An official website of the United States Government Here's how you know

Official websites use .gov

A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS

A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Afghanistan

Executive Summary

Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic with a directly elected president, a bicameral legislative branch, and a judicial branch. Based on the electoral calendar specified in the constitution, parliamentary elections should have taken place in 2015; however, they did not take place in either 2015 or 2016.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although there were occasions when security forces acted independently.

The most significant human rights problems were widespread violence, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups; armed insurgent groups’ killings of persons affiliated with the government; torture and abuse of detainees by government forces; widespread disregard for the rule of law and little accountability for those who committed human rights abuses; and targeted violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls.

Other human rights problems included extrajudicial killings by security forces; ineffective government investigations of abuse and torture by local security forces; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of women accused of so-called moral crimes; prolonged pretrial detentions; judicial corruption and ineffectiveness; violations of privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, religion, and movement; pervasive governmental corruption; underage and forced marriages; abuse of children, including sexual abuse; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; discrimination against persons with disabilities; discrimination and abuses against ethnic minorities; societal discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status; and abuse of workers’ rights, including child labor.

Widespread disregard for the rule of law and official impunity for those who committed human rights abuses were serious problems. The government did not consistently or effectively prosecute abuses by officials, including security forces.

The Taliban and other insurgents continued to kill security force personnel and civilians, including journalists, using indiscriminate tactics such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, suicide attacks, rocket attacks, and armed attacks. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) attributed 61 percent of civilian casualties (1,569 deaths and 3,574 injured) to nonstate actors. The Taliban used children as suicide bombers, soldiers, and weapons carriers. Other antigovernment elements threatened, robbed, kidnapped, and attacked villagers, foreigners, civil servants, and medical and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers. Authorities did not effectively investigate or prosecute most of these abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were credible reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, in February UNAMA received a report of Afghan Local Police (ALP) members detaining, torturing, and executing a shepherd after an IED killed two ALP members.

NGOs, UNAMA, and media throughout the year charged progovernment forces with extrajudicial killings. Although the government investigated and prosecuted some cases of extrajudicial killing, an overall lack of accountability for security force abuses remained a problem.

There were numerous reports of politically motivated killings or injuries by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. According to UNAMA’s October 19 report, there were 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties (2,562 deaths and 5,835 injured) between January 1 and September 30, representing a 1 percent decrease from the same period in 2015. The conflict continued to affect the most vulnerable, including women and children. In this same period, UNAMA documented 2,461 child casualties (639 deaths and 1,822 injured), an increase of 15 percent compared with 2015. UNAMA attributed 61 percent of all civilian casualties to nongovernmental elements and 23 percent to progovernment forces.

In July, Human Rights Watch and UNAMA reported that the Afghan army and Junbesh militia forces carried out an operation against the Taliban in Northern Faryab in June in which militia forces killed 13 civilians and wounded 32 others. Human Rights Watch interviewed villagers who said Junbesh fighters entered the villages and targeted those they believed sided with the Taliban.

b. Disappearance

There were reports of disappearances attributed to security forces, and insurgent groups were reportedly also responsible for disappearances and abductions (see section 1.g.).

On November 25, First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum allegedly kidnapped Uzbek tribal elder and political rival Ahmad Ishchi. Before detaining Ishchi, Dostum let his bodyguards brutally beat him during a traditional “buzkashi” match in Jowzan Province. After being held for a number of days, Ishchi later publicized allegations that he was beaten and tortured by Dostum and his men during his detention. The Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into the allegations.

On June 1, Taliban militants kidnapped 17 members of the Hazara Shiite minority community in Sar-e-Pul Province. Although all were subsequently freed, the Taliban continued to target and kidnap members of the Hazara ethnic community, executing Hazara hostages in certain instances. On September 1, Taliban members stopped a car in Dawlat Abad district of Ghor Province and kidnapped five Hazara university students. They killed one of the students and released the other four weeks later.

On August 7, two professors, working for the American University of Afghanistan were kidnapped; at year’s end they were still in captivity.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports government officials, security forces, detention center authorities, and police committed abuses. NGOs reported security forces continued to use excessive force, including torturing and beating civilians.

According to local media reports, on July 30, Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel beat civilians in the Speen Ghebarga area of Qalat district in Zabul Province on the site of a recent explosion. The Ministry of Interior suspended three police personnel for the offense.

According to reports, some security officials and persons connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. NGOs reported incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation of children by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF); however, cultural taboos against reporting such crimes made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. UNAMA reported it continued to receive allegations of sexual violence against children. In the first half of the year, UNAMA verified two incidents in which ALP used boys for sexual purposes in Baghlan and Kunduz. In one of the cases, an ALP commander in Kunduz kidnapped a 16-year-old boy from his home, brought him to his ALP checkpoint, and raped him for three days. In another case an ALP unit in Baghlan used at least one boy as a bodyguard and for sexual exploitation. There were reports of other boys being abused in the same unit.

There were reports of abuses of power by “arbakai” (untrained local militia) commanders and their followers. According to UNAMA many communities used the terms ALP and arbakai interchangeably, making it difficult to attribute reports of abuses to one group or the other. Nevertheless, credible accounts of killing, rape, assault, the forcible levy of informal taxes, and the traditional practice of “baad” (the transfer of a girl or woman to another family to settle a debt or grievance) were attributed to the ALP.

There were numerous reports of torture and other abuses by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In March the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported the Taliban killed a woman in Jowzjan Province for committing adultery, after her husband and his family accused her of having an extramarital affair. Due to security concerns, neither the AIHCRC nor the government was able to investigate the case. In May a video appeared in social media of a woman in Jowzjan Province being tried in an informal Taliban court and later shot in the back of the head and killed.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Centers (GDPDC), part of the Ministry of Interior, has responsibility for all civilian-run prisons (for both men and women) and civilian detention centers, including the large national prison complex at Pul-e Charkhi. The Ministry of Justice’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Directorate (JRD) is responsible for all juvenile rehabilitation centers. The ANP, which is under the Ministry of Interior, and the National Directorate for Security (NDS), under the ANDSF, also operated short-term detention facilities at the provincial and district levels, usually collocated with their headquarters facilities. The Ministry of Defense runs the Afghan National Detention Facilities at Parwan.

There were reports of private prisons run by members of the ANDSF and used for abuse of detainees.

Physical Conditions: Media and other sources continued to report common inadequacies in food and water and poor sanitation facilities in prisons. Some observers, however, found food and water to be sufficient throughout the GDPDC prisons. The GDPDC’s nationwide program to feed prisoners faced a severely limited budget. Many prisoners’ families provided food supplements and other necessary items.

Authorities generally lacked the facilities to separate pretrial and convicted inmates, or to separate juveniles according to the seriousness of the charges against them, with the exception of some juvenile facilities that separately housed juveniles imprisoned for national security reasons. According to the UN April 20 Report on Children in Armed Conflict, security forces detained hundreds of children on suspicion of being Taliban fighters, attempting suicide attacks, manufacturing or placing IEDs, or assisting insurgent armed groups. In the same report, the United Nations stated the Ministry of Justice reported 214 boys detained in juvenile rehabilitation centers on national security-related charges as of December 2015. There were reports the Parwan detention facility, operated by the Ministry of Defense, held 145 children for security-related offenses ay year’s end, a threefold increase compared with the previous year.

Overcrowding in prisons continued to be a serious, widespread problem; 28 of 34 provincial prisons for men were severely overcrowded, based on standards recommended by the International Committee of the Red Cross. As of July men’s prison facilities were at approximately 190 percent of capacity across the country. The Kapisa provincial prison for men was the most overcrowded, housing 340 inmates, more than 10 times the 29 prisoners for which it was designed. The country’s largest prison, Pul-e Charkhi, held 12,398 prisoners as of September, which was more than double the number it was designed to house.

In a March assessment on the country’s prison health services, UNAMA reported that few prisoners had access to medical check-ups or psychiatric services. The report also suggested the 26 provincial prisons did not have the female medical staff necessary to treat female prisoners. As a result, many children, up to the age of seven, accompanied their mothers to prison. In the same assessment, UNAMA reported that 336 children were accompanying female prisoners held in provincial prisons. While many women opted to keep their children with them in prison (ages seven and under), many others enrolled their children in Child Support Centers (CSCs). There were three CSCs: in Kabul, Mazar, and Herat.

In March, after authorities moved the Kabul Female Prison and Detention Center from a renovated building in the city to an allegedly subpar facility in the Pul-e Charkhi prison complex, a group of female prisoners set the facility on fire to protest their new living conditions.

Administration: The law provides prisoners with the right to leave prison for up to 20 days for family visits. Most prisons did not implement this provision, and the law is unclear in its application to different classes of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The AIHRC, UNAMA, and International Committee of the Red Cross continued to have access to detention facilities of the NDS and the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Defense, and NATO Mission Resolute Support had access to NDS, ANP, and Ministry of Defense facilities. Security constraints and obstruction by authorities occasionally prevented visits to some places of detention. UNAMA and the AIHRC reported difficulty accessing NDS places of detention when unannounced. While Resolute Support did not experience the same level of difficulty, authorities denied unannounced access on several occasions at NDS and ANP facilities. The AIHRC reported NDS officials usually required the AIHRC to submit a formal letter requesting access at least one to two days in advance of a visit. NDS officials continued to prohibit AIHRC and UNAMA monitors from bringing cameras, mobile phones, recording devices, or computers into NDS facilities, thereby preventing AIHRC monitors from properly documenting physical evidence of abuse, such as bruises, scars, and other injuries. The NDS assigned a colonel to monitor human rights conditions in its facilities. In February and May, members of parliament visited GDPDC prison facilities to conduct monitoring and oversight of prison conditions, with a focus on conditions for women. The Justice Ministry’s JRD also produced an annual report in March on juvenile justice problems, drafted by the JRD’s Monitoring and Evaluation Office.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, but both remained serious problems. Authorities detained many citizens without respecting essential procedural protections.

According to NGOs, law enforcement officers continued to detain citizens arbitrarily without clear legal authority or due process. Local law enforcement officials reportedly detained persons illegally on charges not provided for in the penal code. In 2012 the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) ordered a halt to the prosecution of women for “running away,” which is not a crime under the law. Reports indicated that prosecutors instead charged women who had left home with “attempted zina” (extramarital sexual relations) for being outside the home in the presence of nonrelated men, which is also not a crime under the law. In some cases authorities wrongfully imprisoned women because they deemed it unsafe for the women to return home or because women’s shelters were not available to provide protection in the provinces or districts at issue (see section 6, Women).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Three ministries have responsibility for providing security in the country, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the NDS. The ANP, under the Interior Ministry, has primary responsibility for internal order and also has responsibility for the ALP, a community-based self-defense force. The Afghan National Army (ANA), under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security, but its primary activity is fighting the insurgency internally. The NDS functions as an intelligence agency and has responsibility for investigating criminal cases concerning national security. The investigative branch of the NDS operated a facility in Kabul, where it held national security prisoners awaiting trial until their cases were transferred to prosecutors. In some areas insurgents, rather than the ANP or ANA, maintained control.

There were reports of impunity and lack of accountability by security forces throughout the year. According to observers, ALP and ANP personnel were largely unaware of their responsibilities and defendants’ rights under the law. Accountability of NDS and ANP officials for torture and abuse was weak, not transparent, and rarely enforced. Independent judicial or external oversight of the NDS and ANP in the investigation and prosecution of crimes or misconduct, including torture and abuse, was limited. Police corruption remained a serious problem (see section 4).

NGOs and human rights activists reported widespread societal violence, especially against women (see section 6). In many cases police did not prevent or respond to violence and, in some cases, arrested women who reported crimes committed against them, such as rape.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

UNAMA, the AIHRC, and other observers reported arbitrary and prolonged detention frequently occurred throughout the country. Authorities often did not inform detainees of the charges against them.

The law provides for access to legal counsel and the use of warrants, and it limits how long authorities may hold detainees without charge. Police have the right to detain a suspect for 72 hours to complete a preliminary investigation. If police decide to pursue a case, they transfer the file to the AGO. With court approval the investigating prosecutor may continue to detain a suspect while continuing the investigation, with the length of continued detention depending on the severity of the offense. The investigating prosecutor may detain a suspect for a maximum of 10 additional days for a petty crime, 27 days for a misdemeanor, and 75 days for a felony. The prosecutor must file an indictment or release the suspect within those deadlines, and no further extension of the investigatory period is permitted if the defendant is in detention. Prosecutors often ignored these limits.

Incommunicado imprisonment remained a problem, and prompt access to a lawyer was rare. Prisoners generally were allowed access to their families, but there were exceptions, and access was frequently delayed.

The criminal procedure code does provide for release on bail; however, in practice, the bond system was not always used. Authorities at times continued to detain defendants who had been acquitted by the courts on the grounds that defendants who were released pending the prosecution’s appeal often disappeared. In many cases authorities did not rearrest defendants they released pending the outcome of an appeal, even after the appellate court convicted them in absentia.

According to international monitors, prosecutors filed indictments in cases transferred to them by police, even where there was a reasonable belief no crime was actually committed.

According to the juvenile code, the arrest of a child “should be a matter of last resort and should last for the shortest possible period.” Reports indicated children in juvenile rehabilitation centers across the country lacked access to adequate food, health care, and education. Like adult detainees, detained children frequently were denied basic rights and many aspects of due process, including the presumption of innocence, the right to be informed of charges, access to defense lawyers, and protection from self-incrimination. The law provides for the creation of special juvenile police, prosecution offices, and courts. Due to limited resources, special juvenile courts functioned in only six provinces (Kabul, Herat, Balkh, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kunduz). Elsewhere, children’s cases fall under the ordinary courts. The law mandates that authorities handle children’s cases confidentially and, as with all criminal cases, may involve three stages: primary, appeals, and the final stage at the Supreme Court.

Some children in the criminal justice system were victims rather than perpetrators of crime. In some instances authorities chose to punish victims because they brought shame on the family by reporting an abuse. In the absence of sufficient shelters for boys, authorities detained abused boys and placed them in juvenile rehabilitation centers because they could not be returned to their families and shelter elsewhere was unavailable. There were also allegations that authorities allegedly treated children related to a perpetrator as proxies and imprisoned them.

Police and legal officials often charged women with intent to commit zina to justify their arrest and incarceration for social offenses, such as running away from home, rejecting a spouse chosen by her family, fleeing domestic violence or rape, or eloping. Article 130 of the constitution provides that in cases not explicitly covered by the provisions of the constitution or other laws, courts may, in accordance with Hanafi jurisprudence (a school of sharia, or Islamic law) and within the limits set by the constitution, rule in a manner that best attains justice in the case. Although observers stated this provision was widely understood to apply only to civil cases, many judges and prosecutors applied Article 130 to criminal matters. Observers reported officials used this article to charge women and men with “immorality” or “running away from home,” neither of which is a crime. Police often detained women for zina at the request of family members.

Authorities imprisoned some women for reporting crimes perpetrated against them and detained some as proxies for a husband or male relative convicted of a crime on the assumption the suspect would turn himself in to free the family member.

Authorities placed some women in protective custody to prevent violence by family members. They also employed protective custody (including placement in a detention center) for women who had experienced domestic violence, if no shelters were available to protect them from further abuse. The presidential decree on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW)–commonly referred to as the EVAW law–obliges police to arrest persons who abuse women. Implementation and awareness of the EVAW law was limited, however.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest and detention remained a problem in most provinces. Observers reported some prosecutors and police detained individuals without charge for actions that were not crimes under the law, in part because the judicial system was inadequate to process detainees in a timely fashion. UNAMA reported police detained individuals for moral crimes, breach of contract, family disputes, and to extract confessions. Observers continued to report those detained for moral crimes were almost exclusively women.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides a defendant the right to object to his or her pretrial detention and receive a court hearing on the matter. Nevertheless, lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem.

Many detainees did not benefit from any or all of the provisions of the criminal procedure code, largely due to a lack of resources, limited numbers of defense attorneys, unskilled legal practitioners, and corruption. The law provides that, if the investigation cannot be completed or an indictment is not filed, within the code’s 10-, 27-, or 75-day deadlines, the defendant must be released. Many detainees, however, were held beyond those periods, despite the lack of an indictment.

Amnesty: The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, which existed between 2010 and 2016, was a mechanism for bringing combatants off the battlefield. The program document stated the program “is not a framework for pardoning all crimes and providing blanket amnesty,” and reintegration candidates were informed prior to enrollment that entry into the program did not amount to blanket immunity from prosecution.

In September the government concluded a peace accord with the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin group. As part of the agreement, the government pledged to release certain prisoners in its custody. At year’s end the government was vetting prisoners for possible release.

As of September 2015, prison industries offered more jobs and vocational training to enhance employment opportunities after release. In December 2015 President Ghani visited Badam Bagh prison in Kabul to inquire about the situation of female inmates. Ghani said he personally oversaw the drafting of pardon and parole decrees and ordered the creation of an impartial delegation composed of female representatives from civil society to look into female prisoners’ cases. The delegation, comprising nine women, was reviewing female inmate cases to ensure those eligible were released. By year’s end, 235 women had been released, and 307 had their sentences reduced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary continued to be underfunded, understaffed, inadequately trained, largely ineffective, and subject to threats, bias, political influence, and pervasive corruption.

Bribery, corruption, and pressure from public officials, tribal leaders, families of accused persons, and individuals associated with the insurgency continued to impair judicial impartiality. Most courts administered justice unevenly, employing a mixture of codified law, sharia, and local custom. Traditional justice mechanisms remained the main recourse for many, especially in rural areas. There was varying adherence to codified law, with courts often disregarding applicable statutory law in favor of sharia or local custom. Corruption was common within the judiciary, and often criminals paid bribes to obtain their release or a reduction in sentence (see section 4).

The formal justice system was relatively strong in urban centers, where the central government was strongest, and weaker in rural areas, where approximately 76 percent of the population lived. Courts and police forces continued to operate at less than full strength nationwide. The judicial system continued to lack the capacity to absorb and implement the large volume of new and amended legislation. A lack of qualified judicial personnel hindered the courts. Some municipal and provincial authorities, including judges, had minimal training and often based their judgments on their personal understanding of sharia without appropriate reference to statutory law, tribal codes of honor, or local custom. The number of judges who were graduates of law school, many from universities with sharia faculties, continued to increase. Access to legal codes and statutes increased, but their limited availability continued to hinder some judges and prosecutors.

In March 2015 a mob killed Farkhunda Malikzada after a local religious cleric falsely accused her of burning a copy of the Quran. Following protests after Farkhunda’s death, the government promised swift and exemplary justice but showed little progress in holding the attackers accountable. A court prosecuted some of the attackers and sentenced some to the death penalty. In March 2016, however, the Supreme Court voted to reduce the sentences of those convicted. The reasoning was that the death penalty can be imposed only where the accused are found to be the “main perpetrators” of the death. The Supreme Court held it could not find sufficient evidence that any of the four men were the direct cause of Farkhunda’s death.

Following the Supreme Court decision to uphold the reduced sentences, President Ghani established an investigatory committee to look into Farkhunda’s case. More than 40 civil society and women’s organizations formed an alliance to demand that the Supreme Court decision be investigated and revisited. As an example, the Women’s Political Participation Committee, a civil society organization, held a press conference on March 19 to call on the government to reassess the Supreme Court’s decision and ensure more transparency in the process.

There was a widespread shortage of judges, primarily in insecure areas. UNAMA reported Taliban attacks against judicial authorities and prosecutors significantly increased following the government’s execution on May 8 of six Taliban prisoners. Following the executions, the Taliban carried out major attacks against judicial officials. On May 25, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a government shuttle bus transporting Maidan Wardak provincial court staff members, killing 12 civilians, including two judges, and injuring nine others. On June 1, the Taliban attacked Ghazni’s provincial appellate court and killed four civilians, including two court staff, and injured 15 others, including the head of the court.

In major cities, courts continued to decide criminal cases as mandated by law. Civil cases continued to be frequently resolved using the informal system or, in some cases, through negotiations between the parties facilitated by judicial personnel or private lawyers. Because the formal legal system often was not present in rural areas, local elders and shuras (consultative gatherings, usually of men selected by the community) were the primary means of settling both criminal matters and civil disputes. They also imposed punishments without regard to the formal legal system.

In some areas the Taliban enforced a parallel judicial system based on a strict interpretation of sharia. Punishments could include execution or mutilation. For example, in August in Kapisa Province, the Taliban accused a 20-year-old student of spying, kidnapped him, and killed him a week later. UNAMA reported death sentences, lashings, and beatings resulted in 29 civilian casualties (24 deaths and five injuries) in the first half of the year, a 28 percent increase over the same period in the previous year.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary rarely enforced this provision. The administration and implementation of justice varied in different areas of the country. The government formally uses an inquisitorial legal system. By law all citizens are entitled to a presumption of innocence, and those accused have the right to be present at trial and to appeal, although these rights were not always respected. In some provinces public trials were held, but this was not the norm. Three-judge panels decide criminal trials, and there is no right to a jury trial under the constitution. Prosecutors rarely informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges brought against them. An indigent defendant has the right to consult with an advocate or counsel at public expense when resources allow. This right was applied inconsistently, in large part due to a severe shortage of defense lawyers. Citizens often were unaware of their constitutional rights. Defendants and attorneys were entitled to examine physical evidence and documents related to a case before trial, although observers noted court documents often were not available for review before cases went to trial, despite defense lawyers’ requests.

Criminal defense attorneys reported justice system officials were slowly demonstrating increased respect and tolerance for the role of defense lawyers in criminal trials, but at times defendants’ attorneys experienced abuse and threats from prosecutors and other law enforcement officials.

The criminal procedure code establishes time limits for the completion of each stage of a criminal case, from investigation through final appeal, when an accused is in custody. The code also allows for the accused persons to be released temporarily on bail, but this was rarely used. An addendum to the code provides for extended custodial limits in cases involving crimes committed against the internal and external security of the country. Courts at the Justice Center in Parwan elected to utilize the extended time periods. If the deadlines are not met, the law requires the accused be released from custody. In many cases courts did not meet these deadlines, but detainees nevertheless remained in custody.

In cases where no clearly defined legal statute applied, or where judges, prosecutors, or elders were unaware of the statutory law, judges and informal shuras enforced customary law. This practice often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports the government held political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens had limited access to justice for constitutional and human rights violations. The state judiciary did not play a significant or effective role in adjudicating civil matters due to corruption and lack of capacity, although the judiciary frequently adjudicated family law matters.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits arbitrary interference in matters of privacy, but authorities did not always respect its provisions. The criminal procedure code contains additional safeguards for the privacy of the home, prohibiting night arrests and strengthening requirements for body searches. The government did not always respect these prohibitions.

Government officials continued to enter homes and businesses of civilians forcibly and without legal authorization.

There were reports that government officials monitored private communications, including telephone calls and other digital communications, without legal authority or judicial warrant.

Authorities imprisoned relatives, male and female, of criminal suspects and escaped convicts in order to induce the persons being sought to surrender (see section 1.d.).

Insurgents continued to intimidate cell phone operators to shut down operations. Reports of destruction of mobile telephone towers, bribing of guards, and disconnecting of networks at night were particularly common in the southwestern, southern, and eastern provinces.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government sometimes restricted these rights to varying degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. In May a mass demonstration took place in Kabul over the government’s decision on routing of an electricity line from Turkmenistan to Kabul. Although government forces placed shipping containers to provide security and limited the areas in which the demonstration took place, protesters were allowed to march on the streets of Kabul. On July 23, protesters gathered again to protest the same electricity line but were attacked by insurgents with a bomb that killed 80 and injured an additional 250 protesters. After Da’esh claimed responsibility, the Ministry of Interior banned street protests for 10 days.

In September, Tajik supporters assembled to rebury the remains of a former king on a hill important to the Uzbek community in Kabul, leading to a standoff. After an agreement was reached, the reburial took place, although some criticized the government for not handling the issue properly.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The right to freedom of association is provided in the constitution, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges them to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. By law a political party must have 10,000 registered members to register with the ministry.

In 2012 the Council of Ministers approved a regulation requiring political parties to open offices in at least 20 provinces within one year of registration. The regulation provides for removal of parties failing to do so from the Justice Ministry’s official list. In 2015 the ministry conducted a nationwide review of provincial political party offices. It found 10 political parties not in compliance with the regulation and deregistered all 10 of them. There were a total of 57 political parties registered with the ministry.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, which the government generally respected, although it sometimes limited citizens’ movement for security reasons.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. Government ability to assist vulnerable persons, including returnees from Pakistan and Iran, remained limited, and it continued to rely on the international community for assistance.

In-country Movement: Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces or insurgents sometimes operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods from travelers.

The greatest barrier to movement in some parts of the country was the lack of security. In many areas insurgent violence, banditry, land mines, and IEDs made travel extremely dangerous, especially at night.

Armed insurgents operated illegal checkpoints and extorted money and goods. The Taliban imposed nightly curfews on the local populace in regions where it exercised authority, mostly in the southeast.

Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.

Emigration and Repatriation: Refugee returns to the country rose in the last half of the year. As of mid-November UNHCR had assisted the return of more than 370,000 registered refugees (99 percent of whom returned from Pakistan), greatly surpassing the 58,460 returns in 2015. According to UNHCR surveys of returnees at arrival centers, many returnees claimed they left Pakistan due to increased rates of harassment and extortion and because they no longer believed they could stay in their homes safely or find jobs. Other reasons they cited included maintaining family unity with undocumented Afghans following their deportation, enhanced border controls, and uncertainty about legal status. Former refugees constituted more than 20 percent of the total country population, yet the government lacked the capacity to integrate large numbers of new arrivals due to continuing insecurity, limited employment opportunities, poor development, and budgetary constraints.

Undocumented Afghan refugees also returned in large numbers. The International Organization for Migration reported that about 230,000 had returned from Pakistan as of mid-November and projected that approximately 300,000 undocumented Afghans would return by the end of 2016. Approximately 391,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran during the same period; most of these returns resulted from deportation by Iranian authorities.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Internal population movements increased, mainly triggered by increasing armed conflict. The United Nations estimated there were 1.2 million IDPs in the country. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 486,000 new IDPs fled their homes from January to November. Most IDPs left insecure rural areas and small towns seeking relatively greater safety and government services in larger towns and cities in the same province. All 34 provinces hosted IDP populations.

Limited humanitarian access caused delays in identifying, assessing, and providing timely assistance to IDPs and led to estimates of the total number of IDPs that were significantly larger than official figures. IDPs continued to lack access to basic protection, including personal and physical security and shelter. Many IDPs, especially in households with a female head, faced difficulty obtaining basic services because they did not have identity documents. Many IDPs in urban areas reportedly faced discrimination, lacked adequate sanitation and other basic services, and lived in constant risk of eviction from illegally occupied displacement sites, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Women in IDP camps reported high levels of domestic violence. Limited opportunities to earn a livelihood following the initial displacement often led to secondary displacement, making tracking of vulnerable persons difficult. Even IDPs who had access to local social services sometimes had less access than their non-IDP neighbors, due to distance from the services or other factors.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: Laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees from other countries. Nonetheless, the government worked closely with the international community to protect and respond to the needs of Pakistani refugees, including an estimated 100,000 refugees who remained in UNHCR camps in Khost and Paktika Provinces after being displaced in 2014 following Pakistani military operations against insurgents across the border.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the opportunity to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Citizens exercised this ability in the 2014 presidential and provincial elections and the 2010 parliamentary elections. The Taliban and political actors attempted to use violence to intimidate voters during the 2014 presidential elections, which were also marred by allegations of widespread fraud and corruption. Parliamentary elections are mandated by the constitution to be held every five years; however, the regularly scheduled elections were not held in 2015, as the government had yet to complete promised electoral reforms. As a result members of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament) remained in office past the June 2015 expiration of their five-year terms by virtue of a presidential decree. In November the government replaced the members of its main electoral bodies–the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission–a necessary first step in completing the anticipated reforms and proposing a new electoral calendar.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to the IEC, more than 6.8 million voters cast votes in the first round of the April 2014 presidential election. Although security incidents occurred throughout the country, they reportedly had only a modest impact on turnout, and there were no mass-casualty events. Of the eight presidential candidates who competed in the first round, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai received the most votes, 45 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively. Neither achieved the majority necessary, and a runoff election between the two was held in June 2014.

Allegations of fraud led to a dispute over the accuracy of the preliminary results announced by the IEC following the June 2014 runoff. Those results showed Ghani leading with 56.4 percent, compared with Abdullah’s 43.5 percent. Following a protracted standoff, the two candidates agreed to a 100 percent audit of the ballot boxes and committed to forming a National Unity Government, with the runner-up assuming a newly created chief executive officer (CEO) position in the government. According to media reporting of leaked IEC data, the audit invalidated more than 850,000 fraudulent ballots of an estimated eight million. The IEC completed the election audit and named Ghani the winner in September 2014. In accordance with the National Unity Government agreement, Ghani then created the CEO position by presidential decree and named Abdullah to the position. The audit results were released publicly in February.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Negative associations of past political activity with violent militia groups and the former communist regime, as well as allegations of persistent corruption and inefficiency among political elites, led many citizens to view political parties with suspicion. The Political Party Law granted parties the right to exist as formal institutions for the first time in the country’s history. The law requires parties to have at least 10,000 members from the country’s 34 provinces.

Parties were not always able to conduct activities throughout the country; in some regions antigovernment violence reduced security. As of November, 57 political parties were registered with the Ministry of Justice, and no party was deregistered during the year. According to the ministry, a deregistered party could meet and continue “informal” political activities, but candidates for political office could not run for office under the party’s name until it met the registration criteria.

Provincial party members continued to assert the ministry’s monitoring process was inconsistent. Some parties reported regular interactions with ministry officials and others had none at all. Political parties played a greater role in the 2014 presidential elections than in previous elections, and the organization, networks, and public support of the parties that supported Abdullah and Ghani contributed to their success as presidential candidates.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The constitution specifies a minimum number of seats for women and minorities in the two houses of parliament. For the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), the constitution mandates that at least two women shall be elected from each province (for a total of 68). In 2010 voters elected 69 women to the Wolesi Jirga. In the Meshrano Jirga (upper house), the constitution empowers the president to appoint one-third of the members. One-half of the presidential appointees must be women. Ten seats are also set aside in the Wolesi Jirga for members of the Kuchi minority (nomads). In the Meshrano Jirga, the president’s appointees must include two Kuchis and two members with physical disabilities. In practice, one seat in the Meshrano Jirga is reserved for the appointment of a Sikh or Hindu representative, although this is not mandated by the constitution.

Traditional societal practices continued to limit women’s participation in politics and activities outside the home and community, including the need to have a male escort or permission to work. These factors, in addition to an education and experience gap, likely continued to influence the central government’s male-dominated composition. The 2013 electoral law reduced quotas for women on provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent and eliminated women’s quotas entirely for district and village councils. Neither district nor village councils had been established by year’s end.

As did their male counterparts, women active in government and politics continued to face threats and violence and were the targets of attacks by the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In July the director of women’s affairs in Ghazni Province was attacked. She escaped unharmed, but another government employee was killed. Most female parliamentarians reportedly experienced some kind of threat or intimidation, and many believed the state could not or would not protect them.

No laws prevent minorities from participating in political life, although different ethnic groups complained they did not have equal access to local government jobs in provinces where they were in the minority. Individuals from the majority Pashtun ethnic group had more seats than any other ethnic group in both houses of parliament but did not have more than 50 percent of the seats. There was no evidence specific societal groups were excluded.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. The government did not implement the law effectively or evenly, and there were reports officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Reports indicated corruption remained endemic throughout society, and flows of money from the military, international donors, and the drug trade continued to exacerbate the problem. According to public opinion surveys, many citizens believed the government had not been effective in combating corruption. Corruption and uneven governance continued to play a significant role in allowing the Taliban to exert influence and control some areas in the southern, eastern, and some northern provinces, particularly in remote areas.

According to prisoners and local NGOs, corruption was widespread across the justice system, particularly in connection with the prosecution of criminal cases and in arranging release from prison. There were also reports that officials received unauthorized payments in exchange for reducing prison sentences, halting an investigation, or dismissing charges outright. The practice of filing criminal complaints in what would ordinarily be civil matters was commonly used to settle business disputes or extort money from wealthy international investors.

During the year there were reports of “land grabbing” by both private and public actors. The most common type occurred when businesses illegally obtained property deeds from corrupt officials and sold the deeds to unsuspecting “homeowners,” who would then be caught up in criminal prosecutions. Other reports indicated government officials grabbed land without compensation to exchange it for contracts or political favors. Occasionally provincial governments illegally confiscated land without due process or compensation to build public facilities.

Corruption: In June the president signed a decree establishing an independent Anti-Corruption Justice Center with responsibility for prosecuting high-level corruption cases. With collaboration from the Supreme Court, AGO, and Major Crimes Task Force, prosecutors and primary and appellate court judges were assigned to the court, and work began on a permanent facility at Camp Heath. The anticorruption center began trying its first cases on November 12 in temporary facilities. In its first case, a senior-level AGO Military Department prosecutor was convicted for accepting a 43,500 Afghani ($750) bribe and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison and a 43,500 Afghani ($750) fine. In a second case, the deputy branch manager of Azizi Bank in Kandahar was convicted on four separate counts of embezzlement and forgery totaling 8.8 million Afghanis ($152,000), and he was sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years and four months. International media and observers attended the proceedings and reported the trials were procedurally fair, orderly, and professional.

Provincial police sometimes engaged in corruption at police checkpoints and from the narcotics industry. ANP officers reportedly paid higher-level Ministry of Interior officials for their positions and promotions. The justice system rarely pursued corruption cases, especially if they involved police. The ministry continued to be affected by allegations of widespread corruption, poor performance, and abuse of power by officers.

In addition to impunity, low salaries in the public sector and security forces exacerbated corruption by officials. The international community worked with the national and provincial governance structures to address the problem of low salaries, but implementation of grade reform remained slow.

Police reportedly demanded bribes from civilians to gain release from prison or avoid arrest. Citizens bribed corrections and detention officials to obtain release of prisoners who were not discharged at the end of their sentences.

Governors with reported involvement in corruption, the drug trade, or records of human rights violations reportedly continued to receive executive appointments and served with relative impunity.

Financial Disclosure: The High Office of Oversight is responsible for collecting information from senior government officials on all sources and levels of personal income. The office verifies and publishes online and in mass media the personal asset declarations of the most senior officials when they assume office and when they leave. While collection and publication occurred, some officials failed to submit the required reports, and there was only limited progress on the verification of such declarations by independent experts. The absence of legal penalties for omissions or misrepresentations tended to undermine this key tool for identifying wrongdoing.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and law provide citizens the right to access government information, except when access might violate the rights of others. Access to information from official sources continued to be limited due to a lack of clarity regarding citizens’ rights and a lack of transparency among government institutions. NGOs and human rights organizations said the 2014 law on access to information had not yet been fully implemented, and some government officials reportedly failed to disclose information of public interest in an adequate manner. Observers noted concern about some provisions of the law authorities can use to withhold information for national security reasons. NGOs continued to point out that the lack of clear definitions for terms such as national security and national interest could seriously affect and limit access to information. On October 16, President Ghani issued a decree asking government officials not to delay access to information to media and to categorize information properly.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. While government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, there were cases in which government officials intimidated human rights groups. Human rights activists continued to express concern that war criminals and human rights abusers remained in positions of power within the government.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitutionally mandated AIHRC continued to address human rights problems, but it received minimal government funding and relied almost exclusively on international donor funds.

Three Wolesi Jirga committees deal with human rights: the Gender, Civil Society, and Human Rights Committee; the Counternarcotics, Intoxicating Items, and Ethical Abuse Committee; and the Judicial, Administrative Reform, and Anticorruption Committee. In the Meshrano Jirga, the Committee for Gender and Civil Society addresses human rights concerns.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The EVAW law criminalizes violence against women, including rape, battery, or beating; forced marriage; humiliation; intimidation; and deprivation of inheritance, although its implementation remained limited. The law provides for a sentence of 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape. If the act results in the death of the victim, the law provides for a death sentence for the perpetrator. The law provides for imprisonment of up to seven years for the “violation of chastity of a woman…that does not result in adultery (such as sexual touching).” Under the law, rape does not include spousal rape. The law was not widely understood, and some in the public and the religious communities deemed the law un-Islamic. Many authorities lacked the political will to implement the law and failed to enforce it fully.

The AIHRC reported 2,621 cases of violence against women from January through August, including nine killings, 79 cases of sexual violence, 34 sexual harassment cases, 733 beatings, and 44 forced engagements or marriages. Because of the security situation in the country, large numbers of violent crimes committed against women were unreported. In addition to AIHRC’s report, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs also reported 1,465 cases of violence against women within the first six months of the year, with Ghor, Baghlan, Badakshan, Nargarhar, Takhar, and Balkh Provinces showing the highest numbers.

The AGO operated 33 EVAW prosecution units in 33 provinces. In March the AGO held its second national meeting of EVAW prosecutors to facilitate communication between different provincial EVAW units and identify common issues. According to a January report by the Research Institute for Women Peace and Security, a domestic NGO, and the Chr. Michelsen Institute, of 2,958 cases registered with EVAW units in eight provinces studied, 792 or 27 percent resulted in indictments, and of these, 59 percent led to convictions. Among indicted cases, the conviction rate was highest for rape, with 73 percent of indictments leading to a conviction (41 percent of all registered rape cases resulted in convictions).

From March 2014 to March 2015, the government reported 4,541 registered cases of violence against women, with 3,038 registered under the EVAW law. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and AGO also registered 1,179 cases of divorce, separation, annulment of engagements, alimony, and child custody, which may or may not have stemmed from domestic violence, bringing the total number of registered cases to 5,720.

Pajhwork News released a report on the role of mediation outside the formal justice system in cases of violence against women. Because mediation takes place at the community level, the male-driven process restricted the reporting of violence against women cases. The same report showed a compilation of data of more than 21,000 of cases of violence against women over the last six years alone. Nearly 70 percent of the cases were registered with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the police, but only an estimated 5 percent made it to the courts.

Prosecutors and judges in some remote provinces were unaware of the EVAW law, and others were subject to community pressure to release defendants due to familial loyalties, threat of harm, or bribes. Reports indicated men accused of rape often claimed the victim agreed to consensual sex, leading to zina charges against the victim, or perpetrators made false claims of marriage to the victim.

Rapes were difficult to document due to social stigma. Male victims seldom came forward due to fear of retribution or additional exploitation by authorities, but peer sexual abuse was reportedly common. Female victims faced stringent societal reprisal, ranging from being deemed unfit for marriage to being imprisoned for sexual conduct outside of marriage, or became victims of extrajudicial killing.

According to the 2016 Asia Foundation’s Annual Survey of the Afghan People, only 23.8 percent of women surveyed knew of an organization, institution, or authority in their area where women could go to have their problems resolved. Forced virginity testing remains legal, and police, prosecutors, and judges frequently ordered virginity tests in cases where women or girls were accused of “moral crimes” such as zina. Women who sought assistance in cases of rape often became subjects of virginity tests and in some instances had their cases converted into adultery cases. According to a September 2015 AIHRC report on forced gynecological exams, 48 of 53 female prisoners interviewed had been subjected to virginity tests, and of these, 20 said they had been tested more than once. The AIHRC publicly condemned virginity testing, citing that the practice had no scientific basis and that performing medical tests without the patient’s consent is a violation of the right to freedom and human dignity. Interpretations of sharia also impeded successful prosecution of rape cases.

In February media reported a group of armed kidnappers in Kapisa Province took a 10-year-old from her family’s home and married her to one of the group leaders’ son, a 30-year-old man. In July media reported that family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province killed her and a 17-year-old male after accusing them of committing zina. In April a group of armed men gang-raped an 18-year-old in her home in Balkh Province.

The penal code criminalizes assault, and courts convicted domestic abusers under this provision, as well as the beating provision in the EVAW law. According to NGO reports, hundreds of thousands of women continued to suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands, fathers, brothers, in-laws, armed individuals, parallel legal systems, and institutions of state, such as the police and justice systems.

Police response to domestic violence was limited, in part due to low reporting, sympathy toward perpetrators, and limited protection for victims. Some police and judicial officials were unaware or unconvinced that rape was a serious criminal offense, and investigating rape cases was generally not a priority. Even in instances in which justice officials took rape seriously, some cases reportedly did not proceed due to bribery, family or tribal pressure, or other interference during the process. The AIHRC’s 2013 report on rape and honor killing asserted that one-third of cases on rape and honor killings were addressed in accordance with the law. In its study the AIHRC found that 35 percent of rape and honors killings were not appropriately prosecuted. The AIHRC and NGOs contended that due to societal acceptance of the practice, most cases were unreported and never reached prosecutors.

According to the AIHRC, more than 2,579 cases of violence against women were reported between March and September 2015. The AIHRC noted that the majority of reports concerned verbal and psychological violence and noted an increase in the number of reported cases from the same period the previous year. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported that up to 600 cases of violence against women were registered in the first three months of the year, the majority of which involved physical violence. Accurate statistics on the extent of violence against women, however, were difficult to obtain. The most recent research done on the prevalence of violence against women (as opposed to reported cases) was conducted by Global Rights and published in 2008. According to that report, 87 percent of women had experienced some form of physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lives, and 62 percent had experienced more than one type of violence.

Most women did not seek legal assistance for domestic or sexual abuse because they did not know their rights or because they feared prosecution or return to their family or the perpetrator. Women sometimes practiced self-immolation, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs reported there continued to be cases of suicide as a result of domestic violence. Women continued to turn to NGO-run women’s protection centers (women’s shelters) and associated family guidance centers for assistance, and according to UNAMA’s April 2015 report on women’s access to justice, victims particularly valued the physical protection afforded by these centers, which often represented the only safe refuge for women. According to NGOs that ran women’s protection centers countrywide, police continued to make up the most significant source of referrals, likely reflecting improved ANP training and awareness.

Space at the 28 women’s protection centers across the country was sometimes insufficient, particularly in major urban centers, and shelters remained concentrated in the western, northern, and central regions of the country. Women who could not be reunited with their families or who were unmarried were generally compelled to remain in protection centers indefinitely, because “unaccompanied” women were not commonly accepted in society. The difficulty of finding durable solutions for women compelled to stay in protection centers was compounded by societal attitudes toward the shelters as centers of prostitution, the belief that “running away from home” was a serious violation of social mores, and the continued victimization of women who were raped but perceived by society as adulterers.

Women in need of protection who could not find it often ended up in prison, either due to a lack of a protection center in their province or district, or based on local interpretation of “running away” as a moral crime. Adultery, fornication, and kidnapping are crimes under the law. Women often were convicted of those crimes in situations of abuse, rape, or forced marriage, or on the basis of invalid evidence, including virginity tests. Running away is not a crime under the law, and both the Supreme Court and AGO issued directives to this effect, but women and girls continued to be detained for running away from home or “attempted zina.” As of November 30, approximately 51 percent of female prisoners were incarcerated for moral crimes, according to GDPDC records.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, as well as nongovernmental entities, sometimes arranged marriages for women who could not return to their families.

Police units charged with addressing violence against women, children, and families, included female officers. Although trained to help victims of domestic violence, the officers were hindered by instructions to wait for victims to take the initiative and reach out to them.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The EVAW law criminalizes forced, underage, and “baad” marriages (the practice of settling disputes in which the culprit’s family trades a girl to the victim’s family to settle a dispute) and interference with a woman’s right to choose her spouse. According to the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, an estimated 70 percent of marriages were forced. Despite laws banning the practice, many brides continued to be younger than the legal marriage age of 16 (or 15 with a guardian’s and a court’s approval). Some local media reported an increase in child marriages during the year, although it was unclear whether this reflected an actual increase in the practice or rather an increase in reports. A 2014 AIHRC survey found more than 7 percent of respondents reported their daughters were married before the age of 16. Very few marriages were legally registered with the state, leaving forced marriages outside of legal control.

Violence against women is also often a driving factor in cases of suicide and self-immolation. Under the penal code, a man convicted of honor killing after finding his wife committing adultery cannot be sentenced to more than two years’ imprisonment. Honor killings continued, although accurate statistics were difficult to obtain. In July a 14-year-old pregnant girl in Ghor Province died in a local hospital after being burned alive in an honor killing by her husband and his family. When the girl’s father reported the harassment and violence his daughter had suffered to the police, local authorities dismissed him and suggested he should settle the differences with the girl’s in-laws. There were reports of summary justice by the Taliban and other antigovernment elements that resulted in extrajudicial executions. In June a woman in Ghor Province was abducted and shot after cancelling her engagement, and in July the Taliban publicly executed a 19-year-old woman in Sar-e-Pul Province for running away from home after a domestic dispute. UNAMA reported that the Taliban lashed a woman in the Sha Joy district of Zabul Province, citing adultery.

Sexual Harassment: The EVAW law criminalizes harassment and persecution of women but does not define these terms. A Regulation on Prohibition of Women’s Sexual Harassment entered into effect in October 2015, when it was published in the official gazette. The regulation, which was adopted pursuant to the EVAW law, defines harassment against women and establishes and identifies mechanisms for complaint and redress. Women who walked outside alone or who worked outside the home often experienced abuse or harassment, including groping, or they were followed on the streets in urban areas. Women who took on public roles that challenged gender stereotypes (such as lawmakers, political leaders, NGO leaders, police officers, and news broadcasters) continued to be intimidated by conservative elements and received death threats directed at them or their families. NGOs reported violence, including killings, against women working in the public and nonprofit sectors and initiated awareness-raising campaigns to mobilize groups against harassment. Female members of the ANP reported harassment by their male counterparts, and there were reports that female ANP members and their families experienced intimidation and discrimination within their communities. In May a group of female social activists launched a website to help women register and report incidents of violence and seek advice on how to resolve their issues.

Reproductive Rights: Women generally exercised little decision-making authority regarding marriage, the timing, and number of pregnancies, birthing practices, and child education. Couples were free from government discrimination, coercion, and violence to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, although family and community pressures to reproduce, the high prevalence of child and early marriages, and lack of accurate biological knowledge limited their ability to do so. Women could expect to bear on average 5.1 children in their lifetimes. Oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, injectable contraceptives, and condoms were available commercially and were provided at no cost in public health facilities and at subsidized rates in private health facilities and through community health workers. The UN Population Fund estimated that 23 percent of women of reproductive age used a modern method of contraception. Between January and August, the AIHRC registered eight cases of forced abortion from women and girls.

According to the World Health Organization’s, UN’s, and World Bank’s Trends in Maternal Mortality Report: 1990-2013, the maternal mortality rate in 2013 was 400 deaths per 100,000 live births. This represented a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality since 1995. Early marriage and pregnancy put girls at greater risk for premature labor, complications during delivery, and death in childbirth. Postpartum hemorrhage and obstructed labor were key causes of maternal mortality. Only 34 percent of births were attended by a skilled health practitioner, and only 21 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 used a modern form of contraception.

Discrimination: Women who reported cases of abuse or who sought legal redress for other matters reported they experienced discrimination within the judicial system. Some observers, including female judges, asserted that discrimination was a result of faulty implementation of law and cultural nuances, rather than the law itself. A woman’s limited access to money and other resources to pay fines (or bribes) and the social requirement for women to have a male guardian affected their access to and participation in the justice system. Local practices were discriminatory against women in some areas, particularly in parts of the country where courts were not functional or knowledge of the law was minimal. Judges in some remote districts acknowledged wide influence by tribal authorities in preempting cases from the formal justice system. In August 2015 a man beheaded his wife in Baghlan Province after she sought a divorce from a local court.

In the informal system, elders relied on interpretations of sharia and tribal customs, which generally discriminated against women. Many women reported limited access to justice in male-dominated tribal shuras, where proceedings focused on reconciliation with the community and family rather than the rights of the individual. Women in some villages were not allowed any access to dispute resolution mechanisms. Lack of awareness of their legal rights and illiteracy also limited women’s ability to access justice. Women’s advocacy groups reported in some cases that the government intervened informally with local courts to encourage them to interpret laws in ways favorable to women. Many cases in remote districts, however, reportedly were resolved according to the local police officer’s or prosecutor’s discretion or interpretation of the law. When legal authorities were aware of the EVAW law and its implementation, women were in some cases able to get appropriate assistance. Prosecutors in some provinces, however, continued to be reluctant to use the EVAW law. Moreover, in cases in which prosecutors brought charges under the EVAW law, judges would sometimes replace those charges with others based on the penal code.

Police, prosecutors, and judges discriminated against women in criminal and civil legal proceedings stemming from violence and forced marriages. Enhanced availability of legal aid, including through female attorneys, provided some relief in formal justice system proceedings.

Cultural prohibitions limiting women’s movement prevented many women from working outside the home and reduced their access to education, health care, police protection, and other social services. In December the head of the council of religious scholars (Ulema Council) in Takhar Province declared women were the “most shameful” persons. He was fired immediately after his statement.

The law provides for equal work without discrimination, but there are no provisions for equal pay for equal work. The EVAW law criminalizes interference with a woman’s right to work. Women faced discrimination in access to employment and terms of occupation. Some educated urban women found substantive work, but many were relegated to menial tasks in the workplace, regardless of qualification. There were 2,834 female police officers as of September 2015, including those in training, constituting less than 2 percent of the total police force. While the government made efforts to recruit additional female police officers, cultural customs and discrimination rendered recruitment and retention difficult. Women in high-profile positions of government service continued to be subjected to threats and violence.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and NGOs promoted women’s rights and freedoms. According to the AIHRC, many women in the civil service did not meet the minimum qualification of a bachelor’s degree imposed by the priority reform and restructuring system. The women’s ministry, the primary government agency responsible for addressing gender policy and the needs of women, had offices in all provinces and established gender units in all ministries. Gender units at lower ranks, however, lacked major influence, and men typically dominated their leadership positions. Although the ministry’s provincial offices assisted hundreds of women by providing legal and family counseling and referring women, they could not directly assist relevant organizations. The ministry and provincial line directorates suffered from a lack of capacity and resources.

Despite improvements in health over the past decade, the overall health of women and children remained poor, particularly among nomadic and rural populations and those in insecure areas. As with men, women’s life expectancy was 64 years of age. Rural women suffered disproportionately from insufficient numbers of skilled health personnel, particularly female health workers.

Compared to men, women and children were disproportionately victims of preventable deaths due to communicable diseases. Although free health services were provided in public facilities, many households could not afford certain costs related to medicines or transportation to health-care facilities, and many women were not permitted to travel to health-care facilities on their own.

Children

Birth Registration: A citizen father transmits citizenship to his child. Birth in the country or to a citizen mother alone is not sufficient. Adoption is not legally recognized.

Education: Education is mandatory up to the lower secondary level (six years for primary school and three years for lower secondary), and the law provides for free education up to and including the college level. Many children, however, did not attend school.

According to UNICEF’s April report on health care and education, 369 schools closed in 2015, and 139,000 children were out of school. Military operations and increased levels of violence impeded children’s access to education. Use of school buildings by both ANDSF and militants also affected children’s ability to attend school, especially for young girls. On June 4 and July 4, the Ministry of Education issued two directives asking security forces to stop using schools for military purposes.

In most regions boys and girls attended primary classes together but were separated for intermediate and secondary education. According to a statement by the Ministry of Education on December 18, of the country’s nine million registered schoolchildren, 24 percent did not attend school. The ministry estimated 3.5 million schoolchildren, or 39 percent, were girls. Many students were not enrolled full-time or dropped out early.

According to the Education for All 2015 National Review Report: Afghanistan, in 2013 the gross enrollment rate for girls as a percentage of total enrollment was approximately 41 percent at the primary level, 36 percent at the lower secondary level, and 35 percent at the upper secondary level. According to the same report, the literacy rate for girls and women 15 to 24 years of age was 32 percent as of 2012.

The status of girls and women in education was a matter of grave concern. Key obstacles to girls’ education included poverty, early and forced marriage, insecurity, lack of family support, lack of female teachers, and the long distance to school. Former president Karzai’s 2012 Decree on Governance and Corruption addressed the lack of female teachers, particularly in conservative rural areas, by charging the Education Ministry with recruiting an additional 11,000 teachers and increasing the number of district-level teacher training support centers to provide training opportunities for female teachers. According to the ministry, there were 202,336 teachers in public schools, and 33 percent of them were women as of November. There were 20,337 teachers in private schools, and 52 percent were women.

Violent attacks on schoolchildren, particularly girls, also hindered access to education. Violence impeded access to education in various sections of the country, particularly in areas controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban and other extremists threatened and attacked school officials, teachers, and students, particularly girls, and burned both boys’ and girls’ schools. Between January and June, UNAMA documented 25 incidents of threat and intimidation targeting schools, students, or schools staff. According to reports submitted to UNAMA, on January 7, 15 masked men entered a girls’ high school in Jowzjan Province and warned that female students over 12 must wear burqas. Following the threat, the school’s principal imposed a requirement for all girls over 12 to wear burqas. On April 13, in an attack by Taliban forces in Laghman Province, Taliban insurgents attacked Besram high school near the provincial capital of Mehtar Lam City, leaving two students dead and three students injured when stray bullets hit the school. On April 20, a headmaster in Khwaja Bahauddin district of Takhar Province was killed by a stray bullet in front of his students.

Insecurity, conservative attitudes, and poverty denied education to millions of school-age children, mainly in the southern and southeastern provinces. A representative from the Ministry of Education estimated in November that 140,000 schoolchildren in insecure areas did not have access to education. There were also reports of abduction and molestation. The lack of community-based, nearby schools was another factor inhibiting school attendance.

Child Abuse: NGOs reported increased numbers of child abuse victims during the year, and the problem remained endemic throughout the country. Such abuse included general neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, and confined forced labor to pay off family debts. Police reportedly beat and sexually abused children; for instance, Agence France-Presse reported a case of a 13-year-old boy kidnapped by a police commander in southern Helmand. NGOs reported a predominantly punitive and retributive approach to juvenile justice throughout the country. Although it is against the law, corporal punishment in schools, rehabilitation centers, and other public institutions remained common.

Sexual abuse of children was pervasive. NGOs noted girls were more frequently abused by extended family members, while boys were more frequently abused by men outside their families. In November a five-year-old girl in Baghlan Province was allegedly raped by relatives of her older sister’s fiance after her sister ran off with another man. There were reports religious figures sexually abused both boys and girls. NGOs noted families often were complicit, allowing local strongmen to abuse their children in exchange for status or money. The Ministry of Interior tracked cases of rape, but most NGOs and observers estimated the official numbers significantly underreported the phenomenon. Many perpetrators of child sexual abuse were not arrested, and there were reports security officials and those connected to the ANP raped children with impunity. The practice continued of bacha baazi (dancing boys), which involved powerful or wealthy local figures and businessmen sexually abusing young boys trained to dance in female clothes. Reports of the practice increased since 2001.

There were multiple reports and press articles on the rape of young boys who were forcibly kept as bachas. After a June 15 article the Agence France-Presse published on Taliban forces using bacha baazi to infiltrate and carry out attacks against Afghan security forces, President Ghani ordered an investigation of sexual abuse cases in the security forces. The President’s Office stated that anyone, regardless of rank, found guilty of engaging in bacha baazi would be prosecuted. The government did not release a report on the investigation. At year’s end no known prosecutions of perpetrators in the security forces had taken place.

A September 2015 article in the New York Times documented the practice of bacha baazi by progovernment forces in Kunduz Province. Following the report, the Ministries of Interior and Defense and the President’s Office issued statements condemning the practice. The president also ordered the creation of a working committee, including the AIHRC, Interior Ministry, and AGO, to investigate and monitor cases of abuse and create a mechanism to prevent and prosecute perpetrators. There were no reports on the progress of the committee.

The government took few other steps to discourage the abuse of boys or to prosecute or punish those involved. On December 12, President Ghani signed a new trafficking-in-persons law, which includes legal provisions criminalizing behaviors associated with the sexual exploitation of children. In 2014 the AIHRC released its national inquiry on bacha baazi. The report asserted bacha baazi was a form of trafficking already criminalized and called on the government to enforce the law actively. It attributed the root causes of the practice to lack of rule of law, corruption, gaps in the law, poverty, insecurity, and the existence of armed insurgent groups. The report noted the serious psychological and physical harm victims faced and called on the government to provide protective services to victims.

Early and Forced Marriage: Despite a law setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 16 (15 with the consent of a parent or guardian and the court) for girls and 18 for boys, international and local observers continued to report widespread early marriage. A 2014 survey by the Ministry of Public Health showed 53 percent of all women ages 25-49 married by age 18 and 21 percent by age 15. According to the Central Statistics Organization of Afghanistan, 17 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 were married. During the EVAW law debate, conservative politicians publicly stated it was un-Islamic to ban the marriage of girls younger than 16. Under the EVAW law, those who arrange forced or underage marriages may be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years, but implementation of the law was limited. The Law on Marriage states marriage of a minor may be conducted with a guardian’s consent.

By law a marriage contract requires verification that the bride is 16 years of age (or 15 with the permission of her parents or a court), but only a small fraction of the population had birth certificates. Following custom, some poor families pledged their daughters to marry in exchange for “bride money,” although the practice is illegal. According to local NGOs, some girls as young as six or seven were promised in marriage, with the understanding the actual marriage would be delayed until the child reached puberty. Reports indicated, however, that this delay was rarely observed and that young girls were sexually violated by the groom or by older men in the family, particularly if the groom was also a child. Media reports also noted the “opium bride” phenomenon, in which farming families married off their daughters to settle debts to opium traffickers.

There were multiple media reports of girls given in baad or sold. In July an elderly mullah was arrested in Ghor Province for marrying a six-year-old girl. The girl’s father was also arrested after the mullah claimed that he was given the girl as a religious offering in exchange for prayers and a few goods. In August an 18-year-old woman in Badghis Province was beheaded by her husband’s family after asking for a divorce. The victim was only three years old when her father arranged her engagement to a local boy.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Girls under age 18 continued to be at risk for honor killings for perceived sexual relations outside of marriage, running away, not accepting a forced marriage, or being a victim of sexual assault. In July 2015 media reported family members of a 15-year-old girl in Baghlan Province shot and killed her and a 17-year-old boy after the two returned home following an elopement.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specifically identified under the law. Exploiting a child for sexual purposes, often associated with bacha baazi, was widespread, although some aspects of this practice are separate crimes under the penal code.

Child Soldiers: In February the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective. There were reports the ANDSF and progovernment militias used children for specific purposes in a limited number of cases, and the Taliban and other antigovernment elements recruited children for military purposes (see section 1.g.). Media reported that local progovernment commanders recruited children under 16 years of age. These children participated in military operations against the Taliban in the Baharak district of Badakhshan. UNAMA documented 15 incidents of recruitment and use of children by pro- and antigovernment groups. Taliban trained at least three boys, including a nine-year-old boy with mental disability, for suicide attacks in Kandahar and Nangarhar.

Displaced Children: The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled and the AIHRC continued to estimate the number of street children in the country at six million, but the National Census Directorate had not conducted a recent survey. Street children had little or no access to government services, although several NGOs provided access to basic needs, such as shelter and food.

Institutionalized Children: Living conditions for children in orphanages were poor. The social affairs ministry oversaw 84 Child Protection Action Network centers and 78 residential orphanages, which were designed to provide vocational training to children from destitute families. Of these, 30 were privately funded orphanages and 48 were government-funded centers operated by NGOs by agreement with the ministry. NGOs reported up to 80 percent of children between ages four and 18 years in the orphanages were not orphans but came from families that could not provide food, shelter, or schooling. Children in orphanages reported mental, physical, and sexual abuse and occasionally were subjected to trafficking. They did not have regular access to running water, heating in winter, indoor plumbing, health services, recreational facilities, or education.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution prohibits any kind of discrimination against citizens and requires the state to assist persons with disabilities and to protect their rights, including the rights to health care and financial protection. The constitution also requires the state to adopt measures to reintegrate and provide for the active participation in society of persons with disabilities. The Law on the Rights and Benefits of Disabled Persons provides for equal rights to, and the active participation of, such persons in society. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled continued to implement a five-year national action plan through a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Ministry of Education to implement public awareness programs on the rights of persons with disabilities through national media and to provide scholarships for students with disabilities. There were reports the information ministry was not cooperative regarding implementation of the memorandum of understanding.

During the year there were approximately 80,000 persons with disabilities registered with the ministry who received financial support from the government. Persons with 30 to 60 percent disability received an annual payment of 26,100 Afghanis ($450), and persons with more than 60 percent disability received a total of 52,200 Afghanis ($900) annually.

Disability rights activists reported that corruption prevented some persons with disabilities from receiving benefits. There were reports that government officials redirected scholarship funds for persons with disabilities to friends or family through fraud and identity theft. NGOs and government officials also reported that associations of persons with disabilities attempted to intimidate ministry employees in an effort to secure benefits such as apartments.

Lack of security remained a challenge for disability programs. Insecurity in remote areas, where a disproportionate number of persons with disabilities lived, precluded delivery of assistance in some cases. The majority of buildings remained inaccessible to persons with disabilities, prohibiting many from benefitting from education, health care, and other services.

Persons with disabilities faced barriers such as limited access to educational opportunities, inability to access government buildings, lack of economic opportunities, and social exclusion. NGOs reported persons with disabilities faced difficulties accessing the majority of public buildings, including government ministries, health clinics, and hospitals. Society and even their own families mistreated persons with disabilities, since there was a common perception persons had disabilities because they or their parents had “offended God.”

In the Meshrano Jirga, authorities reserved two of the presidentially appointed seats for persons with disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings.

Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention. According to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country.

Multiple kidnappings of Hazara were reported in several provinces, including Ghazni, Zabul, and Baghlan. The abductors reportedly shot, beheaded, ransomed, or released the kidnapping victims. In February 2015 unidentified gunmen abducted 31 Hazara men from a bus in Zabul Province. The abductors released 19 of the men in May and eight others in November. Four of the hostages remained unaccounted for at year’s end.

Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, reporting unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, and there were reports that harassment, violence, and detentions by police continued. NGOs reported police arrested, detained, robbed, and raped gay men. The law does not prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community did not have access to certain health services and could be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. Organizations devoted to protecting the freedom of LGBTI persons remained underground because they could not be legally registered. Members of the LGBTI community reported they continued to face discrimination, assault, rape, and arrest.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

There were no confirmed reports of discrimination or violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, but there was reportedly serious societal stigma against persons with AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to join and form independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and the government generally respected these rights, although it lacked enforcement tools. The law, however, provides no definition of a union or its relationship with employers and members, nor does it establish a legal method for union registration or penalties for violations. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination or provide for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Other than protecting the right to participate in a union, the law provides no other legal protection for union workers or workers seeking to unionize.

Although the law identifies the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled’s Labor High Council as the highest decision-making body on labor-related issues, the lack of implementing regulations prevented the council from performing its function. There was an inspection office within the ministry, but inspectors could only advise and make suggestions. As a result the application of labor law remained limited because of a lack of central enforcement authority, implementing regulations that describe procedures and penalties for violations, funding, personnel, and political will.

The government allowed several unions to operate without interference or political influence. Freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively were generally respected, but most workers were not aware of these rights. This was particularly true of workers in rural areas or the agricultural sector, who had not formed unions. In urban areas the majority of workers participated in the informal sector as day laborers in construction, where there were neither unions nor collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law prescribes penalties, including a “maximum term” of imprisonment for forced labor (between eight and 15 years). Article 515 of the penal code also could be interpreted to criminalize a “foreign party’s” coercive labor practices through fraud or deceit, with a penalty of five to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Government enforcement of the law was ineffective; resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate; and the government made minimal efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

Forced labor occurred. Men, women, and children were forced into poppy cultivation, domestic work, carpet weaving, brick kiln work, organized begging, and drug trafficking. NGO reports documented the practice of bonded labor, whereby customs allow families to force men, women, and children to work as a means to pay off debt or to settle grievances. The debt can continue from generation to generation, with children forced to work to pay off their parents’ debt (see section 7.c.). Labor violations against migrant workers were common, especially the widespread practice of bonded labor in brick kiln facilities.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The labor law sets the minimum age for employment at 18 but permits 14-year-olds to work as apprentices, allows children who are 15 and older to do “light work,” and permits children 16 and 17 to work up to 35 hours per week. Children under age 14 are prohibited from working under any circumstances. The law prohibits the employment of children in work likely to threaten their health or cause disability, including mining, begging, and garbage collection; work in blast furnaces, waste-processing plants, and large slaughterhouses; work with hospital waste; drug-related work; security guard services; and work related to war.

The government lacked a specific policy on implementing the law’s provisions on child labor. Poor institutional capacity was a serious impediment to effective enforcement of the labor law. Deficiencies included inadequate resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations, and the government made minimal efforts to prevent child labor or remove children from exploitative labor conditions. Reports estimated that fewer than 10 percent of children had formal birth registrations, which further limited authorities’ already weak capacity to enforce laws on the minimum age of employment.

Child labor remained a pervasive problem. The Ministry of Labor declined to estimate the number of working children, citing a lack of data and deficiencies in birth registrations.

Child laborers worked as domestic servants, street vendors, peddlers, and shopkeepers, and in carpet weaving, brick making, the coal industry, and poppy harvesting. Children were also heavily engaged in the worst forms of child labor in agriculture, mining (especially family-owned gem mines), commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children), transnational drug smuggling, and organized begging rings. Some forms of child labor exposed children to land mines. Children faced numerous health and safety risks at work, and there were reports children were exposed to sexual abuse by adult workers. There were reports of recruitment of juveniles by the ANDSF during the year. Taliban forces pressed children to take part in hostile acts (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The constitution prohibits discrimination and notes that citizens, both “man and woman,” have equal rights and duties before the law. It expressly prohibits discrimination based on language. The constitution contains no specific provisions addressing discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The penal code prescribes a term of imprisonment of not more than two years for anyone convicted of spreading discrimination or factionalism.

Women continued to face discrimination and hardship in the workplace. Women made up only 7 percent of the workforce. According to the 2016 Asia Foundation survey, 74 percent of the population agreed that women should be allowed to work outside the home; nonetheless, only 9.4 percent of women in the survey said they were involved in any activity that involved making money. Many women faced pressure from relatives to stay at home and encountered hiring practices that favored men. Older and married women reported it was more difficult for them than for younger, single women to find jobs. Women who worked reported they encountered insults, sexual harassment, lack of transportation, and an absence of day-care facilities. Salary discrimination existed in the private sector. Female journalists, social workers, and police officers reported they were often threatened or abused.

Ethnic Hazaras, Sikhs, and Hindus were subjected to discrimination in hiring and work assignments, in addition to broader social discrimination (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage for permanent government workers was 6,000 Afghanis ($103) per month. There was no minimum wage for permanent workers in the private sector; but the minimum wage for workers in the nonpermanent private sector was 5,500 Afghanis ($95) per month. According to the Central Statistics Organization, 36 percent of the population earned wages below the poverty line of 1,150 Afghanis ($20) per month.

The law defines the standard workweek for both public- and private-sector employees as 40 hours: eight hours per day with one hour for lunch and noon prayers. The labor law makes no mention of day workers in the informal sector, leaving them completely unprotected. There are no occupational health and safety regulations or officially adopted standards. The law, however, provides for reduced standard workweeks for youth, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and miners and workers in other occupations that present health risks. The law provides workers with the right to receive wages, annual vacation time in addition to national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries, overtime pay, health insurance for the employee and immediate family members, and other incidental allowances. The law prohibits compulsory work and stipulates that overtime work be subject to the agreement of the employee. The law prohibits women and minors (ages 15 to 18) from engaging in physically challenging work, work that is harmful to health, and night work. The law also requires employers to provide day care and nurseries for children.

The government did not effectively enforce these laws. The labor ministry had only 18 inspectors for 34 provinces, and the inspectors had no legal authority to enter premises or impose penalties for violations. Resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties for violations were inadequate and insufficient to deter violations.

Employers often chose not to comply with the law or preferred to hire workers informally. Most employees worked longer than 40 hours per week, were frequently underpaid, and worked in poor conditions, particularly in the informal sector. Workers were generally unaware of the full extent of their labor rights under the law. Although comprehensive data on workplace accidents were unavailable, there were several reports of poor and dangerous working conditions. Some industries, such as brick kiln facilities, continued to use debt bondage, making it difficult for workers to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety.

Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election held in July, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition won a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives and formed a government with Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The main human rights problems were domestic violence against women and children, particularly in indigenous communities; indigenous disadvantage; and policies affecting asylum seekers, including detention and detention center conditions for some attempting to reach the country by sea.

The government took steps to prosecute officials accused of abuses, and ombudsmen, human rights bodies, and internal government mechanisms responded effectively to complaints.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody.

In July an investigative news program revealed that from 2010 until 2015, some juveniles at the Don Dale Detention Center in the Northern Territory were tear-gassed, physically assaulted, stripped naked, shackled, and hooded. A spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated the mistreatment at the detention center may breach two human rights conventions, and could amount to torture. Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles removed the Corrections Minister, brought responsibility for the detention center under the Chief Minister’s Office, and vowed to build a new youth detention center. In July, Prime Minister Turnbull announced a joint royal commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory, and the reports have prompted calls for the commission to look into alleged abuses in other states.

In November 2015 the government investigated the death of an indigenous woman in police custody in Western Australia. The coroner investigated claims of mistreatment and neglect of the woman in custody and the “failure to respond with sufficient urgency” by police to the woman’s deteriorating health. A Western Australian Police senior detective told the inquest that police did not directly cause the woman’s death; however, their neglect “may have contributed to her demise.” The senior constable responsible for the woman while in custody received an administrative warning from the assistant police commissioner and an internal police investigation found 11 police officers failed to comply with appropriate police regulations. The government did not conclude its official inquiry by year’s end.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards.

Physical Conditions: In June 2015 the Australian Institute of Criminology reported 53 deaths in prison in 2012-13. Of the 53 deaths, 32 were from natural causes, nine from hanging, five from external/multiple trauma, one from head injury, one from drugs, and one from other/multiple causes. The report excluded four cases due to missing data.

In November 2015 media reported that a New South Wales Auditor-General’s report found the state’s prisons held an average of 11,011 inmates a day, while there was capacity for only 9,829. In June the Queensland Corrective Services Minister said an increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults was “partly due to overcrowding in the state’s prison system.”

In July the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services in Western Australia released findings into its 2015 inspection of Hakea Prison. The acting inspector reported overcrowding resulted in violence within the prison and “inadequate appreciation of human rights,” particularly for pretrial detainees.

As of May 31, there were 1,254 persons in immigration detention facilities in the country, including 177 on Christmas Island. As part of the government’s Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB), a multi-agency initiative launched in 2013 aimed at preventing the arrival of asylum seekers by boat, the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru operated immigration detention centers on behalf of the Australian government where the respective host governments processed applications for intercepted asylum seekers. As of July 31, there were 411 asylum seekers on Nauru and 833 on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. On April 28, a 23-year-old Iranian male asylum seeker died in a Brisbane hospital after setting himself on fire at the Nauru detention center. On May 2, a Somali female asylum seeker set herself on fire at the Nauru detention center and authorities transferred her to a Brisbane hospital where she remained in a critical condition.

Administration: Authorities investigated allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. There were no reports of intimidation by authorities. A number of domestic and international human rights groups expressed concerns about conditions at immigration detention centers (see section 2.d.).

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The armed forces, under the minister for defense, are responsible for external security. The Australian Federal Police (AFP)–under the minister for justice–and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The AFP enforces national laws, and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the armed forces and police, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police officers may seek an arrest warrant from a magistrate when a suspect cannot be located or fails to appear, but they also may arrest a person without a warrant if there are reasonable grounds to believe the person committed an offense. Police must inform arrested persons immediately of their legal rights and the grounds for their arrest, and must bring arrested persons before a magistrate for a bail hearing at the next session of the court. The law permits police to hold individuals in preventive detention without charge for up to 48 hours under federal law and up to 14 days under state and territory laws if a senior police official finds it is “reasonably necessary to prevent a terrorist act or preserve evidence of such an act.” Police may detain individuals for an additional 24 hours under court order.

The law states that 24 hours is the maximum investigation period police may hold and question a person without charge, unless extended by court order. In the case of a terrorism suspect, however, police may detain a person for up to seven continuous days and police can question the suspect for a maximum period of 24 hours, or 48 hours if an interpreter is needed.

A separate provision of law permits the attorney general to grant the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) authority to detain a person for a continuous period of up to 168 hours (seven days) in special circumstances, such as “reasonable grounds for believing that issuing the warrant to be requested will substantially assist the collection of intelligence that is important in relation to a terrorism offense.” The ASIO, however, reportedly has not used this authority.

The law permits a judge to authorize “control orders” on persons suspected of involvement with terrorism-related activities. These orders may include a range of measures, such as monitoring of suspects and house arrest, and may be in effect for up to one year without filing criminal charges. Authorities can renew a control order after one year with a new court order. In February police arrested a Sydney man for accessing terrorist propaganda videos in violation of his control order stemming from a previous arrest in August 2014 at Sydney Airport for allegedly seeking to fight for the Islamic State. In June the court denied him bail.

By law the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor helps provide that counterterrorism laws strike an appropriate balance between protecting the community and protecting human rights. The AFP, the Australian Crime Commission, and intelligence agencies are subject to parliamentary oversight. The inspector-general of intelligence and security is an independent statutory officer who provides oversight of the country’s six intelligence agencies.

Bail generally is available to persons facing criminal charges unless authorities consider the person a flight risk or the charges carrying a penalty of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. Authorities granted attorneys and families prompt access to detainees. Government-provided attorneys are available to give legal advice to detainees who cannot afford counsel. Arrested persons enjoy additional legal protections, such as the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention and to apply for compensation if unlawfully detained.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: A small number of asylum seekers remained in long-term detention despite having exhausted the appeal process. Authorities could not return them to their home country because they lacked travel documents or could not obtain necessary transit visas.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. In state district and county courts, and in state and territorial supreme courts, a judge and jury try serious offenses. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, the right to an attorney, and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Government-funded attorneys are available to low-income persons. The defendant’s attorney can question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence, access relevant government-held evidence, and appeal the court’s decision or the sentence imposed.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and individuals or organizations may seek civil judicial remedies for human rights violations. There is also an administrative process at the state and federal levels to seek redress for alleged wrongs by government departments. Administrative tribunals may review a government decision only if the decision is in a category specified under a law, regulation, or other legislative instrument as subject to a tribunal’s review.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police have authority to enter premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a right to freedom of expression, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens. In February the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that 86 percent of households had access to the internet at home in 2014-15.

Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications. In emergencies the director general of the ASIO may issue a warrant for this purpose without prior judicial authorization, but the attorney general must be informed.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) maintained a list of “refused classification” website content, primarily pertaining to child pornography, sexual violence, and other activities illegal in the country, compiled because of a consumer complaints process. The ACMA may issue a notice to the internet service provider to remove domestically hosted “refused classification” material, or links to such material, that is the subject of a complaint if an investigation concludes the complaint is justified. The list is available to providers of filtering software. An owner or operator of such a website can appeal an ACMA decision to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an executive body that reviews administrative decisions by government entities. Since 2010 three major telecommunications providers voluntarily blocked websites on Interpol’s list of child-abuse links.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In August, The Guardian leaked 2,000 reports of abuse of asylum seekers on Nauru, some involving accusations of assault, sexual abuse, and abuse of children.

The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program. For the fiscal year that began on July 1, the intake remained at 13,750. In 2015-16 authorities reserved at least 1,000 places for women at risk and at least 1,500 for Syrians. In September 2015 the government announced it would accept an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq for permanent resettlement, in addition to the annual refugee intake of 13,750.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees.

The number of asylum seekers arriving by sea significantly increased between 2008 and 2013, putting pressure on detention center capacity, processing times, and the capacity of the humanitarian refugee program. In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the government recorded 25,750 such arrivals. As of May 31, 28,329 asylum seekers were living in the community while authorities processed their cases. The country retained third party processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea for asylum seekers who arrived after July 19, 2013. Authorities continued their policy of not settling those arrivals in the country and forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so. Since the inception of OSB in 2013, authorities have transferred 2,125 asylum seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island as of May 31, and there were 537 voluntary returns to country of origin during this period. In June the immigration minister reported that authorities had turned back 28 boats transporting asylum seekers since 2013.

The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center, if the minister determines it is in the national interest to do so, and requires the minister to notify parliament, which may then disapprove the proposed designation within five working days of notification. The law states that such a designation “need not be limited by reference to the international obligations or domestic law of that country.” Under the government’s policy on asylum processing for unauthorized maritime arrivals, asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed.

In 2013 the previous Labor government entered into a Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea to send all unauthorized maritime arrivals to Papua New Guinea for assessment and to resettle those found to be refugees in Papua New Guinea. In 2013 Nauru became part of the arrangement. The government then began transferring all unauthorized maritime asylum seeker arrivals to Papua New Guinea and Nauru for processing. As of September Papua New Guinea had not approved any permanent resettlement arrangements but had granted refugee status to at least 50 individuals for release into the local community to receive support services at an open facility, including language training, cultural orientation, and case support. In 2014 the government reached agreement with Cambodia to resettle refugees on a voluntary basis from the processing center in Nauru. Of the five refugees settled in Cambodia, four voluntarily returned to their country of origin. In October 2015 the Nauruan government announced it would expedite processing for the 600 outstanding refugee claims and claimants would be able to move freely around the island, while maintaining access to assistance from the regional processing center.

In 2014 parliament passed a law that the government stated, “fundamentally changes Australia’s approach to managing asylum seekers” and was partly aimed at addressing a backlog of approximately 30,000 asylum applications. The legislation provided additional clarity and consistency in the powers to detain and move vessels and persons; introduced three-year temporary protection visas (TPV) for those who arrived between August 13, 2012 and December 31, 2013; and introduced a “fast-track” assessment process for those who arrived during this period. It also established a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) that enabled TPV holders to apply for five-year visas to work in non-metropolitan areas. After holding a SHEV for three and a half years, an applicant would be eligible to apply for other onshore visas, such as a permanent skilled visa.

There is a statutory obligation for the government to facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention. In March 2014 the federal government tightened access to government-funded legal assistance to only those that arrived through authorized channels.

In May there were 399 persons in immigration detention for longer than 730 days and the average duration authorities held them in detention facilities was 459 days.

There were no children (younger than 18 years) in immigration detention in the country as of May 31, compared with 118 in 2014. There were 50 children on Nauru and none on Manus Island. In 2014 the government announced arrangements to enable more minors to reside in the community while authorities processed their applications.

On May 2, UNHCR stated, “There is no doubt that the current policy of offshore processing and prolonged detention is immensely harmful…Despite efforts by the Governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, arrangements in both countries have proved completely untenable….The situation of these people has deteriorated progressively over time, as UNHCR has witnessed firsthand over numerous visits since the opening of the centers.”

In February the Australian High Court threw out a challenge to the existence of the country’s offshore immigration detention center on Nauru. In March protests occurred in major cities after authorities prepared to return a one-year-old girl to Nauru 24 hours after her transfer to a Brisbane hospital for severe burns. Doctors refused to release the infant and the Victorian government issued a public letter to the prime minister criticizing the federal government’s stance on children in detention, and offered to resettle the refugees in Victoria.

More than 1,800 academics urged the prime minister to call a summit to create a more “just and humane approach” to handling asylum seekers arriving by sea. The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled in April that the detention of asylum seekers at the Manus Island processing center was illegal. The Australian government stated in August it intended to close the Manus Island Center, but did not reveal a specific date.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in July. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government and Malcolm Turnbull remained prime minister. The coalition won 76 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Labor Party 69, and others five.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no legal impediments to voting or holding public office for women or minorities.

Indigenous persons and other minorities generally were underrepresented relative to their share of the population. In 2010 voters elected an indigenous person to the federal House of Representatives for the first time; voters elected the first indigenous woman to the Senate in 2013; and voters elected the first indigenous woman to the House of Representatives in the recent election. An indigenous woman succeeded another indigenous woman as senator for the Northern Territory and voters elected an indigenous man as senator for Western Australia. Five indigenous persons served in the federal parliament. In September 2015 the prime minister named an indigenous member of parliament as the assistant minister for health, making him the first indigenous person on the parliamentary front bench; he retained this portfolio after the election. There were two indigenous persons in the Western Australia state parliament and six in the Northern Territory legislative assembly, which included the Northern Territory’s chief minister and the first indigenous state-level head of government. The Tasmania and New South Wales state parliaments and the Australian Capital Territory legislative assembly each had one indigenous member.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales states have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every jurisdiction has an ombudsperson who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. These bodies actively collaborated with civil society, operated independently and effectively, and had adequate resources.

The Northern Territory does not have an independent watchdog with sufficient power to investigate politicians and their staffers for corruption and misconduct, according to the territory’s police and investigative bodies. In a joint statement to the territory’s parliament in July, the Northern Territory Police Commissioner, Public Interest Disclosures Commissioner, Public Employment Commissioner, Auditor-General, and Ombudsman called for new powers to close the loophole on investigating politicians and staffers. The group also demanded greater transparency regarding travel expenses, allowances, appointments, and tenders for work not publicly advertised.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal, state, and territory elected officials to report their financial interests. Failure to do so could result in a finding of contempt of parliament and a possible fine or jail sentence. Federal officeholders must report their financial interests to a Register of Pecuniary Interests, and the report made public within 28 days of the individual’s assumption of office.

Public Access to Information: Federal, state, and territorial governments have freedom-of-information (FOI) laws that provide the public access to government information. The federal government does not charge application fees, but some state and territorial governments charge application and processing fees.

The government may exempt information from disclosure to protect essential public interests or the private or business affairs of others. An applicant, including foreign media, may appeal a government decision to deny a request for information to the quasi-legal AAT. An applicant may appeal an adverse AAT decision to the Federal Court. FOI laws, including appeal mechanisms, generally functioned effectively. A FOI commissioner is responsible for promoting and protecting information rights.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission (HRC), an independent organization established by parliament and adequately funded by the federal government, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The HRC reports to parliament through the attorney general. The media and nongovernmental organizations deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.

In addition to the HRC at the federal level, each state and territory has a human rights ombudsperson.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities.

According to the government, approximately one in three women experienced physical violence, and nearly one in five experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years. In July the ABS reported that in 2015 police recorded 21,380 cases of sexual assault, of which 82 percent of the victims were women. Two-thirds of sexual assaults occurred in a residential location.

In 2015, there were 158 homicides linked to family and domestic violence; 103 of the victims were female. In September 2015, in its first major policy initiative, the government under Prime Minister Turnbull announced a policy package of A$100 million ($75 million) to address the threat of domestic violence, particularly against women. Federal and state governments funded programs to combat domestic violence and provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal act in all states and territories of the country, and these laws apply extraterritoriality to protect citizens or residents from being subjected to FGM/C overseas. In June a court sentenced a Muslim leader to at least 11 months in jail for covering up FGM/C offenses against two sisters in Wollongong and Sydney between 2009 and 2012. The court sentenced the girls’ mother, and the woman who carried out the procedure, to 11 months home detention. It was the country’s first FGM/C trial. In 2013 the government held a national summit on FGM/C and subsequently announced a National Compact on Female Genital Mutilation. In 2013 the government announced it would provide A$1 million ($750,000) for 15 new projects aimed at ending FGM/C among citizens whether they lived domestically or abroad.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The HRC receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The HRC received 212 complaints of sexual harassment during 2014-15; however, separate statistics on resolution of harassment complaints were not available.

An independent review of the Victoria Police Department released in December 2015 found workplace sexual harassment to be an endemic problem despite more than 30 years of legislation prohibiting sex based discrimination. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found evidence that of more than 5,000 participants surveyed, 40 percent of women and 7 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment. The review found evidence of chronic underreporting with victims afraid of negative professional and personal consequences resulting from making a complaint.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population.

Discrimination: The law provided for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning and/or managing businesses, education, and housing. Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.). The HRC received 453 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act from 2014-15, including 358 from women.

There were well-organized and effective public and private women’s rights organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. The federal sex discrimination commissioner of the HRC undertakes research, formulates policy, and conducts educational work designed to eliminate gender discrimination. The Office for Women, under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, focuses on reducing violence against women, promoting women’s economic security, and enhancing the status of women.

Children

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth; however, being physically born within the country does not confer citizenship on a child. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. In general births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions of persons for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs. The federal government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released an interim report in 2014, which included the personal stories of 150 abused persons. In August 2015 the commission released recommendations on background checks for persons working with children and, in September 2015 released recommendations on redress and civil litigation. It continued to conduct hearings during the year.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a national agency that maintains health statistics and information, there were 42,457 children in substantiated abuse or neglect cases during 2014-15. The rate remained unchanged between 2012-13 and 2014-15 at approximately eight per 1,000 children. The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders was approximately seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. A person between 16 and 18 years may apply to a judge or magistrate in a state or territory for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years, but the marriage of the minor still requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than 18 years may not marry each other. Although no statistics were available, reports of marriages involving a person younger than 18 years were rare. There were reports forced marriage sometimes occurred.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children. There were documented cases of children younger than 18 years subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than 16 years and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex is 16 years in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia and 17 years in Tasmania and South Australia. In Queensland the age of consent for anal sex is 18 years, while the age of consent for all other sexual acts is 16 years. Maximum penalties for violations vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. In New South Wales; however, the law prohibiting child abuse material, including child pornography applies only to children younger than 16 years, and in South Australia the law prohibiting child exploitation material, including child pornography, only applies to children younger than 17 years. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of A$275,000 ($206,000), or both. Under federal law suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed. The AFP worked with its international partners to identify and charge persons involved in online exploitation of children.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures initiated in 2007 to combat child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than 16 years in the Northern Territory. In 2012 parliament extended most of these interventions through 2022.

While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some Aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

According to the 2011 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 97,300 persons. During the 12-month period ending in September 2015, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 190 anti-Semitic incidents logged by the council, Jewish community umbrella groups in each state, and the Australian Capital Territory, and community security groups. These incidents included vandalism, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. In early April vandals spray-painted several swastikas on Marouba Synagogue in Sydney and on nearby bus stop signs. The synagogue’s Rabbi Friedman described the incident as “an assault against Jewish people and directed towards those in my community.”

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment; education; access to premises; access to air travel and other forms of transport; provision of goods, services (including health services), and facilities; accommodation; purchase of land; activities of clubs and associations; sport; the judicial system; and the administration of federal laws and programs. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The commissioner also promotes implementation and enforcement of state laws that require equal access to buildings and otherwise protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including providing equal access to communications and information. The law also provides for mediation by the HRC of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Schools are required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, and children with disabilities generally attended school. The federal government’s Better Start for Children with Disability initiative provided up to A$12,000 ($9,000) per person for early intervention services and treatment for eligible children with disabilities. The government also cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities. The 2015 budget increased federal funding for students with disabilities to a record A$1.3 billion ($974 million) for 2015-16 and more than A$5 billion ($3.75 billion) over 2014-17. The government announced a National Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability so that all students with disability receive funding on the same basis.

The HRC’s annual report stated that 740 complaints, citing 846 alleged grounds of discrimination, were filed under the Disability Discrimination Act during 2014-15. Of these, 34 percent related to employment, and 37 percent involved the provision of goods and services (see section 7.d.). The HRC resolved 772 complaints during the period, including 376 through conciliation.

In 2013 the government launched the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a national disability insurance program and allocated a budget of A$14.3 billion ($10.7 billion) to the program. On June 30, the NDIS began across the country following a trial involving 30,000 people.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to its annual report, the HRC received 561 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act during 2014-15, citing 1,070 alleged grounds of discrimination. Of these, 18 percent involved employment, 15 percent involved provision of goods and services, and 18 percent alleged “racial hatred.” The HRC reported resolution of 405 complaints, including 202 through conciliation (see section 7.d.).

Indigenous People

According to the 2011 census, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constituted 2.5 percent of the total population.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country. Aboriginal Land Rights and Native Title Acts at the federal and state levels enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Under a 2002 High Court ruling, native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources and, in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights are in conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

The Indigenous Land Corporation, established in 1995, provides a continuing source of funds for indigenous persons to acquire or manage land for the benefit of indigenous persons. It has acquired 250 properties and added more than 5.8 million hectares to the indigenous estate. It receives a minimum annual payment of A$45 million ($34 million) from the Land Account, which had a balance of A$2.014 billion ($1.5 billion) at the end of June 2015. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet administer the Land Account. It is separate from the National Native Title Tribunal and is not for payment of compensation to indigenous persons for loss of land or to titleholders for return of land to indigenous persons.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), in 2007 the government took control of 64 indigenous communities through five-year land leases. The federal government’s Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory plan begun in 2012 repealed the emergency response and provided for negotiation of voluntary long-term leases. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which began in 2014, allocated indigenous-specific federal funding of A$4.9 billion ($3.7 billion) for a period of four years. Additionally, authorities allocated A$3.7 billion ($2.8 billion) through National Partnership Agreements, Special Accounts, and Special Appropriations. Funding was also available through indigenous-specific and mainstream programs delivered by other agencies.

In 2013 parliament unanimously passed an act of recognition intended to build momentum for a future referendum for constitutional recognition of indigenous people. The new government supported constitutional recognition of indigenous people and was working toward a referendum to achieve this aim. The portfolio of indigenous affairs had cabinet-level status, and indigenous policy coordination shifted to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Since 2008 the prime minister has reported annually to parliament on the government’s progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities. In February the prime minister reported mixed results in the eight years since the government set Closing the Gap targets, with advancements in education and child mortality, but slower progress in employment and life expectancy.

According to the ABS, as of March the rate of imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals was 11.4 times higher than the national imprisonment rate, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 27 percent of the full-time adult prisoner population. The Ministry for Indigenous Affairs reported in October indigenous children and teenagers were 24 times more likely to be imprisoned than the nonindigenous population, while indigenous women are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses.

The ABS reported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals experienced disproportionately high levels of domestic violence, with hospitalization for family-related assault 28 times more likely for indigenous men and 34 times more likely for indigenous women than the rest of the country’s population. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, life expectancy for indigenous men was an estimated 69.1 years, compared to 79.7 years for nonindigenous men; life expectancy for indigenous women was an estimated 73.7 years, compared to 83.1 years for nonindigenous women; and the indigenous unemployment rate was 17 percent, compared to approximately 5 percent for the nonindigenous population.

The Productivity Commission’s 2012 Indigenous Expenditure Reportestimated that total direct indigenous expenditure in 2010-11 was A$25.4 billion ($19 billion). This resulted in expenditures of A$44,128 ($33,100) per indigenous citizen, compared to A$19,589 ($14,700) for other citizens. The report found the difference was due to “greater intensity of service use” and “additional costs of providing services.”

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, established in 2012, is the national representative body for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Government funding for it ceased in 2014. The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including in employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status.

The HRC received 34 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation during 2014-15.

In 2014 Victoria and New South Wales passed laws to expunge convictions related to consensual sex between men. In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologized to citizens convicted of homosexual acts. Following the federal election, the opposition Australian Labor Party announced its first federal “shadow minister” for equality.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

In June media reported vandals set a car on fire and sprayed anti-Muslim graffiti on a wall outside a Perth mosque. Earlier that month, someone left a pig’s head near the entrance of another mosque in Perth and parts of a pig in a nearby Islamic school.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions and associate freely domestically and internationally, to bargain collectively and to conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity.

A union may represent an employee only if the employee is eligible to become a member of that union under the eligibility rules of that union. Union officials have the right to enter workplaces if they hold right-of-entry permits granted by the Fair Work Commission (FWC). Written notice is generally required to enter a workplace and should be provided no less than 24 hours and no more than 14 days before the proposed visit. Eligibility to enter premises is dependent on whether a union covers the work of a particular employee.

The law requires that employers act in “good faith” when a majority of employees want a collective agreement, although it places some restrictions on the scope of collective bargaining. Prohibited terms include requiring payment of a bargaining services fee, enabling an employee or employer to “opt out” of coverage of the agreement, and anything that breaches the law. Furthermore the law prohibits multi-enterprise agreements or “pattern bargaining,” although low-paid workers can apply for a “low-paid bargaining stream” to conduct multi-enterprise bargaining. When deciding whether to grant a low-paid authorization, the FWC looks at factors including the current terms and conditions of employment, the bargaining strength of employees, and whether employers and employees are bargaining for the first time. There is no definition of low-paid worker in the law; however, the explanatory memorandum to the Fair Work Act suggests that workers in the cleaning and childcare sectors are eligible. A bargaining agent may represent either side in the process. The law designates collective agreements as being between employers and employees directly; trade unions are the default representatives of their members but, with some exceptions, are not official parties to collective agreements.

The law restricts strikes to the period when unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement and specifies that strikes must concern matters under negotiation, known as “protected action.” Protected action provides employers, employees, and unions with legal immunity from claims of losses incurred by industrial action. The deadline to file an unfair dismissal claim is 21 days, and the time to file a general protections claim is 21 days. Industrial action must be authorized by a secret ballot of employees; unions continued to raise concerns this requirement was unduly time consuming and expensive to implement. The law subjects strikers to penalties for taking industrial action during the life of an agreement and prohibits secondary action (e.g., a sympathy strike). The law permits the government to stop strikes judged to have “significant economic harm” to the employer or third parties. Some provinces have further restrictions. For example in New South Wales, the state government may cancel a union’s registration if the government makes a proclamation or calls a state of emergency concerning an essential service and the “industrial organization whose members are engaged in providing the essential service has, by its executive, members, or otherwise, engaged in activities which are contrary to the public interest.”

The government effectively enforced applicable laws, including federal, state, and territorial laws, regulations, and statutory instruments. Penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining protections include fines of up to A$10,800 ($8,100) for an individual and A$54,000 ($40,500) for a corporation and were generally sufficient to deter violations. The FWC is the national independent industrial relations management institution. Its functions include facilitating dispute resolution. If there is a dispute, the FWC convenes a conference between parties to facilitate a resolution. If the conference is unsuccessful, the parties may elect the FWC to arbitrate the dispute, or the applicant may pursue a ruling by a federal court. An applicant may also pursue a court ruling if one or both parties do not agree to participate in the FWC conference.

The government and employers generally respected freedom of association and collective bargaining.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government effectively enforced applicable labor laws, but did not obtain any successful prosecutions of criminal laws prohibiting forced labor. The law provides for sufficiently stringent penalties against forced labor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Federal law includes specific prohibitions of forced labor and prescribed a maximum penalty of nine years’ imprisonment for the offense. The law prohibits exploiting migrant employees through forced labor or slavery, and prescribes a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and various fines. The majority of forced labor cases, however, were addressed through civil law. In May 2015, following a media report of labor exploitation in the agricultural sector, the assistant immigration minister announced that the department was investigating the employment of Working Holiday visa holders by on-hire labor firms.

There were reports some foreign nationals who came to the country for temporary work were subjected to forced labor in such sectors as agriculture, cleaning, construction, hospitality, and domestic service.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment. The Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia established 15 years as the minimum age for work. Queensland established the minimum age as 13 years, and New South Wales, the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Tasmania have no established minimum age for work. With the exception of Victoria, all states and territories have established 18 years as the minimum age for hazardous work.

There are laws and regulations pertaining to hazardous work across sectors. For example under the 1994 Western Australia Mines Safety and Inspection Act an underground employee must not be younger than 18 years unless he or she is an apprentice or a cadet who is working underground to gain required experience in the course of training for a profession or trade; a person handling, charging or firing explosives must not be younger than 18 years; a person must be at least age 21 years to obtain a winding engine driver’s certificate. Victoria prohibits employment of a person younger than 15 years in door-to-door selling, in a fishing boat, on a building or construction site or in any other prohibited work; it prohibits the employment of children younger than 14 years in a mine and younger than 17 years from working underground in any mine.

Federal, state, and territorial governments effectively monitored and enforced laws, which varied among jurisdictions, governing the minimum age for leaving school and engaging in specified occupations. Penalties for violations of related laws included fines, and were sufficient to deter violations. For example in Western Australia penalties can be imposed on the employer and parent if they allow a child to: perform work that is not allowed or work outside the allowed hours for their age (maximum fine of A$24,000 ($18,000), or a maximum of A$120,000 ($90,000) for an incorporated employer); perform in an indecent or pornographic manner (maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment); continue to work after the Department for Child Protection and Family Support has issued a notice for the employment to cease because the work is harmful to the child (maximum imprisonment of three years and a maximum fine of A$36,000 ($27,000), or A$180,000 ($135,000) for an incorporated employer). The Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) actively sought to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities.

State-imposed compulsory educational requirements, enforced by state educational authorities, effectively prevented most children from joining the workforce full time until they were 17 years old. Although some violations of these laws occurred, there was no indication of a child labor problem in any specific sector. There were some reports of commercial sexual exploitation of children (see section 6, Children).

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on the Australian territories of Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Island, and Norfolk Island.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Federal and state and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. The HRC reviews complaints of discrimination on the ground of HIV/AIDS status under the category of disability-related complaints.

The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law also prohibits discrimination against employees based on family responsibilities, including breastfeeding, and requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension (DSP) program to enter the workforce when they have a capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for DSP recipients younger than 35 years who can work for more than eight hours per week.

The government effectively enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination, and penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Under the law the maximum penalty for contravention of the unlawful discrimination protections is A$54,000 ($40,500) per contravention for a corporation and A$10,800 ($8,100) per contravention for an individual.

Employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 17.3 percent in March and has fluctuated between 15 percent and 19 percent for the past two decades.

Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. In 2014-15, the latest year for which such data were available, the HRC received 742 complaints about disability discrimination, with 304 in the area of employment. Of the employment discrimination complaints brought to the FWO in 2012-15, 82.8 percent were not sustained.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Effective July 1, the FWC increased the national minimum wage for adults working full time (38 hours per week) by 2.4 percent to A$672.70 ($500), based on a minimum hourly rate of A$17.70 ($13.30). There was no official poverty-level income figure, but the minimum wage, combined with welfare payments, was intended to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Above-minimum-wage classifications apply to certain trades and professions.

By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours (determined according to the law, taking into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given). The law provides for paid annual holidays and premium pay for overtime. Industry standards or awards mandate rest periods and overtime pay. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable” considering the aforementioned factors.

Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and the federal government have “harmonized” occupational health and safety laws with an aim to make it easier for workers and businesses to understand requirements across different states and territories. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision that enables workers bullied at work to apply to the FWC for an order to stop the bullying. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.

The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsperson also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act. The number of FWO inspectors, 300, was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. Between July 2014 and June 2015, the latest year for which such data was available, the FWO levied fines of more than A$22.3 million ($16.7 million) on behalf of 11,613 employees.

Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns. In New South Wales, for example, an individual can be sentenced a maximum of five years’ imprisonment and/or receive a maximum fine of A$300,000 ($225,000), and a business can be fined up to A$3 million ($2.25 million) for exposing an individual to serious injury or illness. In 2013 one worker was fatally injured and another worker suffered serious injuries when they were moving a cabinet from the back of a truck onto a forklift. After a SafeWork NSW investigation, the District Court convicted the employer in September 2015 and fined the employer A$225,000 ($169,000).

Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum hourly rate of A$17.70 ($13.30) through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. As of June the ABS reported approximately 3.74 million persons (31.3 percent of the workforce) were employed as part-time workers, of whom 68.5 percent were women. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.

There continued to be reports employers underpaid seasonal farm workers, including international students and other international migrant workers. As of June 2015, the FWO had recovered A$254,924 ($191,000) for 870 workers as part of its “Harvest Trail” inquiry, a program to increase monitoring of the agriculture industry and help employers and employees working on the Harvest trail to understand their rights and obligations at work. For example the Ombudsperson ordered one labor recruitment firm to pay back wages to more than 100 seasonal workers in the fruit and vegetable industry that were underpaid.

There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled-worker visas received less pay than the market rate and used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas; government policy prohibits positions from being nominated under the “457” program when the market rate annual salary is less than A$53,900 ($40,400).

According to Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, a preliminary estimate was that 86 workers died while working, as of July 26. Of these 27 fatalities were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sector; 25 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector; and 10 in construction.

Canada

Executive Summary

Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair multiparty federal election held in October 2015, the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, won a majority of seats in the federal parliament and formed a government.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The principal human rights problems included violence against women, disparities in living conditions between indigenous and nonindigenous peoples, and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish all officials who committed violations, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: According to the governmental statistical agency’s most recent figures, in 2014-15 there were on average approximately 39,625 inmates, pretrial detainees, and remand prisoners in federal and provincial correctional institutions, which had an official capacity of 38,771. The remand population exceeded the sentenced population. The national double-bunking rate (the practice of confining two inmates in a cell designed for one) in federal facilities was 19 percent in 2013-14.

The federal correctional investigator’s report for 2014-15 identified recourse to “administrative segregation” or solitary confinement by federal correctional services to manage crowded institutions and high-needs inmates as a concern. The correctional investigator, an independent prison ombudsman, urged authorities to cap the time inmates spend in segregation and to develop a policy framework to guide the use of segregation, including prohibiting the use of long-term segregation (beyond 15 days) for inmates with mental disabilities. Correctional Services Canada reported that the number of federal inmates held in solitary confinement for 120 days or more fell from 498 to 247 (a 51 percent drop) from March 2015 to March 2016, in part due to diversion of inmates with mental disabilities to treatment programs as an alternative to segregation.

In May the Ontario ombudsman recommended the government end the practice of extended solitary confinement in provincial prisons. The ombudsman’s report also recommended prison personnel receive training on the mental health effects of long-term solitary confinement and legislated maximums for periods of solitary confinement.

In October the Ontario provincial government transferred an indigenous prisoner out of solitary confinement after he spent more than 1,500 consecutive days in a cell under continuous artificial light for 23 hours each day while awaiting trial. Ontario’s Human Rights Commissioner flagged this case to prison authorities who then moved the man to a different cell. In October the Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services announced a 15- day limit on the number of consecutive days inmates can be held in solitary confinement (down from the present 30-day guideline), effective immediately. The minister also announced that each detention facility would establish segregation committees that would meet weekly and review the cases of prisoners in solitary confinement. The minister said jails should use solitary confinement as a measure of last resort under the least restrictive conditions available and ordered an independent review of policies and practices in Ontario jails. Advocates for prisoners said the changes were insufficient.

The Correctional Investigator’s Office reported 10 nonnatural deaths (including suicide) in federal custody in 2014-15, the latest available figures.

In July the government of New Brunswick announced it would advise the public when a prisoner dies but would not publish details on the inmate’s death. The change came after media reported 13 persons had died in New Brunswick prisons since 2004, but the coroner reviewed only four of the deaths.

In August the families of two female inmates who died in a Nova Scotia prison filed suit against the federal government for wrongful death. The families alleged prison authorities were negligent in addressing mental health needs of the inmates, both of whom committed suicide in 2015 after stints in solitary confinement.

Administration: Independent authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman behavior and documented the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by independent nongovernmental human rights observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

National, provincial, and municipal police forces maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but in exceptional cases may exercise some domestic security responsibility at the formal request of civilian provincial authorities. The federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reports to the Department of Public Safety, and the armed forces report to the Department of National Defense. Provincial and municipal police report to their respective provincial authorities. The Canada Border Services Agency reports to the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and is responsible for enforcing immigration law. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the RCMP and provincial and municipal police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year. Authorities investigated and publicly reported all fatalities that resulted from police action or in police custody.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities generally apprehended persons openly with warrants. A judge can issue a warrant after being satisfied a criminal offense might have been committed. A person arrested for a criminal offense has the right to a prompt, independent judicial determination of the legality of the detention. Authorities respected this right in practice. Authorities provided detainees with timely information of the reason for the arrest and ensured prompt access to a lawyer of the detainee’s choice or, if the detainee was indigent, a lawyer provided by the state without restriction. Bail generally was available. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

Judges may issue preemptive peace bonds and apprehend individuals who authorities reasonably believe may carry out terrorist activities. Judges may also issue recognizances to detain persons and impose bail conditions if authorities deem the restrictions likely to prevent terrorist activity. Authorities may hold persons under preventive detention under recognizance for up to seven days, subject to periodic judicial review. Restrictions may include limits on travel and surrender of passports. Use of peace bonds and recognizance for counterterrorism purposes is subject to annual reporting requirements to the federal parliament.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities released detainees immediately after they were charged, unless a judge deemed continued detention necessary to ensure the detainee’s attendance in court, for the protection or safety of the public, or due to the gravity of the offense. Persons subject to continued detention have the right to judicial review of their status at regular intervals.

The government may detain or deport noncitizens on national security grounds with an immigration security certificate. The government issues certificates based on confidential evidence presented to two cabinet ministers by intelligence or police agencies and reviewed by a federal court judge who determines “reasonableness” and upholds or revokes the certificate. A judge may order an individual detained during the security certificate determination process if the government believes the individual presents a danger to national security or is unlikely to appear at the proceeding for removal. The judge may impose conditions on release into the community, including monitoring. Individuals subject to a security certificate may see a summary of confidential evidence against them. Authorities must provide full disclosure to court-appointed, security-cleared lawyers (special advocates), who can review and challenge the evidence on behalf of these individuals but not share or discuss the material with them. The law establishes strict rules on the disclosure and use of secret evidence, prohibits the use of evidence if there are reasonable grounds to believe authorities obtained the evidence as a result of torture, and provides mechanisms for review and appeal.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are entitled to challenge in court the validity of the detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if the detention is found to be unlawful.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are held without undue delay before a judge alone or, for more serious cases, before a judge and jury. Defendants have the right to be present at trial and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. The government provides an attorney at public expense if needed when defendants face serious criminal charges, and defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys generally have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases and adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants also enjoy a presumption of innocence, a right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them (with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals), a right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and a right of appeal. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters and access to a court to bring a suit seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Remedies can be monetary, declaratory, or injunctive. Federal or provincial human rights commissions may also hear alleged human rights violations. Individuals may also bring human rights complaints to the UN or the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The Supreme Court has ruled that the government may limit free speech in the name of goals such as ending discrimination, ensuring social harmony, or promoting gender equality. The court has also ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven to be willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on the media.

In November media reported that municipal and provincial police in Quebec had electronically monitored seven journalists in the province on multiple occasions between 2008 and 2016. In each case the police had a warrant from a Quebec court authorizing the surveillance. The most recent case started in 2016 as police investigated an internal leak suggesting police officers may have fabricated evidence. The electronic monitoring allowed police authorities to track the journalists’ movements and telephone logs. Federal, Quebec, and Montreal politicians condemned the electronic surveillance. The provincial government of Quebec committed to make it more difficult for police to obtain warrants to monitor journalists, and it launched a public commission to investigate the incidents. The commission’s investigation had not started as of November 8.

In July the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered a comedian to pay C$42,000 ($32,400) to the family of a child whose appearance he mocked during a stand-up routine. The judge determined the comedian’s joke did not qualify as protected speech and violated the child’s right to protection against discriminatory comments. In October the Quebec Court of Appeals granted the comedian permission to file an appeal.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

Approximately 99 percent of households could access broadband services. According to the World Bank, 87 percent of the population used the internet in 2014.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government offered alternatives to refugee claimants whose cases the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) refused. The option for judicial review through the federal courts exists. Two other remedies of last resort are available through the Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship: a “preremoval risk assessment” and an appeal to the minister of immigration, refugees, and citizenship for a waiver based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

In January the government dropped its appeal of a 2015 court ruling that found authorities’ denial of access to appeal by refugee claimants from designated countries of origin (DCOs) was unconstitutional. DCOs include countries that do not normally produce refugees but respect human rights and offer state protection, or countries whose nationals have a high rate of rejection by the IRB and regularly abandon or withdraw asylum claims in Canada.

Claimants who arrive in the country in a manner designated by the minister as a mass or irregular arrival (in cases of suspected human smuggling) may be subject to detention (subject to review at legislated intervals) pending verification of their identity and admissibility. They face restrictions on access to appeal and remedies of last resort if the IRB refuses their claims.

Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and facilitated local integration (including naturalization), particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their homes.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (in the form of temporary residence permits) to persons who may not qualify as refugees.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In October 2015 the Liberal Party won a majority of seats in the federal parliament and formed a national government following a free and fair election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. In November 2015 Prime Minister Trudeau named his cabinet, which, for the first time in the country’s history, included an equal number of men and women.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: In December former Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt pleaded guilty to charges of fraud, breach of trust, and conspiracy to commit fraud, after running one of Quebec’s largest cities for 23 years. He agreed to repay illicit gains and forfeit assets worth C$8.5 million ($6.5 million). Vaillancourt could face up to six years in prison.

Prosecutors dropped fraud and related charges against Senator Patrick Brazeau and a judge dismissed charges against Senator Mike Duffy; the Senate reinstated both members. Prosecutors also dropped charges against former Senator Mac Harb and police terminated the investigation into official expenses claimed by Senator Pamela Wallin.

In November 2015 Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission released its final report of its investigation into the awarding of public construction projects. The report concluded corruption in the province’s construction sector was widespread and made 60 recommendations for major reforms to Quebec’s public contracts system.

Financial Disclosure: By law public officeholders, including elected members of the executive branch and their staff and designated senior nonelected officials, must disclose information about their personal financial assets. These declarations, as well as an annual report, are available to the public through regular reports from a commissioner for conflict of interest and ethics. The commissioner may impose an administrative monetary penalty for noncompliance, but the law does not provide for criminal sanctions. Members of the legislative branch are not required to disclose financial holdings but must recuse themselves from voting or conducting hearings on matters in which they have a pecuniary interest. Provincial governments provide independent audits of government business and ombudsman services.

Public Access to Information: The law permits public access to government information, and the government granted access for citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. The law provides for the denial of legal requests for information on limited and specific grounds given and cited in law, a reasonably short timeline to disclose or respond, reasonable processing fees, and a mechanism to appeal denials, including appeal to the federal courts. The law does not impose criminal or administrative sanctions for noncompliance. The government released quarterly information on the public expenditures of senior government officials and published expense information on individual ministerial websites and a centralized website.

In May the government announced it would charge only a nominal C$5.00 ($3.80) application fee to request federal records and eliminate all other fees. The government also announced reforms to allow requesters to specify the format for data, making it easier for users to sort and analyze government data.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Federal and provincial human rights commissions enjoyed government cooperation, operated without government or party interference, and had adequate resources. Observers considered the commissions effective. Parliamentary human rights committees operated in the House of Commons and the Senate. The committees acted independently of government, conducted public hearings, and issued reports and recommendations to which the government provided written, public, and timely responses. Most federal departments and some federal agencies employed ombudsmen. Nine provinces and one territory also employed ombudsmen.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on Indian Residential Schools released its full report in November 2015 (see section 6, Indigenous People), and the federal government launched a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women (see section 6, Women).

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, as sexual assault, and the government enforced the law effectively. Penalties for sexual assault carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison, up to 14 years for sexual assault with a restricted or prohibited firearm, and between four years and life for aggravated sexual assault with a firearm or committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization. According to the government’s statistical agency, in 2015 police received approximately 21,500 reports of sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, and aggravated sexual assault (up from 20,735 in 2014). Most victims were women. Government studies indicated victims of sexual assault reported approximately one in 20 incidents to police. The federal government does not publish statistics on the number of abusers prosecuted, convicted, and punished.

The law prohibits domestic violence. Although the criminal code does not define specific domestic violence offenses, an abuser can be charged with an applicable offense, such as assault, aggravated assault, intimidation, mischief, or sexual assault. Persons convicted of assault receive up to five years in prison. Assaults involving weapons, threats, or injuries carry terms of up to 10 years. Aggravated assault or endangerment of life carry prison sentences of up to 14 years. The government enforced the law effectively. Studies indicated that victims of domestic violence and spousal abuse underreported incidents, likely due to social stigma or fear of further violence or retribution.

According to the government’s statistical agency, indigenous women were three times more likely than nonindigenous women to experience violent abuse and, according to the RCMP, were four times more likely to be victims of homicide. In June 2015 the RCMP reported indigenous women were disproportionately represented as victims of homicide and in missing persons cases. The report found there were 204 unresolved cases involving the disappearance or homicide of indigenous women, a decrease from 225 in 2014. A 2014 RCMP report concluded 1,017 indigenous women had been killed between 1980 and 2012 and that another 164 were missing. Civil society representatives and government officials said the number of cases may be much higher and alleged there were irregularities in investigations of the disappearances and killings of indigenous women. Civil society groups also claimed the government failed to allocate adequate resources to address these cases.

In August the federal government launched a national inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. Five independent commissioners were directed to investigate and produce a public report of their findings by the end of 2018. The government conducted preinquiry consultations with indigenous stakeholders throughout the country and defined the inquiry’s terms of reference. The government provided C$53.8 million ($41.3 million) to fund the inquiry.

In November the Quebec provincial government, citing insufficient evidence, announced it would not lay charges against nine provincial police officers related to allegations in 2015 by indigenous women in the northwestern Quebec community of Val d’Or that the officers sexually assaulted them, gave them money and drugs for sexual services, physically abused them, or drove them out of town in the winter and forced them to walk home in the cold. An independent observer appointed by the government concluded the investigation was fair and impartial but called for consultations between indigenous communities and the province.

The government’s statistical agency reported there were 627 shelters and transition homes providing services to abused women. Shelters provided emergency care, transition housing, counseling, and referrals to legal and social service agencies. Some shelters were located on reserves and served an exclusively indigenous population. Shelters in rural and remote areas generally offered a narrower range of services than urban facilities, and a greater proportion focused on short-stay crisis intervention. Reports indicated shortages of shelter spaces, trained staff, counseling, and access to affordable second-stage housing. These shortages impeded women from leaving abusive relationships.

Police received training in treating domestic violence victims, and agencies provided hotlines to report abuse. The government’s Family Violence Initiative involved 15 federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including Status of Women Canada, Health Canada, and Justice Canada. These entities worked with civil society organizations to eliminate violence against women and advance women’s human rights. Provincial and municipal governments also sought to address violence against women, often in partnership with civil society, including funding public education programs and services, hotlines, and shelters.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C for women and girls and prosecutes the offense as aggravated assault with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons committing or aiding another person to commit the offense may be charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm (maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment) or criminal negligence causing death (maximum penalty of life imprisonment). Persons convicted of removing or assisting the removal of a child who is ordinarily a resident in Canada for the purpose of having FGM/C performed on the child face a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Refugee status may be granted on the grounds of threatened FGM/C that may be considered gender-related persecution. Provincial child protection authorities may intervene to remove children from their homes if they are suspected to be at risk of FGM/C.

Although reliable statistics were not available, anecdotal evidence suggested some families from immigrant communities in which FGM/C is culturally accepted send their daughters abroad to have the procedure performed.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The criminal code does not specifically refer to “honor” killings, but it prosecutes such cases as murder. Murder convictions in the first or second degree carry minimum penalties of life imprisonment with eligibility for parole. The law limits the defense of “provocation” to prevent its application to cases of “honor” killing and cases of spousal homicide. The government enforced the law effectively. The government’s citizenship guide for new immigrants explicitly states “honor” killings and gender-based violence carry severe legal penalties. The government trains law enforcement officials on issues of “honor”-based violence and maintains an interdepartmental working group focusing on forced marriage and “honor”-based violence.

In February, British Columbia’s Supreme Court rejected the government’s request to extradite a man and woman wanted in India on charges they allegedly ordered the “honor” killing of the woman’s daughter there in 2000. The court found the relatives’ human rights could be abused in India and urged the government to consider trying the couple in Canada. In August the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear an appeal of the case.

Sexual Harassment: The law does not contain a specific offense of “sexual harassment” but criminalizes harassment (defined as stalking), punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and sexual assault, with penalties ranging from 10 years for nonaggravated sexual assault to life imprisonment for aggravated sexual assault. The government generally enforced these prohibitions. Federal and provincial labor standards laws provide some protection against harassment, and federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions have responsibility for investigating and resolving harassment complaints. Employers, companies, unions, educational facilities, professional bodies, and other institutions have internal policies against sexual harassment, and federal and provincial governments provide public education and advice.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights in the judicial system as men, and the government enforced the rights effectively. Women were well represented in the labor force, including business and the professions. Credible sources reported women experienced some economic discrimination in terms of employment, credit, or pay equity for substantially similar work, or in owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. Labor groups reported women were underrepresented in executive positions in the private sector. A 2014 study by the Peterson Institute found women accounted for 7 percent of corporate board members, 14 percent of executives, 3 percent of chief executive officers, and 2 percent of board chairpersons at 2,074 Canadian companies surveyed. Seven provinces and two territories require private-sector companies to report annually on their efforts to increase the number of women appointed to executive corporate boards. The government’s statistical agency reported that hourly wages for women were, on average, lower than for men but that the wage gap had narrowed over the past two decades.

Indigenous women living on reserves (where land is held communally) have matrimonial property rights. First Nations may choose to follow federal law or enact their own rules related to matrimonial real property rights and interests that respect their customs. Although these laws provide some legal protection, civil society organizations argued First Nations communities needed more resources for policing, shelters, family support, training, and capacity building to implement the laws effectively and enable better access to the justice system.

Indigenous women and men living on reserves are subject to the Indian Act, which defines status for the purposes of determining entitlement to a range of legislated rights and eligibility for federal programs and services. Indigenous women do not enjoy equal rights with indigenous men to transmit officially recognized status to their descendants.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived both by birth within the country’s territory and from one’s parents. Births are registered immediately, and there were no reports of the government denying public services, such as education or health care, to those who failed to register.

Child Abuse: In 2014 (the latest available figures), the government’s statistical agency recorded that 53,600 children and youth were victims of police-reported violent crime. The law criminalizes violence and abuse against children, including assault, sexual exploitation, child pornography, abandonment, emotional maltreatment, and neglect. Provincial and territorial child welfare services investigate cases of suspected child abuse and may provide counseling and other support services to families, or place children in child welfare care, where warranted. The federal Family Violence Initiative promotes awareness of family violence; works with research and community organizations to strengthen the capacity of criminal justice, housing, and health systems to respond to family violence; and supports data collection and research. Provincial and territorial governments also provide public education and prevention services, often in partnership with civil society.

Early and Forced Marriage: The law establishes 16 years as the legal minimum age of marriage. Data on the rate of marriage for individuals younger than 18 were unavailable, but early marriages were not known to be a major problem. The law criminalizes the removal of a child from the country for the purpose of early and forced marriage and provides for court-ordered peace bonds, which may include surrendering of a passport, to disrupt an attempt to remove a child for that purpose.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): See Women above.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the sale of children, and offering or procuring a child for child prostitution. Authorities enforced the law effectively. The minimum age of consensual sex is 16 years. Persons convicted of living off the proceeds of prostitution of a child younger than 18 face between two and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who aid, counsel, compel, use, or threaten to use violence, intimidation, or coercion in relation to a child younger than 18 engaging in prostitution face between five and 14 years’ imprisonment. Persons who solicit or obtain the sexual services of a child younger than 18 face between six months’ and five years’ imprisonment. Children, principally teenage females, were exploited in sex trafficking.

The law prohibits accessing, producing, distributing, and possessing child pornography. Maximum penalties range from 18 months’ imprisonment for summary offenses to 10 years’ imprisonment for indictable offenses.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

Approximately 1 percent of the population is Jewish.

The B’nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights received 1,277 reports of anti-Semitic incidents in 2015, down 22 percent from 2014. More than half of the reports (914) came from the province of Ontario. Reports in 2015 included harassment (1,123 incidents, a decrease); vandalism, including graffiti; attacks on synagogues, private homes, community centers and property and desecration of cemeteries (136 incidents, a decrease); and violence against persons (10 incidents, a decrease). Some university students reported anti-Semitic attacks on campus. For example, in March unknown vandals painted graffiti in a bathroom at York University’s Keele Campus.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other state services, and the government effectively enforced these prohibitions. The federal minister of families, children, and social development, supported by the minister of persons with disabilities, provides federal leadership on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and provincial governments also have ministerial-level representation. Federal and provincial governments effectively implemented laws and programs mandating access to buildings, information, and communications for persons with disabilities, but regulation varies by jurisdiction, and there is no comprehensive federal legislation that protects the rights of persons with disabilities.

Children with disabilities attended primary, secondary, and higher education, and the majority attended classes with nondisabled peers or a combination of nondisabled and special education classes with parental consent. Disparities in educational access for students with disabilities existed between provinces and among school boards within provinces. Policy differences included types of services, criteria to determine eligibility, allocation of resources, access to inclusive versus segregated classes or facilities, and the number of teachers, teacher’s aides, and therapists.

Disability rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that persons with disabilities experienced higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, lower rates of job retention, and higher rates of poverty and economic marginalization than the broader population.

Federal and provincial human rights commissions protected and promoted respect for the rights of persons with disabilities. The government provided services and monetary benefits, but disability groups noted a lack of coordination among services. Facilities existed to provide support for persons with mental health disabilities, but mental disability advocates asserted that the prison system was not sufficiently equipped or staffed to provide the care necessary for those in the criminal justice system, resulting in cases of segregation and self-harm.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

According to the government statistical agency, 1,295 incidents of hate crimes were reported to police in 2014, of which 611 were motivated by race or ethnic bias. Blacks constituted the most commonly targeted racial group, accounting for 238 incidents, and Jews 213. A detailed breakdown of victims of hate crime incidents by ethnic origin (except black and Jewish) was not available. The proportion of hate crimes involving violence, including assault and uttering threats, totaled 304 incidents.

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race. Federal, provincial, and territorial human rights commissions investigate complaints and raise public awareness. The federal Canadian Race Relations Foundation coordinates and facilitates public education and research and develops recommendations to eliminate racism and promote harmonious race relations.

Throughout the year activists led protests and sit-ins to denounce what they claimed was systemic racism by police forces. The protests followed police shootings of civilians and other events, including the July death in custody of a Somali Canadian in Ottawa. Police opened an investigation into the fatality.

Indigenous People

Indigenous people constituted approximately 4 percent of the national population and higher percentages in the country’s three territories: Yukon, 23 percent; Northwest Territories, 52 percent; and Nunavut, 86 percent. Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police harassment were sources of tension. Indigenous people remained underrepresented in the workforce; overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations; and more susceptible than other groups to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions, and sexual violence. According to the government statistical agency, the overall violent victimization rate (which includes sexual assault, assault, and robbery) for indigenous persons in 2014 was 163 incidents per 1,000 people, more than double the rate of 74 incidents per 1,000 among nonindigenous persons. The rates of sexual assault and of spousal violence were almost three times higher than those of nonindigenous persons, and 51 percent of indigenous victims of spousal violence reported more severe forms of violence, compared with 23 percent of nonindigenous victims of spousal violence.

The law recognizes individuals registered under the Indian Act based on indigenous lineage and membership in a recognized First Nation as Status Indians, which confers eligibility to a range of federal services and programs. Status and services are withheld from unregistered or non-Status indigenous persons who do not meet eligibility criteria for official recognition or who may have lost status through marriage to a nonindigenous person or other disenfranchisement. According to the government statistical agency, indigenous children accounted for almost 50 percent of the approximately 30,000 children younger than 14 in foster care in 2011.

The law recognizes and specifically protects indigenous rights, including rights established by historical land claims settlements. Treaties with indigenous groups form the basis for the government’s policies in the eastern part of the country, but there were legal challenges to the government’s interpretation and implementation of treaty rights. Indigenous groups in the western part of the country that had never signed treaties continued to claim land and resources, and many continued to seek legal resolution of outstanding issues. As a result, the evolution of the government’s policy toward indigenous rights, particularly land claims, depended on negotiation or legal challenges. As of 2014, the latest year for which statistics are available, approximately 385 unresolved specific claims or grievances filed by indigenous people regarding the implementation of treaties remained under assessment or in negotiation (not including claims in litigation or before the Specific Claims Tribunal, which is a judicial panel), according to government reports. As of 2014 the government reported that negotiations for 100 self-government and comprehensive land claims were active. Indigenous groups who cannot settle specific claims through negotiation within three years may refer the claim to the Specific Claims Tribunal or the courts for a decision.

The law imposes statutory, contractual, and common-law obligations to consult with indigenous peoples in the development and exploitation of natural resources on land covered by treaty or subject to land claims. According to a Supreme Court ruling, the federal government has the constitutional duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate indigenous peoples when the government contemplates actions that may adversely affect potential or established indigenous and treaty rights.

The Supreme Court has affirmed that indigenous title extends to territory used by indigenous peoples for hunting, fishing, and other activities prior to contact with Europeans, as well as to settlement sites. Provincial and federal governments may develop natural resources on land subject to indigenous title but are obliged to obtain consent of the indigenous titleholders in addition to existing constitutional duties to consult, and where necessary, accommodate indigenous peoples in matters that affect their rights. If governments cannot obtain consent, they may proceed with resource development only on the basis of a “compelling and substantial objective” in the public interest, in which the public interest is proportionate to any adverse effect on indigenous interests. The court has established that indigenous titles are collective in nature.

In 2015 the federally commissioned TRC on Indian Residential Schools released its full report and recommendations regarding allegations of abuse of indigenous children in residential schools. In May the federal government implemented one of the TRC’s recommendations and settled a lawsuit for C$50 million ($38.4 million) with students the government placed at residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In January the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled the federal government discriminated against indigenous children when it failed to fund welfare services for children living on reserves at the same level of services for off-reserve populations. In September the tribunal issued its second of two subsequent rulings ordering the government to comply and to provide information on how it was implementing the ruling.

In April the Supreme Court ruled unanimously the Metis (descendants of historical unions between indigenous and European persons) and non-Status Indians are Indians under the Constitution Act and fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Nearly 600,000 Canadians identify as Metis. Lack of clarity in law as to whether federal or provincial governments had jurisdiction with regard to Metis persons had inhibited negotiations, but the ruling clears the way for Metis and non-Status Indians to negotiate with the federal government on issues that could include land claims, government services, and hunting and trapping rights.

In July the government committed C$9 million ($6.9 million) to support implementation of the country’s first national Inuit suicide-prevention strategy. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national advocacy organization, drafted the plan.

In August an Ontario judge heard plaintiffs’ arguments on a suit filed in 2009 by indigenous children involved in the “Sixties Scoop.” The Scoop involved an estimated 20,000 indigenous children, 16,000 of them in Ontario, whom child welfare services removed from their parents’ custody and placed with nonindigenous foster families in Canada and the United States. A separate group of plaintiffs filed a suit in Saskatchewan during the year on the same issue. Plaintiffs demanded compensation for emotional trauma and loss of culture. The government argued it acted in the best interests of the children and within social norms of the time. The trial on the Ontario suit was set to resume in December.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the criminal code provides penalties for crimes motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on personal characteristics, including sexual orientation. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and British Columbia prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. New Brunswick, Quebec, and the Nunavut and Yukon territories prohibit such discrimination implicitly on the basis of “sex” or “gender.”

Birth certificates issued by provinces and territories provide the basis of identification for legal documents, and procedures vary for changing legal gender markers to match an individual’s outward appearance or chosen gender expression.

Provinces and territories have different requirements for persons to change their legal gender marker in documents such as birth certificates and identifications. Some provinces require one or more physicians to certify the applicant has completed gender reassignment surgery before an applicant may change the legal gender marker. The provincial governments of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta allow residents to change their gender marker with a personal and/or physician’s declaration indicating the individual’s gender identity.

There were occasions of violence and abuse against individuals based on sexual orientation, but in general the government effectively implemented the law criminalizing such behavior. NGOs reported that stigma or intimidation was a known or likely factor in the underreporting of incidents of abuse. Some police forces employed liaison officers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and intersex communities. In 2014, the last year for which data was available, the government’s statistical agency reported that 155 of 1,295 police-reported hate crime incidents nationally were motivated by sexual orientation.

In May an arsonist attempted to burn down Montreal’s Metropolitan Surgery Center, the only clinic in the country that offers surgery to create male or female genitals for transgendered patients. Montreal police were investigating the arson as a hate crime.

In June the government of Ontario announced it would no longer include gender designation on provincial health cards. The government also announced that in 2017 driver’s license holders would be allowed the option of displaying an “X” on their card if they do not exclusively identify as male or female.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of societal violence and discrimination against members of other minority, racial, and religious groups, but the government generally implemented the law criminalizing such behavior effectively.

In January an assailant attacked a group of Syrian refugees who had attended an event organized by an Islamic group in Vancouver. The assailant pepper-sprayed a group of migrants who were standing outside the venue. Police were investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Federal and some provincial laws, including related regulations and statutory instruments, provide for the right of workers in both the public and the private sectors to form and join independent unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. Workers in the public sector who provide essential services, including police and armed forces, do not have the right to strike but have mechanisms to provide for due process and to protect workers’ rights. Workers in essential services had recourse to binding arbitration if labor negotiations failed. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. There were no reports of antiunion discrimination or other forms of employer interference in union functions.

Federal labor law applies in federally regulated sectors, which include industries of extra-provincial or international character, transportation and transportation infrastructure that crosses provincial and international borders, marine shipping, port and ferry services, air transportation and airports, pipelines, telecommunications, banks, grain elevators, uranium mining and processing, works designated by the federal parliament affecting two or more provinces, protection of fisheries as a natural resource, many First Nation activities, and most crown corporations. These industries employed approximately 10 percent of workers.

The law grants the government exclusive authority to designate which federal employees provide an essential service and do not have the right to strike. The law also makes it illegal for an entire bargaining unit to strike if the government deems 80 percent or more of the employees of the unit essential.

Provincial and territorial governments regulate and are responsible for enforcing their own labor laws in all occupations and workplaces that are not federally regulated, leaving categories of workers excluded from statutory protection of freedom of association in several provinces. Some provinces restrict the right to strike. For example, agricultural workers in Alberta, Ontario, and New Brunswick do not have the right to organize or bargain collectively under provincial law.

The government effectively enforced applicable laws and regulations in a timely fashion, including with effective remedies and penalties such as corrective workplace practices and criminal prosecution for noncompliance and willful violations, and generally respected freedom of association and the right of collective bargaining in practice. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays and appeals.

In 2014 public-service unions initiated legal action claiming the government’s decision to limit the number of federal workers who can strike, contravened International Labor Organization conventions. In June the unions paused the suit after the government announced it planned to repeal the legislation.

The public-service unions suspended a suit challenging the government’s decision to impose a rule allowing it to override contracts and impose changes to negotiated sick leave plans for the federal public service without negotiation. Federal public-service unions had filed suit against the government and sought an injunction to prevent unilateral imposition of a new sick leave plan but agreed to suspend the injunction application pending changes to the law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law. The law prescribes penalties for violations of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, or life imprisonment in the case of certain aggravating factors, such as kidnapping or sexual assault. Such penalties were sufficiently stringent. During the year the government investigated and prosecuted cases of forced labor and domestic servitude.

The federal government held employers of foreign workers accountable by verifying employers’ ability to pay wages and provide accommodation and, through periodic inspections and mandatory compliance reviews, ensuring that employers provided substantially the same wages, living conditions, and occupation specified in the employers’ original job offer. The government can deny noncompliant employers permits to recruit foreign workers for two years and impose fines of up to C$100,000 ($76,400) per violation for employer abuses of the program. Some provincial governments imposed licensing and registration requirements on recruiters or employers of foreign workers and prohibited the charging of recruitment fees to workers.

There were reports that employers subjected noncitizen or foreign-born men and women to forced labor in the agricultural sector, food processing, cleaning services, hospitality, construction industries, and in domestic service. NGOs reported that bonded labor, particularly in the construction industry, and domestic servitude constituted the majority of cases of forced labor.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

There is no federal minimum age for employment. In federally regulated sectors, children younger than 17 may work only when they are not required to attend school under provincial legislation, provided the work does not fall under excluded categories (such as work underground in a mine, on a vessel, or in the vicinity of explosives), and the work does not endanger health and safety. Children may not work in any federally regulated sector between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. The provinces and territories have primary responsibility for regulation of child labor, and minimum age restrictions vary by province. Regulation occurs across a range of laws including employment standards, occupational health and safety, education laws, and in regulations for vocational training, child welfare, and licensing of establishments for the sale of alcohol. Most provinces restrict the number of hours of work to two or three hours on a school day and eight hours on a nonschool day and prohibit children ages 12 to 16 from working without parental consent, after 11 p.m., or in any hazardous employment.

Authorities effectively enforced child labor laws and policies, and federal and provincial labor ministries carried out child labor inspections either proactively or in response to formal complaints. There were reports that limited resources hampered inspection and enforcement efforts. Penalties were pecuniary and varied according to the gravity of the offense.

There were reports that child labor occurred, particularly in the agricultural sector. There were also reports that children, principally teenage females, were subjected to sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment or occupation on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin or citizenship, disability, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases. Some provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Northwest Territories, prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of social origin, “social condition,” or political opinion. Federal law requires equal pay for equal work for four designated groups in federally regulated industries enforced through the Canadian Human Rights Commission on a complaint basis: women, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, and visible minorities. Ontario and Quebec have pay equity laws that cover both the public and private sectors, and other provinces require pay equity only in the public sector.

Authorities encouraged individuals to resolve employment-related discrimination complaints through internal workplace dispute resolution processes as a first recourse, but federal and provincial human rights commissions investigated and mediated complaints and enforced the law and regulations. The government enforced the law effectively, but some critics complained that the process was complex and failed to issue rulings in a timely manner. Foreign migrant workers have the same labor rights as citizens and permanent residents, although NGOs alleged that discrimination occurred against migrant workers.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Provincial and territorial minimum wage rates ranged from C$10.45 to C$13.00 ($7.91 to $9.84) per hour as of May. There is no official poverty income level. Some provinces exempt agricultural, hospitality, and other specific categories of workers from minimum wage rates. For example, Ontario has a minimum wage for persons younger than 18 who work less than 28 hours per week when school is in session, at a rate lower than the respective minimum for adult workers.

Standard work hours vary by province, but in each the limit is 40 or 48 hours per week, with at least 24 hours of rest. The law requires payment of a premium for work above the standard workweek. Entitlement to paid annual leave varies by province, but the law requires a minimum of 10 days’ paid annual leave per year (or payment of 4 percent of wages in lieu) after one year of continuous employment. Some provinces mandate an additional week of paid leave to employees who have completed a specified length of service. There is no specific prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, which is regulated by means of the required rest periods in the labor code that differ by industry. Some categories of workers have specific employment rights that differ from the standard, including commercial fishermen, oil field workers, loggers, home caregivers, professionals, managers, and some sales staff.

Federal law provides safety and health standards for employees under federal jurisdiction. Provincial and territorial legislation provides for all other employees, including foreign and migrant workers. Standards were current and appropriate for the industries they covered. Federal, provincial, and territorial laws protect the right of workers with “reasonable cause” to refuse dangerous work and remove themselves from hazardous work conditions, and authorities effectively enforced this right. The government also promoted safe working practices and provided training, education, and resources through the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, a federal agency composed of representatives of government, employers, and labor.

Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety standards were effectively enforced. Federal and provincial labor departments monitored and effectively enforced labor standards by conducting inspections through scheduled and unscheduled visits, in direct response to reported complaints, and at random. Penalties were pecuniary and varied according to the gravity of the offense. Under the federal labor code, maximum penalties for criminal offenses, including criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, or willful breach of labor standards in which the person in breach knew that serious injury or death was likely to occur, could include imprisonment. Enforcement measures include a graduated response, with a preference for resolution via voluntary compliance, negotiation, and education; prosecution and fines serve as a last resort. Some trade unions continued to note that limited resources hampered the government’s inspection and enforcement efforts.

NGOs reported migrants, new immigrants, young workers, and the unskilled were vulnerable to violations of the law on minimum wage, overtime pay, unpaid wages, and excessive hours of work. NGOs also alleged that restrictions on the types of labor complaints accepted for investigation and delays in processing cases discouraged the filing of complaints.

According to the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, during 2014, the most recent year for which data were available, there were 919 workplace fatalities. During the year there were some reports of workplace accidents.

In January the Ontario Court of Appeal sentenced a Toronto project manager to three and one-half years in prison after a scaffolding collapse in 2009 killed four workers. The court also levied fines against the employer for failing to ensure the equipment was safe.

In September, Ontario’s Ministry of Labor issued six health and safety violation orders against Toronto-based Fiera Foods following the death of a temporary worker crushed by machinery when her clothing became caught in a conveyer belt.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau)

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA (BELOW) | TIBET | HONG KONG MACAU


The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority. CCP members hold almost all top government and security apparatus positions. Ultimate authority rests with the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) and its seven-member Standing Committee. Xi Jinping continued to hold the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Civilian authorities maintained control of the military and internal security forces.

Repression and coercion of organizations and individuals involved in civil and political rights advocacy as well as in public interest and ethnic minority issues remained severe. As in previous years, citizens did not have the right to choose their government and elections were restricted to the lowest local levels of governance. Authorities prevented independent candidates from running in those elections, such as delegates to local people’s congresses. Citizens had limited forms of redress against official abuse. Other serious human rights abuses included arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life, executions without due process, illegal detentions at unofficial holding facilities known as “black jails,” torture and coerced confessions of prisoners, and detention and harassment of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others whose actions the authorities deemed unacceptable. There was also a lack of due process in judicial proceedings, political control of courts and judges, closed trials, the use of administrative detention, failure to protect refugees and asylum seekers, extrajudicial disappearances of citizens, restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), discrimination against women, minorities, and persons with disabilities. The government imposed a coercive birth-limitation policy that, despite lifting one-child-per-family restrictions, denied women the right to decide the number of their children and in some cases resulted in forced abortions (sometimes at advanced stages of pregnancy). Severe labor restrictions continued, and trafficking in persons was a problem.

Although most of the more than 300 lawyers and human rights activists detained in 2015 were released, 16 remained in pretrial detention without access to attorneys or family members at year’s end. Four others were sentenced to jail terms ranging from three years to seven and one-half years in trials that foreign governments and international human rights organizations said lacked basic due process. Wang Yu, one of the most prominent lawyers detained during the crackdown, was released after her televised confession, which circumstances suggest was likely coerced. Many others remained under various restrictions, including continuous residential surveillance at undisclosed locations. Public security officials continued to harass, intimidate, and take punitive measures against the family members of rights defenders and lawyers in retaliation for their work.

A new Law on the Management of Foreign NGO Activities inside Mainland China placed foreign NGOs under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Security, a move that indicated foreign NGOs were considered a “national security” threat. Although the law was not scheduled to go into effect until January 1, 2017, many foreign NGOs and their domestic partners began to curtail operations before the year’s end, citing concerns over the law’s vaguely worded provisions. As a result, an already limited space for civil society was further constrained. Individuals and groups regarded as politically sensitive by authorities faced tight restrictions on their freedom to assemble, practice religion, and travel both within China and overseas. Authorities used extralegal measures, such as enforced disappearances and strict house arrest, to prevent public expression of critical opinions. Authorities continued to censor and tightly control public discourse on the internet, and in print and other media. There was at least one widely reported extraterritorial disappearance that occurred during the year.

Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas and of Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) continued and were more severe than in other areas of the country. In the XUAR officials sometimes subjected individuals engaged in peaceful expression of political and religious views to arbitrary arrest, harassment, and expedited judicial procedures without due process in the name of combatting terrorism.

Authorities prosecuted a number of abuses of power through the court system, particularly with regard to corruption, but in most cases the CCP first investigated and punished officials using opaque internal party disciplinary procedures. The CCP continued to dominate the judiciary and controlled the appointment of all judges and in certain cases directly dictated the court’s ruling. Authorities targeted citizens who promoted independent efforts to combat abuses of power.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

Security forces reportedly committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances, few or no details were available.

In May environmentalist Lei Yang died under mysterious circumstances while in custody in Beijing following a brief altercation with public security officials. Authorities initially claimed 29-year-old Lei had suffered a heart attack, although an autopsy determined the cause of death was suffocation. Lei’s body also showed bruising on his arms and head. A subsequent investigation found that public security officials had blocked the inquiry into the cause of Lei’s death. In June, two public security officers were arrested on suspicion of “dereliction of duty.” Subsequent reporting on the case was censored. In late December officials announced that five law enforcement officers would not stand trial for Lei’s death.

In December, 58-year-old democracy activist Peng Ming died under suspicious circumstances in prison. His family was unable to view the body, and authorities denied his adult children permission to enter the country to collect his ashes.

In June, Tibetan Buddhist nun Yeshi Lhakdron of Kardze prefecture in the Tibetan area of Kham, now administered under Sichuan Province, died in custody due to torture, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights. Also in June a 40-year-old man from Kardze who was detained on suspicion of possessing a gun died in custody, reportedly due to severe torture (see the Tibet Annex for further information).

Authorities did not account for the circumstances surrounding the 2015 death of Zhang Liumao, who died suddenly in custody in Guangzhou after being detained and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” His family’s lawyer found his corpse was bruised with apparent signs of torture. He had not yet been tried at the time of his death. During the year Zhang’s sister, Zhang Wuzhou, made multiple attempts to file lawsuits against the government over the mishandling of her brother’s forensic report. Public security imposed a foreign travel ban on her and detained her outside a Guangzhou courthouse in April. The court eventually accepted the lawsuit.

A number of violent incidents in the XUAR resulted in multiple deaths. For example, media reported that at least five persons, including two public security officers, died in May as a result of violent unrest sparked when an officer allegedly shot and killed a Uighur prisoner in a juvenile detention center in Urumqi. Official accounts of these events generally blamed “terrorists” or “separatists” and portrayed incidents involving violence as terrorist attacks on community members and security personnel. The government’s control of information coming out of the XUAR, together with its increasingly tight security posture there, made it difficult to verify reports (see also the Tibet annex for incidents of abuse).

Although legal reforms in recent years decreased the use of the death penalty and improved the review process, authorities executed some defendants in criminal proceedings following convictions that lacked due process and adequate channels for appeal.

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports of individuals detained by authorities and held at undisclosed locations.

As of the end of the year, 16 individuals detained as a result of the July 2015 “709” roundup of more than 300 human rights lawyers and legal associates remained in pretrial detention at undisclosed locations without access to attorneys or to their family members. The crackdown primarily targeted those individuals who worked as defense lawyers on prominent human rights and public interest cases, including the 2008 melamine scandal, the Beijing “feminist five” detentions, the Xu Chunhe case, and cases involving the sexual abuse of young girls. The clients of those targeted included jailed Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, members of unregistered churches, and Falun Gong practitioners. The names of those who were still detained at the end of the year are Li Heping, Xie Yanyi, Wang Quanzhang, Liu Sixin, Xie Yang, Li Chunfu, Wu Gan, Lin Bin, Yin Xu’an, Wang Fang, Zhang Wanhe, Liu Xing, Li Yanjun, Yao Jianqing, Tang Zhishun, and Xing Qianxian.

Jiang Tianyong, a lawyer who advocated on behalf of the family members of the “709” detainees, disappeared on November 21 in Henan Province. He subsequently was placed under “residential surveillance at an undisclosed location” on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power.”

While several “709” detainees still awaited trial, some lawyers were convicted in trials lacking due process (see section 1.e.), and others were released on bail from formal custody after detentions that lasted, in many cases, more than a year. For example, in August attorney Wang Yu was released from detention after the government released a video that many observers called a forced confession. In the video Wang said she would no longer allow herself to be “used by foreign forces.” Wang’s attorney learned about her release when he saw the televised statement. Wang’s husband, law associate Bao Longjun, was released as well in August. The couple was reportedly reunited with their son, Bao Zhuoxuan, who had tried to flee the country via Burma in 2015, where he was intercepted by government agents and returned to China. The couple’s lawyer and other friends and associates were unable to contact them since their release from formal detention, and reports indicated that they remained under some form of residential surveillance and detention.

In March lawyer Zhang Kai was released from detention after seven months. Zhang was known for his work defending Wenzhou Christian churches that faced demolition or forced cross removals. He had been detained in 2015 on the eve of a planned meeting with a prominent foreign diplomat. Zhang’s release also followed a statement in which he “confessed “ on state-run television to his alleged crimes and urged other citizens “not to collude with foreigners.” In August, Zhang took to social media to recant his earlier confession, which he said was made under conditions of duress. Authorities responded by surrounding his family home and threatening to rearrest him. Zhang remained under house arrest and was not able to resume his legal duties.

A number of extraterritorial disappearances occurred during the year. Former Southern Metropolis Daily journalist Li Xin, who fled to India in 2015 after allegedly leaking documents detailing the Communist Party’s propaganda policies, went missing on a train in Thailand in January and later reappeared in China in custody of security officials. He told his wife by telephone that he had returned voluntarily, but Thai immigration officials told the media they had no exit record for Li.

Five men working in Hong Kong’s publishing industry disappeared between October and December 2015. In addition to being Hong Kong residents, Gui Minhai was a Swedish citizen and was taken while he was in Thailand; Lee Bo was a British citizen taken from Hong Kong. Media coverage of the cases noted that the men worked for Mighty Current, a publishing house, and its affiliate, Causeway Bay Bookstore, which were known for selling books critical of the CCP and its leaders. In a televised “confession” released by Chinese authorities in the spring, Gui Minhai said he had “voluntarily returned” to China to “bear the responsibility” for a traffic accident that supposedly occurred more than a decade before. Another bookseller, Hong Kong resident Lam Wing Kee, was detained at the border crossing into Shenzhen in October 2015 and released after five months. Upon his return to Hong Kong, Lam immediately recanted his televised confession, saying it was scripted and recorded under extreme pressure. He also said he was forced to sign away his legal rights when he was taken to Ningbo by men who claimed they were from a “central special unit.” With the exception of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai, the other detained booksellers were released during the year but remained under surveillance, travel restrictions, and the threat of punishment after returning to Hong Kong. At year’s end Gui remained in incommunicado detention in the mainland.

The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. The Dui Hua Foundation reported that Miao Deshun, the last known political prisoner dating from the Tiananmen era, was released during the year. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment. Chen Yunfei, arrested in 2015 for visiting the grave of a Tiananmen victim, was formally brought to trial in July on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” Chengdu authorities subsequently postponed his trial without explanation. In December a rescheduled hearing was also reportedly delayed after Chen dismissed his lawyers, citing their harassment at the hands of local security officials outside the courthouse. Others who attempted to commemorate the protests and associated deaths were themselves detained or otherwise targeted. In late May, seven activists who appeared in a photograph marking the massacre’s 27th anniversary were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.” They were released several weeks later. In June, Chengdu activists Fu Hailu, Zhang Junyong, Luo Yufu, and Chen Bing were detained for allegedly creating and marketing a liquor whose label commemorated the 1989 crackdown. They faced charges of “inciting subversion” and were held in the Chengdu Municipal Detention Center.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits the physical abuse and mistreatment of detainees and forbids prison guards from coercing confessions, insulting prisoners’ dignity, and beating or encouraging others to beat prisoners. Amendments to the criminal procedure law exclude evidence, including coerced confessions obtained through illegal means, in certain categories of criminal cases. Enforcement of these legal protections continued to be lax.

Numerous former prisoners and detainees reported they were beaten, subjected to electric shock, forced to sit on stools for hours on end, hung by the wrists, raped, deprived of sleep, force-fed, and otherwise subjected to physical and psychological abuse. Although ordinary prisoners were abused, prison authorities reportedly singled out political and religious dissidents for particularly harsh treatment. In some instances close relatives of dissidents also were singled out for abuse.

The problem of torture was systemic, according to a UN Committee against Torture report released in December 2015 that detailed the extent to which torture was embedded in the criminal justice system. While the UN committee acknowledged some improvements, such as the broader use of surveillance cameras during interrogations, the report stated that torture was “entrenched.”

A May 2015 Human Rights Watch report found continued widespread use of degrading treatment and torture by law enforcement authorities. Some courts continued to admit coerced confessions as evidence, despite the criminal procedure law, which restricts the use of unlawfully obtained evidence. After examining 158,000 criminal court verdicts published on the Supreme People’s Court website, Human Rights Watch found that judges excluded confessions in only 6 percent of the cases in which torture was alleged and that all the defendants were convicted, even in the cases when evidence such was excluded. Lawyers reported that interrogators turned to less-detectable methods of torture. Confessions were often videotaped; harsh treatment beforehand was not. Lawyers who attempted to shed light on the problem of torture in the criminal justice system themselves became targets of intimidation and harassment.

Family members asserted that rights lawyer Xie Yang was repeatedly tied up and beaten during his lengthy detention in Changsha, Hunan Province. According to reports leaked from the detention facility, at one point Xie required hospitalization after he was beaten until he lost consciousness. As of December he was still in detention. There were multiple reports that other lawyers, law associates, and activists detained in the “709” crackdown also suffered various forms of torture, abuse, or degrading treatment, including Sui Muqing, whom public security officers reportedly kept awake for days on end, and Yin Xu’an, whom security agents repeatedly tortured in an attempt to extract a confession. The lawyers of Wu Gan, another “709” detainee, also reported that Wu had been tortured following their meeting with him at the Tianjin No. 2 Detention Center. Guangdong attorney Sui Muqing, who was detained in July 2015 and held under residential surveillance at an undisclosed location until the end of the year, was reportedly tortured while in custody.

Members of the minority Uighur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and the penal system (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement reported systematic torture more often than other groups.

The law states that psychiatric treatment and hospitalization should be “on a voluntary basis,” but it has loopholes that allow authorities and family members to commit persons to psychiatric facilities against their will and fails to provide meaningful legal protections for persons sent to psychiatric facilities. The law does not provide for the right to a lawyer and restricts a person’s right to communicate with those outside the psychiatric institutions.

According to the Legal Daily (a state-owned newspaper covering legal affairs), the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 high-security psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane (also known as ankang facilities). While many of those committed to mental health facilities had been convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons. Public security officials may commit individuals to ankang facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry. In February, one domestic NGO reported that it had tracked more than 30 cases of activists “who were forcibly committed to psychiatric institutions in 2015, often without their relatives’ knowledge or consent.” For example, Shanghai authorities dispatched agents to intercept petitioner Lu Liming when he was en route to Beijing to protest. They detained him in a psychiatric facility, tied him to a bed for days, beat him, and forcibly medicated him.

As of January 2015, the government claimed it was ending the long-standing practice of involuntarily harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in transplants. In August the official Xinhua News Agency reported 10,057 organ transplants from voluntary donors were performed in the country in 2015, with transplants expected to increase 40 to 50 percent in 2016. Some international medical professionals and human rights researchers questioned the voluntary nature of the system, the accuracy of official statistics, and official claims about the source of organs. The country has no tradition of organ donorship, and its organ donor system remained fledgling.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in penal institutions for both political prisoners and criminal offenders were generally harsh and often degrading.

Physical Conditions: Authorities regularly held prisoners and detainees in overcrowded conditions with poor sanitation. Food often was inadequate and of poor quality, and many detainees relied on supplemental food, medicines, and warm clothing provided by relatives. Prisoners often reported sleeping on the floor because there were no beds or bedding. In many cases provisions for sanitation, ventilation, heating, lighting, and access to potable water were inadequate.

Adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances that prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities withheld medical treatment from political prisoners. In April prison officials refused requests to send ailing Guangdong activist Yang Maodong (better known by his pen name Guo Feixiong) to a hospital for medical tests. To protest his treatment, he went on a hunger strike, during which prison officials reportedly force-fed him. Guo was also reportedly routinely tortured. In one attempt to humiliate him, prison officials performed a rectal exam on Guo, videotaped the procedure, and threatened to post the video online. In August authorities transferred him to a different prison hospital, and he ended his hunger strike.

Political prisoners were held with the general prison population and reported being beaten by other prisoners at the instigation of guards. Some reported being held in the same cells as death row inmates. Authorities did not allow some dissidents supplemental food, medicine, and warm clothing from relatives.

Conditions in administrative detention facilities were similar to those in prisons. Beating deaths occurred in administrative detention facilities. Detainees reported beatings, sexual assaults, lack of proper food, and limited or no access to medical care.

Administration: Authorities used alternatives to incarceration for both violent and nonviolent offenders. According to the State Council’s 2016 White Paper on Legal Rights, 2.7 million individuals participated in community correction, with an estimated 689,000 individuals in the program as of September. The same source reported an annual increase of 51,000 individuals in community correction programs.

There were no prison ombudsmen per se, but prisoners and detainees are legally entitled to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The law states that letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was implemented. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, the results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Many prisoners and detainees did not have reasonable access to visitors and could not engage in religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: Information about prisons and various other types of administrative and extralegal detention facilities was considered a state secret, and the government typically did not permit independent monitoring.

Improvements: In August the Supreme People’s Procuratorate published data that favored an “education first” approach towards juvenile crime, specifically focusing on counseling over punishment, according to the Dui Hua Foundation. The same figures showed the number of juvenile arrests later dismissed by the court expanded from 26 percent in 2014 to 29 percent in 2015.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention remained serious problems. The law grants public security officers broad administrative detention powers and the ability to detain individuals for extended periods without formal arrest or criminal charges. Throughout the year lawyers, human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, and former political prisoners and their family members continued to be targeted for arbitrary detention or arrest.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The main domestic security agencies include the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security, and the People’s Armed Police. The People’s Liberation Army is primarily responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Local jurisdictions also frequently used civilian municipal security forces, known as “urban management” officials, to enforce administrative measures. Oversight of these forces was localized and ad hoc. By law officials can be criminally prosecuted for abuses of power, but such cases were rarely pursued.

The Ministry of Public Security coordinates the civilian police force, which is organized into specialized agencies and local, county, and provincial jurisdictions. Procuratorate oversight of the public security forces was limited. Corruption at every level was widespread. Public security and urban management officials engaged in extrajudicial detention, extortion, and assault.

Regulations state that officers in prisons face dismissal if found to have beaten, applied corporal punishment, or abused inmates or to have instigated such acts, but there were no reports these regulations were enforced.

In the absence of reliable data, it was difficult to ascertain the full extent of impunity for the domestic security apparatus, but anecdotal accounts of abuse were common on social media and sometimes appeared in state media reports as well. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police. It remained unclear, however, whether these investigations resulted in findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Criminal detention beyond 37 days requires approval of a formal arrest by the procuratorate, but in cases pertaining to “national security, terrorism, and major bribery,” the law permits up to six months of incommunicado detention without formal arrest. After formally arresting a suspect, public security authorities are authorized to detain a suspect for up to an additional seven months while the case is investigated.

After the completion of an investigation, the procuratorate can detain a suspect an additional 45 days while determining whether to file criminal charges. If charges are filed, authorities can detain a suspect for an additional 45 days before beginning judicial proceedings. Public security sometimes detained persons beyond the period allowed by law, and pretrial detention periods of a year or longer were common.

The law stipulates that detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed. Some criminal defense attorneys stated that under the 2013 revised criminal procedure law, their ability to meet with clients improved. In some routine cases, defense attorneys could arrange visits at any time and have private meetings with their clients in detention centers. This generally did not apply to cases considered politically sensitive.

The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one, who has various disabilities or is a minor, or who faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so.

Criminal defendants are entitled to apply for bail (also translated as “a guarantor pending trial”) while awaiting trial, but the system did not appear to operate effectively, and authorities released few suspects on bail.

The law requires notification of family members within 24 hours of detention, but authorities often held individuals without providing such notification for significantly longer periods, especially in politically sensitive cases. In some cases notification did not occur. Under a sweeping exception, officials are not required to provide notification if doing so would “hinder the investigation” of a case. The revised criminal procedure law limits this exception to cases involving state security or terrorism, but public security officials have broad discretion to interpret what is “state security.”

The law allows for residential surveillance rather than detention in a formal facility under certain circumstances. With the approval of the next higher-level authorities, officials may place a suspect under “residential surveillance” at a designated place of residence (i.e., a place other than the suspect’s home) for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe that surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Human rights organizations and detainees themselves reported that this practice left detainees at a high risk for torture. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases.

The law provides for the right to petition the government for resolution of grievances, but many citizens who traveled to Beijing to petition the central government were subjected to arbitrary detention, often by security agents dispatched from the petitioner’s hometown. Petitioners reported harsh treatment by security officials. In February officers from the Fuyou Street Station of the Xicheng District Public Security Bureau in Beijing reportedly beat Qiao Zhigang, the leader of a group of retired and disabled members of the military, and detained many others who had gathered with Qiao to protest the government’s failure to provide promised benefits and compensation.

Authorities used administrative detention to intimidate political and religious activists and to prevent public demonstrations. Forms of administrative detention included compulsory drug rehabilitation treatment (for drug users), “custody and training” (for minor criminal offenders), and “legal education” centers for political and religious activists, particularly Falun Gong practitioners. The maximum stay in compulsory drug rehabilitation centers is two years, including what was generally a six-month stay in a detoxification center.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained or arrested persons on allegations of revealing state secrets, subversion, and other crimes as a means to suppress political dissent and public advocacy. These charges–including what constitutes a state secret–remained ill defined, and any piece of information could be retroactively designated a state secret. Authorities also used the vaguely worded charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” broadly against many civil rights activists. It remained unclear what this term means. Authorities also detained citizens and foreigners under broad and ambiguous state secret laws for, among other actions, disclosing information on criminal trials, meetings, commercial activity, and government activity. Authorities sometimes retroactively labeled a particular action as a violation of state secret laws. A counterespionage law grants authorities the power to require individuals and organizations to cease any activities deemed a threat to national security. Failure to comply could result in seizure of property and assets.

There were multiple reports of lawyers, petitioners, and other rights activists being arrested or detained for lengthy periods of time, only to have the charges later dismissed for lack of evidence. Many activists were subjected to extralegal house arrest, denied travel rights, or administratively detained in different types of facilities, including “black jails.” In some cases public security officials put pressure on schools not to allow the children of prominent political detainees to enroll. Conditions faced by those under house arrest varied but sometimes included isolation in their homes under guard by security agents. Security officials were frequently stationed inside the homes. Authorities placed many citizens under house arrest during sensitive times, such as during the visits of senior foreign government officials or preceding the annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress, the G20 summit, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, and sensitive anniversaries in Tibetan areas and the XUAR. Some of those not placed under house arrest were taken by security agents to remote areas on so-called forced vacations.

In early September security officials abducted rights lawyer Li Yuhan from the hospital where she was receiving treatment for a heart condition and beat and choked her when she resisted. She was told she would need to take a “vacation” before the G20 Summit to ensure she did not cause trouble. She was held overnight at an undisclosed location, where security officials denied her access to the bathroom. She was released the next day without charges.

Despite being released from prison in 2011, activist Hu Jia remained under extrajudicial house arrest during the year. Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who was released from prison in 2014, remained confined under strict house arrest.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. Many of the “709” detainees were held in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law states that the courts shall exercise judicial power independently, without interference from administrative organs, social organizations, and individuals, the judiciary did not, in fact, exercise judicial power independently. Judges regularly received political guidance on pending cases, including instructions on how to rule, from both the government and the CCP, particularly in politically sensitive cases. The CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission has the authority to review and direct court operations at all levels of the judiciary. All judicial and procuratorate appointments require approval by the CCP Organization Department.

Corruption often influenced court decisions, since safeguards against judicial corruption were vague and poorly enforced. Local governments appointed and paid local court judges and, as a result, often exerted influence over the rulings of those judges.

A CCP-controlled committee decided most major cases, and the duty of trial and appellate court judges was to craft a legal justification for the committee’s decision.

Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation.

Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives in an attempt to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began or as a method of negotiating release from detention, such as the televised statements of Wang Yu, Zhang Kai, and Swedish national Peter Dahlin. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed that their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.

“Judicial independence” remained one of the reportedly off-limit subjects that the CCP ordered university professors not to discuss (see section 2.a., Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the amended criminal procedure law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high-profile or politically sensitive cases. According to the March work report submitted to the National People’s Congress (NPC) by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), more than 1.2 million individuals were convicted while 1,039 were acquitted in 2015. The low acquittal rate of less than 1 percent has persisted for many years, although the overall number of acquittals during the year rose from the 778 recorded in 2014.

In many politically sensitive trials, courts announced guilty verdicts immediately following proceedings with little time for deliberation. Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions and failed to provide sufficient avenues for review; remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.

Regulations of the SPC require trials to be open to the public, with the exception of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or, on the application of a party to the proceedings, commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations state that foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending a number of trials. In some instances the trials were reclassified as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed to the public. During the year foreign diplomats attempted to attend at least a dozen public trials throughout the country. In many instances court officials claimed there were no available seats in the courtroom.

Portions of some trials were broadcast, and court proceedings were a regular television feature. In September, Zhou Qiang, the president of the SPC and head of the judiciary, announced the debut of a website, the Chinese Open Trial Network. It offered videos of more than 67,000 criminal, administrative, and civil proceedings, including all open SPC hearings and some select lower court hearings. The CCP leadership of the court involved, however, must approve the streaming of every case.

In keeping with the CCP Central Committee’s Fourth Plenum decision to reform certain aspects of the judicial system, the SPC issued updated regulations requiring the release of court judgments online. The regulations, which took effect on October 1, stipulate that court officials should release judgments, with the exception of those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. These reforms, aimed at bringing greater transparency to the judicial system, extended to some of the most sensitive political cases. The Dui Hua Foundation reported that it obtained 117 judgments in cases involving state security as of September 30, up from 80 judgments in all of 2015.

Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants were eligible for legal assistance, although the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer. According to the State Council’s 2016 White Paper on Legal Rights, 4.7 million cases received legal aid from 2012 to 2015.

Lawyers are required to be members of the CCP-controlled All China Lawyers Association, and the Ministry of Justice requires all lawyers to pledge their loyalty to the leadership of the CCP upon issuance or renewal of their license to practice law. The CCP continued to require law firms with three or more party members to form a CCP unit within the firm.

According to Chinese legal experts and statistics reported in domestic media, defense attorneys took part in less than 20 percent of criminal cases; in some provinces it was less than 12 percent. In particular human rights lawyers reported that authorities did not permit them to effectively defend certain clients or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. When defendants were able to retain counsel in politically sensitive cases, government officials often prevented attorneys from organizing an effective defense. In some instances authorities prevented attorneys selected by defendants from taking the case and appointed a court attorney to the case instead.

Tactics employed by court and government officials included unlawful detentions, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients. In June police beat Guangxi lawyer Wu Liangshu for refusing a body search by court police when he filed a lawsuit with the People’s Court in Nanning. Police suspected he was recording their conversations in court. Wu emerged from the courthouse partially stripped with his clothes torn.

The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of those who took on sensitive cases, such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. In April lawyer Pu Zhiqiang was formally disbarred following the three-year suspended prison term he was given in December 2015 for his online comments critical of CCP rule.

In 2015 the NPC’s Standing Committee amended legislation concerning the legal profession. The amendments criminalize attorneys’ actions that “insult, defame, or threaten judicial officers,” “do not heed the court’s admonition,” or “severely disrupt courtroom order.” The changes also criminalize disclosing client or case information to media outlets or using protests, the media, or other means to influence court decisions. Violators face fines and up to three years in prison.

Regulations adopted in 2015 also state that detention center officials should either allow defense attorneys to meet suspects or defendants or explain why the meeting cannot be arranged at that time. The regulations specify that a meeting should be arranged within 48 hours. Procuratorates and courts should allow defense attorneys to access and read case files within three working days. The time and frequency of opportunities available for defense attorneys to read case files shall not be limited, according to the guidelines. In some sensitive cases, lawyers had no pretrial access to their clients, and defendants and lawyers were not allowed to communicate with one another during trials. In contravention of the revised criminal procedure law (see section 1.d.), criminal defendants frequently were not assigned an attorney until a case was brought to court. The law stipulates the spoken and written language of criminal proceedings shall be conducted in the language common to the specific locality, with government interpreters providing language services for defendants not proficient in the local language. Sources noted that trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin Chinese even in minority areas with interpreters provided for defendants who did not speak the language.

Mechanisms allowing defendants to confront their accusers were inadequate. Only a small percentage of trials reportedly involved witnesses. Judges retained significant discretion over whether live witness testimony was required or even allowed. In most criminal trials, prosecutors read witness statements, which neither the defendants nor their lawyers had an opportunity to rebut through cross-examination. Although the law states that pretrial witness statements cannot serve as the sole basis for conviction, prosecutors relied heavily on such statements. Defense attorneys had no authority to compel witnesses to testify or to mandate discovery, although they could apply for access to government-held evidence relevant to their case.

In 2015 the Ministry of Justice announced a rule that requires assigning lawyers to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences. The number of capital offenses in the criminal code was reduced to 46 in 2015. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions fell to 2,400 in 2013, down from a high of 24,000 in 1983. The drop reflected the reform of the capital punishment system initiated in 2007, but the number of executions since 2013 stabilized or even increased. Dui Hua also reported that an increase in the number of Uighur executions likely offset the drop in the number of Han Chinese executed.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Government officials continued to deny holding any political prisoners, asserting that persons were detained not for their political or religious views but because they violated the law. Authorities, however, continued to imprison citizens for reasons related to politics and religion. Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, most in prisons and some in administrative detention. The government did not grant international humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners.

Political prisoners were granted early release at lower rates than other prisoners. The Dui Hua Foundation estimated that more than 100 prisoners were still serving sentences for counterrevolution and hooliganism, two crimes removed from the criminal code in 1997. Thousands of others were serving sentences for political and religious offenses, including “endangering state security” and “cult” offenses covered under Article 300 of the criminal code, crimes introduced in 1997. The government neither reviewed the cases of those charged before 1997 with counterrevolution and hooliganism nor released persons jailed for nonviolent offenses under repealed provisions.

In August, four men were convicted of the political crime of “subversion of state power” as a result of the 2015 “709” crackdown on public interest legal activism. Zhou Shifeng, the founder of the Beijing Feng Rui Law Firm, was sentenced to seven years for subversion. The media reported that prosecutors stated Zhou had “conspired with foreign governments,” and Zhou reportedly confessed to his crimes in a statement that some observers interpreted as a protest of the ruling. As recently as 2012, Beijing municipal authorities honored Zhou with recognition as a “Beijing Excellent Lawyer” for three straight years. His law firm was known for its legal activism and had represented clients in high-profile cases, including the 2008 melamine milk scandal.

In August authorities sentenced democracy activist and unregistered church leader Hu Shigen to seven years in prison for “subversion of state power.” The media reported he pled guilty, and his was one of the longer sentences among those detained during the “709” crackdown. In the same week, Feng Rui associate Zhai Yanmin and Christian activist Guo Hongguo were also convicted of the same charges, although both received suspended sentences.

In September the Beijing Municipal No. 2 Intermediate Court sentenced human rights lawyer Xia Lin, who previously represented artist Ai Weiwei, to 12 years’ imprisonment on charges of fraud. Supporters said that the charges were baseless and that authorities targeted Xia for his efforts to support human rights activists.

Many political prisoners remained in prison or under other forms of detention at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (Guo Feixiong); Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti; anticorruption activist Xu Zhiyong; Wang Bingzhang; activist Liu Xianbin; Zhou Yongjun; online dissident Kong Youping; Roman Catholic bishops Ma Daqin and Su Zhimin; pastor Zhang Shaojie; Falun Gong practitioner Bian Lichao; lawyers or legal associates Li Heping, Wang Quanzhang, Xie Yanyi, Xie Yang, and Li Chunfu; blogger Wu Gan; and many others. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo remained in Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning Province. His wife, Liu Xia, remained under surveillance and faced continued restrictions on her freedom of movement.

Criminal punishments included “deprivation of political rights” for a fixed period after release from prison, during which an individual could be denied rights of free speech, association, and publication. Former prisoners reported that their ability to find employment, travel, obtain residence permits and passports, rent residences, and access social services was severely restricted.

Authorities frequently subjected former political prisoners and their families to surveillance, telephone wiretaps, searches, and other forms of harassment or threats. For example, security personnel followed the family members of detained or imprisoned rights activists to meetings with foreign reporters and diplomats and urged the family members to remain silent about the cases of their relatives. Certain members of the rights community were barred from meeting with visiting dignitaries.

According to the 2015 China Law Yearbook, in 2014 authorities indicted 1,411 individuals for “endangering state security,” an increase of 2 percent from 2013. Based on figures in the report of the Supreme People’s Court to the 2016 plenary session of the National People’s Congress, the Dui Hua Foundation estimated that approximately 500 “endangering state security” trials took place in 2015, down from approximately 1,000 in 2014, a decline believed to be due to the reclassification of crimes. Offenses previously considered as “endangering state security” were, starting in 2015, increasingly dealt with as “terrorism” and “disturbing social order,” including a charge frequently used against activists called “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The State Compensation Law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials. Citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens’ lack of awareness of the law. Victims’ claims were difficult to assess because of vague definitions in the law and difficulties in obtaining evidence of damage. Judges were reluctant to accept such cases, and government agencies seldom ruled in favor of plaintiffs.

In some cases authorities pressured plaintiffs to drop their lawsuits. On May 1, Chen Wenying dropped her suit against the Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television (CCTV) for allegedly falsely accusing her son, labor rights activist Zeng Feiyang, of committing fraud. Chen decided to withdraw the lawsuit after she and her family began to receive threats from the government.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law states that the “freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens are protected by law,” but authorities often did not respect the privacy of citizens. Although the law requires warrants before officers can search premises, officials frequently ignored this requirement. The Public Security Bureau and prosecutors are authorized to issue search warrants on their own authority without judicial review. Cases of forced entry by police officers continued to be reported.

Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, faxes, e-mail, instant messaging, and other digital communications intended to remain private. They also opened and censored domestic and international mail. Security services routinely monitored and entered residences and offices to gain access to computers, telephones, and fax machines. Foreign journalists leaving the country found some of their personal belongings searched. In some cases, when material deemed politically sensitive was uncovered, the journalists had to sign a statement stating they would “voluntarily” leave these documents behind in China.

In September the General Office of the CCP Central Committee and the PRC State Council issued a directive mandating the establishment of a centralized “social credit system” to evaluate the trustworthiness of all individuals and companies in the country. Each person and company is to be assigned a score on the basis of information collected from the internet as well as public records. The directive’s goal is “to construct a credit-monitoring, warning, and punishment system” that operates on the principle that “if trust is broken in one place, restrictions are imposed everywhere.” It details a wide range of privileges that could be denied and punishments that could be imposed for “trust-breaking” conduct, including subjecting individuals and companies to targeted daily monitoring, random inspections, and possible arrest and criminal prosecution. The directive requires that an individual’s score be considered when he or she attempts to establish a social organization, and it singles out lawyers and law firms for restrictions if they engage in “trust-breaking” conduct.

According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. In 2015 the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced it had “covered every corner of the capital with a video surveillance system.” Human rights groups stated that authorities increasingly relied on video and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, Tibetans, and Uighurs. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in the XUAR and Tibetan areas. The Cybersecurity Law passed in November codified the authority of security agencies to cut communication networks across an entire geographic region during “major security incidents,” although they have previously exercised this authority prior to passage of the Cybersecurity Law.

Forced relocation because of urban development continued in some locations. Protests over relocation terms or compensation were common, and some protest leaders were prosecuted. In rural areas infrastructure and commercial development projects resulted in the forced relocation of thousands of persons.

Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation. Redevelopment in traditional Uighur neighborhoods in cities throughout the XUAR resulted in the destruction of historically or culturally important areas. Some residents expressed opposition to the lack of proper compensation by the government and the coercive measures used to obtain their agreement to redevelopment.

There were several reports of authorities confiscating traditional pastoral lands from ethnic Mongolian herders for development in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. In August authorities in Shin-Barag Left Banner forcibly evicted ethnic Mongolian herders from their pastoral lands they had grazed for generations under a legal contract with the government. Media and private sources reported that paramilitary officers placed the region under a security lockdown and detained 10 herders, charging one named Huubshalat with “separatism.”

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government severely restricted this right. The law stipulates that such activities may not challenge “party leadership” or infringe upon the “interests of the state.” Protests against the political system or national leaders were prohibited. Authorities denied permits and quickly suppressed demonstrations involving expression of dissenting political views.

The law protects an individual’s ability to petition the government, but persons petitioning the government faced restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances (see section 1.d.).

While the central government reiterated prohibitions against blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and against unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. This was partly due to central government regulations that took effect in 2015 requiring local governments to resolve complaints within 60 days and stipulating that central authorities will no longer accept petitions already handled by local or provincial governments. The regulations encourage all litigation-related petitions to be handled at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. It also resulted in local officials sending security personnel to Beijing and forcibly returning petitioners to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”

Petitioners faced harassment, illegal detention, and even more severe forms of punishment when attempting to travel to Beijing to present their grievances.

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or other charges.

Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but those motivated by broad political or social grievances were broken up quickly, sometimes with excessive force.

In June authorities arrested Wukan’s popularly elected village mayor, Lin Zuluan, on corruption charges. On September 8, Lin was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison and fined 200,000 yuan ($29,000). Large numbers of villagers took to the streets to protest what they considered bogus charges brought against Lin because of his resistance to land confiscation by higher-level authorities. Authorities deployed large numbers of riot police and used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protest. Public security forces reportedly beat villagers at random, forcibly entered private homes to detain individuals suspected of participating in the protests, and prevented anyone from entering or leaving the village. The authorities also reportedly detained, interrogated, and assaulted foreign journalists, offering rewards for information leading to their detention. At year’s end dozens of villagers remained in detention, and at least 13 individuals suspected of leading the protest had been charged with crimes.

In July, thousands of citizens took to the streets in Lubu to protest plans for a new incinerator plant. Local citizens were concerned the plant would contaminate drinking water. The BBC reported that 21 protest leaders were detained, and other media reports indicated that the protests turned violent.

Rights lawyers and activists who advocated for nonviolent civil disobedience were detained, arrested, and in some cases sentenced to prison terms. In January a Guangzhou court convicted Tang Jingling, Yuan Xinting, and Wang Qingying of “inciting subversion of state power,” citing their promotion of civil disobedience and the peaceful transition to democratic rule as evidence. Media outlets reported the men were also signatories of the Charter 08 manifesto advocating political reform.

In April human rights activist Su Changlan stood trial at Foshan Intermediate Court on charges of “incitement to subvert state power” for activities in support of the 2014 Hong Kong prodemocracy movement. Five activists who gathered outside the court in support of Su were detained briefly. Authorities detained Su in 2014 and had held her for more than two years without sentencing her. She was refused a request for medical parole in September. Her husband reported being under police surveillance.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were not revived during the year after being canceled at the last minute or denied government permits in 2015, ostensibly under the guise of ensuring public safety.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require that all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area.

The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and in some cases detained or harassed NGO workers.

In January authorities detained a Swedish NGO worker, Peter Dahlin, on charges of endangering state security. He had worked for an organization that trained and supported activists and lawyers seeking to “promote the development of the rule of law.” After being paraded on state television in what his friends and colleagues characterized as a forced confession, which included an apology for “hurting the Chinese government and the Chinese people,” authorities deported Dahlin from the country.

On April 15, police detained 15 human rights activists while they ate dinner in a restaurant in Guangzhou. The activists had planned to gather at the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court the next day to show support for four prominent activists who faced charges of subversion for expressing their support for Hong Kong’s 2014 prodemocracy protest movement.

The regulatory system for NGOs was highly restrictive, but specific requirements varied depending on whether an organization was foreign or domestic. Domestic NGOs were governed by the Charity Law, which went into effect in September, and a host of related regulations. Domestic NGOs could register as one of three categories: a social group, a social organization, or a foundation. All domestic NGOs were required to register under the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find an officially sanctioned sponsor to serve as their “professional supervisory unit.” Finding a sponsor was often challenging, since the sponsor could be held civilly or criminally responsible for the NGO’s activities. All organizations were also required to report their sources of funding, including foreign funding. Domestic NGOs continued to adjust to this new regulatory framework.

On August 22, the CCP Central Committee issued a directive mandating the establishment of CCP cells within all domestic NGOs by 2020. According to authorities, these CCP organizations operating inside domestic NGOs would “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” The directive also mandates that authorities conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.” An editorial in the CCP’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, explained how the CCP intends to transform social organizations into CCP affiliates: “Social organizations are important vehicles for the party to connect with and serve the masses; strengthening the party’s leadership is the basic guarantee of accelerating the healthy and orderly development of social organizations. We must fully bring into play the combat fortress function of party cells within social organizations.”

In April the NPC Standing Committee passed the Law on the Management of Foreign NGOs’ Activities within Mainland China (Foreign NGO Management Law), which was scheduled to go into effect in January 2017. The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates that NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be placed on a “blacklist” and barred from operating in the country.

Although the law had not yet gone into effect, some international NGOs reported that it became more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Finding an official sponsor was also difficult for foreign NGOs, as sponsors could be held responsible for the NGO’s conduct and had to undertake burdensome reporting requirements. Implementation guidelines and a list of permissible government sponsors were released less than a month before implementation, leaving NGOs uncertain how to comply with the law. Even after a list of sponsors was published, NGOs reported that most government agencies had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, also left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell under the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country, even before the law took effect.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by June there were more than 670,000 legally registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. According to the Ministry of Public Security, in August there were more than 7,000 foreign NGOs. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. Domestic NGOs reported that foreign funding dropped during the year, as many domestic NGOs sought to avoid such funding for fear of being labeled as “subversive” in the face of growing restrictions imposed by new laws. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.

For donations to a domestic organization from a foreign NGO, the Foreign NGO Management Law requires foreign NGOs to maintain a representative office in the country in order to send funds or to use the bank account of a domestic NGO when conducting temporary activities. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from using any other method to send and receive funds under the law, and such funding must be reported to the Ministry of Public Security. Foreign NGOs are prohibited from fundraising and “for-profit activities” under the law.

Although all registered organizations came under some degree of government control, some NGOs, primarily service-oriented GONGOs, were able to operate with less day-to-day scrutiny. Authorities supported the growth of some NGOs that focused on social problems, such as poverty alleviation and disaster relief. Law and regulations explicitly prohibited organizations from conducting political or religious activities, and organizations that refused to comply faced criminal penalties.

Authorities continued to restrict and evict local NGOs that received foreign funding and international NGOs that provided assistance to Tibetan communities in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Almost all were forced to curtail their activities altogether due to travel restrictions, official intimidation of staff members, and the failure of local partners to renew project agreements.

No laws or regulations specifically governed the formation of political parties. The Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison current and former CDP members. Activists Chen Shuqing and Lu Gengsong, who had been active with the banned CDP, were sentenced to more than 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of “subversion of state power” in June.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times did not respect these rights.

While seriously restricting its scope of operations, the government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing, to provide protection and assistance to select categories of refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

The government increasingly silenced activists by denying them permission to travel, both internationally and domestically, or keeping them under unofficial house arrest.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports that North Korean agents operated clandestinely within the country to forcibly repatriate North Korean citizens. According to press reports, some North Koreans detained by Chinese authorities faced repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release.

In-country Movement: Authorities heightened restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Freedom of movement for Tibetans continued to be very limited in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Public security officers maintained checkpoints in most counties and on roads leading into many towns as well as within major cities, such as Lhasa. Restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese migrants or tourists in Tibetan areas.

Although the government maintained restrictions on the freedom to change one’s workplace or residence, the national household registration system (hukou) continued to change, and the ability of most citizens to move within the country to work and live continued to expand. Rural residents continued to migrate to the cities, where the per capita disposable income was approximately three times the rural per capita income, but many could not change their official residence or workplace within the country. Most cities had annual quotas for the number of new temporary residence permits that could be issued, and all workers, including university graduates, had to compete for a limited number of such permits. It was particularly difficult for rural residents to obtain household registration in more economically developed urban areas.

A 2014 State Council legal opinion removed restrictions on rural migrants seeking household registration in small and mid-sized towns and cities. The regulations base household registrations on place of residence and employment instead of place of birth. The opinion exempts cities with large populations.

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the People’s Republic of China on 2015 National Economic and Social Development published by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, 294 million persons lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Of that number, 247 million individuals worked outside their home district. Many migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles with regard to working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents. Poor treatment and difficulty integrating into local communities contributed to increased unrest among migrant workers in the Pearl River Delta. Migrant workers had little recourse when abused by employers and officials. Some major cities maintained programs to provide migrant workers and their children access to public education and other social services free of charge, but migrants in some locations reported difficulty in obtaining these benefits due to onerous bureaucratic processes.

Under the “staying at prison employment” system applicable to recidivists incarcerated in administrative detention, authorities denied certain persons permission to return to their homes after serving their sentences. Some released or paroled prisoners returned home but did not have freedom of movement.

Foreign Travel: The government permitted legal emigration and foreign travel for most citizens. Government employees and retirees, especially from the military, continued to face foreign travel restrictions. The government expanded the use of exit controls for departing passengers at airports and other border crossings to deny foreign travel to some dissidents and persons employed in government posts. Throughout the year many lawyers, artists, authors, and other activists were at times prevented from exiting the country. Authorities also blocked travel of some family members of rights activists.

Border officials and police cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel. In January authorities detained journalist Jia Jia at the Beijing airport as he attempted to board a flight to Hong Kong. They held him for nearly two weeks with no charges and interrogated him about an open letter published online calling for Xi Jinping to resign.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, and ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise prevented from traveling overseas. The passport of former political prisoner and Falun Gong practitioner Wang Zhiwen was physically cancelled at a border checkpoint as he attempted to leave the country.

Uighurs, particularly those residing in the XUAR, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved at the local level. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad, particularly to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, to other Muslim countries, or to Western countries for academic purposes. Since October authorities ordered residents in some areas of the XUAR to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. The passport recall, however, was not limited to Uighur areas. Family members of Uighur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country.

Uighurs in the XUAR also faced restrictions on movement within the XUAR itself. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in May, identification checks remained in place when entering cities and on public roads. Reuters reported that authorities required applicants for travel documents to provide extra information prior to the month of Ramadan. For example, residents in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the XUAR had to provide DNA samples, fingerprints, and voice recordings in order to apply for travel documents, according a local government newspaper in June.

In the TAR and Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan Provinces, Tibetans, especially Buddhist monks and nuns, experienced great difficulty acquiring passports. The unwillingness of Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas to issue or renew passports for Tibetans created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for a large segment of the Tibetan population. Han Chinese residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.

Exile: The law neither provides for a citizen’s right to repatriate nor addresses exile. The government continued to refuse re-entry to numerous citizens considered dissidents, Falun Gong activists, or “troublemakers.” Although authorities allowed some dissidents living abroad to return, dissidents released on medical parole and allowed to leave the country often were effectively exiled.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government continued to try to prevent many Tibetans and Uighurs from leaving the country and detained many who were apprehended while attempting to leave (see Tibet Annex). Some family members of rights activists who tried to emigrate were unable to do so.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylee status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but allowed UNHCR to assist the relatively small number of non-North Korean and non-Burmese refugees. The government did not officially recognize these individuals as refugees; they remained in the country as illegal immigrants unable to work, with no access to education, and subject to deportation at any time.

Authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees forcibly, including trafficking victims, generally treating them as illegal economic migrants. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment or death, including in North Korean forced-labor camps. The government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. The government continued to prevent UNHCR from having access to North Korean or Burmese refugees. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

In some instances the government pressured neighboring countries to return asylum seekers or UNHCR-recognized refugees to China. At year’s end India was reportedly preparing to return to China two Uighur asylum seekers who had been convicted of crimes in India.

Refoulement: The government did not provide protection against the expulsion or forcible return of vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, especially North Korean refugees. The government continued to consider North Koreans as “illegal economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea. The government continued to deny UNHCR permission to operate outside of Beijing.

Access to Basic Services: North Korean asylum seekers and North Koreans in the country seeking economic opportunities generally did not have access to health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status. International media reported that as many as 30,000 children born to North Korean women in China, most of whom were married to Chinese spouses, were denied access to public services, including education and health care, despite provisions in the law that provide citizenship to children with at least one PRC citizen parent.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the resettlement in China of Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term residents and their children, many of whom were born in China. The government worked with UNHCR in granting exit permission for a small number of non-Burmese and non-North Korean refugees to resettle to third countries.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution states that “all power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the people” and that the organs through which the people exercise state power are the NPC and the people’s congresses at provincial, district, and local levels. In practice the CCP dictated the legislative agenda to the NPC. While the law provides for elections of people’s congress delegates at the county level and below, citizens could not freely choose the officials who governed them. The CCP controlled all elections and continued to control appointments to positions of political power. The CCP used various intimidation tactics, including house arrest, to block independent candidates from standing for local elections.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2013 the NPC’s nearly 3,000 delegates elected the president and vice president, the premier and vice premiers, and the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The NPC Standing Committee, which consisted of 175 members, oversaw the elections and determined the agenda and procedures for the NPC. The selection of NPC members takes place every five years, and the process is controlled by the CCP.

The NPC Standing Committee remained under the direct authority of the CCP, and all important legislative decisions required the concurrence of the CCP’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. Despite its broad authority under the state constitution, the NPC did not set policy independently or remove political leaders without the CCP’s approval.

According to Ministry of Civil Affairs’ statistics, almost all of the country’s more than 600,000 villages had implemented direct elections for members of local subgovernmental organizations known as village committees. The direct election of officials by ordinary citizens remained narrow in scope and strictly confined to the lowest rungs of local governance. Corruption, vote buying, and interference by township-level and CCP officials continued to be problems. The law permits each voter to cast proxy votes for up to three other voters.

The election law governs legislative bodies at all levels, although compliance and enforcement varied across the country. Under the law citizens have the opportunity every five years to vote for local people’s congress representatives at the county level and below, although in most cases higher-level government officials or CCP cadres controlled the nomination of candidates. At higher levels legislators selected people’s congress delegates from among their ranks. For example, provincial-level people’s congresses selected delegates to the NPC. Local CCP secretaries generally served concurrently within the leadership team of the local people’s congress, thus strengthening CCP control over legislatures.

In September the NPC Standing Committee expelled 45 deputies from Liaoning Province for violations of the electoral law, including vote buying and bribery. Official media described the case as “unprecedented since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.” More than 500 of the 617 members of the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress were implicated in the scandal and either resigned or were expelled from the body. The NPC Standing Committee also disbanded the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress Standing Committee and established a preparatory panel to function on its behalf until convening of a new provincial people’s congress.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Official statements asserted that “the political party system [that] China has adopted is multiparty cooperation and political consultation” under CCP leadership. The CCP, however, retained a monopoly on political power, and the government forbade the creation of new political parties. The government officially recognized nine parties founded prior to 1949, and parties other than the CCP held 30 percent of the seats in the NPC. These non-CCP members did not function as a political opposition. They exercised very little influence on legislation or policymaking and were allowed to operate only under the direction of the CCP United Front Work Department.

No laws or regulations specifically govern the formation of political parties. The Chinese Democracy Party (CDP) remained banned, and the government continued to monitor, detain, and imprison current and former CDP members. Activists attempting to create or support unofficial parties were arrested, detained, or confined.

Participation of Women and Minorities: While the government placed no special restrictions on the participation of women or minority groups in the political process, women held few positions of significant influence in the government or CCP structure. Among the 2,987 appointed delegates to the 12th NPC in 2013, 699 (23 percent) were women. Following the 18th CCP Congress in 2013, two women were members of the CCP Central Committee’s 25-member Politburo. There were no women in the Politburo Standing Committee.

The election law provides a general mandate for quotas for female and ethnic minority representatives, but achieving these quotas often required election authorities to violate the election law.

A total of 409 delegates from 55 ethnic minorities were members of the 12th NPC, accounting for 14 percent of the total number of delegates. All of the country’s officially recognized minority groups were represented. The 18th Communist Party Congress in 2013 elected 10 members of ethnic minority groups as members of the 205-person Central Committee. There was no ethnic minority member of the Politburo and only one ethnic minority was serving as a party secretary of a provincial-level jurisdiction, although a handful of ethnic minority members were serving as leaders in provincial governments. In March an ethnic Mongolian woman, Bu Xiaolin, became chair of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, equivalent to a provincial governor. In July an ethnic Hui woman, Xian Hui, also became chair of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Although officials faced criminal penalties for corruption, the government and the CCP did not implement the law consistently or transparently. Corruption remained rampant, and many cases of corruption involved areas heavily regulated by the government, such as land-usage rights, real estate, mining, and infrastructure development, which were susceptible to fraud, bribery, and kickbacks. Court judgments often could not be enforced against powerful special entities, including government departments, state-owned enterprises, military personnel, and some members of the CCP.

In January the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the CCP’s investigative body that enforces political discipline among its members, including countering corruption, reported that in 2015 it received more than 2.8 million allegations of corruption, investigated 330,000 corruption-related cases, and disciplined 336,000 officials, 44 percent more than in 2014. Among those investigated, 42 senior officials at the vice-ministerial level or above in the CCP, government, and state-owned enterprises were eventually removed from their posts. In addition, 34,000 officials were punished for violating one or more of the “eight rules” that serve as the mandate for the anticorruption campaign, 52 percent less than 2014. The CCDI continued to operate outside the judicial system, and in many cases it punished CCP members and officials in the absence of a judicial process.

The CCP internal disciplinary system used to investigate party members suspected of corruption and other violations of party rules–known as “shuanggui”–continued to operate without legal oversight and with widespread allegations of torture. Many officials accused of corruption or other discipline violations were interrogated and in some cases tortured while under investigation by the CCP, often to extract a confession of wrongdoing. Some were later turned over to the judicial system for criminal prosecution.

Corruption: In numerous cases public officials and leaders of state-owned enterprises, who generally held high CCP ranks, were investigated for corruption. In March, Procurator General Cao Jianming reported to the 12th NPC that in 2015 the government investigated 4,568 public servants above the county level for corruption, including 41 at the provincial and ministerial levels or above, in 4,490 cases of graft, bribery, and embezzlement of public funds, each involving more than one million yuan ($145,000). While the tightly controlled state media apparatus publicized some notable corruption investigations, as a general matter, there were very few details regarding the process by which CCP and government officials were investigated for corruption.

In January the CCP announced it was investigating National Bureau of Statistics head Wang Bao’an. Wang was expelled from the CCP in August for accepting bribes, and his case was turned over to judicial officials for prosecution.

In March the CCP announced it was investigating former Liaoning provincial CCP secretary Wang Min. Wang was expelled from the party in August for his association with a bribery and vote-buying scheme involving members of the Liaoning Provincial People’s Congress and Liaoning deputies to the NPC.

On July 4, a court sentenced Ling Jihua, a former member of the Politburo and head of the CCP General Office, to life in prison for extorting 77.1 million yuan ($11.2 million), abuse of power, and illegally obtaining state secrets. Ling was one of former president Hu Jintao’s closest advisors.

In some cases individuals who tried to report corruption faced reprisal and retribution. In July a real estate developer in Hunan Province, Wu Zhengge, was arrested after he hired a private investigator to find evidence of corruption by several local judges. The judges were presiding over a criminal case against Wu, who hoped to use the evidence to blackmail the judges into dismissing the case. Although the judges were placed under investigation for public corruption, Wu was later arrested and charged with disclosing personal information.

Financial Disclosure: A regulation requires officials in government agencies or state-owned enterprises at the county level or above to report their ownership of property, including that in their spouse’s or children’s names, as well as their families’ investments in financial assets and enterprises. The regulations do not require that declarations be made public. Instead, they are submitted to a higher administrative level and a human resource department. Punishments for not declaring information vary from training on the regulations, warning talks, and adjusting one’s work position to being relieved of one’s position. Regulations further state that officials should report all income, including allowances, subsidies, and bonuses as well as income from other jobs, such as giving lectures, writing, consulting, reviewing articles, painting, and calligraphy. Officials, their spouses, and the children who live with them also should report their real estate properties and financial investments, although these reports are not made public. They must report whether their children live abroad as well as the work status of their children and grandchildren (including those who live abroad). Officials are required to file reports annually and must report changes of personal status within 30 days.

Public Access to Information: Open-government information regulations allow citizens to request information from the government. The regulations require government authorities to create formal channels for information requests and to include an appeals process if requests are rejected or not answered. They stipulate that administrative agencies should reply to requests immediately to the extent possible. Otherwise, the administrative agency should provide the information within 15 working days, with the possibility of a maximum extension of an additional 15 days. According to the regulations, administrative agencies may collect only cost-based fees (as determined by the State Council) for searching, photocopying, postage, and similar expenses when disclosing government information on request. The regulations include exceptions for state secrets, commercial secrets, and individual privacy.

Publicly released provincial- and national-level statistics for open-government information requests showed wide disparities across localities, levels of government, and departments regarding the number of requests filed and official documents released in response.

If information requesters believed that an administrative agency violated the regulations, they could report it to the next higher-level administrative agency, the supervision agency, or the department in charge of open-government information.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The government sought to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent NGOs, and hinder the activities of civil society and rights’ activist groups. The government harassed independent domestic NGOs and did not permit them to openly monitor or comment on human rights conditions. The government made statements expressing suspicion of independent organizations and closely scrutinized NGOs with financial and other links overseas. The government took significant steps during the year to bring all domestic NGOs under its direct regulatory control, thereby curtailing the space for independent NGOs to exist. Most large NGOs were quasi-governmental, and government agencies had to sponsor all official NGOs.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: In August the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, visited the country. Alston said that the government restricted his activities and that security agents followed him throughout his visit. Many of his meeting requests were declined, and although he submitted a list of academics he wanted to meet prior to his visit, he was told that many of them had been advised they should be on vacation during his visit. Security agents detained one person en route to a meeting with Alston. Alston’s request to visit was first made in 2005, according to the UN Office of the Human Rights Commissioner. A dozen other requests for visits to the country by UN experts remained outstanding.

The government remained reluctant to accept criticism of its human rights record by other nations or international organizations. It criticized reports by international human rights monitoring groups, claiming that such reports were inaccurate and interfered in the country’s internal affairs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government maintained that each country’s economic, social, cultural, and historical conditions determined its approach to human rights. The government claimed that its treatment of suspects, considered to be victims of human rights abuses by the international community, was in accordance with national law. The government did not have a human rights ombudsman or commission.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and some persons convicted of rape were executed. The penalties for rape range from three years in prison to death. The law does not address spousal rape.

Cases of rape were unreported, and most cases were closed through private settlement. From 2013 to 2015, courts adjudicated 66,736 rape cases in which 62,551 defendants were given criminal convictions. Scholars pointed out that performance indicators for public security officers and prosecutors disincentivized prosecution of rape cases, as private settlement of cases minimized the risk that the records of prosecutors and public security officials would be tarnished by mishandled cases. The government, however, acknowledged the need to include the reporting of rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other gender-related cases in annual judicial statistics.

Domestic violence remained a significant problem, but the government took a significant step to protect women from domestic abuse through the passage of the Family Violence Law, which took effect March 1. The law defines domestic violence as physical and mental violence between family members. NGOs reported that, as a result of the law, more women were willing to report domestic violence incidents to police. Nevertheless, implementation of the law remained inconsistent during its first year, largely due to authorities’ lack of awareness of the law’s implementing measures. Societal sentiment that domestic violence was a personal, private matter also contributed to underreporting and inaction by authorities when women faced violence at home.

According to reports, at least one-quarter of families suffered from domestic violence and more than 85 percent of the victims were women. The government supported shelters for victims of domestic violence, and some courts provided protections to victims, including through restraining orders prohibiting a perpetrator of domestic violence from coming near a victim. Nonetheless, official assistance did not always reach victims, and public security forces often ignored domestic violence. Legal aid institutions working to provide counseling and defense to victims of domestic violence were often pressured to suspend public activities and cease all forms of policy advocacy, an area that was reserved only for government-sponsored organizations. During the year several domestic violence service-oriented organizations were unable to register formally as nonprofit organizations, as authorities rejected their applications.

While domestic violence tended to be more prevalent in rural areas, it also occurred among the highly educated urban population. Women in rural areas, however, often lacked access to protection due to the perception that domestic violence was a lesser crime. In one case in Henan Province, a man was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve–instead of immediate execution–after murdering his wife. In its written judgement, the court cited the fact that the murder was a “domestic case” in its reasoning for a reduced penalty.

During the year the government began to open dedicated shelters for domestic violence survivors, a change from previous years when survivors could only go to homeless shelters providing domestic violence-related services. Such shelters opened in Chengdu, Dazhou, Nanjing, and Zhengzhou municipalities, offering psychological counseling for victims of domestic abuse, including women and children. The shelters reported they were underutilized due to the public shame associated with domestic violence.

According to women’s rights activists, a recurring problem in the prosecution of domestic violence cases was a lack of evidence–including photographs, hospital records, police records, or children’s testimony–which hindered their prosecution. Witnesses seldom testified in court.

Courts’ recognition of domestic violence improved, making spousal abuse a mitigating factor in crimes committed in self-defense. In 2015 the SPC issued guidelines for dealing with cases of domestic violence to improve the unified application of laws, according to the Information Office of the State Council.

Sexual Harassment: The law bans sexual harassment. Offenders are subject to a penalty of up to 15 days in detention, according to the Beijing Public Security Bureau. Nonetheless, because laws lacked a clear definition of sexual harassment, it remained difficult for victims to file a sexual harassment complaint and for judges to reach a ruling on such cases.

Many women remained unwilling to report incidents of sexual harassment, believing that the justice system was ineffectual, according to official media. Several prominent media reports of sexual harassment went viral on social media, helping to raise awareness of the problem, particularly in the workplace.

The Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests empowers victims to file a sexual harassment complaint with their employer and/or with authorities. If employers failed to take effective measures to prevent sexual harassment, they could be fined.

Sexual harassment was not limited to the workplace. According to a 2014 survey by the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF), 57 percent of female students at 15 universities reported having been sexually harassed. Some of them experienced such harassment repeatedly. Many students said they were unaware of formal procedures to report incidents of harassments. At Beijing Normal University, one student documented 60 instances of sexual harassment over the past decade, prompting online debate and the university to start an antiharassment awareness campaign.

The ACWF and universities worked to improve awareness on sexual harassment by offering seminars and classes; however, NGOs that sought to increase public awareness of sexual harassment came under increasing scrutiny. Some women’s NGOs reported harassment by public security and faced challenges executing their programs. In September women’s rights activist Shan Lihua was found guilty by the Gangzha District People’s Court in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” The indictment specifically cited Shan’s activism on a rape case in Hainan Province as evidence, according to media reports.

Reproductive Rights: On January 1, the government raised the birth limit imposed on its citizens from one to two children per married couple, thereby ending the “one-child policy” first enacted in 1979. The revised law permits married couples to have two children and allows couples to apply for permission to have a third child if they meet conditions stipulated in local and provincial regulations. The revised law did not, however, eliminate state-imposed birth limitations or the penalties that citizens face for violating the law. The government considers intrauterine devices (IUDs) and sterilization to be the most reliable form of birth control and compelled women to accept the insertion of IUDs by officials. The National Health and Family Planning Commission reported that all provinces eliminated an earlier requirement to seek approval for a birth before a first child was conceived, but provinces could still require parents to “register pregnancies” prior to giving birth, which could be used as a de facto permit system in some provinces.

Under the law and in practice, there continued to be financial and administrative penalties for births that exceed birth limits or otherwise violate regulations. The National Health and Family Planning Commission announced it would continue to impose fines, called “social compensation fees,” for policy violations. The law as implemented requires each woman with an unauthorized pregnancy to abort or pay the social compensation fee, which can reach 10 times a person’s annual disposable income. The exact level of the fee varied widely from province to province. Those with financial means often paid the fee so that their children born in violation of the birth restrictions would have access to services. Some parents avoided the fee by hiding a child born in violation of the law with friends or relatives.

The revised law maintains previous language indicating that “citizens have an obligation to practice birth planning in accordance with the law” and also states that “couples of child-bearing age voluntarily choose birth planning contraceptive and birth control measures to prevent and reduce unwanted pregnancies.” Regulations pertaining to single women and unmarried couples remain unchanged. Children born to single mothers or unmarried couples are considered “outside of the policy” and subject to the social compensation fee and the denial of legal documents, such as birth documents and the “hukou” residence permit. Single women can avoid those penalties by marrying within 60 days of the baby’s birth. In localities with large populations of migrant workers, officials specifically targeted migrant women to ensure that they did not exceed birth limitations.

Government statistics on the percentage of abortions during the year that were nonelective were not available. State media claimed the number of coerced abortions had declined in recent years in the wake of looser regulations, including the implementation of the two-child policy.

As in prior years, population control policy continued to rely on social pressure, education, propaganda, and economic penalties as well as on measures such as mandatory pregnancy examinations and coercive abortions and sterilizations. Those found to have a pregnancy in violation of the law or those who helped another to evade state controls could face punitive measures, such as onerous fines, job loss, demotion, and loss of promotion opportunity (for those in the public sector or state-owned enterprises), expulsion from the CCP (membership is an unofficial requirement for many jobs), and other administrative punishments. In July the state-funded news outlet Sixth Tone reported that officials in Guangdong Province threatened a remarried couple with termination of their employment unless the wife had an abortion. Both individuals were government employees and each had a child from a prior marriage. Regulations in Guangdong Province do not permit such couples to have a child.

Regulations requiring women who violate the family-planning policy to terminate their pregnancies still exist and were enforced in some provinces, such as Hubei, Hunan, and Liaoning. For example, Hunan provincial regulations that were revised in March stipulate: “Pregnancies that do not conform to the conditions established by the law should promptly be terminated. For those who have not promptly terminated the pregnancy, the township people’s government or subdistrict office shall order that the pregnancy be terminated by a deadline.” Other provinces, such as Jilin, removed previous requirements to terminate pregnancies that violate the policy but retained provisions that require local officials to “promptly report” to higher authorities when such pregnancies are discovered without specifying what measures will be taken thereafter. Other provinces, such as Guizhou, Jiangxi, Qinghai, and Yunnan, maintained provisions that require “remedial measures,” an official euphemism for abortion, to deal with pregnancies that violate the policy. Some provinces, such as Guangdong, removed provisions from provincial-level regulations requiring “remedial measures” but inserted them instead into the revised regulations of major municipalities, such as Shenzhen. In the provinces where provincial regulations do not explicitly require termination of pregnancy or remedial measures, some local officials still coerced abortions to avoid surpassing population growth quotas.

The law mandates that family planning bureaus administer pregnancy tests to married women of childbearing age and provide them with unspecified “follow-up” services. Some provinces fined women who did not undergo these periodic state-mandated pregnancy tests. Officials at all levels could receive rewards or penalties based on whether or not they met the population targets set by their administrative region. Promotions for local officials depended in part on meeting population targets.

Although the population and birth planning law states that officials should not violate citizens’ “lawful rights” in the enforcement of birth limitation policy, these rights are not clearly defined nor are the penalties for violating them. The law lists seven activities that authorities are prohibited from undertaking when enforcing birth control regulations, which include beating individuals and their families, destroying property or crops, confiscating property to cover the amount of the fee, detaining relatives, and conducting pregnancy tests on unmarried women. Forced abortion is not listed. By law citizens may sue officials who exceed their authority in implementing birth-planning policy, but few protections exist for citizens against retaliation from local officials.

Discrimination: The constitution states that “women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres of life.” The law provides for equality in ownership of property, inheritance rights, access to education, and equal pay for equal work. Despite this, many activists and observers expressed concern that discrimination remained a problem. Women reported that discrimination, unfair dismissal, demotion, and wage discrepancies were significant problems.

On average, women earned 35 percent less than men doing similar work. This wage gap was greater in rural areas. Women also continued to be underrepresented in leadership positions, despite their high rate of participation in the labor force. In 2015 women constituted 17 percent of legislators, senior officials, and managers.

Authorities often did not enforce laws protecting the rights of women. According to legal experts, it was difficult to litigate sex discrimination suits because of vague legal definitions. Some observers noted that the agencies tasked with protecting women’s rights tended to focus on maternity-related benefits and wrongful termination during maternity leave rather than on sex discrimination, violence against women, and sexual harassment.

In April a Guangzhou court sided with a female plaintiff, Gao Xiao, who had sued a restaurant for refusing to hire her as a cook after she was told the job was only open to men. The court ordered that Gao be paid 2,000 yuan ($290) in compensation. This was reportedly Guangzhou’s first gender-discrimination lawsuit.

Women’s rights advocates indicated that in rural areas women often forfeited land and property rights to their husbands in divorce proceedings. Rural contract law and laws protecting women’s rights stipulate that women enjoy equal rights in cases of land management, but experts asserted that this was rarely the case due to the complexity of the law and difficulties in its implementation.

Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the sex ratio at birth was 113 males to 100 females in 2016, a decline from 2013, when the ratio was 116 males for every 100 females. Sex identification and sex-selective abortion are prohibited, but the practices continued because of traditional preference for male children and the birth-limitation policy.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from parents. Parents must register their children in compliance with the national household registration system within one month of birth. Unregistered children could not access public services, including education. No data was available on the number of unregistered births. In 2010 the official census estimated there were 13 million individuals without official documentation, many of whom likely were “ghost” children whose births were concealed from local officials because they violated the population control policy. Some local officials denied such children household registration and identification documents, particularly if their families could not pay the social compensation fees.

Education: Although the law provides for nine years of compulsory education for children, many children did not attend school for the required period in economically disadvantaged rural areas, and some never attended. Although public schools were not allowed to charge tuition, many schools continued to charge miscellaneous fees because they received insufficient local and central government funding. Such fees and other school-related expenses made it difficult for poorer families and some migrant workers to send their children to school.

Denied access to state-run schools, most children of migrant workers who attended school did so at unlicensed and poorly equipped schools.

Child Abuse: The physical abuse of children is ground for criminal prosecution. Kidnapping, buying, and selling children for adoption existed, particularly in poor rural areas, but there were no reliable estimates of the number of children kidnapped. Government authorities regularly estimated that fewer than 10,000 children were abducted per year, but media reports and experts sources noted that as many as 70,000 may be kidnapped every year. Most children kidnapped internally were sold to couples unable to have children. Those convicted of buying an abducted child could be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. In the past most children abducted were boys, but increased demand for children reportedly drove kidnappers to focus on girls as well. In an effort to reunite families, the Ministry of Public Security maintained a DNA database of parents of missing children and of children recovered in law enforcement operations. During the year the government adopted a telephone system similar to the Amber Alert system in the United States.

Between 2013 and 2015, courts adjudicated 7,610 child molestation cases, sentencing 6,620 individuals. The number of convictions in child molestation cases consistently increased between 2013 and 2015. In a report during the year, the SPC acknowledged there had been a high number of cases involving the sexual abuse of minors. The People’s Public Security University of China estimated that, for every reported case of sexual abuse, as many as seven cases went unreported.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 22 for men and 20 for women. Child marriage was not known to be a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Persons who forced girls under the age of 14 into prostitution could be sentenced to seven years to life in prison in addition to a fine or confiscation of property. In especially serious cases, violators could receive a life sentence or death sentence, in addition to having their property confiscated. Those who visited girls forced into prostitution under age 14 were subject to five years or more in prison in addition to paying a fine.

The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 14.

Pornography of any kind, including child pornography, is illegal. Under the criminal code, those producing, reproducing, publishing, selling, or disseminating obscene materials with the purpose of making a profit could be sentenced up to three years in prison or put under criminal detention or surveillance in addition to paying a fine. Offenders in serious cases could receive prison sentences of three to 10 years in addition to paying a fine.

Persons broadcasting or showing obscene materials to minors under the age of 18 are to be “severely punished.”

Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: The law forbids infanticide, but there was evidence that the practice continued. According to the National Health and Family Planning Commission, at least one doctor was charged with infanticide. No other statistics on the practice were available. Female infanticide, gender-biased abortions, and the abandonment and neglect of baby girls were declining but continued to be a problem in some circumstances due to the traditional preference for sons and the birth-limitation policy.

Displaced Children: There were approximately 1.5 million street children, according to the UN Development Program. There were between 150,000 and one million urban street children, according to state media. This number could be even higher if the children of migrant workers who spent the day on the streets were included. In 2013 the ACWF estimated that more than 61 million children under the age of 17 were left behind by their migrant-worker parents in rural areas.

Institutionalized Children: The law forbids the mistreatment or abandonment of children. The vast majority of children in orphanages were girls, many of whom were abandoned. Boys in orphanages usually had disabilities or were in poor health. Medical professionals sometimes advised parents of children with disabilities to put the children into orphanages.

The government denied that children in orphanages were mistreated or refused medical care but acknowledged that the system often was unable to provide adequately for some children, particularly those with serious medical problems. Adopted children were counted under the birth-limitation regulations in most locations. As a result, couples who adopted abandoned infant girls were sometimes barred from having additional children. The law was changed during the year to allow children who are rescued to be made available for adoption within one year if their family is not identified.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The government does not recognize Judaism as an ethnicity or religion. According to information from the Jewish Virtual Library, the country’s Jewish population was 2,500 in 2014. In September the New York Times reported that members of the Kaifeng Jewish community in Henan Province came under pressure from authorities. Approximately 1,000 Kaifeng citizens claimed Jewish ancestry. Media reports stated that authorities forced the only Jewish learning center in the community to shut down.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination, but in many instances conditions for such persons lagged behind legal requirements and failed to provide persons with disabilities access to programs intended to assist them. The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the China Disabled Persons Federation (CDPF), a government-organized civil association, are the main entities responsible for persons with disabilities.

According to the law, persons with disabilities “are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural, and social fields, in family life, and in other aspects.” Discrimination against, insult of, and infringement upon persons with disabilities is prohibited. The law prohibits discrimination against minors with disabilities and codifies a variety of judicial protections for juveniles.

Publicly available statistics showed conflicting information about the education rate for children with disabilities. The Ministry of Education reported that there were more than 2,000 special education schools for children with disabilities and that 83,000 children remained outside the state education system, mostly in rural areas. In August the CDPF reported that more than 140,000 school-age children with disabilities were in need of suitable education. NGOs reported that only 2 percent of the 20 million children with disabilities had access to education that met their needs.

Individuals with disabilities faced difficulties accessing higher education. The law permits universities to exclude candidates with disabilities who would otherwise be qualified. In 2015, of the country’s 7.4 million college freshman, only 8,508 had disabilities. A regulation mandates accommodations for students with disabilities when taking the national university entrance exam.

Nearly 100,000 organizations existed, mostly in urban areas, to serve those with disabilities and protect their legal rights. The government, at times in conjunction with NGOs, sponsored programs to integrate persons with disabilities into society.

Misdiagnosis, inadequate medical care, stigmatization, and abandonment remained common problems. Parents who chose to keep children with disabilities at home generally faced difficulty finding adequate medical care, day care, and education for their children. Government statistics reported that four million persons with disabilities lived in poverty.

Unemployment among adults with disabilities, in part due to discrimination, remained a serious problem. In April the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security reported that, of the country’s 85 million reported persons with disabilities, 4.3 million were employed in urban areas and 16.7 million were employed in rural areas. The law requires local governments to offer incentives to enterprises that hire persons with disabilities. Regulations in some parts of the country also require employers to pay into a national fund for persons with disabilities when employees with disabilities do not make up a statutory minimum percentage of the total workforce. In some parts of the country, billboard advertisements informed companies that they needed to pay a disability “tax” rather than encouraging them to hire persons with disabilities. In some cases otherwise qualified candidates were denied jobs because of physical disabilities. In August the government reported that at least four million persons with disabilities lived in poverty.

Standards adopted for making roads and buildings accessible to persons with disabilities are subject to the Law on the Handicapped, which calls for their “gradual” implementation. Compliance with the law was limited.

The law forbids the marriage of persons with certain mental disabilities, such as schizophrenia. If doctors found that a couple was at risk of transmitting congenital disabilities to their children, the couple could marry only if they agree to use birth control or undergo sterilization. In some instances officials continued to require couples to abort pregnancies when doctors discovered possible disabilities during prenatal examinations. The law stipulates that local governments must employ such practices to raise the percentage of births of children without disabilities.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Most minority groups resided in areas they had traditionally inhabited. Government policy called for members of recognized minorities to receive preferential treatment in birth planning, university admission, access to loans, and employment. The substance and implementation of ethnic minority policies nonetheless remained poor, and discrimination against minorities remained widespread.

Minority groups in border and other regions had less access to education than their Han Chinese counterparts, faced job discrimination in favor of Han Chinese migrants, and earned incomes well below those in other parts of the country. Government development programs often disrupted traditional living patterns of minority groups and in some cases included the forced relocation of persons and the forced settlement of nomads. Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from government programs and economic growth in minority areas. Some job advertisements in the XUAR made clear that Uighur applicants would not be considered for employment. As part of its emphasis on building a “harmonious society” and maintaining social stability, the government downplayed racism and institutional discrimination against minorities, which remained the source of deep resentment in the XUAR, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the TAR, and other Tibetan areas.

Ethnic minorities represented approximately 13.7 percent of delegates to the NPC and more than 15 percent of NPC Standing Committee members, according to an official report issued in 2014. Han Chinese officials continued to hold the majority of the most powerful CCP and government positions in minority autonomous regions, particularly the XUAR.

The government’s policy to encourage Han Chinese migration into minority areas significantly increased the population of Han in the XUAR. In recent decades, the Chinese-Uighur ratio in the capital of Urumqi reversed from 20/80 to approximately 80/20 and continued to be a source of Uighur resentment. Discriminatory hiring practices gave preference to Han Chinese and reduced job prospects for ethnic minorities. Arable land in the XUAR’s Hotan Prefecture was appropriated from Uighur residents and distributed to Han Chinese migrants, Radio Free Asia reported in April.

According to a November 2015 government census, 9.5 million, or 40 percent, of the XUAR’s official residents were Han Chinese. Uighur, Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other ethnic minorities constituted 14.1 million XUAR residents, or 60 percent of the total population. Official statistics understated the Han Chinese population because they did not count the more than 2.7 million Han residents on paramilitary compounds (bingtuan) and those who were long-term “temporary workers,” an increase of 1.2 percent over the previous year, according to a 2015 government of Xinjiang report. As the government continued to promote Han migration into the XUAR and filled local jobs with domestic migrant labor, local officials coerced young Uighur men and women to participate in a government-sponsored labor transfer program to cities outside the XUAR, according to overseas human rights organizations. In April, Radio Free Asia reported that local authorities in Hotan Prefecture ordered Uighur men and women to take part in a labor program to prevent their involvement in “illegal activities” and promote stability in the area.

The law states that “schools (classes and grades) and other institutions of education where most of the students come from minority nationalities shall, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use their languages as the medium of instruction.” Despite guarantees of cultural and linguistic rights, many primary, middle, and high school students in the XUAR had limited access to Uighur-language instruction and textbooks. There were reports that private Uighur-language schools were shut by authorities without any transparent investigation under the pretense that they promoted radical ideologies. Uighur students were often provided insufficient Uighur-language resources and instruction to maintain the integrity of their culture and traditions.

Officials in the XUAR continued to implement a pledge to crack down on the government-designated “three evil forces” of religious extremism, ethnic separatism, and violent terrorism, and they outlined efforts to launch a concentrated re-education campaign to combat what it deems to be separatism. The government in December 2015 adopted a counterterrorism law defining terrorism broadly in a way that could include religious, political, and ethnic expression. In August the XUAR government adopted a provincial-level interpretation of the national legislation, expanding the definition of terrorism to include the use of cell phones to spread terrorist ideology and “twisting” the concept of halal to apply to nonfood aspects of life. Some security raids, arbitrary detentions, and judicial punishments, ostensibly directed at individuals or organizations suspected of promoting the “three evil forces,” appeared to target groups or individuals peacefully seeking to express their political or religious views. Officials continued to use the threat of violence as justification for extreme security measures directed at the local population, journalists, and visiting foreigners.

Uighurs continued to be sentenced to long prison terms and in some cases executed without due process on charges of separatism and endangering state security. Economist Ilham Tohti remained in prison, where he was serving a life sentence, after being convicted on separatist-related charges in 2014. Many governments continued to call for his release, and Tohti was awarded the Martin Ennals Foundation’s human rights award.

In January, Xinjiang-based activist Zhang Haitao was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “probing and supplying intelligence abroad.” Haitao, who is Han Chinese, had been publicly critical of the government’s policies toward Uighurs. In November a Xinjiang court upheld the sentence.

Authorities detained Uighur social activists and the web administrators of popular Uighur language websites, including the website Misranim, in the weeks leading up to Ramadan, Radio Free Asia reported in June. Ababekri Muhtar, the founder of Misranim and a disabled social activist, was also detained between April and June.

Authorities employed show trials, mass arrests, and sentencing to convict large numbers of Uighurs for state security and other suspected crimes. Seventeen Uighurs, including four women, were reportedly arrested in connection with a September incident that resulted in the death of a public security chief in Hotan prefecture, but there was no information on their alleged crimes or place of custody, according to NGOs.

Eleven Uighurs convicted of endangering state security and terrorism saw their sentences reduced or commuted by the Xinjiang High People’s Court in February following lobbying efforts by the Dui Hua Foundation.

The government pressured foreign countries to repatriate or deny visas to Uighurs who had left the country, and repatriated Uighurs faced the risk of imprisonment and mistreatment upon return. There were accusations that government pressure led to India’s cancellation of exiled Uighur leader Dolkun Isa’s visa to attend a conference there, according to Reuters. Some Uighurs who were forcibly repatriated disappeared after arrival. The international community was still unable independently to confirm the welfare of the 109 Uighurs forcibly repatriated from Thailand in July 2015. Uighurs residing in Canada indicated that Xinjiang authorities detained and interrogated them during visits to the region, pressuring them to spy on other Uighurs living abroad for Chinese authorities.

Freedom of assembly was severely limited during the year in the XUAR. For information about abuse of religious freedom in Xinjiang, see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Authorities did not permit possession of publications or audiovisual materials discussing independence, autonomy, or other politically sensitive subjects. Uighur Abduhelil Zunun remained in prison for his peaceful expression of ideas the government found objectionable.

The law criminalizes discussion of “separatism” on the internet and prohibits use of the internet in any way that undermines national unity. It further bans inciting ethnic separatism or “harming social stability” and requires internet service providers and network operators to set up monitoring systems or to strengthen existing ones and report violations of the law. Authorities reportedly searched cell phones at checkpoints and during random inspections of Uighur households, and those in possession of alleged terrorist material, including digital pictures of the East Turkistan flag, could be arrested and charged with crimes. When their use was detected, authorities forced individuals to delete messaging software and software used to circumvent internet filters. In some areas authorities restricted the use of cell phones and internet access. In February authorities in Chaghraq Township in Aksu Prefecture sentenced a resident to seven years in prison for allegedly watching a film on Muslim migration, according to a Radio Free Asia report.

For specific information on Tibet, see the Tibet Annex.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws criminalize private consensual same-sex activities between adults. Due to societal discrimination and pressure to conform to family expectations, most lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons refrained from publicly discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals and organizations working on LGBTI issues continued to report discrimination and harassment from authorities similar to that experienced by other organizations that accept funding from overseas.

Despite reports of domestic violence among LGBTI couples, the regulations on domestic violence and the Family Violence Law do not include same-sex partnerships, giving LGBTI victims of domestic violence less legal recourse than heterosexual victims.

Although homosexual activity is no longer officially pathologized, some mental health practitioners offered “corrective treatment” to LGBTI persons at “conversion therapy” centers or hospital psychiatric wards, sometimes at the behest of family members.

NGOs reported that although public advocacy work became more difficult for them in light of the Foreign NGO Management Law, they made some progress in advocating for LGBTI rights through specific antidiscrimination cases.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Public health authorities reported there were more than 600,000 persons diagnosed with HIV in the country. New HIV diagnoses reported in 2015 numbered 115,465, up 11.5 percent from the 2014 total. During the year the government put significant efforts toward raising awareness of the risks of HIV/AIDS transmission, particularly among the college-age population, and Peng Liyuan made this problem a cornerstone of her platform as the country’s “first lady.”

Discrimination against persons with HIV remained a problem, impacting individuals’ employment, educational, and housing opportunities and impeding access to health care. The law allows employers and schools to bar persons with infectious diseases and did not afford specific protections based on HIV status. During the year state media outlets reported instances of persons with HIV/AIDS who were barred from housing, education, or employment due to their HIV status.

A 2013 study by the Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS conducted across seven provinces found that 53 percent of HIV-infected respondents who had recently been to a doctor were denied immediate treatment, often either being referred to an infectious disease hospital less equipped to handle ordinary medical problems or given alternate treatments. Some respondents said they chose to forgo medical treatment altogether rather than navigate obstacles imposed by the health-care system.

Inadequate protection for health-care workers exposed to HIV in the workplace was cited as a reason persons with HIV/AIDS faced challenges in the health-care system. In 2015 the National Health and Family Planning Commission sought to address the problem by issuing a regulation recognizing HIV exposure as an occupational hazard in certain professions, including medicine and public security. State media characterized the regulation in part as an effort to protect the rights of health workers better while curbing AIDS-related discrimination.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

The law prohibits discrimination against persons carrying infectious diseases and allows such persons to work as civil servants. The law does not address some common types of discrimination in employment, including discrimination based on height, physical appearance, or ethnic identity.

Despite provisions in the law, discrimination against hepatitis B carriers (including 20 million chronic carriers) remained widespread in many areas, and local governments sometimes tried to suppress their activities.

Despite a 2010 nationwide rule banning mandatory hepatitis B virus tests in job and school admissions applications, many companies continued to use hepatitis B testing as part of their pre-employment screening.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law does not provide for freedom of association, and workers are not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing. Independent unions are illegal, and the right to strike is not protected in law. The law allows for collective wage bargaining for workers in all types of enterprises. The law further provides for industrial sector-wide or regional collective contracts, and enterprise-level collective contracts were generally compulsory throughout the country. Regulations require the government-controlled union to gather input from workers prior to consultation with management and to submit collective contracts to workers or their congress for approval. There is no legal obligation for employers to negotiate or to bargain in good faith, and some employers refused to do so.

The law provides legal protections against antiunion discrimination and specifies that union representatives may not be transferred or terminated by enterprise management during their term of office. The law provides for the reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity as well as for other enterprise penalties for antiunion activities. The law does not protect workers who request or take part in collective negotiations with their employers independent of the officially recognized union. In several cases reported during the year, these workers faced reprisals including forced resignation, firing, and detention.

Only one union is recognized in law, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). All union activity must be approved by and organized under ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a member of the Politburo. The ACFTU and its provincial and local branches continued aggressively to establish new constituent unions and add new members, especially among migrant workers, in large, multinational enterprises. The law gives the ACFTU financial and administrative control over constituent unions empowered to represent employees in negotiating and signing collective contracts with enterprises and public institutions. The law does not mandate the ACFTU to represent the interests of workers in disputes.

The law provides for labor dispute resolution through a three-stage process: mediation between the parties, arbitration by officially designated arbitrators, and litigation. A key article of the law requires employers to consult with labor unions or employee representatives on matters that have a direct bearing on the immediate interests of their workers.

The law does not expressly prohibit work stoppages, and it is not illegal for workers to strike spontaneously. Authorities appeared most tolerant of strikes protesting unpaid or underpaid wages. Authorities rarely released statistics for labor disputes, but in November 2015 the official Xinhua News Agency reported a growing number of wage arrears cases totaling 11,007 in the first three quarters of 2015, an increase of 34 percent over the same period in 2014. Unofficial records from the Hong Kong-based labor rights NGO China Labor Bulletin (CLB) showed that at least 1,050 strikes and collective protests by workers occurred between December 2014 and February 2015, 90 percent relating to unpaid wages.

In some cases local authorities cracked down on such strikes, sometimes charging leaders with vague criminal offenses, such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” “disturbing public order,” “damaging production operations,” or detaining them without any charges at all. The only legally specified role for the ACFTU in strikes is to participate in investigations and assist the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in resolving disputes. There were, however, reports of cases in which ACFTU officials joined police in suppressing strikes.

Despite the appearances of a strong labor movement and relatively high levels of union registration, genuine freedom of association and worker representation did not exist. ACFTU constituent unions were generally ineffective in representing and protecting the rights and interests of workers. Workers generally did not see the ACFTU as an advocate, especially migrant workers who had the least interaction with union officials.

There were no publicly available official statistics on inspection efforts to enforce labor laws, and enforcement was generally insufficient to deter wide-scale violations. Labor inspectors lacked authority and resources to compel employers to correct violations. While the law outlines general procedures for resolving disputes, including mediation, arbitration, and recourse to the courts, procedures were lengthy and subject to delays. Local authorities in some areas actively sought to limit efforts by independent civil society and legal practitioners to offer organized advocacy, and some areas maintained informal quotas on the number of cases allowed to proceed beyond mediation.

The ACFTU and the CCP used a variety of mechanisms to influence the selection of trade union representatives. Although the law states that trade union officers at each level should be elected, most factory-level officers were appointed by ACFTU-affiliated unions, often in coordination with employers. Official union leaders often were drawn from the ranks of management. Direct election by workers of union leaders continued to be rare, occurred only at the enterprise level, and was subject to supervision by higher levels of the union or the CCP. In enterprises where direct election of union officers took place, regional ACFTU officers and local CCP authorities retained control over the selection and approval of candidates. Even in these cases, workers and NGOs expressed concern about the credibility of elections.

Employers often circumvented legal provisions allowing for collective consultation over wages, hours, days off, and benefits through such tactics as forcing employees to sign blank contracts and failing to provide workers with copies of their contracts.

There continued to be reports of workers throughout the country engaging in wildcat strikes, work stoppages, and other protest actions. Although the government restricted the release of statistics on the number of strikes and protests each year, the frequency of “spontaneous” strikes remained high, especially in Guangdong and other areas with developed labor markets and large pools of sophisticated, rights-conscious workers.

Coordinated efforts by governments at the central, provincial, and local levels, including harassment, detention, and the imposition of travel restrictions on labor rights defenders and restrictions on funding sources for NGOs, disrupted labor rights advocacy. In December 2015 police in Guangdong arrested Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Workers’ Center, for “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.” Police also detained on similar charges six other workers’ rights defenders: Zhu Xiaomei, Meng Han, and Tang Beiguo of the Panyu Dagongzu Service Center; Deng Xiaoming, a volunteer with the Haige Service Center; He Xiaobo of the Foshan Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Center; and Peng Jiayong of the Labor Mutual-aid Center. On September 26, a Guangdong court convicted Zeng Feiyang, Zhu Xiaomei, and Tang Beiguo of gathering a crowd to disturb social order and accepting funds from “foreign forces.” They were given suspended prison sentences of between one and one-half and three years. On November 3, Meng Han was convicted and given a 21-month prison sentence. A local labor NGO said the court was sending a clear signal that the only way to resolve labor disputes was through government entities.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, and where there were reports that forced labor of adults and children occurred, the government reportedly enforced the law. Although the domestic media rarely reported forced labor cases and the penalties imposed, the law provides a penalty of imprisonment of not more than three years or criminal detention and a fine or, if the circumstances are serious, imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than 10 years and a fine. Men, women, and children were subjected to forced labor in coalmines and factories. In September, six men with mental disabilities were reportedly freed from a brick factory in Yunnan Province where they had been forced to work without pay. The brick kiln was shut down.

In 2013 the NPC abolished the Re-education Through Labor system, an arbitrary system of administrative detention without judicial review. Some media outlets and NGOs reported that forced labor continued in some drug rehabilitation facilities where individuals continued to be detained without judicial process. It was not possible independently to verify these reports.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. It refers to workers between the ages of 16 and 18 as “juvenile workers” and prohibits them from engaging in certain forms of dangerous work, including in mines.

The law specifies administrative review, fines, and revocation of business licenses of enterprises that illegally hire minors and provides that underage children found working be returned to their parents or other custodians in their original place of residence. The penalty for employing children under age 16 in hazardous labor or for excessively long hours ranges from three to seven years’ imprisonment, but a significant gap remained between legislation and implementation. For example, in April media outlets reported that Wang Ningpan, a 15-year-old migrant worker from Hunan, died after working on the production line in an underwear garment factory in Foshan, Guangdong. Wang’s normal work schedule was from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The garment factory gave Wang’s family 155,000 yuan ($22,470) compensation. Official reports stated that Wang’s mother had told the employer that her son was 17. Guangdong’s provincial government launched an inspection to crack down on child labor, and the company was fined 10,000 yuan ($1,450) for hiring child labor.

Abuse of the student-worker system continued as well; as in past years, there were allegations that schools and local officials improperly facilitated the supply of student laborers.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Employment Promotion Law provides some basis for legal protection against employment discrimination. Article 3 states “no worker seeking employment shall suffer discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity, race, gender, or religious belief.” Article 30 outlines employment protections available to carriers of infectious diseases. Enforcement clauses include the right to pursue civil damages through the courts. Other laws provide similar protections for women and persons with disabilities. The Labor Contract Law includes a provision limiting the circumstances under which employers could terminate the contracts of employees suspected of suffering from an occupational disease and those within five years of the statutory retirement age. The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the local labor bureaus were responsible for verifying that enterprises complied with the labor laws and the employment promotion law.

Discrimination in employment was widespread, including in recruitment advertisements that discriminated based on gender, age, height, and physical appearance and health status (see section 6).

Some employers lowered the effective retirement age for female workers to 50. This reduced overall pension benefits, which were generally based on the number of years worked. Many employers preferred to hire men to avoid the expense of maternity leave.

Courts were generally reluctant to accept discrimination cases, and authorities at all levels emphasized negotiated settlements to labor disputes. As a result there were few examples of enforcement actions that resulted in final legal decisions. One example came from the Dongguan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court’s decision in May, which declared illegal a local department store’s decision to revoke a female employee’s paid maternity leave for a second child. The court ordered the company to restore the employee’s position and to compensate her with 108 days of paid leave.

According to a study released in March, 50 percent of more than 10,000 female survey respondents working in 60 cities said they often experienced discrimination at the workplace, while 47 percent had encountered occasional discrimination and only 3 percent had never faced discrimination against them.

In 2015 authorities issued the Provisional Regulations for Residency. Effective from January, the provisional regulations require local authorities to establish a streamlined process for migrants to register as urban residents, renewable annually, and to provide and pay for a package of limited social service benefits for these new residents. The most important of the benefits would be the inclusion of compulsory education for the children of legal residents, meaning that children of migrant workers would be eligible to relocate with their parents and attend local urban schools. While the regulations would benefit many of the estimated 270 million migrant workers residing in urban centers, the unaltered half-century-old hukou system remained the most pervasive form of employment-related discrimination, denying migrant workers access to the full range of social benefits, including health care, pensions, and disability programs, on an equal basis with local residents.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no national minimum wage, but the law generally requires local and provincial governments to set their own minimum wage rates for both the formal and informal sectors according to standards promulgated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. The law mandates a 40-hour standard workweek, excluding overtime, and a 24-hour weekly rest period. It also prohibits overtime work in excess of three hours per day or 36 hours per month and mandates premium pay for overtime work.

The State Administration for Work Safety sets and enforces occupational health and safety regulations. The law requires employers to provide free health checkups for employees working in hazardous conditions and to inform them of the results. The law also provides workers the right to report violations or remove themselves from workplace situations that could endanger their health without jeopardy to their employment.

Regulations state that labor and social security bureaus at or above the county level are responsible for enforcement of labor laws. The law also provides that, where the ACFTU finds an employer in violation of the regulation, it has the power to demand that the relevant local labor bureaus deal with the case. Companies that violate occupational, safety, and health regulations face various penalties, including suspension of business operations or rescission of business certificates and licenses.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not adequate to deter violations and were seldom enforced. The 230,000 inspectors were insufficient to monitor working conditions and did not operate in the informal sector. Despite many labor laws and regulations on worker safety, there were a number of workplace accidents during the year. Media and NGO reports attributed them to a lack of safety checks, weak enforcement of laws and regulations, ineffective supervision, and inadequate emergency responses.

Nonpayment of wages remained a problem in many areas. Governments at various levels continued efforts to prevent arrears and to recover payment of unpaid wages and insurance contributions. It remained possible for companies to relocate or close on short notice, often leaving employees without adequate recourse for due compensation.

Unpaid wages have been an acute problem in the construction sector for decades. Construction projects were often subcontracted several times until eventually a construction team composed of low-wage migrant workers was formed. This informal hiring scheme made rural laborers susceptible to delayed or unpaid payment for their work, prompting them to join in collective action. Workers occasionally took drastic measures to demand payment. In January the State Council issued guidance asking all government sectors to strengthen their efforts to solve the problem of migrant workers’ unpaid wages and ordering the elimination of wage arrearage problems by 2020.

Workers in the informal sector often lacked coverage under labor contracts, and even with contracts, migrant workers in particular had less access to benefits, especially social insurance. Workers in the informal sector worked longer hours and earned one-half to two-thirds as much as comparable workers in the formal sector.

According to government sources, only an estimated 10 percent of eligible employees received regular occupational health services. Small and medium-sized enterprises, the country’s largest group of employers, often failed to provide the required health services. They also did not provide proper safety equipment to help prevent disease and were rarely required to pay compensation to victims and their families.

Instances of pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, and silicosis remained high. Official figures released in December 2015 showed the country recorded 26,873 new pneumoconiosis cases in 2014, a 16 percent increase from the previous year. The mining and processing of coal and nonferrous metals were the sectors most vulnerable to occupational diseases, responsible for 62.5 percent of all cases in 2015. In January the National Health and Family Planning Commission and 10 other ministry-level government organizations jointly issued a statement expressing concern over this workplace hazard. The statement noted that individuals were diagnosed with the disease at an increasingly younger age in recent years and that industries in central and western regions had become prone to the illness, mainly in jobs related to mining and handling construction materials and nonferrous metals.

On August 11, an explosion at a power plant in Dangyang, Hubei Province, killed 21 workers and severely injured five others. The blast, caused by the rupture of a steam pipe undergoing testing, came just a few hours before the first anniversary of the massive 2015 Tianjin warehouse explosion that killed 173 persons, including 104 firefighters. The CLB logged 37 explosions that were reported in the local media during the year, although major explosions, such as the one in Dangyang, were a small proportion of the overall number of workplace accidents.

Accidents tended to occur at the year-end, when employers and employees tended to overlook safety procedures to meet production goals. In the last quarter of the year, in addition to a November 24 scaffolding collapse in Jiangxi Province that killed 74 workers, media outlets reported a number of coal mine accidents, including an October 31 explosion at Chongqing that killed 33 workers, a December 1 accident at Qitaihe, Heilongjiang Province, that killed 21 miners, and a December 3 disaster in Inner Mongolia that left 32 persons dead.

Despite negative publicity surrounding the year-end increase, the number of workplace accidents and fatalities in the country decreased on a year-over-year basis. According to State Administration of Work Safety data, from 2010 to 2015, the number of accidents dropped from 363,383 to 281,576 and fatalities declined from 79,552 to 66,182. From January to October, 45,000 accidents occurred and 27,000 workers were killed, representing declines of 6.2 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively, from the same period in 2015. In addition, 23 major workplace accidents took place in the first eight months of the year, leaving 348 individuals dead or missing. The data represented year-over-year decreases of 11.5 percent and 32.8 percent, respectively.

READ A SECTION: CHINA (ABOVE) | TIBET | HONG KONG MACAU

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG (BELOW) | MACAU


Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong and the SAR’s charter, the Basic Law of the SAR (also known as the Basic Law), specify that the SAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework except in matters of defense and foreign affairs. In September, Hong Kong residents elected the 70 representatives who comprise the SAR’s Legislative Council (LegCo). In accordance with the Basic Law, voters directly elected 40 representatives, while limited franchise functional constituencies that generally supported the government in Beijing elected the remaining 30.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The most important human rights problem reported was the central government’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) on November 7 issued an unnecessary and unsolicited interpretation of the Basic Law that preempted the ability of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary to rule on the matter. It marked the first time it had issued such an interpretation while a Hong Kong judge was deliberating the case in question and the second time it had done so in the absence of a request from Hong Kong authorities. As a result, Hong Kong’s courts subsequently disqualified two opposition legislators-elect, who used their oath-swearing ceremony as an occasion to make proindependence gestures, and on December 2, the Hong Kong government filed a similar legal challenge to the legitimacy of four additional opposition legislators over the manner in which they took their oaths of office. Media outlets and local observers raised concerns that the government had attempted to curtail residents’ right to run for office. Hong Kong residents also remain concerned by the breach of Hong Kong’s autonomy that occurred in the late 2015 disappearances of five publishers of books critical of the Communist Party leadership and the continued lack of transparency regarding their cases. Although the 2016 elections were largely conducted in a free and fair manner, Hong Kong’s system of government limits the ability of Hong Kong voters to choose their government.

Other human rights problems included trafficking in persons, and societal prejudice against certain ethnic minorities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings; nor were there reports of such killings by narcotics traffickers or other criminal groups.

b. Disappearance

Five men working in Hong Kong’s publishing industry disappeared between October and December 2015 from Thailand, Hong Kong, and mainland China. In addition to being Hong Kong residents, one of the men was a Swedish national and another was a UK national. Media coverage of these cases noted the men worked for Mighty Current, a publishing house, and the affiliated Causeway Bay Bookstore, which were known for selling books critical of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders. Credible reports gave rise to widespread suspicions that PRC security officials were involved in their disappearances.

Mainland authorities eventually allowed four of the five booksellers to return to Hong Kong between March and July, while continuing to detain Gui Minhai, a Swedish national, on the mainland at year’s end in the absence of any charges or judicial process. According to local media reports, mainland security agencies continued to exert pressure on the four booksellers whom they had allowed to return to Hong Kong through periodic questioning, ongoing surveillance, escorting by security agents, and threats of retaliation against mainland-based family members. Causeway Bay Books manager Lam Wing-kee returned to Hong Kong in July and held a press conference at the LegCo compound in which he disclosed details about his abduction and subsequent eight-month detention. Lam said several security agents took him into custody at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border crossing and held him overnight. According to Lam’s account, mainland authorities confiscated his identity documents and refused to answer his questions or explain why he was detained. The next day officials blindfolded and handcuffed Lam on central authorities’ orders, following which Lam was transported by train from Shenzhen to Ningbo. Upon arrival in Ningbo, security officials forced Lam to sign a document promising to not contact his family or seek legal counsel, he told the press. He was told he was being held under “residential surveillance,” a form of detention frequently used by PRC security agents to hold incommunicado activists and others suspected of political crimes. Lam said he was held under constant surveillance in a small space, and told the press he was only released to return to the SAR in order to collect additional materials for use in testifying against another bookseller.

The Hong Kong Government said it took steps to investigate the booksellers’ abductions and detentions, including engaging central government authorities from the security and justice ministries to improve the notification mechanism governing cross-border cases. The Chief Executive, Secretary for Justice, Police Commissioner, and Central Government Liaison Officials, in addition to other key officers, spoke publicly following UK national Lee Bo’s disappearance. They all stated unequivocally that mainland security officials had no legal ability to enforce mainland laws in Hong Kong. Top officials, including the Chief Executive, said if mainland officials had acted in Hong Kong, it would be a violation of the Basic Law.

Despite the Hong Kong authorities’ efforts to pursue the case, police eventually dropped their investigation following the Lee family’s cancellation of its missing person report and the family’s request for closure of the investigation.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Basic Law prohibits torture and other forms of abuse, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

There were some reports of the use of excessive force by police officers. In a six-month period last year, the police force’s Complaints against Police Office reported 913 allegations of excessive use of force by police. Data on allegations of excessive use of force pending investigation and endorsement by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC), assault by police officers on persons not in custody and in custody, and the results of those investigations were not available at year’s end. There were no reports of death in custody due to excessive police force.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the Correctional Services Department (CSD) permitted visits by independent human rights observers, the media, and religious groups.

The government does not have separate detention facilities for migrants or asylum seekers. The Immigration Department maintains detention facilities in Ma Tau Kok and in Castle Peak Bay for those who have violated the SAR’s immigration laws and/or those pending deportation from Hong Kong. Human rights activists voiced concern over the government’s detention of asylum claimants at such immigration detention facilities, charging that the SAR’s immigration laws require asylum claimants to be in violation of their immigration status before they can file an asylum claim. There are no private detention facilities in the SAR.

Physical Conditions: During the year the CSD managed 24 penal institutions (comprising minimum-, medium-, and maximum-security prisons; a psychiatric center; and training, detention, rehabilitation, and drug addiction treatment centers).

The CSD acknowledged overcrowding was a problem in certain types of penal institutions, such as remand (pretrial detention) facilities and maximum-security institutions. Transferred remand prisoners made complaints of prison guards treating them as convicted prisoners as well as of wait times of one week to make private telephone calls, and reported a decrease in attorney visits for prisoners relocated to some of the SAR’s more remote prison locations. The CSD adopted a strategy of renovating existing institutions to increase space and modernize facilities.

The Coroner’s Court, aided by a jury, conducted death inquests. Data on deaths of prisoners in CSD custody and inquest results had not been reported by year’s end.

Administration: Judicial authorities investigated credible allegations of problematic conditions and documented the results in a publicly accessible manner. The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions, and there was an external Office of the Ombudsman. The government kept adequate records of prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted media outlets and human rights groups to conduct prison visits. Justices of the peace may make suggestions and comments on matters such as the physical environment of facilities, overcrowding, staff improvement, training and recreational programs and activities, and other matters affecting the welfare of inmates. Justices of the peace made over 200 unannounced visits to penal institutions in a six-month period last year.

Improvements: As of year’s end, there was no available information on improvements to prison or detention center conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Hong Kong Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the Security Bureau. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is responsible for external security. The Immigration Department controls the entry of persons into and out of the SAR as well as the documentation of local residents. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police force, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The 2015 reported involvement of mainland security forces in the disappearances of five Hong Kong book publishers; however, raised concerns about the activities of mainland security forces in Hong Kong throughout the year. For further information on the publishers’ cases, see section 1.b.

International and local media reported that mainland PRC operatives in Hong Kong surveilled some prodemocracy movement figures, political activists, lawyers, academics, businesspersons, and religious leaders that have expressed criticism of the central government’s policies. In January, Guangdong province security agents reportedly visited 65-year-old veteran publisher Lau Tat-man in Hong Kong on three occasions over the course of one month to interrogate him about the five booksellers who were abducted from various locations and detained in the mainland. In July bookseller Lam Wing-kee and prodemocracy legislator James To alleged that mainland agents had surveilled Lam after he returned to Hong Kong and disclosed the details of his abduction to the press. In response to concerns for his safety, Hong Kong police later placed Lam under police protection. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

Human rights activists and some legislators expressed concern that the CE appointed all Independent Police Complaints Committee members and that the IPCC’s lack of power to conduct independent investigations limited its oversight capacity. The IPCC cannot compel officers to participate in its investigations, and the media reported cases of police officers declining to cooperate fully.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Suspects generally were apprehended openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by a duly authorized official. They must be charged within 48 hours or released, and the government respected this right. Interviews of suspects are required to be videotaped. The law provides accused persons with the right to a prompt judicial determination, and authorities respected this right effectively.

Detainees were generally informed promptly of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system, and authorities allowed detainees access to a lawyer of their choice. Suspects were not detained incommunicado or held under house arrest.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Department of Justice maintained political considerations did not factor into its decision to charge several activists with crimes related to the 2014 protests; the Hong Kong judiciary heard these cases from May to August. Pro-democracy activists and participants in the fall 2014 prodemocracy protests claimed they were subject to incidents of politically motivated arbitrary arrest.

In May, Joshua Wong, the convener of the prodemocracy student activist group Scholarism, and Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) secretary-general Nathan Law, along with two other prodemocracy activists, were acquitted on charges related to obstructing police officers during a June 2014 protest against the release of the State Council’s White Paper on Hong Kong.

In July, Wong and HKFS former secretary-general Alex Chow were found guilty on one charge of participating in an illegal assembly related to the start of the 2014 Occupy Central protests, while Law was found guilty of inciting an illegal assembly. In August, Wong and Law were sentenced to perform 80 and 120 hours of community service respectively, while Chow was given a suspended sentence of three weeks imprisonment. In delivering the verdicts, district court Judge June Cheung noted: “The court believes the three defendants are expressing their views and demands genuinely out of their political beliefs or their concern for society. Their aim and motive is not for their own interest or to hurt other people.”

The Department of Justice in September requested the court review the sentences, with the prosecution alleging the sentences were too lenient. The magistrate reviewed and upheld the sentences, which fell well within sentencing guidelines.

Many experts assessed the police use of force during the protests in the fall of 2014 as generally professional and appropriate. Some prodemocracy activists, nongovernmental organization (NGO) observers, and journalists expressed concerns about certain police actions, and the court cases reviewing police use of force continued.

The District Court on December 8 announced it would hand down a ruling in February 2017 on an assault case brought by Ken Tsang, a prodemocracy activist. Video footage taken during October 2014 protests showed plainclothes police officers abusing Tsang. Seven police officers were subsequently suspended, arrested, and charged with the crime of “wounding or striking with intent to do grievous bodily harm.” Prosecutors separately charged Tsang with assaulting and obstructing police officers, which carries a maximum possible sentence of two years’ imprisonment. The court finished hearing the case in May, and Tsang was found guilty of assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest; he was sentenced to five weeks in prison.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained on criminal or other grounds are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the SAR government generally respected judicial independence. The judiciary provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials were by jury except at the magistrate and district court level. An attorney is provided at the public’s expense if defendants cannot afford counsel. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them and the right to a public trial without undue delay, and defendants could confront and question witnesses testifying against them and present witnesses to testify on their behalf. Defendants and their attorneys had access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases. Defendants have the right of appeal and the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and have the right to be present at their trial.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence except in official corruption cases. Under the law a current or former government official who maintained a standard of living above that commensurate with his or her official income, or who controls monies or property disproportionate to his official income, is guilty of an offense unless he can satisfactorily explain the discrepancy. The courts upheld this ordinance. The government conducted court proceedings in either Chinese or English, the SAR’s two official languages.

Hong Kong’s unique, common law judicial system operates within the PRC; the SAR’s courts are charged with interpreting those provisions of the Basic Law that address matters within the limits of the SAR’s autonomy. The courts also interpret provisions of the Basic Law that touch on central government responsibilities or on the relationship between the central authorities and the SAR. Before making its final judgments on these matters, which are not subject to appeal, the Court of Final Appeal may seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the Standing Committee of the PRC’s National People’s Congress (NPCSC). The Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPCSC’s interpretations where cases intersect with central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected. On four occasions in the past and once in November this year, described below, the NPCSC issued interpretations of the Basic Law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters and access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or the cessation of, human rights violations. The SAR’s courts continued to exercise a high degree of autonomy under the Basic Law, but many Hong Kong residents questioned the durability of this autonomy in the wake of the November NPCSC interpretation of the Basic Law that interrupted the judicial process in Hong Kong. Activists and other observers expressed concerns that the SAR government and central government had encroached on the judiciary’s independence.

The Basic Law’s Article 158 grants the NPCSC the power to interpret the Basic Law. On November 7, the NPCSC issued an interpretation on the Basic Law’s language requiring all government officials to take an oath in order to enter office. The NPCSC issued its interpretation while the Court of First Instance was considering the Hong Kong Government’s judicial review petitions against two proindependence legislators-elect. On November 9, Court of First Instance Justice Thomas Au ruled in favor of the government to disqualify the legislators-elect, noting he would have reached the same decision even if the NPCSC had not issued its interpretation. Legal scholars, the Hong Kong Bar Association, and the Law Society characterized the interpretation as unnecessary. They also voiced concern that the issuance of the interpretation might damage perceptions about the SAR’s independent judiciary and the reputation of its courts, as well as the SAR’s overall autonomy. The November 7 interpretation marked the first time the NPCSC had rendered an interpretation of the Basic Law while the matter in question was pending a judge’s ruling and the second time it had done so in the absence of a request from Hong Kong authorities, which some legal experts viewed as inconsistent with the judicial reference process outlined in Article 158 of the Basic Law. Following issuance of the interpretation, hundreds of lawyers dressed in black and staged a silent protest against the NPCSC’s failure to respect the autonomy of Hong Kong’s judiciary.

Under Article 158, as originally enacted in 1997, the NPCSC’s consults its Committee for the Basic Law, composed of six mainland and six Hong Kong members, before it issues an interpretation of the Basic Law. The Chief Executive, the LegCo president, and the chief justice nominate the Hong Kong members. Human rights and lawyers’ organizations expressed concern that the lack of Hong Kong representation on the NPCSC (among the 175 current members, only one is a Hong Kong resident) and the limited power of the Basic Law Committee, could be used to limit the independence of the judiciary or degrade the Hong Kong courts’ authority, as the NPCSC’s decisions can supersede the Court of Final Appeal’s power of final adjudication.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The police routinely issued the required “letter of no objection” for public meetings and demonstrations–including those critical of the SAR and central governments–and the overwhelming majority of protests occurred without serious incident. On June 4, tens of thousands of persons peacefully gathered without incident in Victoria Park to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. The annual vigil and a smaller annual event in Macau were reportedly the only sanctioned events in China to commemorate the Tiananmen Square anniversary.

Figures vary for participation in the annual July 1 prodemocracy demonstration, held on the anniversary of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to the PRC. Police estimated 19,300 protesters; an independent polling organization estimated 29,000, and organizers claimed 110,000. Participants voiced concern over the Mighty Current booksellers’ detentions, called for CE Leung to resign, supported a relaunch of Hong Kong’s electoral reform process aimed at extending universal suffrage for all residents to vote in elections for the Chief Executive, encouraged abolition of LegCo’s Functional Constituencies in favor of directly electing all legislators; and demanded democratic amendments to the Basic Law. Police deployed hundreds of officers, and did not interfere with the legally permitted rally.

Government statistics indicated police arrested 125 persons in connection with public order events in the first half of last year; statistics were not yet available for 2016.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights, with some prominent exceptions.

Under the “one country, two systems” framework, the SAR continued to administer its own immigration and entry policies and make determinations regarding claims under the UN Convention against Torture (CAT) independently. Hong Kong is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention or the 1969 Protocol. As such, the SAR only accepts asylum claims on the basis of torture in a claimant’s home country. The most recently available government statistics indicated that there were over 11,000 nonrefoulement claims, including those based on claims under the CAT, pending Immigration Department processing. Applicants and activists continued to complain about the slow processing of claims and limited government subsidies available to applicants. Activists and refugee rights groups also voiced concerns about the very low rate of approved claims (0.6 percent for a recent 15 month period), suggesting the government’s bar for approving claims of torture was far higher than other developed jurisdictions.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration as well as other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

There continued to be claims that the Immigration Department refused entry to a small number of persons traveling to the SAR for political reasons that did not appear to contravene the law. The Immigration Department, as a matter of policy, declined to comment on individual cases. Activists, some legislators, and other observers contended that the refusals, usually of persons holding views critical of the central government, were made at the behest of PRC authorities. The Security Bureau maintained that the Immigration Department exchanged information with other immigration authorities, including on the mainland, but made its decisions independently.

Foreign Travel: Most residents easily obtained travel documents from the SAR government; however, central government authorities did not permit some human rights activists, student protesters, and prodemocracy legislators to visit mainland China. Some of the students who participated in the protest movement in the fall of 2014 alleged the central government security agencies surveilled the protests and blacklisted them.

The central government took steps to restrict the foreign travel of prominent prodemocracy leaders, according to civil society representatives. In October, Thai immigration authorities blocked democracy activist Joshua Wong from entering the country to speak at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University and detained him at the airport for 12 hours without explanation. Wong was to attend an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a massacre on the campus of Bangkok’s Thammaset University. Upon his return to Hong Kong, Wong told the press he believed Thai authorities were responding to pressure from the central government. A senior immigration official told a Thai newspaper that Wong was denied entry in response to a request from the PRC government. The Thai organizer who invited Wong to speak at the university also said Thai police had informed him that they had received a letter about Wong from PRC authorities.

Emigration and Repatriation: Government policy was to repatriate undocumented migrants who arrived from mainland China, and authorities did not consider them for refugee status.

The government did not recognize the Taiwan passport as valid for visa endorsement purposes, although convenient mechanisms existed for Taiwan passport holders to visit. As of 2013 most Taiwan visitors have been able to register online and stay for one month if they hold a mainland travel permit.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The SAR has a policy of not granting asylum or refugee status and has no temporary protection policy. The government’s practice was to refer refugee and asylum claimants to a lawyer or to UNHCR. Persons wishing to file a claim cannot do so while they have legally entered the SAR, and must instead wait until they have overstayed the terms of their entry before they can file such a claim.

Refoulement: The government’s Unified Screening Mechanism, introduced last year, consolidated the processing of claims based on risk of return to persecution, torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Claimants continued to receive publicly funded legal assistance, including translation services, as well as small living subsidies. The children of refugee claimants can usually attend Hong Kong’s public schools, if the Director of Immigration deems adjudication of a claim will take several months. The number of substantiated cases of torture and nonrefoulement is less than one percent of the total determinations made since 2009. According to the HKSAR Immigration Department, between the commencement of the enhanced administrative mechanism in late 2009 and September 2016, determinations were made in 10,172 torture/nonrefoulement claims, among which only 65 were substantiated.

Employment: The government defines CAT claimants and asylum seekers as illegal immigrants or “overstayers” in the SAR, and as such they have no legal right to work in the SAR while claims are under review. Those granted either refugee status by UNHCR or relief from removal under the CAT could work only with approval from the director of immigration. They were also ineligible for training by either the Employees Retraining Board or the Vocational Training Council.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Basic Law limits the ability of residents to change their government through free and fair elections. Article 45 of the Basic Law establishes as the “ultimate aim” direct election of the chief executive through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” Since 2007 the people of Hong Kong, the SAR government, and the PRC central government have vigorously debated the nature, scope, and pace of democratic and electoral reforms.

Voters directly elect 40 of LegCo’s 70 seats by secret ballot. Thirty-five seats are designated as “geographic constituencies” (GCs) and 35 as “functional constituencies” (FCs). All 35 GCs are directly elected, while only five of the FCs are directly elected. The remaining 30 FC seats are selected by a subset of voters from FCs representing various economic and social sectors, which typically hold proestablishment views. Under this structure a limited number of individuals and institutions were able to control multiple votes for LegCo members. In 2016, the constituencies that elected these 30 FC LegCo seats consisted of 232,498 registered individual and institutional voters, of which some 172,820 voted, according to the SAR’s election affairs office statistics. The five FC seats in the district council sector, known as “super seats” were directly elected by the approximately five million registered voters who were not otherwise represented in another FC and therefore represented larger constituencies than any other seats in LegCo. The government has previously acknowledged the method of selecting FC legislators did not conform to the principle of universal suffrage, but it took no steps to eliminate the FCs in 2016.

In addition to strong showings from traditional prodemocracy parties, seven self-proclaimed “localists” won seats for the first time. The “localists” represent a range of political views, with campaign platforms variously focused on a referendum on self-determination after 2047; Hong Kong-first-focused policies; reforms for land development policies; and proindependence. The platform for the top vote-getter for the geographical constituency with the largest electorate, Chu Hoi-dick, touted self-determination in addition to land reform and environmental concerns. The “localists” in some cases won legislative seats over more traditional prodemocracy parties, leading to a wide range of views expressed within the LegCo.

Under the Basic Law, LegCo members may not introduce bills that affect public expenditure, the political structure, or government policy; only the government may introduce these types of bills. The SAR sends 36 deputies to the mainland’s NPC and had approximately 250 delegates in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference–bodies that operate under the direction of the CCP and do not exercise legislative independence. The approval of the CE, two-thirds of LegCo, and two-thirds of the SAR’s delegates to the NPC are required to place an amendment to the Basic Law on the agenda of the NPC, which has the sole power to amend the Basic Law.

Voters directly elected all 431 of Hong Kong’s district council seats in November 2015 following the government’s elimination of appointed district council seats. Previously, the CE used his authority to appoint 68 of the 534 members of the district councils, the SAR’s most grassroots-level elected bodies.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2012, in a process widely criticized as undemocratic, the 1,193-member CE Election Committee, dominated by proestablishment electors and their allies, selected C.Y. Leung to be the SAR’s chief executive. Leung received 689 votes. The PRC’s State Council formally appointed him, and then President Hu Jintao swore in Leung.

The next chief executive election is scheduled for March 2017 under an electoral process identical to the 2012 process, because the LegCo rejected an electoral reform package in June 2015 that prodemocracy legislators considered insufficiently democratic on the grounds that it did not allow voters directly to nominate the candidates for chief executive. On December 11, representatives of various commercial sectors, professions, religious organizations, and social service providers, as well as political representatives, elected the 1,194 electors who will cast ballots in the next chief executive election. Residents voiced concern that these small-circle elections were open to participation by a very small number (230,000) of the SAR’s 7.5 million residents. Additionally, while the 2016 Election Committee elections saw historically high turnout of 46 percent and a record number of contested seats across industrial, professional, grassroots, and political sectors, local political observers noted 300 members–approximately 25 percent–of the committee were elected without a poll or other transparent election process to represent 12 uncontested subsectors and one sub-subsector.

In September SAR residents elected representatives to the 70-member LegCo. The election, which saw record high turnout of 2.2 million voters, or over 58 percent, was considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. The government acknowledged election observers and other residents had filed approximately 1,200 petitions about election misconduct with the Elections Affairs Committee following the conclusion of the LegCo election. Pro-PRC and proestablishment candidates won 40 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 30, an increase over the 27 the opposition camp held from 2012 to 2016.

In July, for the first time the government announced all LegCo candidates would have to sign a Confirmation Form pledging their allegiance to the SAR and their intent to uphold the Basic Law, including three provisions that stated Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the PRC. Legal scholars and prodemocracy activists criticized the government’s use of the Confirmation Form, noting the LegCo had not approved this change to the election procedures or the requirements for candidates to stand for legislative office. In August the government disqualified proindependence LegCo candidate Edward Leung, of the Hong Kong Indigenous party, from running in the election in the New Territories East district. An elections officer refused Leung’s candidacy, even though Leung had signed the Confirmation Form and said he would drop his proindependence stance. Leung and another candidate filed judicial review applications charging that the use of the Confirmation Form was not in accordance with the SAR’s laws. Leung also filed an elections petition in September alleging his disqualification from the race was unlawful.

Some observers expressed concern that the interpretation could restrict the right to stand for office guaranteed in Article 26 of the Basic Law for those who espouse proindependence views, and possibly for those who support self-determination as well. At the end of the year, the Hong Kong high court had disqualified two proindependence legislators-elect, Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, from taking office. The September election of proindependence legislators followed a July poll of public opinion conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong that found that while only 4 percent of respondents thought independence was possible for Hong Kong, 17 percent of them, including 39 percent of respondents aged 15 to 24, supported independence when the current political arrangement expires in 2047.

At a press conference announcing the NPCSC interpretation, NPCSC Legal Committee Chair Li Fei suggested that support for self-determination would be treated the same as promoting independence, and could thus disqualify legislators under the new interpretation. On December 2, Chief Executive Leung and Secretary for Justice Yuen filed a legal challenge to the legitimacy of four other opposition legislators–veteran activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, former Occupy Central student leader Nathan Law, lecturer Lau Siu-lai, and university professor Edward Yiu–over the manner in which they took their oaths. The courts accepted the government’s judicial review application on December 15, and initial hearings for the cases are expected to be held in February 2017. Support for “localist” platforms, including self-determination (generally understood to refer to a referendum on Hong Kong’s status in 2047) was a key component of several elected legislators’ platforms, including those of Law and Lau.

The Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) was estimated to have received well over 200 complaints concerning alleged breaches of provisions under the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance. Media reported the complaints included allegations of fraudulently registering voters without their consent, bribing voters, voting after giving false or misleading information to an elections officer, incurring election expenses by persons other than the candidate or his agent, publishing false or misleading statements about a candidate, publishing election advertisements that did not meet certain requirements, failing to file election returns, and providing others with refreshments and entertainment at elections.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Pandemocratic parties faced a number of institutional challenges, which hampered them from securing a majority of the seats in the LegCo or having one of their members become CE. Of LegCo’s 70 seats, 30 were elected by FCs, most of whom are supportive of the central government; representatives from 12 of these constituencies ran unopposed, while over 150 parties contested the SAR’s 35 GC seats. The law does not permit tax-exempt contributions to political parties. The voting process helped ensure that proestablishment allies controlled a majority of seats in LegCo. Additionally, the central government and its business supporters provided generous financial resources to parties that supported the central government’s political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions. According to local press reports, several political groups voiced concern that the Central Government Liaison Office (CGLO) interfered with legislative campaigns, lobbying for pro-Beijing candidates and threatening or harassing others. In August, Liberal Party candidate Ken Chow suspended his campaign for a LegCo seat, alleging CGLO affiliates had harassed him and threatened the safety of his family. At year’s end, the ICAC, the Liberal Party, and the HKG had undertaken investigations into Chow’s allegations. Chow subsequently quit the Liberal Party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: Five of the 30 members of the Executive Council (cabinet-level secretaries and “nonofficial” councilors who advise the CE) were women. Eleven of the 40 directly-elected LegCo members were women, and a woman held one of the 35 FC seats. Fourteen of the 45 most senior government officials (secretaries, undersecretaries, and permanent secretaries) were women.

There is no legal restriction against non-Chinese running for electoral office, serving as electoral monitors, or participating in the civil service, although most elected or senior appointed positions require that the officeholder have a legal right of abode only in the SAR. There were no members of ethnic minorities in the LegCo. The government regarded ethnic origin as irrelevant to civil service appointment and did not require applicants to declare their ethnicity or race in their applications for government jobs. Some observers criticized this practice as preventing the government from monitoring hiring and promotion rates for individuals who were not ethnically Chinese. In March, citing underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the government, a local foundation published a list of 16 ethnic minority candidates who had relevant experience and Cantonese language, encouraging the government to appoint these candidates to serve on government advisory committees.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally implemented it effectively. The SAR continued to be viewed as relatively uncorrupt.

Corruption: In July controversy erupted over the independence and impartiality of the ICAC after a senior official leading a corruption investigation of Chief Executive Leung was mysteriously demoted. Prior to the demotion, Rebecca Li, who led the ICAC operations department, had a distinguished career spanning three decades. In 2015, she became the agency’s most senior career official, a first for a woman. Li’s department was responsible for conducting an investigation into whether Mr. Leung properly disclosed U.S. $6.4 million in payments he received from an Australian company that does business with the city. Li resigned following the demotion. Her sudden departure reportedly led one of her top investigators to resign in protest, and ICAC employees collectively refused to attend the annual staff dinner in protest and forced its cancellation. ICAC had not yet provided its perspective by year’s end.

In October the prosecution in an existing case charging former chief executive Donald Tsang with two counts of misconduct in public office in connection with a below-market lease and hiring of an architect for a luxury apartment in Shenzhen added an additional bribery charge related to the redecoration of the penthouse. Together, the charges carry a maximum HK$500,000 fine and seven years imprisonment. Tsang remained free on bail while the cases proceeded; his trial reopened in January 2017.

Financial Disclosure: The SAR requires the 27 most senior civil service officials to declare their financial investments annually and the approximately 3,100 senior working-level officials to do so biennially. Policy bureaus may impose additional reporting requirements for positions seen as having a greater risk of conflict of interest. The Civil Service Bureau monitors and verifies disclosures, which are available to the public. There are criminal and administrative sanctions for noncompliance.

Public Access to Information: There is no freedom of information law. An administrative code on access to information serves as the framework for the provision of information by government bureaus and departments and the ICAC.

Under the code authorities may refuse to disclose information if doing so would cause or risk causing harm or prejudice in several broad areas: national security and foreign affairs (which are reserved to the central government); immigration issues; judicial and law enforcement issues; direct risks to individuals; damage to the environment; improper gain or advantage; management of the economy; management and operation of the public service; internal discussion and advice; public employment and public appointments; research, statistics, and analysis; third-party information; business affairs; premature requests; and information on which legal restrictions apply. Political inconvenience or the potential for embarrassment were not justifiable bases for withholding information.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views. Prominent human rights activists critical of the central government also operated freely and maintained permanent resident status in the SAR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There is an Office of the Ombudsman and an Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). The government recruits commissioners to represent both offices through a professional search committee, which solicits applications and vets candidates. Commissioners were independent in their operations. Both organizations operated without interference from the government and published critical findings in their areas of responsibility. In January the EOC, under the supervision of Commissioner Dr. York Chow, published a list of 77 recommendations for how to update the SAR’s existing antidiscrimination legislation to better protect Hong Kong’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, improve access to public and commercial buildings for persons with disabilities, and other issues within the EOC’s responsibility. In March, Lingnan University professor Alfred Chan replaced Chow as EOC Commissioner; Chan continues to serve the EOC as an advocate for LGBTI rights, the ethnic minority community, and persons with disabilities.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and police enforced the law effectively. Activists voiced concerns that rape was underreported, especially within the ethnic minority community, but acknowledged the police responded appropriately in reported cases.

The government regarded domestic violence against women as a serious concern and took measures to prevent and prosecute offenses. The law allows victims to seek a three-month injunction, extendable to six months, against an abuser. Although the law does not criminalize domestic violence directly, abusers may be liable for criminal charges under other ordinances. The government effectively enforced the law and prosecuted violators, but sentences typically consisted only of injunctions or restraining orders.

The law covers molestation between married couples, homosexual and heterosexual cohabitants, former spouses or cohabitants, and immediate and extended family members. It protects victims under age 18, allowing them to apply for an injunction in their own right, with the assistance of an adult guardian, against molestation by their parents, siblings, and specified immediate and extended family members. The law also empowers the court to require that the abuser attend an antiviolence program. In cases in which the abuser caused bodily harm, the court may attach an authorization of arrest to an existing injunction and extend both injunctions and authorizations for arrest to two years.

The government maintained programs that provided intervention, counseling, and assistance to domestic violence victims and batterers. The government continued its public information campaign to strengthen families and to prevent violence.

Activists reported domestic violence was more prevalent against ethnic minority women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, and pregnancy. The law applies to both men and women, and police enforced the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.

Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal status and rights as men. The SAR’s sexual discrimination ordinance prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex or pregnancy status, and the government generally enforced this antidiscrimination law.

According to gender-rights activists and public policy analysts, while the law treats men and women equally in terms of property rights in divorce settlements and inheritance matters, women faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion.

The law authorizes the EOC to work towards the elimination of discrimination and harassment as well as to promote equal opportunity between men and women. A Women’s Commission served as an advisory body for policies related to women, and a number of NGOs were active in raising problems of societal attitudes and discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: All Chinese nationals born in the SAR, on the PRC mainland, or abroad to parents of whom at least one is a PRC-national Hong Kong permanent resident acquire both PRC citizenship and Hong Kong permanent residence, the latter allowing the right of abode in the SAR. Children born in the SAR to non-Chinese parents, at least one of whom is a Hong Kong permanent resident, acquire SAR permanent residence and qualify to apply for naturalization as PRC citizens. Registration of all such statuses was routine.

Child Abuse: The law mandates protection for victims of child abuse (battery, assault, neglect, abandonment, and sexual exploitation), and the government enforced the law. The law allows for the prosecution of certain sexual offenses, including against minors, committed outside the territory of the SAR.

The government provided parent-education programs through its maternal and child health centers, public education programs, clinical psychologists for its clinical psychology units, and social workers for its family and child protective services units. Police maintained a child abuse investigation unit and in collaboration with the Social Welfare Department ran a child witness support program. A law on child-care centers helped prevent unsuitable persons from providing childcare services.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 16, and parents’ written consent is required for marriage before the age of 21. There was no evidence of early or forced marriage in the SAR.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: There were reports of girls under the age of 18 from some countries in Asia being subjected to sex trafficking in the SAR.

The legal age of consent is 16. Under the law a person having “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a victim under 16 is subject to five years’ imprisonment, while having unlawful sexual intercourse with a victim under 13 carries a sentence of life imprisonment.

The law makes it an offense to possess, produce, copy, import, or export pornography involving a child under the age of 18 or to publish or cause to be published any advertisement that conveys or is likely to be understood as conveying the message that a person has published, publishes, or intends to publish any child pornography. Authorities generally enforced the law. The penalty for creation, publication, or advertisement of child pornography is eight years’ imprisonment, while possession carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community numbered 5,000 to 6,000 persons and reported few acts of anti-Semitism during the year. There were concerns within the Jewish community about some religious rhetoric heard from the otherwise moderate Muslim community.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, air travel and other transportation, and the provision of other state services, including access to the judicial system and the government generally enforced these provisions. The government generally implemented laws and programs to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to buildings, information, and communications, although there were reports of some restrictions.

The Disability Discrimination Ordinance states that children with special education needs must have equal opportunity in accessing education. It is against the law for a school to discriminate against a student with a disability. According to the government, students with significant or multiple disabilities are, with parental consent, placed in special segregated schools, while students with less significant disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools. There were occasional media reports about alleged abuses in education and mental health facilities; the most recent court case involving such abuses was in 2011.

The SAR implemented a range of legislative, administrative, and other measures to enhance the rights of persons with disabilities. Some human rights groups reported that the SAR’s Disability Discrimination Ordinance was too limited and did not oblige the government to promote equal opportunities.

The Social Welfare Department provided training and vocational rehabilitation services to assist persons with disabilities, offered subsidized resident-care services for persons considered unable to live independently and offered places for preschool services to children with disabilities, and provided community support services for persons with mental disabilities, their families, and other local residents.

Persons with disabilities filed legal cases indicating instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment, education, and the provision of some public services. The law calls for improved building access and sanctions against those who discriminate. Access to public buildings (including public schools) and transportation remained a serious problem for persons with disabilities.

Some persons with disabilities protested that the government discriminated against them with respect to social security assistance.

According to the EOC, the SAR lagged in providing equal opportunities for students with disabilities, despite having operated an integrated education policy since 1997.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although 94 percent ethnic Chinese, Hong Kong is a multi-ethnic society with persons from a number of ethnic groups recognized as permanent residents with full rights under the law. The law prohibits discrimination, and the EOC oversees implementation and enforcement of the law. The EOC maintained a hotline for inquiries and complaints concerning racial discrimination. The EOC’s code of practice (along with selected other EOC materials) was available in Hindi, Thai, Urdu, Nepali, Indonesian, and Tagalog, in addition to Chinese and English.

The government has a policy to integrate non-Chinese students into the SAR’s schools and provided a special grant for some schools to develop their own programs, share best practices with other schools, develop supplementary curriculum materials, and set up Chinese-language support centers to provide after-school programs. Activists and scholars noted that programs encouraging predominantly Chinese schools to welcome minority students backfired, turning certain schools into “segregated institutions.” These schools reportedly did not teach Chinese to the non-ethnic Chinese students. Students who did not learn Chinese had significant difficulty entering university and the labor market, according to government and NGO reports.

Activists continued to express concern that there was no formal government-sponsored course to prepare students for the General Certificate for Secondary Education examination in Chinese, a passing grade from which is required for most civil service employment. The government provided funds to subsidize the cost of these examinations. The government began accepting alternate credentials for Hong Kong students to enter the SAR’s universities, though scholars assessed ethnic minority students faced a tough choice between either preparing for the General Certificate examination, which would enable entry into many civil service jobs, or preparing for alternate tests, which might enable entry into the SAR’s universities.

Activists and the government disputed whether new immigrants from the mainland should be considered as a population of concern under antidiscrimination laws. While concerns were raised that new immigrants do not qualify to receive social welfare benefits until they have resided in the SAR for seven years, the courts upheld this legal standard. Such immigrants could apply on a case-specific basis for assistance.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. While the SAR has laws that ban discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, and family status, no law prohibits companies or individuals from discriminating on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; there are also no laws that specifically aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community.

The government claimed public education and existing civil and criminal laws were sufficient to protect the rights of the LGBTI community and that legislation was not necessary. A small community of religious organizations continued to lobby the government and campaign actively to prevent the SAR’s recognition of same-sex marriage. LGBTI professionals are permitted to bring foreign partners to the SAR only on a “prolonged visitor visa.” Successful applicants, however, cannot work, obtain an identification card, or qualify for permanent residency.

LGBTI persons were able to arrange large scale activities, including pride marches and other community events.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions without previous authorization or excessive requirements and to conduct legal strikes, but it does not protect the right to collective bargaining or obligate employers to bargain. Trade unions claimed the law allows employers simply to refuse to bargain. The law explicitly prohibits civil servants from bargaining collectively; the International Labor Organization (ILO) advised this restriction was too broad and not in line with international standards.

Trade unions must register with the government’s Registry of Trade Unions and must have a minimum membership of seven persons for registration. Workers were not prevented from unionizing, but only Hong Kong residents could join unions or serve as union officers. The law allows the use of union funds for political purposes, provided a union has the authorization of the majority of its voting members at a general meeting.

The law provides for the right to strike, although there are some restrictions on this right for civil servants. The Commissioner of police has broad authority to control and direct public gatherings in the interest of national security or public safety. According to the Employment Ordinance, an employer cannot fire, penalize, or discriminate against an employee who exercises his or her union rights and cannot prevent or deter the employee from exercising such rights. Under the Employment Ordinance, an employee unreasonably and unlawfully dismissed (including on the grounds of the employee exercising trade union rights) is entitled to reinstatement or reengagement, subject to mutual consent of the employer and the employee, or compensation up to a maximum of HK$150,000 ($19,300) for unreasonable and unlawful dismissal.

Penalties for violations of laws providing for freedom of association and collective bargaining laws included fines payable to the government as well as legal damages paid to workers and were sufficient to deter violations. Under the Employment Ordinance, employers who violated antiunion laws were liable to a fine of HK$100,000 ($13,000). Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays.

The government effectively enforced the law. The Workplace Consultation Promotion Division in the Labor Department facilitated communication, consultation, and voluntary negotiation between employers and employees. Tripartite committees for each of the nine sectors of the economy included representatives from some trade unions, employers, and the Labor Department. During a labor dispute, the Labor Relations Division of the Labor Department facilitates conciliation so that the dispute can be settled with minimum friction and disruption.

Worker organizations were independent of the government and political parties. Prodemocracy labor activists alleged, however, that only progovernment unions were able to participate substantively in the tripartite process, while the prodemocracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions was consistently excluded. Trade Unions are prohibited from using funds for “political purposes.”

Although there is no legislative prohibition against strikes and the right and freedom to strike are enshrined in the Basic Law, most workers had to sign employment contracts that typically stated walking off the job was a breach of contract and could lead to summary dismissal, though there were no incidents in 2016 that tested this legal contradiction. Various sections of the Employment Ordinance prohibit firing an employee for striking and void any section of an employment contract that would punish a worker for striking. As in past years, approximately 5,000 participated in the annual May 1 Labor Day march calling for standard working hours and a universal pension program. According to the government, there were no reports that employers fired workers for participating in a strike last year. The government reported that as of September last year, two strikes involving 106 workers had occurred. Activists claimed more strikes took place but that the government did not want to tarnish the SAR’s business-friendly image by acknowledging them.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law does not prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, nor do laws specifically criminalize forced labor. Hong Kong does not have a specific law explicitly banning labor trafficking. Instead, the SAR uses its Employment and Theft Ordinances to prosecute labor violations and related offenses.

NGOs voiced concerns some migrant workers faced high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the recruitment process, creating a risk they could fall victim to debt bondage. The SAR allows for the collection of placement fees up to 10 percent of the first month’s wages, but some recruitment firms required large up-front fees in the country of origin that workers struggled to repay even after arriving and working in Hong Kong for some time. Some locally licensed employment agencies were suspected of colluding with agencies in the Philippines and Indonesia to profit from a debt scheme, and some local agencies illegally confiscated the passports, employment contracts, and automatic teller machine cards of domestic workers and withheld them until their debt had been repaid. The government conveyed its concerns about these cases to a number of foreign missions.

There also were reports that some employers illegally forbade domestic workers from leaving the residence of work for non-work-related reasons, effectively preventing them from reporting exploitation to authorities. SAR authorities claimed they encouraged aggrieved workers to lodge complaints and make use of government conciliation services, as well as actively pursued reports of any labor violations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Regulations prohibit employment of children under age 15 in any industrial establishment. Other regulations limit work hours in the manufacturing sector for persons ages 15-17 to eight hours per day and 48 hours per week between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The law prohibits overtime in industrial establishments with employment in dangerous trades for persons under the age of 18.

Children aged 13-14 may work in certain nonindustrial establishments, subject to conditions aimed at ensuring a minimum of nine years of education and protection of their safety, health, and welfare.

The Labor Department effectively enforced these laws and regularly inspected workplaces to enforce compliance with the regulations. Penalties for violations of child labor laws include fines and legal damages up to HK$50,000 ($6,500) and were sufficient to deter violations. In the first eight months of the year, the Labor Department detected no violations of child labor regulations.

There were some reports that girls from some countries in Asia were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law and regulations prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnicity, disability, family status (marital status and/or pregnancy), or sex. The law stipulates employers must prove that proficiency in a particular language is a justifiable job requirement if they reject a candidate on these grounds. Regulations do not prohibit employment discrimination on the grounds of color, religion, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status.

The government generally enforced these laws and regulations. In cases in which employment discrimination occurred, the SAR’s courts had broad powers to levy penalties on those who violated these laws and regulations. Penalties included ordering reinstatement of employees as well as the awarding of damages for loss or emotional damages. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

Women reported they faced discrimination in employment, salary, welfare, inheritance, and promotion, and some victims filed lawsuits on these grounds. NGOs assessed gender discrimination was more widespread, but many women preferred not to file discrimination cases. Women reportedly formed the majority of the working poor and those who fell outside the protection of labor laws. Instances of discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted in employment and access. The government estimated approximately 81,000 persons with disabilities were economically active throughout the SAR, of whom 76,200 were employed. LGBTI persons reported discrimination in finding and keeping employment if they disclosed their sexual orientation or sexual identity.

Human rights activists and local scholars continued to raise concerns about job prospects for minority students, who are more likely to hold low-paying, low-skilled jobs and earn below-average wages. Academics assessed the lack of Chinese language skills were the greatest barriers to employment. Minority group leaders and activists reported government requirements for all job applicants to speak Chinese kept nonnative Chinese speakers out of civil service and law enforcement positions. The police force reportedly employed 100 non-ethnic-Chinese constables as of the beginning of the year.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The statutory minimum hourly wage was readjusted last year to HK$32.50 ($4.18). On October 1, the SAR increased domestic workers’ minimum monthly wage from HK$4,210 ($542) to HK$4,310 ($555) and increased their minimum monthly food allowance from HK$995 ($128) to HK$1,037 ($134).

The official poverty line was half of the median monthly household income before tax and welfare transfers, based on household size. For a one-person household, the poverty line was set at HK$3,600 ($463), for a two-person household HK$7,700 ($990), for a three-person household HK$11,500 ($1,480), and so on. According to this definition, more than 1.3 million persons (in a population of approximately 7.2 million) were living in poverty.

There is no law concerning working hours, paid weekly rest, rest breaks, or compulsory overtime for most employees. For certain groups and occupations, such as security guards and certain categories of drivers, there are regulations and guidelines on working hours and rest breaks. The law stipulates that employees are entitled to 12 days of statutory holidays and employers must not make payment in lieu of granting holidays. Local union groups and the government continued to debate standard working hours legislation, differing in whether the weekly standard should be set at 40, 44, or 48 hours. In the absence of such legislation, labor rights groups reported most Hong Kong residents work approximately 56 hours a week.

The government’s Standard Employment Contract requires employers to provide foreign domestic workers with housing, worker’s compensation insurance, travel allowances, and food or a food allowance in addition to the monthly minimum wage of approximately U.S. $542, which together provided a decent standard of living. In its explanation of why live-in domestic workers (both local and foreign) would not be covered by the statutory minimum wage, the government explained “the distinctive working pattern–round-the-clock presence, provision of service-on-demand, and the multifarious domestic duties expected of live-in domestic workers–made it impossible to ascertain the actual hours worked so as to determine the wages to be paid.”

Foreign domestic workers could be deported if dismissed. After leaving one employer, workers have two weeks to secure new employment before they must leave the SAR. Activists contended this restriction left workers vulnerable to abuse by employers. Workers who pursued complaints through legal channels could be granted leave to remain in the SAR but could not work, leaving them either to live from savings or depend on charitable assistance. The government contended the “two-week rule” was necessary to maintain effective immigration control and prevent migrant workers from overstaying and taking unauthorized work.

The government enforced the law. The Labor Tribunal received employment cases and convicted employers in disputes involving foreign domestic workers, most of which the government said were related to nonpayment or underpayment of wages and wrongful dismissal. Domestic workers could also be subject to physical and verbal abuse, poor living and working conditions, and limitations on freedom of movement.

In late December a High Court judge ruled that the government failed to protect adequately the human rights and safety of a Pakistani man trafficked to Hong Kong and forced into unpaid labor for several years. At year’s end, the government had not indicated if it planned to file an appeal of the case. The government stated the rules on labor protections and time off cover local and migrant workers.

Laws exist to provide for health and safety of workers in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. No laws restrict work during typhoon or rainstorm warnings. The Labor Department issued a “code of practice” on work arrangements in times of severe weather, which includes a recommendation that employers require only essential staff to come to work during certain categories of typhoon or rainstorm warnings. Both progovernment and pandemocratic unions called for a review of protections for workers during inclement weather, including legal protections.

Data on the number of labor inspectors working for the Department of Labor during the year were unavailable. Penalties for violations of minimum wage or occupational safety and health violations included fines, payments of damages, and worker’s compensation payments. These penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The Occupational Safety and Health Branch of the Labor Department is responsible for safety and health promotion, enforcement of safety management legislation, and policy formulation and implementation; it enforced occupational safety and health laws effectively.

Employers and employer associations often set wages. Additionally, some activists claimed that employers used employment contracts that defined workers as “self-employed” to avoid employer-provided benefits, such as paid leave, sick leave, medical insurance, workers’ compensation, or Mandatory Provident Fund payments. According to the Labor Department, there were cases in which employers faced heavy court fines for such behavior. The department held that it was seeking to promote public awareness, consultation, conciliation services, and tougher enforcement to safeguard employees’ rights.

According to the General Household Survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department during last year, approximately 17 percent of employees worked 60 hours or more per week. In the first quarter of last year, the Labor Department recorded 7,786 occupational injuries, including 2,404 classified as industrial accidents, most of which occurred in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors. In the same period, there were five fatal industrial accidents. Employers are required to report any injuries sustained by their employees in work-related accidents. Labor activists continued to raise concerns about fatal industrial accidents, which primarily occurred in construction and infrastructure industries.

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG (ABOVE) | MACAU

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU (BELOW)


Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and enjoys a high degree of autonomy, except in defense and foreign affairs, under the SAR’s constitution (the Basic Law). A 400-member Election Committee reelected Chief Executive, Fernando Chui Sai-On, in 2014.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Prominent human rights problems reported during the year were limits on citizens’ ability to change their government, constraints on press and academic freedom, and concerns regarding extradition of criminals to jurisdictions with harsher criminal punishments.

Trafficking in persons remained a problem, although authorities were building capacity to pursue trafficking cases. While there were continuing concerns that national security legislation passed in accordance with article 23 of the Basic Law in 2009 could compromise various civil liberties, from July 2015-June, the Macao SAR Government filed no cases against individuals or organizations in relation to this article.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers.

Physical Conditions: The Macau Prison, the SAR’s only prison, has a maximum capacity of 1,565 persons, and the occupancy rate as of June was approximately 84 percent of capacity. As of June there were 1,317 inmates who were 16 years old (the age of criminal responsibility) and older; of these 1,116 were men and 201 were women. Offenders between the ages of 12 and 16 years old were subject to an “education regime” that, depending on the offense, could include incarceration. Between July 2015 and June, authorities held 16 juveniles at the Youth Correctional Institution, 15 male and one female.

Administration: The government’s recordkeeping procedures were adequate. The government continued to use alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. Ombudsmen were able to serve prisoners and detainees. Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors. Inmates are eligible for a weekly one-hour visit, with video visits arranged when necessary. Inmates with children may apply for weekend visits in a designated family room. Authorities permitted religious observance, including organized activities held within the prison. The law allows prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of alleged deficiencies, and judges and prosecutors made monthly visits to prisons to hear prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: According to the government, no independent human rights observers requested or made any visit to the Macau Prison. Judges and prosecutors visited the prison at least monthly.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions. Activists expressed concern that the Macau Government abused prosecutorial procedures to target political dissidents, while police said they charged those they arrested with violations of the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Public Security Police (general law enforcement) and the Judiciary Police (criminal investigations), and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish official abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities detained persons openly with warrants issued by a duly authorized official based on sufficient evidence. Detainees had access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the government. Detainees had prompt access to family members. Police must present persons in custody to an examining judge within 48 hours of detention. Detainees were promptly informed of charges against them. The examining judge, who conducts a pretrial inquiry in criminal cases, has wide powers to collect evidence, order or dismiss indictments, and determine whether to release detained persons. According to the government, courts should try defendants within the “shortest period of time.” Investigations by the prosecuting attorney should end with charges or dismissal within eight months, or six months when the defendant is in detention. The pretrial inquiry stage must conclude within four months, or two months if the defendant is detained. By law the maximum limits for pretrial detention range from six months to three years, depending on the charges and progress of the judicial process; there were no reported cases of lengthy pretrial detentions. There is a functioning bail system; however, judges often refused bail in cases where sentences could exceed three years.

From June 2015-July, there were five complaints of police mistreatment reported to the Commission for Disciplinary Control of the Security Forces and Services of the Macao SAR and two complaints lodged with the Commission Against Corruption. All complaints were dismissed for lack of evidence. Authorities reported there was one case of death while in police custody during the second half of 2015. According to police the case concerned a Filipino man who was brought to a police station after illegally consuming narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Police said during their investigation, the man reported feeling ill, and police accompanied him to Conde S. Januario Hospital for treatment where he died of suspected myocardial infarction despite efforts to resuscitate him.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

Macau’s unique, civil-code law judicial system, which is derived from the judicial framework of the Portuguese legal system, operates within the PRC. The courts may rule on matters that are the responsibility of the PRC government or concern the relationship between central authorities and the SAR, but before making their final judgment, which is not subject to appeal, the courts must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). Macau’s Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPCSC’s interpretations when cases intersect with central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected, and when the Standing Committee makes an interpretation of the provisions concerned, the courts, in applying those provisions, “shall follow the interpretation of the Standing Committee.” As the final interpreter of the Basic Law, the NPCSC also has the power to initiate interpretations of the Basic Law.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A case may be presided over by one judge or a group of judges, depending on the type of crime and the maximum penalty involved.

Under the law defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases, and have a right to appeal. The law provides that trials be public except when the court rules otherwise to “safeguard the dignity of persons, public morality, or to provide for the normal functioning of the court.” Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation), be present at their trials, confront witnesses, have adequate time to prepare a defense, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The government provides public attorneys for those financially incapable of engaging lawyers or paying expenses of proceedings. The law extends these rights to all residents.

The judiciary provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. Under the provisions of the civil procedural law, courts schedule hearings in civil cases after a series of procedural acts have been met to provide for the parties’ rights at different stages of the judicial process. According to the government, as of June 30, the longest average waiting time for civil cases to be heard by a collegial panel of the Court of First Instance was 86 working days, while the average waiting time for cases to be heard officially by a sole judge was 29 working days. The average waiting time for criminal cases was less than one year, 84 working days involving someone on remand, and 210 working days in cases without remand. The average waiting time for cases to be heard by a sole judge was 56 working days. Activists said a lack of administrative capacity delayed the adjudication of both civil and criminal cases during the year.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, and citizens have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Due to an overloaded court system, a period of up to a year often passed between the filing of a civil case and its scheduled hearing.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. The Office for Personal Data Protection acknowledged a continuing increase in complaints and inquiries regarding data protection.

Activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. In cases where authorities tried to restrict access to public venues for demonstrations or other public events, the courts generally ruled in favor of the applicants. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests. Activists also stated authorities gave orders to demonstrators verbally rather than through written communication, which made it difficult to challenge their decisions in court. Activists reported the use of internal circulars and “rumors” threatening civil servants not to join politically sensitive events and demonstrations.

Further, activists alleged the Macau High Court had begun to adjudicate against defendants in freedom of assembly cases. In March, Macau police shrank the area requested by an antigovernment political organization to host an assembly in the Senado Square. The court upheld the restriction and dismissed the applicant’s citation of law that “any restriction on the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly must conform to the strict tests of necessity and proportionality.” In June approximately 400 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 27th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature. The SAR registered 570 new organizations from July 2015 to June.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. The Immigration Department cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Internal Security Law grants police the authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, as a threat to internal security and stability, or as possibly implicated in transnational crimes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status under the UN Convention Against Torture, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents. The head of the SAR’s Refugee Commission made clear that resource shortages and other priorities meant resolution of the cases would likely take several years.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law limits citizens’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections, and citizens did not have universal suffrage. Only a small fraction of citizens played a role in the selection of the Chief Executive, who was chosen in August 2014 by a 400-member Election Committee consisting of 344 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which themselves have a limited franchise) and 56 members chosen from among the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 a 400-member selection committee reelected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On. Chui ran unopposed and won 97 percent of the vote. The most recent general election for the 14 directly elected seats in the 33-member Legislative Assembly occurred in 2013. A total of 145 candidates on 20 electoral lists competed for the seats. The election for these seats was generally free and fair.

There are limits on the types of bills legislators may introduce. The law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR’s political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation related to government policies must receive the chief executive’s written approval before it is introduced. The Legislative Assembly also has no power of confirmation over executive or judicial appointments.

A 10-member Executive Council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly. The Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive appoint members of the Executive Council from among the principal officials of the executive authorities, members of the legislature, and public figures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SAR has no laws on political parties. Politically active groups registered as societies or limited liability companies were active in promoting their political agendas. Those critical of the government generally did not face restrictions. Such groups participated in protests over government policies or proposed legislation without restriction.

Participation of Women and Minorities: There were no laws or practices preventing women or members of minorities from voting, running for office, serving as election monitors, or otherwise participating in political life on the same basis as men or nonminority citizens, and women and minorities did so. According to the Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau, as of June, there were 12,619 women working for the Macao SAR Government, 389 at the judicial organs and 60 at the Legislative Assembly. Women also held a number of senior positions throughout the government, including the secretary for justice and administration, the second-highest official in the SAR government. The Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau stated women were 43 percent of the SAR government, 56 percent of the judiciary, and 48 percent of the senior staff of the Legislative Assembly. One Executive Council member was from an ethnic minority, as was the police commissioner general. As of June, 38 female judges worked in the judiciary.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and there were few reported cases of officials engaging in corrupt acts.

Corruption: The government’s Commission Against Corruption (CAC) investigated the public and private sectors and had the power to arrest and detain suspects. The Ombudsman Bureau within the CAC reviewed complaints of mismanagement or abuse by the CAC. There was also an independent committee outside the CAC entitled the Monitoring Committee on Discipline of CAC Personnel, which accepted and reviewed complaints about CAC personnel. According to Macau government statistics, in the second half of 2015 there were two complaints lodged at the CAC; however, no illegality was found. No complaints were lodged in the first half of the year.

Financial Disclosure: By law the chief executive, cabinet, judges, members of the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council, and executive agency directors must disclose their financial interests upon appointment, promotion, retirement, and at five-year intervals while in the same position. The information is available to the public on the website of the Macau Courts. The law states that if the information contained in the declaration is intentionally incorrect, the declarant shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, the amount of which shall not be less than 6 months of the remuneration of the position held. Additionally the declarant may be prohibited from being appointed to public office or performing public duties for up to 10 years.

Public Access to Information: The law does not provide for public access to government information. Nevertheless, the executive branch published online, in both Portuguese and Chinese, extensive information on laws, regulations, ordinances, government policies and procedures, and biographies of principal government officials. The government also issued a daily press release on topics of public concern. The information provided by the legislature was less extensive.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Domestic and international groups monitoring human rights generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government effectively enforced the law. From July 2015-June, police received 25 complaints of rape and made 17 arrests.

In May, Macau’s Legislative Assembly adopted the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence, but same-sex couples are not under its purview. Under the new law, a victim can decide whether to pursue charges if the consequences of the violence are “mild.” The new law provides avenues for victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous environments as soon as possible and provides them with social services. Under the new law, the Social Welfare Bureau (SWB) is responsible for coordinating the application of protective and assistance measures to victims, such as temporary shelters, access to legal aid, financial assistance, health care, individual and family counseling, and assistance in access to education or employment. The law stipulates that a judge may order urgent coercive measures imposed upon the defendant individually or cumulatively, which can include: removing the offender from the victim’s family residence; forbidding the offender to contact, harass, or pursue the victim; barring the offender from owning weapons, objects, or tools that can be used for perpetrating acts of domestic violence; or other measures aimed at preventing the reoccurrence of domestic violence. According to the government, the application of these measures does not preclude the possibility of prosecuting the perpetrators for criminal responsibilities as stipulated in the criminal code. From June 2015- July, police received 322 reports of domestic violence. Various NGOs and government officials considered domestic violence against women to be a growing problem.

The government made referrals for victims to receive medical treatment, and medical social workers counseled victims and informed them of social welfare services. During the first half of the year, the SWB handled 90 domestic violence cases. The government funded NGOs to provide victim support services, including medical services, family counseling, and housing, until their complaints were resolved. The government also supported two 24-hour hotlines, one for counseling and the other for reporting domestic violence cases.

NGOs and religious groups sponsored programs for victims of domestic violence, and the government supported and helped fund these organizations and programs. The Bureau for Family Action, a government organization subordinate to the Department of Family and Community of the SWB, helped female victims of domestic violence by providing a safe place for them and their children and by providing advice regarding legal actions against perpetrators. A range of counseling services was available to persons who requested them at social service centers. Two government-supported religious programs also offered rehabilitation programs for female victims of violence.

Sexual Harassment: There is no law specifically addressing sexual harassment, unless it involves the use of a position of authority to coerce the performance of physical acts. Harassment in general is prohibited under laws governing equal opportunity, employment and labor rights, and labor relations. From July 2015- June, authorities received 13 complaints of sexual coercion and made 13 arrests.

Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children and the right to both fertility and contraceptive treatment, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Access to information on family planning, contraception, and prenatal care was widely available, as was skilled attendance at delivery and postpartum care.

Discrimination: Equal opportunity legislation mandates that women receive equal pay for equal work. Discrimination in hiring practices based on gender or physical ability is prohibited by law, and penalties exist for employers who violate these guidelines. The law allows for civil suits, but few women took cases to the Labor Affairs Bureau (LAB) or other entities. Gender differences in occupation existed, with women concentrated in lower-paid sectors and lower-level jobs. Observers estimated there was a significant difference in salaries between men and women, particularly in unskilled jobs. The CAC received no complaints of gender discrimination during the first six months of the year.

Children

Birth Registration: According to the Basic Law, children of Chinese national residents of Macau who were born in or outside the SAR and children born to non-Chinese national permanent residents inside the SAR are regarded as permanent residents. There is no differentiation between these categories in terms of access to registration of birth. Most births were registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Four cases of child abuse were reported to the authorities from June 2015-July. The SAR’s Health Bureau handled 15 suspected child abuse cases during the year, all of which were transferred to appropriate governmental or nongovernmental institutions for follow up after hospitalization. In addition to providing measures to combat abuse, neglect, and violence against children by criminal law, the law establishes relief measures for children at risk. In this regard the SWB reported it handled 27 cases of abuse or neglect during the year.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age of marriage is 16 years old. Children between ages 16 and 18 years old who wish to marry must get approval from their parents or guardians.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law specifically provides for criminal punishment for sexual abuse of children and students, statutory rape, and procurement involving minors. The criminal code sets 14 years as the age of sexual consent and 16 years old as the age for participation in the legal sex trade. The law prohibits child pornography. From July 2015-June, there were nine reported cases of child sexual abuse and five reported cases of rape of a minor. Police arrested seven suspects in reported cases of child sexual abuse and three suspects in cases of rape of a minor. Police received eight complaints and arrested seven in cases of sex with a minor during the same period.

International Child Abductions: The SAR is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish population was extremely small. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services, and the government generally enforced these provisions. The law mandates access to buildings, public facilities, information, and communications for persons with disabilities. The government enforced the law effectively. The government provides a variety of services to persons with disabilities, including discounted fares on wheelchair-accessible public transportation. The SWB was primarily responsible for coordinating and funding public assistance programs to persons with disabilities. There was a governmental commission to rehabilitate persons with disabilities, with part of the commission’s scope of work addressing employment. There were no reports of children with disabilities encountering obstacles to attending school.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the government has made efforts to address the complaints of individuals of Portuguese descent and the Macanese (Macau’s Eurasian minority), members of these two groups continued to claim that they were not treated equally by the Chinese majority.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

There are no laws criminalizing sexual orientation or same-sex sexual contact and no prohibition against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) persons forming organizations or associations. There were no reports of violence against persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBTI groups openly held several public events, and one registered LGBTI group openly lobbied the government and international organizations for an extension of protections to same-sex couples in a draft law on domestic violence.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS and limits the number of required disclosures of an individual’s HIV status. Employees outside medical fields are not required to declare their status to employers. There were no reported incidents of violence or discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join unions or “labor associations” of their choice. The law does not provide that workers can collectively bargain, and, while workers have the right to strike, there is no specific protection in the law from retribution if workers exercise this right. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, stating employees or job seekers shall not be prejudiced, deprived of any rights, or exempted from any duties based on their membership in an association. The law does not require reinstatement of workers dismissed for union activity.

Workers in certain professions, such as the security forces, are forbidden to form unions, take part in protests, or to strike. Such groups had organizations that provided welfare and other services to members and could speak to the government on behalf of members. Vulnerable groups of workers, including domestic workers and migrant workers, could freely associate and form and join unions, as could public servants.

In order to register as an official union, the government requires an organization to provide the names and personal information of its leadership structure. There is no law specifically defining the status and function of labor unions, nor are employers compelled to negotiate with them. The law provides that agreements between employers and workers shall be valid, but there is no specific statutory provision giving workers, resident or foreign, the right to collective bargaining. The government asserted striking employees are protected from retaliation by provisions of the law requiring an employer to have justified cause to dismiss an employee.

The government generally enforced the relevant legislation. The law imposes penalties ranging from MOP 20,000 to 50,000 ($2,500 to $6,300) for antiunion discrimination. Observers noted this may not be sufficient to deter discriminatory activity.

Workers who believed they were dismissed unlawfully could bring a case to court or lodge a complaint with the LAB or the CAC, which also has an Ombudsman Bureau to handle complaints over administrative violations. The bureau makes recommendations to the relevant government departments after its investigation.

Even in the absence of formal collective bargaining rights, companies often negotiated with unions, although the government regularly acted as an intermediary. There were no indications that disputes or appeals were subjected to lengthy delays. Pro-PRC unions traditionally have not attempted to engage in collective bargaining. The Macau Federation of Trade Unions acts as an adviser and assistant to those filing complaints to the LAB, which is responsible for adjudicating labor disputes.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Penalties range from three to 12 years’ imprisonment with the minimum and maximum sentences increased by one-third if the victim is under the age of 14 years old. Observers noted these penalties generally were considered sufficient to deter the use of forced labor. The government has a special, interagency unit to fight human trafficking, the Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee. In addition to holding seminars to raise awareness about human trafficking, the committee operates two 24-hour telephone hotlines, one for reporting trafficking and another to assist trafficking victims.

There were reports forced labor occurred in conjunction with commercial sexual exploitation of migrant women.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

A chief executive order prohibits minors under the age of 16 years old from working, although minors between ages 14 and 16 years old may work in “exceptional circumstances” if they obtain a health certificate to prove they have the “necessary robust physique to engage in a professional activity.” Under the Labor Relations Law, “exceptional circumstances” are defined as: the minor (under the age of 16) has completed compulsory education and has the authorization of the Labor Affairs Bureau after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions; minors between 14 and 16 years of age may work for public or private entities during school summer holidays; minors of any age may be employed for cultural, artistic or advertising activities upon authorization of the Labor Affairs Bureau after hearing the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau’s opinions and when such employment does not adversely affect their school attendance. Local laws do not establish specific regulations governing the number of hours children under 16 can work. The law governing the number of working hours (eight hours a day, 40 hours a week) was equally applicable to adults and legal working minors, but the law prohibits minors from working overtime hours. According to the civil code, minors 16 years old can acquire full legal capacity by emancipation if they get married, so they can deal with their personal matters and dispose their properties by themselves.

Minors below 16 years old are forbidden from certain types of work, including but not limited to domestic work, employment between 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., and employment at places where admission of minors is forbidden, such as casinos. The government requires employers to conduct an assessment of the nature, extent, and duration of risk exposure at work before recruiting or employing a minor. These regulations are intended to protect children from physically hazardous work, including exposure to dangerous chemicals, and jobs deemed inappropriate due to the child’s age.

The LAB enforced the law through periodic and targeted inspections, and prosecuted violators. Regulations stipulate LAB inspectors shall be trained to look for child labor in order to carry out their responsibilities. Information on the penalties for violations was not available. Employers are obligated to provide professional training and working conditions appropriate to a minor’s age to prevent situations that undermine his/her education and could endanger health, safety, and physical and mental development.

Child labor occurred, with some children reportedly working in family-operated or small businesses, while others were subject to commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6, Children).

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The Basic Law and the Labor Relations Law provides that all residents shall be equal before the law and shall be free from discrimination, irrespective of their nationality descent, race, sex, language, religion, political persuasion or ideological belief, educational level, economic status, or social conditions. The Labor Relations Law expands on this list to include discrimination based on national or social origin, descent, race, color, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, language, religion, political or ideological beliefs, membership of associations, education, or economic background (see section 6, Women). The law also states that all residents have a right to privacy as it relates to access to and disclosure of information related to their family life, emotional and sexual life, state of health, and their political and religious convictions. Local law requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender. Between July 2015 and June, there were no cases of termination of employment due to HIV/AIDS infection.

There were no reports of the government failing to enforce the relevant laws but some discrimination occurred. For example, under the law migrant workers enjoy treatment equal to that of local workers, including the same rights, obligations, and remuneration. According to official statistics, at the end of July, there were 182,459 nonresident workers who accounted for approximately 28 percent of the population. They frequently complained of discrimination in the workplace. Most worked in the restaurant and hotel industry, but others are employed as domestic servants, in the hotel and hospitality industry, or in construction and retail trade.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Local labor laws establish the general principle of fair wages and mandate compliance with wage agreements. Effective January 1, the mandatory minimum wage for security guards and cleaners was raised to MOP 30 ($3.75). The SAR does not calculate an official poverty line, and its median monthly income is MOP 13,000 ($1,625). The law provides for a 48-hour workweek (many businesses operated on a 40-hour workweek), an eight-hour workday, paid overtime, annual leave, and medical and maternity care. The law provides for a 24-hour rest period each week. The law does not define “temporary contract” or “short-term contract.” It states only that a labor contract may be either for a defined term or of indefinite duration. All workers employed in the SAR, whether under a term contract or an indefinite contract, are entitled to such benefits as specified working hours, weekly leave, statutory holidays, annual leave, and sick leave. At the end of September, there were 10,822 part-time workers, accounting for 5.5 percent of total worker population. No data on the number temporary contract workers is available. The law does not apply to part-time workers and workers on temporary contracts.

The law includes a requirement that employers provide a safe working environment, and the LAB sets occupational safety and health standards. The law prohibits excessive overtime but permits legal overtime (up to eight hours, and irrespective of workers’ consent) in force majeure cases or as a response to external shocks, at the discretion of the employer.

All workers, including migrants, have access to the courts in cases in which an employee is unlawfully dismissed, an employer fails to pay compensation, or a worker believes his/her legitimate interests were violated. Employers can dismiss staff “without just cause” if they provide economic compensation indexed to an employee’s length of service.

The LAB provides assistance and legal advice to workers upon request, and cases of labor-related malpractices are referred to the LAB. From July 2015-June, the LAB provided assistance for 6,417 cases. Additionally, the LAB could charge the worker or union a fee to process such complaints.

The LAB enforced occupational safety and health regulations, and failure to correct infractions could lead to prosecution. There were approximately 140 labor inspectors in the country, which was adequate to enforce compliance; almost all inspectors held university degrees and most had more than five years’ experience. Health Bureau guidelines protect pregnant workers and those with heart and lung diseases from exposure to secondhand smoke by exempting them from work in smoking areas, such as casinos.

Local employers favored unwritten labor contracts of indefinite duration, except in the case of migrant workers, who were issued written contracts for specified terms. Labor groups reported employers increasingly used temporary contracts to circumvent obligations to pay for worker benefits such as pensions, sick leave, and paid holidays. The short-term nature of written contracts made it easier to dismiss workers through nonrenewal. The law provides for workers to remove themselves from hazardous conditions without jeopardy to their employment, but some workers reported being dismissed for refusing to work in unhealthy environments.

The SAR recorded 7,499 workplace accidents from July 2015-June. Authorities recorded 17 workplace fatalities, of which seven were judged to have possible links to the individuals’ preexisting health conditions. Most workplace injuries reported were minor, with one in seven injured workers returning to their duties the same day. Workplace injuries permanently incapacitated 22 persons.

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET | HONG KONG | MACAU (ABOVE)

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

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: CHINA | TIBET (BELOW) | HONG KONG | MACAU


The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures (TAPs) and counties in Sichuan, Qinghai, Yunnan, and Gansu Provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee oversees Tibet policies. As in other predominantly minority areas of the PRC, ethnic Chinese CCP members held the overwhelming majority of top party, government, police, and military positions in the TAR and other Tibetan areas. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member Political Bureau (Politburo) of the CCP Central Committee and its seven-member Standing Committee in Beijing, neither of which has any Tibetan members.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

The government’s respect for, and protection of, human rights in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained poor. Under the professed objectives of controlling border areas, maintaining social stability, combating separatism, and extracting natural resources, the government engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of the Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement. The government routinely vilified the Dalai Lama and blamed the “Dalai [Lama] clique” and “other outside forces” for instigating instability.

Other serious human rights abuses included extrajudicial detentions, disappearances, and torture. Many Tibetans and other observers believed that authorities systemically targeted Tibetans for political repression, economic marginalization, and cultural assimilation, as well as educational and employment discrimination. The presence of the paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) and other security forces remained at high levels in many communities on the Tibetan Plateau, particularly in the TAR. Repression was severe throughout the year but increased in the periods before and during politically and religiously sensitive anniversaries and events. Authorities detained individuals in Tibetan areas after they reportedly protested against government or business actions or expressed their support for the Dalai Lama.

The government strictly controlled information about, and access to, the TAR and some key Tibetan areas outside the TAR, making it difficult to determine fully the scope of human rights problems. The Chinese government severely restricted free travel by foreign journalists to Tibetan areas. In addition, the Chinese government harassed or detained Tibetans who spoke to foreign reporters, attempted to provide information to persons abroad, or communicated information regarding protests or other expressions of discontent through cell phones, e-mail, or the internet. The few visits to the TAR by diplomats and journalists that were allowed were tightly controlled by local authorities. Because of these restrictions, many of the incidents and cases mentioned in this report could not be verified independently.

Disciplinary procedures were opaque, and there was no publicly available information to indicate that security personnel or other authorities were punished for behavior defined under PRC laws and regulations as abuses of power and authority.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. There were no reports that officials investigated or punished those responsible for such killings.

In June Phayul.com reported that Yudruk Nyima, a villager from Derge (Chinese: Dege) County, Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham (Sichuan Province), was detained for reportedly “possessing a gun” and died in custody from injuries sustained through torture. According to local contacts, security forces in the local area raided many villages and monasteries and detained people to prevent them from celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in early July.

Tibetan exiles and other observers believed Chinese authorities released Tibetan political prisoners in poor health to avoid deaths in custody. Lobsang Yeshi, a former village leader, died in a Lhasa hospital after enduring torture, mistreatment, and negligence at the hands of prison authorities, according to a July report by the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Authorities detained Lobsang Yeshi in 2014 after he protested against mining operations near his hometown.

In March Chinese authorities abruptly released Jigme Gyatso, a monk of Labrang Monastery who was serving a five-year criminal sentence on separatism charges, and moved him to a hospital in Lanzhou. According to Radio Free Tibet eyewitness reports, the monk was extremely frail due to repeated instances of severe torture, beatings, and poor conditions in the detention facilities.

b. Disappearance

Authorities in Tibetan areas continued to detain Tibetans arbitrarily for indefinite periods.

On June 30, according to the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy, Yeshi Lhakdron, a nun from Dragkar Nunnery in Kardze (Chinese: Ganzi) TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham (Sichuan Province), who had been missing since her detention in 2008, reportedly died in police custody due to the effects of torture. Yeshi staged a peaceful protest in 2008 raising slogans such as “long live the Dalai Lama” and “freedom in Tibet.”

The whereabouts of the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-most prominent figure after the Dalai Lama, remained unknown. Neither he nor his parents have been seen since they were taken away by Chinese authorities in 1995 when he was only six years old.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Police and prison authorities employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. There were many reports during the year that Chinese officials severely beat, even to the point of death, some Tibetans who were incarcerated or otherwise in custody.

On April 1, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Tashi, a man from Chamdo TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham, now administered by the TAR, was detained for unknown reasons just days before the March 10 anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Sources reported that Tashi was driven to suicide due to being severely beaten and tortured while in detention.

On April 4, Phayul.com reported that Yeshi Dolma, a Tibetan political prisoner serving a 15-year sentence at the TAR’s Drapchi Prison, was transferred to a hospital in Lhasa for urgent treatment. Yeshi was unable to stand without assistance, and sources say her disability was caused by torture and a lack of proper health care in prison. Authorities prohibited Yeshi’s family and friends from meeting her at the hospital.

On May 13, Phayul.com reported that Lobsang Choedhar, a monk from Kirti Monastery in the Tibetan Region of Amdo located in Sichuan’s Ngaba TAP, was in critical condition after enduring torture in prison. He was serving a 13-year sentence for calling for the return of the Dalai Lama and release of the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima. According to local contacts, calls for the Chinese authorities to release him for medical treatment have been ignored.

In December Jigme Guri, a Tibetan political prisoner who had recently been released from prison, was admitted to a local government hospital in Sangchu County (Xiahe) in the Amdo Region of Tibet (Gansu Province). He had reportedly been subjected on four separate occasions to torture while in prison.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The number of prisoners in the TAR and Tibetan areas was unknown. There were reports of recently released prisoners permanently disabled or in extremely poor health because of the harsh treatment they endured in prison. Former prisoners reported being isolated in small cells for months at a time and deprived of sleep, sunlight, and adequate food. According to individuals who completed their prison terms during the year, prisoners rarely received medical care except in cases of serious illness. In April the TAR government stated that prisons in the region were tasked with re-educating prisoners who have endangered “state security” to strengthen the fight against separatism. There were many cases of detained and imprisoned persons being denied visitors. As elsewhere in the PRC, authorities did not permit independent monitoring of prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Arbitrary arrest and detention was a problem in Tibetan areas. Public security agencies are required by law to notify the relatives or employer of a detained person within 24 hours of the detention, but they often failed to do so when Tibetans and others were detained for political reasons. With a detention warrant, public security officers may legally detain persons throughout the PRC for up to 37 days without formally arresting or charging them. Following the 37-day period, public security officers must either formally arrest or release the detainee. Security officials frequently violated these requirements. It was unclear how many Tibetan detainees were held under forms of detention not subject to judicial review.

In May authorities in Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham (Sichuan Province), detained 23-year-old Jampa Gelek after removing him from his monastery. According to RFA, authorities gave no reason for his detention, and he remained incarcerated at year’s end.

In June authorities in Qinghai Province detained for a second time Choesang Gyatso, a monk from Lutsang monastery in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, just one day after authorities had freed him from a month of unexplained detention. Authorities provided no reason for the second detention, and he appeared to remain in detention at the end of the year. He started a civil organization to promote education among young Tibetan nomads and also edited a Tibetan cultural journal.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Legal safeguards for detained or imprisoned Tibetans were inadequate in both design and implementation. Prisoners in China have the right to request a meeting with a government-appointed attorney, but many Tibetan defendants, particularly political defendants, did not have access to legal representation. In cases that authorities claimed involved “endangering state security” or “separatism,” trials often were cursory and closed. Local sources noted that trials were predominantly conducted in Mandarin with government interpreters providing language services for Tibetan defendants who did not speak Mandarin. Court decisions, proclamations, and other judicial documents, however, were generally not published in Tibetan script.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

In its annual work report, the TAR High People’s Court stated it firmly fought against separatism and cracked down on the followers of “the 14th Dalai (Lama) clique,” by, among other things, sentencing those who instigated protests, promoted separatism, and supported “foreign hostile forces.”

According to a 2015 report in the government-controlled Tibet Daily, only 15 percent of the cadres (government and party officials) working for courts in the TAR had passed the National Legal Qualification Examination with a C grade certificate or higher. The report concluded that judges in the TAR were “strong politically, but weak professionally.” In its 2016 annual work report, the TAR High People’s Court stated that strengthening “political ideology” was the top priority of the court.

Security forces routinely subjected political prisoners and detainees known as “special criminal detainees” to “political re-education” sessions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

An unknown number of Tibetans were detained, arrested, and sentenced because of their political or religious activity. Authorities held many prisoners in extrajudicial detention centers and never allowed them to appear in public court.

Based on information available from the political prisoner database of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), as of August 1, 650 Tibetan political prisoners were known to be detained or imprisoned, most of them in Tibetan areas. Observers believed the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners and detainees to be much higher, but the lack of access to prisoners and prisons, as well as the dearth of reliable official statistics, made a precise determination difficult. An unknown number of persons continued to be held in detention centers rather than prisons. Of the 650 Tibetan political prisoners tracked by the CECC, 640 were detained in or after March 2008, and 10 were detained prior to March 2008. Of the 640 Tibetan political prisoners who were detained in or after March 2008, 276 were believed or presumed to be detained or imprisoned in Sichuan Province, 201 in the TAR, 95 in Qinghai Province, 67 in Gansu Province, and one in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. There were 156 persons serving known sentences, which ranged from two years to life imprisonment. The average sentence length was eight years and seven months. Of the 156 persons serving known sentences, 69 were monks, nuns, or Tibetan Buddhist reincarnate teachers.

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, an influential reincarnate lama and social activist, died in prison in 2015. Authorities immediately cremated the body without an autopsy or traditional religious funeral rites. According to local sources, the top priority for the followers of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was to seek to identify his reincarnation, but officials prohibited his monasteries from conducting the search.

TIBETAN SELF-IMMOLATIONS

Three Tibetans reportedly self-immolated during the year, including one Tibetan Buddhist monk and two laypersons, fewer than the seven self-immolations reported in 2015 and significantly fewer than the 83 self-immolations reported in 2012, bringing the total of self-immolations to at least 140 since 2009. Non-Chinese media reports stated that the declining number of reported self-immolations was due to tightened security by authorities and the collective punishment of self-immolators’ relatives and associates, as well as the Dalai Lama’s public plea to his followers to find other ways to protest against Chinese government repression. Chinese officials in some Tibetan areas withheld public benefits from the family members of self-immolators and ordered friends and monastic personnel to refrain from participating in religious burial rites or mourning activities for self-immolators. According to a RFA report, security officials detained, beat, and tortured the wife and two daughters of Tashi Rabtan after he self-immolated in Gansu Province in December.

Self-immolators reportedly viewed their acts as protests against the government’s political and religious oppression. The Chinese government implemented policies that punished friends, relatives, and associates of self-immolators. The Supreme People’s Court, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security’s joint 2012 Opinion on Handling Cases of Self-immolation in Tibetan Areas According to Law criminalize various activities associated with self-immolation, including “organizing, plotting, inciting, compelling, luring, instigating, or helping others to commit self-immolation,” each of which may be prosecuted as “intentional homicide.” In September, 10 public security officers reportedly raided the home of Sangdak Kyab in Sangchu County (Xiahe) in the Amdo Region of Tibet (Gansu Province) and detained him in connection with the role he allegedly played in 2013, transporting the remains of a self-immolator to his family’s home to prevent security agents from seizing the corpse.

On September 20, RFA reported that two monks of Labrang Monastery, Jinpa Gyatso and Kelsang Monlam, were sentenced to 18 months in prison in a secret trial by a court in Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo (Gansu Province) for involvement in a 2015 self-immolation of another monk. The monks were arrested in June for sharing information and pictures of the self-immolation. Their families were not informed of the charges or of the monks’ location after the arrests.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Since 2015 the TAR has strengthened the punishment of Communist Party members who follow the Dalai Lama, secretly harbor religious beliefs, make pilgrimages to India, or send their children to study with Tibetans in exile. Authorities continued to monitor private correspondence and search private homes and businesses for photographs of the Dalai Lama and other politically forbidden items. Police examined the cell phones of TAR residents to search for “reactionary music” from India and photographs of the Dalai Lama. Authorities also questioned and detained some individuals who disseminated writings and photographs over the internet.

On November 15, TAR CCP secretary Wu Yingjie outlined his plan to protect “social stability” that included a vow to “strictly implement a real-name user identification system for landline telephones, mobile phones, and the internet and continuously intensify the launching of attacks and specialized campaigns to counter and ferret out ‘Tibetan independence’ and promote the proliferation of party newspaper, journals, broadcasts, and television [programs] into every home in every village in order to completely stop infiltration by the hostile forces and the Dalai clique.”

On February 24, Phayul.com reported that Gomar Choephel, a Tibetan monk from Rongwo Monastery in the Tibetan Region of Amdo (Qinghai Province), was sentenced to two years in prison in January for possessing a photograph of the Dalai Lama and sharing it on social media.

On December 6, a court in the Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in the Tibetan Region of Amdo (Sichuan province) sentenced nine Tibetans to prison for terms ranging from five to 14 years for involvement in celebrations of the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday in 2015. Three of the nine, who were senior monks from Kirti Monastery, received the longest sentences of between 12 and 14 years each.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Even in areas officially designated as “autonomous,” Tibetans generally lacked the right to organize and play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment. Tibetans often faced intimidation and arrest if they protested against policies or practices they found objectionable. A 2015 RFA report stated that authorities in Rebkong County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered under Qinghai Province, circulated a list of unlawful activities. The list included “illegal associations formed in the name of the Tibetan language, the environment, and education.” Sources in the area reported that this list remained in force and no new associations have been formed since the list was published.

In February 2015 public security officials in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, detained a group of Tibetans who were peacefully protesting the government’s seizure of land in Zoige County in the Tibetan Region of Amdo, now administered by Sichuan, outside a meeting of the Sichuan Provincial People’s Congress. In April four of these Tibetans were sentenced to prison terms of two to three years.

On June 23, a protest by Tibetans on Qinghai Lake over the demolition of unregistered restaurants and guest houses was violently dispersed by security forces, leading to the arrest of five demonstrators and the injury of at least eight others. Authorities decreed that these small businesses were illegal and needed to be torn down and that residents should leave the area, which was a popular tourist location. Local Tibetans likened it to a “land grab” meant to benefit ethnic Chinese at their expense.

At the Sixth Tibet Work Forum in August 2015, the CCP ordered a large-scale campaign to expel students and demolish living quarters at Larung Gar, the world’s largest center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism. The expulsion and demolition campaign commenced in July. According to a local CCP directive, authorities must reduce the resident population to no more than 5,000 by September 2017. Before the campaign began, the population at Larung Gar was estimated to range between 10,000 and 30,000. In July authorities banned foreign tourists from visiting the area.

In August authorities in the Kardze TAP in the Tibetan Region of Kham reportedly prevented Tibetans from holding a religious gathering and traditional horse race festival after Dargye Monastery, the organizer of the events, and local residents refused a government order to fly the PRC national flag at the two events, at the monastery, and from residents’ homes.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

Chinese law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; however, the government severely restricted travel and freedom of movement for Tibetans, particularly Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.

In-country Movement: Freedom of movement for all Tibetans, but particularly for monks and nuns, remained severely restricted throughout the TAR, as well as in other Tibetan areas. The PAP and local public security bureaus set up roadblocks and checkpoints on major roads, in cities, and on the outskirts of cities and monasteries, particularly around sensitive dates. Tibetans traveling in monastic attire were subject to extra scrutiny by police at roadside checkpoints and at airports.

Authorities sometimes banned Tibetans, particularly monks and nuns, from going outside the TAR and from traveling to the TAR without first obtaining special permission from multiple government offices. Many Tibetans reported encountering difficulties in obtaining the required permissions. This not only made it difficult for Tibetans to make pilgrimages to sacred religious sites in the TAR, but also obstructed land-based travel to India through Nepal. Tibetans from outside the TAR who traveled to Lhasa also reported that authorities there required them to surrender their national identification cards and notify authorities of their plans in detail on a daily basis. These requirements were not applied to ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR.

Even outside the TAR, many Tibetan monks and nuns reported that it remained difficult to travel beyond their home monasteries for religious and traditional Tibetan education, with officials frequently denying permission for visiting monks to stay at a monastery for religious education. Implementation of this restriction was especially rigorous in the TAR, and it undermined the traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice of seeking advanced teachings from a select number of senior teachers based at major monasteries scattered across the Tibetan Plateau.

Foreign Travel: Many Tibetans continued to report difficulties in obtaining new or renewing existing passports. Sources reported that Tibetans and other minorities had to provide far more extensive documentation than other Chinese citizens when applying for a Chinese passport. In the TAR, a scholar needs to get about seven stamps with signatures from various government offices to apply for a passport, in addition to other standard required documentation. For Tibetans, the passport application process could take years and frequently ended in rejection. Some Tibetans reported they were able to obtain passports only after paying substantial bribes. Tibetans continued to encounter substantial difficulties and obstacles in traveling to India for religious, educational, and other purposes. Individuals also reported instances of local authorities revoking their passports after they had returned to China.

In November Chinese officials in the Tibetan Regions of Kham and Amdo under the administration of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu Provinces visited the homes of Tibetan passport holders and confiscated their documents, according to an RFA report. Officials claimed the passports were collected in order to affix new seals on them, but Tibetans suspected the timing was intended to make it impossible for them to attend an important religious ceremony known as the Kalachakra, which the Dalai Lama planned to conduct in India in January 2017. Additional reports in December indicated that travel agencies in China were told explicitly by local authorities to cancel trips to India and Nepal during this same period. The apparent travel ban also reportedly extended to ethnic Chinese travelers. Tibetans who had traveled to Nepal and planned to continue on to India reported that Chinese officials visited their homes in Tibet and threatened their relatives if they did not return immediately. Sources reported that explicit punishments included placing family members on a blacklist, which could lead to the loss of a government job or difficulty in finding employment; expulsion of children from the public education system; and revocation of national identification cards, thereby preventing access to other social services, such as health care and government aid.

Tight border controls sharply limited the number of persons crossing the border into Nepal and India. In 2015, 89 Tibetan refugees transited Nepal through the Tibetan Reception Center, run by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kathmandu, en route to permanent settlement in India. This compared with 80 in 2014, down from 171 in 2013 and 242 in 2012.

The government restricted the movement of Tibetans in the period before and during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. In February there were reports that travel agents in Chengdu were forbidden to sell package overseas tours to Tibetans for the months of March and July, the periods of time around Tibet Uprising Day (March 10) and the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 6).

The government regulated travel by foreigners to the TAR, a restriction not applied to any other provincial-level entity in the PRC. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors had to first obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the TAR government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In the TAR, a government-designated tour guide had to accompany foreign tourists at all times. It was rare for foreigners to obtain permission to enter the TAR by road. In what has become an annual practice, authorities banned many foreign tourists from the TAR in the period before and during the March anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. Foreign tourists sometimes also faced restrictions traveling to Tibetan areas outside the TAR.

The decline in the number of foreign tourists to the TAR was more than offset by an increase in domestic ethnic Chinese visitors to the TAR. Unlike foreign tourists, Chinese tourists did not need special permits to visit the TAR.

Officials continued to tightly restrict the access of foreign diplomats and journalists to the TAR. Foreign officials were able to travel to the TAR only with the permission of the TAR Foreign Affairs Office, and even then only on closely chaperoned trips arranged by that office. With the exception of a few highly controlled trips, authorities repeatedly denied requests for international journalists to visit the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see section on Freedom of Speech and Press).

In September The Washington Post reported that “the Tibet Autonomous Region, as China calls central Tibet, is harder to visit as a journalist than North Korea. There were only a handful of government tours organized for journalists in the past decade, all closely controlled.”

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

According to the law, Tibetans and other Chinese citizens have the right to vote in some local elections. In practice the Chinese government severely restricted its citizens’ ability to participate in any meaningful elections.

In 2015 RFA reported that security forces in Kyangchu Village in Qinghai Province detained nearly 70 Tibetans who had protested against local officials’ insistence that villagers vote for the local government’s preferred candidate in a village election. Sources reported that those detainees were subsequently released, but they were prohibited from voting in village elections.

Since 2015 the TAR and many Tibetan areas have reinforced implementation of the Regulation for Village Committee Management, which stipulates that the primary condition for participating in any local election is the “willingness to resolutely fight against separatism;” in some cases, this condition is interpreted to require candidates to denounce the Dalai Lama. Many villagers in Tibetan areas of Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces expressed frustration that the best candidates for village heads were unwilling to run under those conditions. According to many scholars, the regulation led to high turnover during the year: As a result, 90 percent of TAR township and village-level leaders as well as delegates to the local People’s Congress, were new; the same was true for 70 percent of those in Qinghai Province.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corrupt acts by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively in Tibetan areas, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption in Tibetan areas during the year.

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

Czech Republic is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Legislative authority is vested in a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Poslanecka snemovna) and the senate (Senat). The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister from the majority party or coalition. In 2013 voters elected Milos Zeman to a five-year term as president in the country’s first direct presidential election. On October 7 and 8, the country held senate and regional elections. Observers considered the elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Societal discrimination against the Romani population in education, housing, and employment remained a serious problem. With the continuing influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from mostly Muslim countries, including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, and domestic political opposition to resettlement of those refugees in the country, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment continued during the year. There were no reports of egregious human rights abuses.

Other human rights problems included prison overcrowding; police corruption; inflammatory speech by politicians and public figures; long detention of migrants and asylum seekers; violence against women; sexual and other abuse of children; anti-Semitism; trafficking in persons; discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS; and exploitation of migrant workers.

The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses in the security services and elsewhere in the government.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

High prison populations and overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions in some prisons, cases of mistreatment of inmates, and generally unsatisfactory conditions for inmates with physical or mental disabilities remained the main concerns during the year.

The situation in migrant detention facilities improved significantly during the year as the number of migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia entering the country dramatically decreased. Children stayed with their families in one detention facility for irregular migrants but were able to leave the facility accompanied by staff.

Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding was a problem. While an amnesty in 2013 temporarily relieved overcrowding, it did not improve services to prisoners, since the government cut prison staff proportionally. Facilities for prisoners serving their sentences were at almost 107 percent of capacity in the first seven months of the year.

There were 20 deaths in prisons and detention facilities in the first half of the year. There was no information available on the causes of those deaths.

In her Report on Systematic Visits to Prisons for the year, the public defender of rights (ombudswoman) reported mistreatment of inmates in two prisons and generally unsatisfactory conditions of imprisonment for convicts with physical or mental disabilities. She also criticized the prison health-care system, whose inadequate standards she blamed on the lack of physicians motivated to work in prisons.

Prisoners had limited access to hot water, which posed sanitary problems.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to the ombudswoman without censorship, and the ombudswoman investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and made routine prison visits. According to the Ministry of Justice and the ombudsman, prisoners were allowed appropriate access to visitors and opportunities for religious observances. The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the prison system, inspected prisons throughout the year.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local and international human rights groups, such as the Helsinki Commission and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), and by the media.

Improvements: In her report the ombudswoman noted that the Prison Service had accepted her proposal to establish a transparent system for relocating convicts to prisons closer to their homes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, who report to the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining public order, including protecting the border and enforcing the immigration law. The General Inspectorate of Security Forces (GIBS), which reports to the Office of the Prime Minister, oversees police, customs, fire fighters, and the prison service and is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct. Inspectors investigated allegations of criminal misconduct and carried out “integrity tests,” or sting operations, to catch violators in action. In 2015 inspectors opened proceedings in 276 cases nationwide. Authorities reported that police committed 232 crimes in 2015, an increase of 120 since 2014, while members of the prison service committed