informal security forces, 2) restrictions and approvals for routine meetings, 3) inordinately detailed requests for financial and human resource information, and 4) direct harassment in some cases.
In the west, this type of interference was frequently attributed to Nawasi Brigade affiliates working in the Tripoli-based CSC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, in July the CSC in Tripoli directed one international CSO seeking to renew its registration to get “preapproval” from a Nawasi Brigade official. In another example, on September 10, the Tripoli-based CSC released an official letter that warned Libyan organizations not to meet with international organizations absent CSC approval, hampering local CSO operations. Threats, including death threats, were made against numerous CSO staff members because of their human rights activities, and several of them believed they were under surveillance by intelligence services; they also reported being unjustly detained for short periods. Numerous activists have sought sanctuary abroad
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”
In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south.
There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, including of their personal electronic devices. The country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, western and eastern authorities as well as local municipalities imposed curfews and restrictions on intercity travel to curb the spread of the virus. International and local aid workers noted that these restrictions had the secondary effect of restricting humanitarian access to communities in need.
Citizenship: The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities, but there is still no process for obtaining such permission. Authorities may revoke citizenship if it was obtained based on false information, forged documents, or the withholding of relevant information concerning nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.
If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if a mother’s citizenship is also revoked in this case. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.
Non-Arab communities were marginalized under the Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities, such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country. In addition, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.
Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.
As of September, the IOM estimated there were more than 392,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country. More than half of these IDPs were displaced from the southern Tripoli area alone since April 2019. Following the end of hostilities in southern Tripoli, a slow return of some displaced households commenced in western Libya in July and August; however, the lack of basic services combined with the presence of explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordnance in previously contested areas hindered IDP returns.
IDPs generally resided in rented accommodations or with relatives and other host families. A smaller portion of IDPs lived in schools or other public buildings, in informal camps, shelter facilities, or abandoned buildings.
Most of the 48,000 former residents of the town of Tawergha, near Misrata, who were forcibly displaced after the 2011 revolution for their perceived affiliation with the former regime, remained displaced.
IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services, including to those with disabilities.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies that operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and migrants in some geographic areas and facilities across the country. UN agencies monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNA detention centers. During the year international aid organizations provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNSMIL and various UN agencies, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were routinely subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Perpetrators included state officials, armed groups, smugglers, traffickers, and criminal gangs.
Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants were summarily tortured in official and unofficial detention centers. According to numerous press reports, nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments.
Armed groups and criminal gangs involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports during the year suggested that various human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. There were limited arrests and no known prosecutions by the GNA during the year of Libyan nationals engaged in trafficking or human smuggling. The GNA did not seriously pursue accountability for the massacre of 30 migrants in Mizda in May (see section 1.a.).
In 2018 UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior began receiving refugees at a new Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, intended to host vulnerable refugees while they awaited resettlement. In September 2019, UNSMIL assessed that GDF conditions were overcrowded, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. In January the deputy director of the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM), the state’s migration authority, mobilized hundreds of DCIM guards and Tripoli militia personnel at a site adjacent to the GDF. This militarization of the GDF raised concerns that the facility could be targeted in the continuing Tripoli conflict. UNHCR was forced to suspend its activities at the GDF and negotiated for the evacuation of its residents. According to migrant advocates, numerous other DCIM-affiliated migrant facilities were colocated with or in close proximity to weapons depots and other dual-use sites.
Migrants were exploited for forced labor at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and GNA-aligned armed groups. There were reports that migrants in some official or informal detention locations were forced to engage in forced labor, such as construction and agricultural work, for no wages. According to international observers, some migrants were also forced to provide services for armed groups, such as carrying and transporting weapons, cooking food, cleaning, and clearing unexploded ordnance. In June reports emerged that some Libyan families had hired migrants to clear debris in mine-contaminated areas of Tripoli, exposing these migrants to potential grave bodily harm.
After the onset of COVID-19, there were numerous reports that migrants, particularly sub-Saharan Africans, were harassed or discriminated against by citizens due to the perception that foreigners were transmitting the virus.
Women refugees and migrants faced especially difficult situations, and international organizations received extensive reports of rape and other sexual violence. Nigerian women and girls were vulnerable to trafficking and were routinely detained in houses in Tripoli and Sebha, a southwestern Libyan city. Migrant women and girls were forced into prostitution in both official and unofficial detention facilities in conditions that sometimes amounted to sexual slavery. Other migrant women reported being harassed when leaving their homes to search for work. Many migrant women who had been abused could not return to their countries of origin for fear of stigmatization. The country lacks legal protections for survivors of sexual violence.
Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA has not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities can detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.
Authorities continued to expel migrants and asylum seekers across the country southern borders, and in some areas these activities reportedly increased. In May, UNSMIL noted that at least 1,400 migrants and refugees had been expelled from eastern Libya during the year, contrary to the 2011 Constitutional Declaration. These persons were forcibly deported to Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Somalia.
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, refugee resettlement, emergency evacuation, and migrant voluntary humanitarian return flights were temporarily suspended in the second quarter of the year.
Freedom of Movement: Migrants and asylum seekers were generally considered to be illegally present in the country and were subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. Migrants attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean and who were later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard were considered to have violated the law and were often sent to migrant detention facilities in western Libya.
At least 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and returned to the country during the year. UN agencies expressed concern that thousands of these migrants remained unaccounted for after disembarkation and disappeared into informal detention by human-trafficking networks.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners, but during the year the GNA did not provide refugees with reliable access to health care, education, or other services, given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.
Libyan national mothers alone are generally unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children only in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, or of unknown nationality. In contrast, the law provides for automatic transmission of nationality to children born of a Libyan national father, whether the child is born inside or outside of Libya and regardless of the nationality of the mother. There are naturalization provisions for noncitizens.
According to some reports, up to 30 percent of the population in southern Libya are of undetermined legal status, which has fueled discrimination in employment and services. Noncitizens without national identification numbers cannot access basic services; register births, marriages, or deaths; hold certain jobs; receive state salaries; vote; or run for office.
Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no comprehensive data on the number of stateless persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with some restrictions. There was generally good public access to private radio stations and newspapers. In July, when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets, state-owned media coverage was minimal; however, coverage by private media was ample. On December 18, the transition government declared a state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a letter sent from the Ministry of Territorial Administration to regional and local authorities, this state of emergency granted authorities the power to take “all necessary measures” to control the press, social media, and all nature of publications, including radio and television broadcasts (see also section 1.e, Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” were euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better financed organizations often receiving more favorable press coverage.
Violence and Harassment: The media environment in Bamako and the rest of the south was relatively open, although there were sporadic reports of censorship and threats against journalists. According to Reporters without Borders, a reporter for the newspaper L’Independant was briefly arrested after reporting on the COVID-19 epidemic in the country. Reporting on the situation in the North remained dangerous due to the presence of active armed groups. Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations due to the security situation.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The High Authority for Communication, the country’s media regulator, is the only authority empowered to issue legal rulings on media content.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law imposes fines and prison sentences for conviction of defamation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ami Maiga filed a complaint against two journalists of Ouverture Media who alleged Maiga knowingly boarded a plane from France to the country while “infected with COVID-19.” On September 30, the two defendants were convicted of defamation. They received substantial monetary fines and were ordered to pay damages to Maiga of six million CFA ($10,400).
National Security: The law criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. In late December, five prominent figures were arrested for allegedly conspiring to destabilize the transition government. On December 31, the public prosecutor’s office announced that six individuals were under investigation for “plotting against the government” and “offending the head of state.” Those facing charges included the five who were arrested, including a popular radio presenter, as well as Boubou Cisse, former president Keita’s prime minister, whose whereabouts were unknown, according to the public prosecutor.
During the July protests, the government restricted and interrupted internet access across the country. In its November report focused on human rights abuses committed during those protests, MINUSMA’s HRPD noted that various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and messaging applications Messenger and WhatsApp, were rendered inaccessible on the Orange and Malitel networks during the protests. The internet freedom NGO, NetBlocks, similarly reported that amid the antigovernment protests between July 10 and July 15, social media and messaging were restricted. The Malian Association of Online Press Professionals condemned the disruption.
There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no censorship-related government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Nevertheless, COVID-19 mitigation measures imposed by the government in some instances restricted cultural and educational events. Some artists and students expressed concerns regarding the possible long-term impact of these restrictions.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this freedom. From June to August, antigovernment protesters organized several demonstrations demanding increased government transparency and the resignation of then president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita following the Constitutional Court’s announcement of final legislative election results, which overturned the provisional results of at least 30 seats. According to several reports, state security forces were deployed to disperse protesters and, in some instances, looters. Several media outlets, human rights organizations, and MINUSMA’s HRPD reported the use of live ammunition as well as tear gas by security forces and accused them of using excessive and deadly force (see section 1.a.).
In conjunction with the protests and calls for civil disobedience, several leaders of the M5-RFP movement were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I for at least 48 hours. MINUSMA’s HRPD reported that during the July 10-13 protests, at least 200 persons were arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Camp I and at several police stations in Bamako. Protests in Kayes also led to arrests in that city. Although large numbers of protesters were arrested, judicial records indicated only 21 were prosecuted. Protesters arrested and prosecuted were charged with disturbing the peace and inciting violence. Two were found not guilty while the remaining 19 were sentenced to a range of 45 days’ to 12 months’ imprisonment. By decision of the Appeals Court, they were released in September.
In March the government imposed restrictions on public gatherings as part of the COVID-19 response.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association, except for that of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community. There were no known LGBTI organizations in the country, although some NGOs had medical and support programs focusing specifically on men having sex with men.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/international-religious-freedom-reports/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: While in-country movement was not formally restricted, the military and some militias established checkpoints ostensibly to maintain security. The unstable security situation, flooding, poor road conditions, and armed groups’ purposeful targeting of infrastructure, such as bridges, also limited freedom of movement. The populations of Gao, Kidal, Timbuktu, and parts of Mopti feared leaving the cities for security reasons, including the threat from IEDs (see section 1.g.). MINUSMA and NGOs complained they were often hindered from conducting patrols or carrying out humanitarian missions as a result of impromptu checkpoints by various militias and armed groups such as the Dan Na Ambassagou and CMA.
Police routinely stopped and checked citizens and foreigners to restrict the movement of contraband and verify vehicle registrations. The number of police checkpoints on roads entering Bamako and inside the city increased after a rise in extremist attacks across the country.
Foreign Travel: As a result of COVID-19 mitigation measures, on March 17, the government issued a decree closing all airspace and land borders. On July 25 and July 31, it was lifted for airspace and land borders, respectively. On March 26, the government also implemented a curfew, which it lifted on May 9.
On August 19, following the August 18 overthrow of the government by the military, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) closed airports and imposed a curfew. On August 21, the CNSP reopened the airport and borders; however, land and airspace borders with ECOWAS states remained closed until October 6, as a result of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS in response to the overthrow of the government. On September 6, the CNSP lifted the curfew.
The security conditions in the North and central part of the country, including frequent intercommunal violence, forced many persons to flee their homes, sometimes seeking refuge outside the country. Furthermore, regional insecurity, particularly in neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso, also led to the return of Malian refugees and the arrival of Nigerien and Burkinabe refugees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported 287,496 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country as of October 31, and 143,301 Malian refugees in neighboring countries (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania) as of September 30. Approximately 100,000 IDPs were registered during the previous 12 months, and an estimated 40 percent of all IDPs were registered in Mopti Region. Insecurity related to terrorism and banditry remained a challenge in much of the country. Intercommunal violence and ethnic conflict in the central part of the country continued to cause insecurity and displacement concerns. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), children constituted 58 percent of IDPs in the country.
The Ministry of Solidarity and the Fight against Poverty registered IDPs, and the government assisted them. IDPs generally lived with relatives, friends, or in rented accommodations. Most IDPs resided in urban areas and had access to food, water, and other forms of assistance. As many as one-half of all displaced families lacked the official identity documents needed to facilitate access to public services, including schools, although identification was not required for humanitarian assistance. Aid groups provided humanitarian assistance to IDPs residing throughout the country as access permitted.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian assistance, including some protection services to IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Security restrictions and failure to uphold the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
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. A national committee in charge of refugees operated with assistance from UNHCR. Approximately 15,000 refugees registered in the country were of Afro-Mauritanian origin.
Temporary Protection: The government’s Office of International Migration is responsible for providing temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The National Commission for Refugees adjudicates refugee or asylum claims and provides temporary protection pending a decision on whether to grant asylum.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system generally combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: It remains a criminal offense to “commit an offence against decency or morals, by any act committed in a public place or in a place exposed to the public.” The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months. On January 30, the courts found in favor of civil society activist Manuel Delia in a constitutional case against the government. The courts found that the government had breached Delia’s right to freedom of expression when it ordered the removal of articles protesters, including Delia, had placed on the makeshift memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia, an investigative journalist killed by a car bomb in 2017.
Violence and Harassment: In 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. They were awaiting trial. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials.
In September 2019, Prime Minister Muscat created a commission for an independent public inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s killing. In November 2019, police arrested business magnate Yorgen Fenech as a “person of interest” in the killing, charging him with criminal conspiracy, being an accomplice in Caruana Galizia’s murder, and conspiring to commit murder, among other things. Fenech denied the charges. Both the public inquiry and the murder investigation continued (for case details, see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government delayed safe disembarkation to refugees and migrants intercepted at sea, ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns. There were allegations the government ordered private fishing trawlers to intercept migrants and refugees at sea and to return them forcibly to Libya.
On November 30, the courts ordered the release of four migrants after the courts found that authorities had detained them illegally for 166 days. Earlier, on October 29, the courts had also ordered the immediate release of an Ivorian national after they found that Maltese authorities had detained him illegally for 144 days. On November 4, 50 asylum seekers and the siblings of two others who had died opened a constitutional case against the prime minister, the minister of home affairs, national security, and law enforcement, and the commander of the Armed Forces of Malta after they were reportedly pushed back to Libya in April in a seaborne operation. They alleged that Maltese authorities had violated their human rights, including the right to life and the right to seek asylum and subjected them to inhuman and degrading treatment and collective expulsion. The civil society NGO Republika supported the migrants’ case.
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.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries, in accordance with the Dublin III Regulation.
Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.
In some cases, immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention, which are also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety. Most asylum seekers were allowed one of these alternatives to detention and stayed in detention for no more than two months.
Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and can be extended by a further 12 months. Most persons detained under these regulations stayed in detention for less than three months prior to their return.
Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few chose to participate.
Durable Solutions: Between January and August, 64 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to naturalize. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection–the majority of asylum seekers–are not allowed to do so. From January to September, four migrants sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts continued to move slowly, since migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low-skill sectors.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to July, the country granted subsidiary protection to 148 persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the department of communication, under Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. According to the Freedom House 2020 Freedom in the World report, the press enjoyed a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.
According to the UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara in September, the OHCHR remained concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The report added that the OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations. Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment.
Freedom of Speech: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. Amnesty International and HRW highlighted dozens of cases in which freedom of expression was restricted. During the year the government displayed intolerance for individuals critical of the monarch, local authorities and Islam. According to the government, 359 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).
On January 16, the Laayoune Court of Appeals sustained a court of first instance conviction for Hamza Sbai but reduced the prison sentence from 36 months to eight months. Sbai was convicted under the penal code for his rap video posted on YouTube, titled We Understand. According to the Ministry of Interior, he was sentenced by the court in December 2019 to three years of prison and a fine for “insulting constitutional institutions.” Sbai was transferred from a prison in Laayoune to Bouizakarne in January and was released on August 28.
On March 23, parliament passed a law declaring a health emergency and setting a penalty of a three-month prison sentence for anyone disobeying “orders and decisions taken by public authorities” and for anyone “obstructing” through “writings, publications or photos” those decisions. As of May, 91, a total of 623 individuals were briefly detained or fined for breaking the new state of emergency law, of whom 558 remained in detention.
On March 28, the secretary general of the Presidency of the Public Prosecutor’s Office reported that police had arrested 56 individuals for publishing false information regarding COVID-19.
On May 5, local representatives of the Ministry of Interior in Tiflet reportedly assaulted two journalists while they were covering the COVID-19 lockdown’s impact on local market activity during Ramadan on behalf of a national Amazigh television station. Media reports indicated the officials verbally assaulted a female journalist before slapping her and pushing her to the ground, while her accompanying cameraman sustained a hand injury as he tried to prevent the authorities from confiscating his camera. On May 7, Reporters without Borders condemned the “unacceptable” assault and stated, “The coronavirus crisis must not be used as an excuse to harass journalists who are just trying to do their job.” On May 8, the ministry announced to the French Press Agency that it opened an internal investigation of the claims. The Ministry of Interior denied the claims of police intervention and allegations of assault against the journalist and cameraman.
In August, 400 artists and intellectuals wrote a manifesto denouncing police repression and defamation campaigns, exacerbated by the pandemic situation, citing “several cases of political imprisonment and harassment, including the arrest of journalists Omar Radi (see section 1.f.) and Hajar Raissouni (who was convicted of engaging in premarital sex and attempting to get an abortion before receiving a royal pardon in 2019), as well as repression against social movements.” When some decided to withdraw their signatures from the petition, other activists claimed they had been subjected to intimidation.
On April 27, authorities arrested Omar Naji, vice president of the AMDH Nador branch, and charged him with defamation and spreading false information after he posted on Facebook that local authorities were confiscating goods sold by local merchants in the informal economy. Naji was released on bail pending trial on June 2. The AMDH called Naji’s arrest an attack on freedom of expression, although Naji was found not guilty.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a variety of views within the restrictions of the law. The press code limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. As of September 6, two journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with two in all of 2019.
Two publishing directors of news websites were brought before the crown prosecutor in Mohammedia for allegedly publishing “fake news” on COVID-19. Five other individuals were arrested for sharing the same news via their Facebook accounts.
In March international NGOs drew attention to the government’s suspension of print newspapers during the outbreak of COVID-19 to reduce contact and the spread of the virus.
In March, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Mi Naima, a YouTuber with a large following, posted a video in which she claimed that COVID-19 did not exist. She was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for “sharing fake news.”
On March 17, journalist Omar Radi was sentenced to a four-month suspended prison sentence and fine over a tweet in 2019 in which he criticized the judge who handed down prison sentences against activists of the Hirak movement (see section 1.f.).
On March 27, Kawtar Zaki and Abdelilah Sakhir, both of the online outlet Eljarida 24, received six-month suspended prison sentences and fines for publishing information from a parliamentary committee on corruption by elected officials. Hakim Benchamach, speaker of the upper chamber of parliament, filed the complaint that led to the case, according to Freedom House.
Actor Rafiq Boubker was prosecuted in May for blasphemy, insulting Islam, insulting a corporate body, and violating the state of emergency. In a video leaked on social media, an apparently intoxicated Boubker called an imam derogatory names and called on Moroccans to “pray with vodka”–leading to charges of “insulting the Islamic religion and undermining the sanctity of worship.” Boubker was arrested on the basis of complaints to the crown prosecutor. On July 14, the Ain Sebaa Court of First Instance in Casablanca was set to take place on November 10 but postponed for a later date.
Journalists continued to denounce the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claimed journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in an ambiguous legal status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.
The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports before meeting with political activists.
The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly postponed since 2015; the individuals had not been sentenced at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, Mansouri, Monjib, and Almiraat were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of the country. The seven individuals were charged for posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. On December 29, Maati Monjib was arrested on charges of embezzlement. He had been under a new investigation since October 7 on accusations of money laundering against him. His trial was scheduled to begin in January 2021.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists, often putting them on trial for matters seemingly unrelated to journalism or political activities.
According to media reports, authorities rejected one international journalist’s accreditation request during the year because he lacked a valid permit. The government stated that foreign media representatives who comply with local laws are allowed to perform their duties without interference and that allegations that authorities expelled foreign journalists were unsubstantiated.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure through written and verbal warnings and by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor and host opposition news sites on servers outside the country to avoid being shut down by the authorities. According to Freedom House, personal attacks and derogatory comments received by activists and opinion makers online, often in response to their criticism of government policies, also contributed to self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.
Individuals not registered as journalists may be charged for defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as can accredited journalists for their private actions.
Between November 2019 and January, NGOs reported 10 individuals were arrested for “offending public officials and institutions.”
National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.” The law assigns legal liability to the author and anyone who in any way helps the author to disseminate information deemed as a justification for acts of terrorism, which would include site owners and internet service providers. While the law was designed to combat terrorism, authorities retain the discretion to define terms such as “national security” and “public order,” under the penal code for which the government can seek fines of up to 200,000 s ($21,000) for publishing content online seen as disruptive to public order, with the maximum fine of 500,000 s ($52,000) if the content offends the military. Online speech offenses related to the monarchy, Islam, and Western Sahara, as well as threats to national security can carry prison sentences of two to six years.
The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during the year. Nonetheless, security officials pressured activists to delete sensitive content. The same report indicated there has been an influx of progovernment online outlets that published false and defamatory news about dissidents. The report also noted there have been cases in which bloggers were arrested or imprisoned for content the government deemed politically sensitive. Social media and communication services, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and continuing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector, not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.
According to Freedom House, numerous accounts were created on Twitter and Facebook with the apparent purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities. Activists believed these progovernment commentators were also equipped with direct or indirect access to surveillance tools, since they often obtained private information about other users.
Many contributors working for online news outlets and many online news outlets themselves were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.
On April 27, a draft bill seeking to limit social media commentary promoting boycotts and businesses was leaked. After the draft language sparked rapid and broad condemnation by civil society, the minister of justice on May 3 withdrew the bill from consideration and initiated consultations on the proposed legislation with the CNDH and civil society. On May 12, during a video conference on human rights, CNDH president Amina Bouayach said she considered the bill significantly “outdated” and “unsuitable for Morocco,” reiterating that the CNDH had a clear stance on free speech online and viewed social media as “an incubator of freedoms.”
According to various NGOs, the government frequently hacked Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts.
The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, and the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approves appointments of university rectors.
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Some NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. Amnesty International reported continued arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, particularly of individuals supporting independence for Western Sahara.
Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs in Western Sahara stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernible difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals occurred on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.
On March 23, the government implemented a royal decree concerning the state of health emergency, making a violation of public authority confinement measures punishable with one to three months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 1,240 s ($130), or both; the decree also makes the use of social media or broadcast networks to spread misinformation about COVID-19 or incite criminal activity punishable with up to one year in prison. The UN high commissioner for human rights noted that security forces “used excessive force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews.” According to a report by Amnesty International published in June, a total of 91,623 individuals were prosecuted from March to May for breaking the state of emergency. At least 588 persons remained in detention for breaking the state of emergency, according to the May 22 official statement of the public prosecutor’s office.
Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process for holding a demonstration consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. HRW’s World Report 2020 highlighted interference with associations that expressed views critical of the monarch and events organized by the AMDH. Police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests, arrested protesters and protest leaders, or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, approximately 4,400 protests took place from January to July. While most protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions violence erupted between protesters and police.
Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration became unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflowed into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers were required to give the crowd three warnings that force would be used if they did not disperse. Security forces would then attempt to force protesters to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protesters into a designated area or carrying seated protesters to the designated area.
Security force tactics did not differ significantly whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervened in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.
In February the CNDH released a report about security force actions to disperse the 2017 Hirak protests and largely upheld police action on the basis that the protests had gradually escalated towards violence. NGOs and the CNDH continued to monitor the Rif Hirak prisoners sentenced by the Casablanca Court of Appeal in April 2019.
On January 28, two participants from a “Philosophy in the Street” event promoting freedom of expression were arrested and later released in Rabat. Event organizers stated this was the first time members from the group had been arrested as part of a public meeting. On July 22, one of the activists was tried for public intoxication and fined 500 s ($50).
The CNDH’s Laayoune and Dakhla regional commissions monitored 24 demonstrations from January to July. Security forces dispersed several demonstrations by force, with clashes resulting in injuries on both sides.
In July, CNDH’s Laayoune Commission was approached by an association of migrants about a clash between law enforcement officials and a group of 78 sub-Saharan migrants in an irregular situation, who were held in a reception center and tried to leave it without authorization. The commission visited the scene of the clashes and monitored the exchange of violence between police and this group of immigrants who stormed the outer door of the accommodation center in a bid to break the health state of emergency, which led the police officer present to shoot two rubber bullets in the air as a warning; a third rubber bullet hit a migrant. The situation was contained, while a police officer and four migrants were admitted to hospital with minor bruises. The judicial police of Laayoune opened a preliminary investigation.
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion or questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).
Amnesty International reported that Moroccan authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of Sahrawi human rights groups.
The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to local officials of the ministry. The local officials of the ministry issue a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered. According to the law, however, any association not denied registration that did not receive a receipt within 60 days of submitting the required documentation has the right to engage in activities. These same organizations reported extended delays in receiving correspondence from the ministry on the receipt issue.
Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions. On February 13, a group of human rights organizations gathered to denounce the ministry’s refusal to issue receipts of registration to certain organizations that cover human rights. The organizations stated local officials’ refusal to issue receipts is a violation of article five of Law 75, which governs the right of association. One of the organizations, the Moroccan Federation of Human Rights, reported the ministry has refused to issue it a registration receipt for the last five years.
On February 29, media reported the authorities prevented an NGO from conducting training on “national and international mechanisms to protect human rights activists” in Meknes. Media reported the hotel had received notice from authorities to cancel the activity. According to the government, the local authorities did not cancel the event, rather, the hotel refused to host the event after the organizers were unable to provide the necessary meeting permits.
The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
The Justice and Charity Organization, a Sunni Islamist movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated, although authorities continued to monitor its activities.
In October 2019 local authorities refused to accept the application of a religious freedom organization based in Casablanca, which attempted to register as an association.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis to travel and encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Refugees wishing to return are required to obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania. There were a few reported cases, however, of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling.
On January 2, the Moroccan authorities prevented representatives of Sahrawi NGOs from celebrating activist Aminatou Haidar’s reception of the 2019 Right Livelihood Award. Authorities denied activists access to the venue and forced all those present to leave the headquarters of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Violations of Human Rights Committed by the State of Morocco in El-Ayoun.
In-country Movement: There were several reports of government authorities denying local and international organizations and press access to the Rif and Eastern regions. The government, however, maintained that no international organizations or press were denied access to the Rif region.
f. Protection of Refugees
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, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.
The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Authorities continued cooperation with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest smugglers. A decrease in Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking coincided with increased border controls implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CNDH regional branches reported receiving several complaints regarding the rights of migrants. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory. Several NGOs reported the week of February 14 that authorities were forcibly removing groups of migrants from proximity to the coast and Spanish enclave cities to the southern region. One NGO alleged that security services moved approximately 10,000 sub-Saharan migrants from the north to the south of the country and deported another 3,000 migrants from Guinea-Conakry, Mali, or Cameroon to their home countries. The government maintained the return of third-country nationals to their country of origin was coordinated with diplomatic legations who endorsed these departures and issued the appropriate papers (see section 2.f, Durable Solutions).
On February 10, the international NGO Alarm Phone reported to the press that Morocco allegedly deported a Yemeni migrant to Algeria in mid-September 2019.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government recognizes asylum status for refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 1,363 refugees registered in the country and six asylum seekers.
Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and health care. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration have cofunded the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 migrants between January 2019 and March 2020.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside the more permanent migrant regularization program.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes threatened and harassed journalists and media members.
Freedom of Speech: The government arrested civil society activists and pressured journalists who expressed criticism of the government.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views with some restrictions. The government owned and operated television, radio, and major print publications, and provided funding to independent media publications through the Supreme Council of Communications, which ostensibly monitored content for factual accuracy and unbiased coverage.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities occasionally arrested journalists and civil society activists linked to factual inaccuracies in reporting on government corruption, specifically on allegations of financial mismanagement in the Ministry of National Defense.
On March 5, police arrested journalist Kaka Touda Mamane Goni for publishing false statements after he posted a report online concerning a suspected case of COVID-19 at a Niamey hospital. On March 26, he received a three-month suspended sentence, and a court ordered him to pay a token fine to the hospital.
On March 18, police arrested journalist Moudi Moussa and two activists and released them in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners).
On June 10, authorities arrested and detained blogger-journalist Samira Sabou on charges of defamation filed by the son of the president after she alleged in a May 26 blogpost that he was involved in a major military procurement corruption scandal. A Niamey court acquitted Sabou and released her on July 28. On July 12, police detained Ali Soumana, the editor of the newspaper Le Courrier, a day after Soumana published an article regarding the same procurement scandal. On July 14, he was provisionally released pending trial.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists believed they did not practice self-censorship, but they admitted some topics were taboo. Opposition journalists sometimes encountered pressure from authorities concerning reporting critical of the government. State-owned and -operated media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government. The government broadly excluded opposition journalists from official press conferences and events.
National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions grants the government special authority over media for security reasons. Responding to an increased rate of terrorist attacks, the government extended the state of emergency in these regions on a rolling three-month basis through parliamentary approval.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the Internet, but it monitored online content and used Facebook postings as a basis to charge civil society activists with crimes. For example, authorities arrested Ali Tera in 2019 based on his online activity in which he was critical of the government, including calling for the president’s assassination. Ali Tera remained in detention and under investigation.
The law to counter cybercriminality also regulates social media use by criminalizing “blackmail,” propagation of “fake news,” “defamatory writings,” “hate speech,” or “libel” on social media. Offenders face from six months to three years in prison and fines. Critics of the law believed it aims to silence social media, journalists, and bloggers from exerting their rights on the internet, since authorities were increasing restrictions on traditional press.
There were some government restrictions on academic freedom. The government planned to appoint university chancellors instead of election by university professors and staff in previous years. After a months-long strike by academic personnel, the government accepted peer-elected chancellors but appointed the university president, who presides over the chancellors. The Ministry of Higher Education returned payroll deductions to the striking teachers and paid backlogged salaries for researchers.
The government at times restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, police sometimes forcibly dispersed demonstrators. The government retained authority to prohibit gatherings under tense social conditions or if organizers did not provide 48-hour advance notice. At a protest against corruption in March, police made arrests and fired tear gas, and a resulting marketplace fire killed three persons.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this freedom; however, government representatives accused human rights-related civil society organizations of being “putschist” or intending to overthrow the government. The law does not permit political parties based on ethnicity, religion, or region.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government respected most of these rights.
In-country Movement: Security forces at checkpoints throughout the country monitored the movement of persons and goods, particularly near major population centers, and sometimes demanded bribes. Transportation unions and civil society groups continued to criticize such practices. The government continued its ban on motorcycles in Tillabery Region and parts of Dosso Region.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated there were approximately 257,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) nationally, including 103,000 in the Diffa Region, and approximately 34,000 returned citizens from Nigeria displaced by Boko and ISIS-WA-instigated violence. IDPs resided mainly in out-of-camp settings in the Diffa Region. The government worked with foreign donors and the humanitarian community, including international aid organizations and NGOs, to supply displaced populations and hosting communities with shelter, food, water, and other necessities. The government engaged in efforts to promote the safe voluntary return or resettlement of IDPs. The law provides for the protection and assistance of persons fleeing violence, floods, drought, and other disasters, which would primarily benefit IDPs.
Intercommunal conflict between farmers and herders in northern Tillabery Region, combined with banditry and attacks by terrorist groups, resulted in population displacement. As of September UNHCR reported approximately 84,000 IDPs in the Tillabery Region and more than 55,000 in the Tahoua Region. Insecurity in the Maradi Region also caused a sharp increase in IDPs, rising to 17,000 newly displaced persons in September.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, or other persons of concern.
UNHCR closed the three refugee camps it managed in the Tillabery Region (Tabareybarey, Mangaize, and Abala) as part of an urbanization strategy for the region. The refugees received shelter and plots of land near the villages of Ayerou, Ouallam, and Abala. UNHCR also managed one official “refugee zone” in the Tahoua Region (Intikane) and one refugee camp in the Diffa Region, and it assisted refugees in the urban centers of Niamey and Ayorou.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that immigration and security service members demanded bribes from migrants. Refugees and IDPs in the Diffa, Tillabery, and Tahoua Regions were vulnerable to armed attacks. In the Diffa Region, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA continued unlawful recruitment of child soldiers among refugees. These refugees and IDPs were stigmatized by some in host communities, who believed they might harbor (intentionally or unintentionally) violent extremist organization elements.
Following a violent attack on Intikane in June by unidentified armed men on motorbikes, approximately 25 percent of the refugee population fled to Telemces.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
Durable Solutions: A tripartite agreement between UNHCR, the government, and the Mali government provides a legal framework for voluntary refugee repatriation when conditions in Mali are conducive for sustainable returns. The parties considered conditions in parts of northern Mali were not yet conducive for large-scale returns in safety and dignity, and return was not promoted.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to an unknown number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.
The government also allowed the International Organization for Migration to operate a repatriation program assisting migrants traversing the country to return to their countries of origin.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits, subject to judicial oversight, actions including public speeches and the publication of documents that the government interprets as celebrating or supporting terrorism. The law provides for imprisonment from one to four years for persons who provoke discrimination, hatred, or violence against groups or associations on the basis of ideology, religion or belief, family status, membership in an ethnic group, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, illness, or disability.
On February 25, the Constitutional Court ruled that criticism, even severe, of politicians is protected speech and overturned the prison sentence of rapper Cesar Strawberry. In 2017 the Supreme Court sentenced Strawberry to a one-year imprisonment related to his social media posts criticizing politicians that the court ruled as hate speech.
The Law on the Protection of Citizen Security, known as the “gag law,” penalizes the downloading of illegal content, the use of unauthorized websites, violent protests, insulting a security officer, recording and disseminating images of police, and participating in unauthorized protests outside government buildings. The NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) called the law a threat to press freedom, and the Professional Association of the Judiciary considered it contrary to freedom of speech and information. During the government-decreed state of alarm from March 14 through June 20, state security forces used this law to fine citizens who violated mandatory confinement orders. Amnesty International protested the use of the law to fine several persons who filmed an incident allegedly showing police harassing a mentally ill man and his mother, noting its longstanding concerns with the vague formulation of the law, which authorizes sanctions for “lack of respect of law enforcement officials.” The acting ombudsman declared in April his intention to investigate its application during the confinement. On November 19, the Constitutional Court, in deciding a case brought by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in 2015, upheld most of the law but ruled the provision against unauthorized recordings of members of security forces to be unconstitutional.
In a March 8 report, the UN special rapporteur for minority issues expressed concern that the October 2019 sentencing of 12 Catalan politicians and civil society activists interfered with the freedom of expression and nonviolent political dissent of the Catalan minority and could serve as a signal to prevent the political dissent of other minority groups. The national ombudsman rejected the categorization of the Catalan-speaking population as a minority.
On July 16, Amnesty International called on the government to repeal the criminalization of the glorification of terrorism, insults to the crown, and offending “religious feelings,” which it maintained unduly restricts freedom of expression.
On January 16, the Barcelona hate crimes prosecutor presented the first-ever legal complaint against an individual who falsely claimed in social media that unaccompanied foreign minors were linked to school violence. The prosecutor noted that online hate speech was often not prosecuted due to lack of information on the identities of the perpetrators.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views generally without restriction. The RSF and other press freedom organizations, however, indicated that the country’s restrictive press law and its enforcement impose censorship and self-censorship on journalists. In January the Universal Periodic Review of the country by the UN Human Rights Council noted that the Law on the Protection of Citizen Security was used against journalists who reported on police action during protests.
Journalist associations denounced the format of the government’s press conferences during the government-decreed state of alarm during the COVID-19 pandemic. The journalists claimed they had to send all questions in writing in advance to a government communications office, which then relayed them to the relevant ministry. They alleged that not all their questions were passed on and that they were unable to engage in direct dialogue with government officials. More than 400 journalists signed an open letter to the government under the title “The Freedom to Ask” and demanded increased access to question government officials. In April the government ended its requirement that questions be submitted in writing in advance.
Violence and Harassment: There were multiple reports of government officials’ verbally attacking certain media outlets and specific journalists. On March 1, President Pedro Sanchez accused “conservative” media of “stirring up society” every time conservatives lose an election. The same day, Second Vice President and Podemos party Secretary General Pablo Iglesias claimed press critical of the government had “offended the dignity of journalism.” Also in March, Iglesias threatened to send a journalist to prison for publishing compromising information about his party, especially regarding its financing. The comments were immediately condemned by the Press Association of Madrid.
In July, following comments by Iglesias against the press and a tweet by Podemos party congressional spokesperson Pablo Echenique attacking the professionalism of a television anchor, the Federation of Journalists Associations of Spain condemned Iglesias and Echenique for attempting to “coerce and intimidate” journalists to prevent them from freely exercising their profession. The RSF also called on the Podemos party leadership and all political parties to respect the freedom of the press.
The RSF blamed repeated attacks against media by the Vox party for provoking verbal and physical attacks on reporters during May countrywide protests against the government’s COVID-19 policies. In one instance several individuals assaulted a photographer covering a protest in Madrid, threw his camera to the ground, and tore his shirt. The RSF also voiced concerns about Vox’s online harassment of critical journalists and fact checkers and condemned Vox for banning some media outlets from attending its press conferences and election events.
In February the International Federation of Journalists warned in its 2019 annual report about the increase in cases of violence against the exercise of journalism in Catalonia, asserting that this community has become “dangerous territory” for journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government fully funds the public media conglomerate Spanish Radio Television (RTVE). The RTVE’s president is proposed by the government and confirmed by parliament. Journalists complained that the RTVE, under a caretaker president since 2018, operated with insufficient oversight and claimed that the caretaker president arbitrarily reassigned news directors and journalists.
Libel/Slander Laws: Under the law slander is an offense punishable with six months’ to two years’ imprisonment or a fine. The law was not used by the government or individual public figures to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents. The law does not criminalize blasphemy, but fines may be levied against those who offend the feelings of members of a religious belief or of those who do not have a religious belief.
National Security: Amnesty International and other organizations criticized the antiterrorism law as overly broad, but there were no known reports of the government using the law to suppress its critics.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities monitored websites for material containing hate speech or promoting anti-Semitism or terrorism.
There were no official government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
In its 2019 annual report published on May 13, the ombudsman reported continuing complaints about the lack of “ideological neutrality” in places of education, particularly in Catalonia. This included instances of “partisan symbolism” on the facades of schools and other public spaces in Catalonia. The ombudsman reported resistance by authorities–particularly Catalan regional government departments and city councils as well as educational, cultural, and health centers–to removing such symbolism after receiving citizen complaints. The ombudsman called upon these authorities to uphold principles of ideological neutrality in public spaces.
The law provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The Law on the Protection of Citizen Security provides for fines of up to 600 euros ($720) for failing to notify authorities about peaceful demonstrations in public areas, up to 30,000 euros ($36,000) for protests resulting in “serious disturbances of public safety” near parliament and regional government buildings, and up to 600,000 euros ($720,000) for unauthorized protests near key infrastructure. By law any protesters who refuse to disperse upon police request may be fined.
In July, Amnesty International expressed concern that the right to peaceful assembly was “unduly restricted” under the Law on the Protection of Citizen Security. The organization asserted the Law on the Protection of Citizen Security was arbitrarily enforced during the March-June government-mandated state of alarm due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government declared a state of alarm throughout the country from March 14 through June 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of alarm restricted internal movement and foreign travel. During most of this period, movement was restricted to purchasing food, medicine, and essential goods; visits to the doctor, bank, or insurance company; going to essential employment; or taking care of children, the elderly, or other dependent persons. Police were empowered to impose sanctions on those who did not comply with the restrictions. According to data provided by the national government representatives in the country’s 17 autonomous regions, during the state of alarm there were more than 1.1 million proposed sanctions (generally fines) and more than 9,000 arrests for violations of confinement orders. When the national state of alarm ended, some regional governments imposed restrictions of movement in certain places because of an increase in the number of infections.
While the state of alarm was legally enacted by parliamentary approval, some civil society organizations noted it was applied inconsistently and arbitrarily. The ombudsman reported receiving thousands of citizens’ complaints during the state of alarm and expressed concern about possible abuses, but on September 4, the ombudsman ultimately declared the measure constitutional in light of significant health concerns.
During the state of alarm, immigrants in irregular status and those working in the informal economy, particularly domestic workers, were often sanctioned by law enforcement while travelling to their workplaces due to the lack of required employer authorization paperwork. Amnesty International expressed concern about the disproportionate impact of the state of alarm on homeless persons and the “dozens of cases” in which they were fined for being on the streets. The NGOs Rights International Spain and International Decade for People of African Descent maintained police enforced an excessive interpretation of sanctions during the state of alarm by not requiring police officers to issue direct, specific, and individualized infractions.
On June 16, the European Parliament’s Petitions Committee approved a request from a Spanish lawyer to investigate whether the government exceeded the limits of the state of alarm and violated fundamental rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Irregular migration to the country increased by 26 percent during the year compared with the same time in 2019, with 37,303 arrivals as of November 30, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Sea arrivals increased by 50 percent (35,862 arrivals as of November 30) primarily due to the increased popularity of the West African route to the Canary Islands, which saw a more than 10-fold increase during the year, with 21,028 migrants arriving by this route as of December 6. Local NGOs reported that more than 2,000 of the arrivals were unaccompanied minors, who were placed under the care of the Canary Islands regional government. According to UNHCR, the government’s limited resources for evaluating new arrivals often made it difficult for the government to distinguish between economic migrants and those seeking international protection.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UNHCR, the International Organization on Migration (IOM), NGOs, the national police union, and an association of judges criticized the government-operated internment centers for foreigners who are to be deported (CIEs) for a variety of reasons, including alleged violation of human rights, overcrowding, prison-like treatment, and a lack of interpreters. The law sets the maximum time for detention in CIEs at 60 days. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Moroccan and Algerian migrants were detained in CIEs upon entry to Spain, because these countries have extradition agreements with the Spanish government. Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were not sent to CIEs but were placed into the voluntary care of humanitarian NGOs.
In May the government closed the CIEs because border closures prevented the return of migrants to their countries of origin. Most new irregular arrivals arriving by sea were tested for COVID-19, and those who tested positive were referred to health authorities. Moroccans and Algerians already present in CIEs were released, and new arrivals from those countries were either placed into the care of NGOs or released. On September 22, the government announced it would reopen the seven CIEs on the peninsula and the Canary Islands and resume repatriations. The CETIs in Ceuta and Melilla remained open during the state of alarm.
In Melilla overcrowding at a CETI prompted local authorities to house migrants temporarily at the city’s bullring. On August 26, police arrested 33 migrants at a CETI after a protest against poor conditions and concerns of contagion turned violent. In late August, Amnesty International, UNHCR, the IOM, and the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about deteriorating conditions in Melilla and called on the government to transfer migrants to the mainland to alleviate severe overcrowding. Two judges blocked the local government’s attempts to lock down the CETI after several migrants tested positive for COVID-19, stating it was the central government’s responsibility to transfer migrants to the mainland in accordance with a Supreme Court decision on July 29 allowing freedom of movement throughout the country for asylum seekers who applied in Melilla and Ceuta. On September 2, a total of 60 migrants were transferred from the bullring to the mainland, the first such transfer since May.
The regional governments in Andalusia, Murcia, and the Canary Islands all reported difficulties managing COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements for migrants arriving by sea. Local NGOs in the Canary Islands reported being overwhelmed by the large number of migrant arrivals to the islands exacerbated by the central government’s decision not to transfer most migrants to the mainland to prevent encouraging more migrants to make the journey. Beginning in August the government started housing thousands of migrants in Red Cross tents at the Arguineguin port on Grand Canary Island, reaching a peak of 2,600 migrants in mid-November. NGOs and local government officials reported insufficient toilets and other sanitation supplies, bedding, and nutritional food for the migrants. On November 28, the ombudsman, citing overcrowded conditions, called on the interior minister to close the port immediately and to transfer the migrants to other facilities. On December 1, the government closed the port and transferred newly arrived migrants to a military installation, also on Grand Canary Island.
Since 2019 the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) adopted 14 decisions against the country concerning age determination of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the country. On October 13, the CRC stated that the country’s procedures to assess the age of unaccompanied migrant children violated their fundamental human rights. The CRC experts found various violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the right to identity, the right to be heard, and the right to special protection of children deprived of their family environments. In one case, according to the CRC, a 17-year-old Guinean teenager arrived in Almeria in 2017 after the Red Cross intercepted the small boat in which he was travelling. Although the teenager told police he was younger than 18, the police allegedly registered him as an adult without performing any age assessment. Police rejected his asylum application and detained him in a CIE for adults. Authorities released him 52 days later after an NGO helped him obtain his birth certificate, but, according to the CRC, he was not assigned a guardian to look after his legal interests, and he was not offered special protection provided for children under Spanish and international law.
Refoulement: The country has bilateral agreements with Morocco and Algeria that allow Spain to deport approximately 95 percent of irregular migrant arrivals of citizens from those countries, almost all without administrative processing or judicial order, in accordance with the Law of the Protection of Citizen Security. NGOs continued to criticize this practice, known as “hot returns.” Repatriations under these agreements stopped in March when the border was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government maintained this practice is legal and did not report the statistics of the number of persons returned to Morocco or Algeria. An agreement between Spain and Morocco permits the Spanish Maritime Safety Agency to operate from Moroccan ports and to return irregular migrants it rescues off the Moroccan coast to shore in Morocco rather than to Spain.
On February 13, the ECHR reversed its position on Spanish “hot returns” of migrants that occasionally cross the land border from Morocco into the enclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In 2017 the ECHR ordered Spain to pay 10,000 euros ($12,000) in compensation to two migrants who were returned to Morocco immediately after jumping the border at Melilla in 2014. The Spanish government at the time appealed the ruling. The ECHR’s new ruling determined that the government did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights, because the migrants put themselves in an illegal situation instead of attempting a regularized entry. Therefore, their immediate return was a consequence of their own conduct, the ruling concluded.
Local NGOs and UNHCR reported several cases of refoulement by authorities in Ceuta and Melilla. The local NGO Walking Borders accused the government of the refoulement of 42 migrants to Morocco on January 3. According to the group’s statement, which was cosigned by more than 60 other human rights groups, authorities picked up the migrants from the Spanish islands of Chafarinas and returned them to neighboring Morocco without verifying their identity or ensuring that those eligible for asylum could have their claims processed. Authorities denied the so-called “hot return,” stating that the migrants were rescued at sea by Moroccan authorities and were never on Spanish territory. The ombudsman rejected the government’s claim.
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. Authorities review asylum petitions individually, and there is an established appeals process available to rejected petitioners. The law permits any foreigner in the country who is a victim of gender-based violence or of trafficking in persons to file a complaint at a police station without fear of deportation, even if that individual is in the country illegally.
The COVID-19 pandemic froze the asylum application process during the government-decreed state of alarm, during which time potential asylum seekers were unable to make new petitions for asylum. NGOs including the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR) and the Red Cross as well as UNHCR continued to report concerns about delays in the asylum application process, with wait times varying across regions. UNHCR reported a one- to three-month waiting period to get an appointment to request asylum in Madrid and up to a year in some areas of Catalonia. Since the end of the state of alarm, the Ministry of the Interior has acknowledged continued delays because of the limited ability to conduct in-person interviews.
The ministry began digitalizing its asylum system to alleviate some of the case backlog. On November 4, a ministry official told congress that the Office of Asylum and Refugees increased its staff from 60 to 291 to speed up application processing. According to the secretary of state for migration, by October 30 the government had reduced the case backlog to 3,000, down from 8,000 earlier in the year.
UNHCR reported that 78,812 individuals had filed asylum claims in the country as of the end of October, a decrease of 16 percent from the same period in 2019. Of these, Latin Americans (particularly from Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador) accounted for 86 percent of applications; Venezuelans were the largest group (see below Temporary Protection). Most migrants arriving to the country from Africa and the Middle East sought to transit to other destinations in Europe and therefore did not apply for asylum in Spain.
According to CEAR’s 2020 Annual Report, in 2019, 118,264 individuals applied for asylum in the country. The government offered international protection to 5.2 percent of applicants whose cases were resolved, compared with 24 percent in 2018. Of the 60,198 persons whose cases were resolved in 2019, 2.7 percent (1,653) were granted refugee status. Large percentages of applicants from Colombia (98.9 percent), the West Bank and Gaza (90.6 percent), El Salvador (88.5 percent), Nicaragua (84 percent), and Honduras (79.5 percent) did not receive either asylum status or other protection.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Under EU law the country considers all other countries in the Schengen area, the EU, and the United States to be safe countries of origin.
Freedom of Movement: The COVID-19 pandemic limited migrants’ freedom of movement since the government blocked many transfers of migrants from Ceuta, Melilla, and the Canary Islands to reception centers on the mainland. According to UNHCR, the government regularly facilitated humanitarian transfers from Ceuta and Melilla prior to the government-decreed state of alarm from March to June, but during the state of alarm it facilitated only two such transfers. The government did not provide data on transfers from the Canary Islands, but NGOs including the Spanish Red Cross reported it slowed considerably due to the pandemic. In November the interior minister announced the government would only transfer a small minority of vulnerable migrants to the mainland to prevent encouraging more migrants to make the journey. The ombudsman criticized the decision, and stated the government violated the freedom of movement of migrants it kept in tents at the Arguineguin port beyond the 72 hours of police custody permitted under the law.
On July 29, the Supreme Court ruled that migrants who apply for asylum in Ceuta or Melilla have the right to freedom of movement throughout the country. Previously, NGOs had criticized the government for not allowing freedom of movement for asylum seekers from the two autonomous enclaves until a decision had been made on the admissibility of their claim.
Employment: NGOs noted that many asylum seekers were unable to renew their paperwork required for employment due to lack of in-person appointments, leading some to miss job opportunities.
Access to Basic Services: Migrants from countries without a return agreement and those who demonstrated eligibility for international protection were provided housing and basic care for up to three months as part of a government-sponsored reception program managed by various NGOs. Due to the difficulty for migrants seeking international protection on the Canary Islands to travel to the mainland during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spanish Red Cross permitted some migrants to stay in their reception centers for longer than three months.
In September the secretary of state for migration issues accepted the ombudsman’s recommendation to grant temporary residency permits to those seeking international protection without having to give up their applications for asylum.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for relocation and resettlement and provided assistance through NGOs such as CEAR, Accem, and the Spanish Red Cross. UNHCR noted the country’s system for integrating refugees, especially vulnerable families, minors, and survivors of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, needed improvement.
The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and migrants to their homes or the country from which they came.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals whose applications for asylum were pending review or who did not qualify as refugees. CEAR reported that in 2019 the government granted international subsidiary protection to 1,503 individuals. Additionally, the government granted one-year residency permits (which can be extended to two years) on humanitarian grounds to 39,776 applicants (66 percent of applicants whose cases were resolved), the overwhelming majority of them from Venezuela. Humanitarian protection was generally not granted to immigrants from other Latin American countries.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, the country has adopted a policy of providing humanitarian protection to Venezuelans who do not qualify for other types of international protection in the country, including asylum. As of October 31, a total of 25,858 Venezuelans applied for asylum in the country, at 33 percent of all applicants, the largest group of asylum seekers. Humanitarian protection provides residency and work authorization for one year, which can be extended. Humanitarian protection was generally not granted to immigrants from other Latin American countries.
According to UNHCR, at the end of 2019, a total of 4,246 stateless persons lived in the country. The law provides a path to citizenship for stateless persons. The law includes the obligation to grant nationality to those born in the country of foreign parents, if both lack nationality or if legislation from neither parent’s country of nationality attributes a nationality to the child, as well as to those born in the country whose parentage is not determined.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although government officials acknowledged a Ministry of Justice effort to review and revise the 1968 code of criminal procedures (CPP) and the 1913 penal code to comply with the 2014 constitution, activists and members of civil society expressed concern with the slow pace of reforms. Apart from a few discrete modifications to sections governing rape and pretrial detention, no changes have been made to the penal code since 2011, leading authorities to enforce provisions of the penal code that appear to contradict the rights and freedoms protected in the constitution. For the CPP, however, the government has introduced notable changes, including the introduction of alternatives to incarceration and probation (see section 1.c., Improvements), reorganization of Judicial Police and moving the Office of the Judicial Police under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, and applying a more refined definition of flagrante delicto, obvious offense. As of October 2019, the independent committee of experts in charge of amending these two criminal codes submitted revisions to the CPP to the Justice Ministry, enabling the ministry to prepare a draft law to parliament for review and adoption. By the end of January, the Ministry of Justice had nearly completed its efforts to revise the 1913 penal code to comply with the 2014 constitution and international human rights norms, according to representatives of the committee responsible for this process, but the revisions were pending parliamentary approval as of December.
Civil society activists continued to cite the lack of a constitutional court as hindering efforts to align existing legislation with the 2014 constitution and international human rights norms, particularly legislation pertaining to individual freedoms and fundamental rights (see section 3).
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government mainly respected this right, although there were constraints. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system contributed to an environment generally conducive to this freedom. Some media outlets and civil society expressed concerns about occasional government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few political parties or families.
Freedom of Speech: Public speech considered offensive to “public morals” or “public decency,” terms undefined in the law, continued to be treated as criminal acts. Provisions of the penal and telecommunications codes, for example, criminalize speech that causes “harm to the public order or public morals” or intentionally disturbs persons “in a way that offends the sense of public decency.”
On November 9, Amnesty International issued a report that highlighted an increasing number of prosecutions of bloggers and Facebook users for peaceful expression of opinion online. Amnesty International examined the cases of 40 bloggers, administrators of widely followed Facebook pages, political activists, and human rights defenders, who between 2018 and 2020 had been investigated or charged or sometimes sentenced on criminal charges including defamation, insulting state institutions, and “harming” others through telecommunication networks.
For example, Amnesty International reported on April 21, that authorities arrested two bloggers for criticizing the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. The first blogger, Hajer Awadi, posted a video on her Facebook page accusing local authorities in the city of Kef of corruption in the distribution of food. She claimed local police threatened her and her uncle with arrest for attempting to file a corruption complaint. The second blogger, Anis Mabrouki, live-streamed a video on Facebook showing a crowd gathered in front of the closed mayor’s office in Tebourba, Manouba governorate, demanding the distribution of government-promised social assistance. The local mayor filed a complaint against Mabrouki for criticizing a government official, although Mabrouki did not include commentary in his video. According to Amnesty International, Awadi received a 75-day suspended prison sentence. On April 30, the Court of Appeals acquitted Mabrouki.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Activists expressed concern about government interference in media and the concentration of media ownership. NGOs stated the penal code and military justice codes were used to target journalists, lawyers, and civil society activists. The codes criminalize defamation, false allegations against members of an administrative or judicial authority, and attacks against the “dignity, reputation, or morale of the army.”
Violence and Harassment: Violence and harassment against journalists continued, according to human rights organizations. In its April report, the Tunisian Union of Journalists (SNJT) warned of an increase in incitement and threats against journalists from citizens who hold media responsible for the deteriorating economic and social situation. Between May 2019 and April 2020, the SNJT reported 193 incidents of verbal, physical assaults, and intimidation against journalists, compared with 139 the preceding year. The SNJT reported that 71 female journalists and photographers and 122 male journalists and photographers were physically or verbally assaulted. The SNJT cited public service employees as responsible for these incidents, followed by security forces and government officials. Despite the overall increase in incidents, the SNJT reported a decrease in the number of assaults against journalists by public service employees during the year, 13 compared with 34 in the previous year. The SNJT cited 10 verbal assaults by politicians against journalists.
In December, Tunisian singer Noomane Chaari posted a song online with an Israeli vocalist, calling for Arab-Israeli peace. He subsequently experienced in-person harassment and received death threats on social media.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized individuals who published items counter to government guidelines or who published items deemed to defame government officials.
On August 4, the Tunis Court of Appeals reduced the prison sentence of journalist Taoufik Ben Brik from one year to an eight-month suspended sentence. He was initially sentenced in absentia in April to two years in prison on defamation charges for saying on Nessma TV before the 2019 presidential election that “in other countries, jailed presidential candidate Nabil Karoui would have been freed by armed citizens.” Authorities arrested Karoui after a court ordered his detention in a 2016 case involving money laundering and tax evasion charges. Without a conviction and court order specifically restricting his candidacy, Karoui remained on the ballot for the September 2019 presidential elections. Ranking second in the elections with 15.6 percent of the votes, Karoui proceeded to the runoff election in October 2019. Ben Brik appealed the court’s ruling, and on July 23, he was sentenced to one year in prison for “insulting, defaming and attacking human dignity.” Ben Brik remained in prison until a second appeal reduced his sentence to eight months suspended. Responding to the same statement, in 2019 the Higher Authority for Audiovisual Communication accused Ben Brik of incitement to hatred and violence, and the general prosecutor filed the charges against him. The Media Union reported on August 3 that Ben Brik’s health significantly deteriorated after his arrest.
Libel/Slander Laws: Various civil society organizations expressed concern about the use of criminal libel laws to stifle freedom of expression. The 2017 adoption of decree laws maintaining the separation between protection of freedom of expression and regulation of the communications and media sector rolled back the prerevolution regime of censorship and secrecy; however, many media actors and activists expressed concern that these decree laws did not go far enough to protect press freedoms and freedom of expression and did not comply with the country’s international obligations. On March 12, human rights lawyer Najet Laabidi was convicted of “insulting a public official while performing their duty” before the Military Court of First Instance and given a small fine. The trial resulted from a complaint filed by a military judge who presided over the 2015 trial of former regime officials who were prosecuted for torture. As the defense lawyer for victims of torture in this case, Laabidi flagged a number of violations during the hearing and questioned the impartiality of the military judge. The military judge subsequently filed complaints against Laabidi.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations.
On July 14, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced blogger Emna Chargui to six months in prison and a fine for a TikTok video that mimicked the format of a Quranic verse to comment on the COVID-19 pandemic. Chargui was charged with “inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence” and “offending authorized religions.” Civil society organizations criticized the court’s decision and called on authorities to overturn Chargui’s conviction. Chargui announced through a Facebook post on August 8 that she left Tunisia to seek asylum elsewhere. Her appeal remained under court review.
There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the government ordered the suspension of all cultural festivities, including the International Carthage Festival 2020.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government did not always respect the right of association. The state of emergency law grants the government the right to limit the right of assembly, although the government rarely applied this law during the year.
Despite the renewal of the state of emergency law, approximately 254 protests occurred peacefully in March and April, according to Tunisian Social Observatory for Economic and Social Rights. Nearly all of these were without incident and permitted by authorities. The protests appeared to influence the Ministry of Interior’s April removal of deputy governors in Monastir, Sousse, El Kef, and Ariana and the mayors of regions in El Kef, Manouba, and Siliana for allegations of corruption.
According to a December 9 report released by the Tunisian Social Observatory under the Tunisian Forum for Social and Economic Rights), 1,025 protests were registered in November, compared with 871 in October, an increase of 18 percent. Nearly 49 percent of the overall protests recorded in November (504) were staged in southern Tunisia (East and West).
In June protesters began a sit-in at the site of the El Kamour pumping station in the southern governorate of Tataouine, demanding job creation, regional development, and implementation of the 2017 El Kamour Agreement, which ended a previous strike (see section 7.a.). Police intervened on June 21 to remove the El Kamour protesters’ tents and arrested several demonstrators, including Tarek Haddad, the spokesman for the protest’s overseeing body, the El Kamour Coordination Committee (EKCC). Haddad had been on a hunger strike since June 18. The EKCC alleged security forces used excessive force to disperse the demonstration and end the sit-in, claiming several protesters were injured. Protesters then staged a June 23 march and sit-in outside the seat of the Court of First Instance to demand Haddad’s release, referencing a provision of the 2017 agreement which provided that demonstrators should not be prosecuted. Haddad and other protesters were released June 24. After a number of protesters corroborated the allegations of abuse, Amnesty International on July 27 called for an independent investigation into the actions of the security forces, but as of December, no charges have been filed against security officials. The government signed an agreement with protesters at El Kamour on November 7, ending the sit-in there.
The law provides for the right of freedom of association, but the government did not always respect it. A 2011 law on associations eliminated penalties in the previous law, as well as the prohibition on belonging to, or serving in, an unrecognized or dissolved association. The law eased the registration procedure, reducing opportunities for government entities to hinder or delay registration. According to the 2011 law, only the judiciary has the authority to suspend or dissolve an association. Several independent monitoring organizations asserted, however, that the government delayed registration of associations through unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, at times for political reasons, a practice counter to the law.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Following the April clashes in Tripoli, the government allowed the free movement of Libyans and other nationals crossing into Tunisia. Parts of the Tunisia-Libya border opened on November 14 after an eight-month closure due to COVID-19.
In-country Movement: The Administrative Court of Tunis published a ruling on June 6 stating the Ministry of Interior’s “S17” border control watch list, which requires additional screening at border checkpoints on security-related grounds, had no legal basis and that the government should issue a law authorizing it to restrict an individual’s travel rather than relying on an internal ministry directive. The court issued a similar decision in 2018. The court based both rulings on Article 49 of the constitution that states the government may only impose limitations on the exercise of an individual’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms through law, as well as international conventions and treaties to which the country is a signatory. While there is no official data on the number of individuals on the list, in 2018 local NGO Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (ODL) estimated it included more than 100,000 names. Although the list was established to inform border agents of these individuals’ potential travel outside of the country, civil society groups reported that the Ministry of Interior continued to restrict some individuals’ internal travel as well. Amnesty International, HRW, and local human rights organizations expressed concern with the S17 list and the lack of transparency around its implementation. The Ministry of Interior, in coordination with civil society, ensured individuals were not restricted from internal travel. Additionally, the ministry facilitated avenues for recourse for individuals asserting they were wrongfully included on the S17 list to have their name removed. Amnesty International reported in August that the S17 list was primarily used to regulate external travel and less frequently used to regulate internal movement.
On February 19, the legislative Rights and Freedoms Committee held a hearing with representatives of the Ministry of Interior on urban crime issues and S17 procedures. Ministry of Interior representatives stated that the S17 list is a preventative measure used internationally to fight not only terrorism but also trafficking in persons and drug-related crimes. Ministry of Interior representatives stated that several guarantees were put in place to protect the rights of citizens, including the possibility for those on the list to appeal within the Ministry of Interior’s administration or before the judiciary. Those wrongly included on the list had the option of obtaining an identity card to limit any confusion.
According to the ODL, however, despite a court order to the contrary, the Ministry of Interior refused to grant individuals access to the orders that led them to be included on the S17 list. Even in the case of a court-mandated suspension or lifting of the travel restrictions, some individuals have remained on the list.
Foreign Travel: The law requires that authorities promptly inform those affected by travel restrictions or who have had their passports seized of the reasons for these decisions. In addition the law provides that the affected individuals have the right to challenge the decision and sets a maximum of 14 months during which their travel can be restricted before requiring another court order. Human rights groups noted authorities did not consistently apply the law and that security forces did not always respect court decisions to reverse travel restrictions. Amnesty International reported, however, that the Ministry of Interior’s efforts to improve its S17 procedures enabled some individuals on the S17 list to obtain their passports and travel internationally with a court order.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The country does not have a law for granting asylum or refugee status. The Ministry of Interior noted it coordinated regularly with UNHCR in spite of the absence of this legal framework. Pending the creation of a legal framework, UNHCR is the sole entity conducting refugee status determination. UNHCR provided assistance to registered refugees for primary medical care and, in some cases, basic education. The government granted access to schooling and basic public-health facilities for registered refugees. UNHCR reported that as of September, it registered 5,406 person of concern (2,508 refugees and 2,781 asylum seekers), a fivefold increase since 2018.