Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without significant restriction.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years for the latter. The government did not make use of criminal libel laws during the year.
The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization.
The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 85 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful 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 provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Migrants accused police and immigration officers of excessive force and warrantless searches, as well as frequent solicitations of bribes by immigration officials (see sections 1.d., 1.f.). Widespread bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, was reported.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government had an agreement with the government of Cuba to expedite removal of Cuban detainees. The announced intent of the agreement was to reduce the amount of time Cuban migrants spent in detention; however, concerns persisted that it also allowed for information sharing that heightened the risk of oppression of detainees and their families.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide protection for asylum seekers, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. Access to asylum in the country is informal, with no normative legal framework under which the legal protections and practical safeguards could be implemented. The lack of refugee legislation or a formal policy complicated UNHCR’s work to identify and assist asylum seekers and refugees.
Throughout the year the government worked to develop formal asylum procedures to enhance the processing of asylum seekers and refugees. According to the government, trained individuals screened applicants for asylum and referred them to the Department of Immigration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for further review. Government procedure requires that the ministry forward approved applications to the cabinet for a final decision on granting or denying asylum.
Authorities did not systematically involve UNHCR in asylum proceedings, but they sought UNHCR’s advice on specific cases during the year and granted UNHCR greatly improved access to interview detained asylum seekers awaiting deportation.
The government did not effectively implement laws and policies to provide certain habitual residents the opportunity to gain nationality in a timely manner and on a nondiscriminatory basis. Children born in the country to non-Bahamian parents, to an unwed Bahamian father and a non-Bahamian mother, or outside the country to a Bahamian mother and a non-Bahamian father do not acquire citizenship at birth.
Under the constitution, Bahamian-born persons of foreign heritage must apply for citizenship during a 12-month window following their 18th birthday, sometimes waiting many years for a government response. The narrow window for application, difficult document requirements, and long waiting times left multiple generations, primarily Haitians due to their preponderance among the irregular migration population, without a confirmed nationality. During the year the government implemented a new policy allowing individuals who missed the 12-month window to gain legal permanent resident status with the right to work.
There were no reliable estimates of the number of persons without a confirmed nationality; one NGO estimated there were 30,000 to 40,000. The government asserted a number of “stateless” individuals had a legitimate claim to Haitian citizenship but refused to pursue it due to fear of deportation or loss of future claim to Bahamian citizenship. Such persons often faced waiting periods of several years for the government to decide on their nationality applications and, as a result, lacked proper documentation to secure employment, housing, and other public services.
Individuals born in the country to non-Bahamian parents were eligible to apply for “Belonger” status that entitled them to work and have access to public high school-level education and a fee-for-service health-care insurance program. Belonger permits were readily available. Authorities allowed individuals born in the country to non-Bahamian parents to pay the tuition rate for Bahamian students when enrolled in college and while waiting for their request for citizenship to be processed. The lack of a passport prohibits students from accessing higher education outside the country. In 2017 the government repealed its policy of barring children without legal status from government schools. Community activists alleged some schools continued to discriminate, claiming to be full so as not to admit children of Haitian descent.
In August media reported that a Bahamian child born to a Bahamian-born mother of Haitian descent was unable to obtain a passport to travel out of the country for medical treatment. Because the child’s mother was not a naturalized Bahamian citizen at the time of her birth, and her mother was not married at the time to her Bahamian father, the child was not granted Bahamian citizenship at birth. The government subsequently issued the child a Certificate of Identity that permitted her travel, listing her nationality as Haitian, despite being two generations removed from birth in Haiti.