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Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for freedom of speech, and the country has a free press. There were reports authorities at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the central government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial government was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Media were sometimes limited in their access to government information and often faced threats and violence from the internal conflict. Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power at times threatened or harassed journalists because of their coverage. During a speech on April 30 to mark his return to the country, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar inspired protests when he publicly called the media “wicked” and told followers to censor the media.

Freedom of speech and an independent media were more constrained at the provincial level. Specific political and ethnic groups, including those led by former mujahedin leaders, owned many provincial media outlets and controlled the content. Some provinces had limited media presence.

Print media continued to publish independent magazines, newsletters, and newspapers. A wide range of editorials and dailies openly criticized the government. Still, there were concerns that violence and insecurity threatened media independence and safety. Due to high levels of illiteracy, most citizens preferred television and radio to print media. A greater percentage of the population, including those in distant provinces, had access to radio.

According to news reports, President Ghani issued a presidential decree on August 29 exempting media companies, except for television channels, from paying fines for past-due income taxes. The decree partially answered criticisms levied by press freedom groups the week prior that increased taxes and fines would hurt many independent media outlets.

Violence and Harassment: Government officials used threats, violence, and intimidation to attempt to silence opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out about impunity, war crimes, corruption, and powerful local figures. According to Reporters Without Borders, the governor of Baghlan called a journalist and two other employees of privately owned Arezo TV into his office on May 25 to make them delete news footage. The Afghan Journalist Safety Committee (AJSC) reported 10 journalists killed in the first six months of the year. For the same period, the AJSC recorded 73 cases of violence against journalists, which included killing, beating, inflicting injury and humiliation, intimidation, and detention of journalists–a 35 percent increase from the first six months of 2016. Government-affiliated individuals or security forces committed most of the violence against journalists and were responsible for 34 instances of violence, leaving 39 instances attributable to the Taliban, ISIS-K, local warlords, and individuals. According to AJSC, the Eastern zone and Kabul zone, which include provinces north of Kabul, had the most cases of violence against journalists. The Southeastern zone had the least number of cases of violence against journalists.

On May 17, ISIS-K attacked the Afghanistan National Radio and Television compound in Jalalabad and killed seven persons. The May 31 bombing, widely attributed to the antigovernment Haqqani group, killed 31 employees of the Roshan television and news media telecommunications company and caused millions of dollars of damage to the company’s headquarters. The same attack killed at least one camera operator of Tolo News and one BBC driver, injured nine employees of other media outlets, and caused extensive damage to 1TV’s headquarters.

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 increased levels of insecurity and threats from insurgents, warlords, and organized criminals. They also reported local governmental authorities were less cooperative in facilitating access to information.

In August 2016 the Office of the National Security Council approved a new set of guidelines to address cases of violence against journalists. The initiative created 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 run by the NDS to identify threats against journalists. Press freedom organizations reported that, although the committee met and referred cases to the Attorney General’s Office, it did not increase protection for journalists.

In March a media advocacy group reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation. According to the group, there were no female journalists in the provinces of Kunduz, Nuristan, or Panjsher because of insecurity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: 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. An NGO supporting media freedom surveyed journalists in 13 provinces and found 90 percent lacked access to government information. A Kabul Press Club survey showed more than half of journalists were dissatisfied with the level of access to government information.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code and the mass media law prescribe jail sentences and fines for defamation. Authorities sometimes 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 information.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some reporters acknowledged they avoided criticizing the insurgency and some neighboring countries in their reporting because they feared Taliban retribution. Insurgent groups coerced media agencies in insecure areas to prevent them from broadcasting or publishing advertisements and announcements of the security forces, entertainment programming, music, and women’s voices.


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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.6 percent of the population had internet access, mostly in urban areas, in 2016.

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 to spread its messages. Internet usage remained relatively low due to high prices, a lack of local content, and illiteracy.

On November 4, the government announced a temporary ban on two popular encrypted messaging applications–WhatsApp and Telegram–from November 1 to 20. On November 6, the government rescinded the ban.


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


The government generally respected citizens’ right to demonstrate peacefully. Numerous public gatherings and protests took place during the year. Between June 2 and 12, hundreds of protesters, many from opposition political parties, installed tents and occupied major thoroughfares surrounding government buildings and foreign embassies in Kabul’s international zone to protest the government’s failure to stop the May 31 bombing. There were clashes between armed protesters and police.


The constitution provides for the right to freedom of association, and the government generally respected it. The 2009 law on political parties obliges political parties to register with the Ministry of Justice and to pursue objectives consistent with Islam. 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. On September 14, President Ghani signed a decree prohibiting employees and officials of security and judicial institutions, specifically the Supreme Court, Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and National Directorate of Security, from political party membership while government employees. Noncompliant employees could be fired.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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. The government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, and other persons of concern. The government’s 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: The government generally did not restrict the right to freedom of movement within the borders of the country. Taxi, truck, and bus drivers reported security forces and 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. Social custom limited women’s freedom of movement without male consent or a male chaperone.


Internal population movements increased in 2016 because of armed conflict. During the year internal displacement statistics reached a record high, with approximately 661,000 persons displaced. 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. 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.


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.

Durable Solutions: The government did not officially accept refugees for resettlement, offer naturalization to refugees residing on their territory, or assist in their voluntary return to their homes. Approximately 50,000 registered refugees and 174,000 undocumented Afghans voluntarily returned to the country during the year. The government established a Displacement and Returnees Executive Committee and a Policy Framework and Action Plan to promote the successful integration of returnees and IDPs.


NGOs noted the lack of official birth registration for refugee children as a significant challenge and protection concern, due to the risk of statelessness and potential long-term disadvantage.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and independent media outlets regularly criticized and satirized government officials and policies, but the government on some occasions restricted these rights. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics; arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws; informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists; and control of a significant proportion of the country’s advertising money and printing capabilities. Some media figures alleged the government used its control over most printing houses and large amounts of public sector advertising preferentially, and that the lack of clear regulations over these practices permitted it to exert undue influence on press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: While public debate and criticism of the government were widespread, journalists and activists believed they were limited in their ability to criticize the government publicly on topics crossing unwritten “red lines.” Authorities arrested and detained citizens for expressing views deemed damaging to state officials and institutions, and citizens practiced self-restraint in expressing public criticism. The law criminalizing speech about security force conduct during the internal conflict of the 1990s remained in place, although the government said there had never been an arrest or prosecution under the law. A separate law provides for up to three years’ imprisonment for publications that “may harm the national interest” or up to one year for defaming or insulting the president, parliament, army, or state institutions. Government officials monitored political meetings.

Press and Media Freedom: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controls public advertising for print media. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF), private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. Although ANEP said in September that it represented only 15 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising permitted it to exert undue influence over print media. On November 14, Hadda Hazem, the editor of the El Fadjr newspaper, began a hunger strike to protest what she described as government pressure on public and private advertisers to deprive El Fadjr of advertising revenue in retaliation for its criticisms of the government.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati on January 25 on charges stemming from his publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. On September 13, Touati began a hunger strike. He remained in detention at year’s end.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties, including legal Islamist parties, had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. With the exception of several daily newspapers, the majority of print media outlets relied on the government for physical printing materials and operations.

Organizations wishing to initiate regular publications must obtain authorization from the government. The law requires the director of the publication to hold Algerian citizenship. The law additionally prohibits local periodicals from receiving direct or indirect material support from foreign sources.

In September the Ministry of Communication stated there were 249 accredited written publications, down from 332 last year. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated. The ministry said the decline in accredited publications was due to a reduction in advertising revenue.

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the vast majority of foreign media were not accredited. While the government tolerated their operations in the past, the Ministry of Communication said in 2016 it would limit the number of private satellite channels to 13 and foreign-based unaccredited television outlets would be shut down. At year’s end, however, the government had not shut down any such outlets. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be Algerian citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

The ministry also issues and renews accreditation of foreign correspondents reporting in the country. According to the ministry, 14 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, six private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels, and two foreign radio stations operated throughout the year.

The law mandates that online news outlets must inform the government of their activities but does not require them to request authorization to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation for criticism of the government.

From October 5-November 28, Tout sur l’Algerie (TSA), an online news website, was inaccessible via Algerie Telecom, the state-owned traditional internet service provider (ISP), and via Mobilis, the state-owned mobile ISP. Algerie Telecom did not provide TSA the reasons for the blockage. In October the Ministry of Communication denied any involvement, saying the issue rested with Algerie Telecom. TSA director Hamid Guemache told RSF that the explanations provided by the authorities “are not convincing” and that he suspected a “political blockage.”

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions used as failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 500,000 ($877 to $4,385). The Ministry of Justice did not provide information on the percentage of defamation claims that originated from private citizens, as opposed to government officials. Defamation laws specify that former members of the military who make statements deemed to have damaged the image of the military or to have “harmed the honor and respect due to state institutions” may face prosecution.

The Ministry of Communication prohibited the sale of the August issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, a French monthly publication, that contained an article titled “Forbidden Memory in Algeria” about the aftermath of the internal conflict in the 1990s. The ministry said the article’s discussion of President Bouteflika’s health was injurious to the president and stated the publication did not appeal the decision.

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.” In 2016 police in Setif arrested Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, for posting statements on his Facebook page questioning the morals of the Prophet Muhammed. A court sentenced him to five years in prison, plus a DZD 100,000 ($877) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison and then commuted in July as part of a broad presidential amnesty. He was scheduled for release in March 2018 as a result of the commutation.


The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of ISPs to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent offenses amounting to terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law, ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($438 and $4,385) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

On April 4, seven administrators of a Facebook page called “Granada City” appeared in court in Bouira on charges stemming from a post in January calling for a general strike. The charges against them were dropped in May.

For a second year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school exams. The decision was in response to previous leaks of exam results, which were posted on social media.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 43 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.


Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before publication or importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for religious publications. The law gives the authorities broad power to ban books that run counter to the constitution, “the Muslim religion and other religions, national sovereignty and unity, the national identity and cultural values of society, national security and defense concerns, public order concerns, and the dignity of the human being and individual and collective rights.” It further prohibits books that “make apology for colonialism, terrorism, crime, and racism.”

A January 17 decree by the prime minister clarified the process for the Ministry of Culture’s review of imported books, both in print and electronic form. According to the decree, importers must submit to the ministry the title, author’s name, editor’s name, edition, year, International Standard Book Number, and number of copies to be imported. Importers of books covering the “national movement and the Algerian Revolution” must submit the entire text of the books for review, including a secondary review by the Ministry of the Moudjahidine (veterans of the Revolution). The Ministry of Culture can also require a full content review of books on other topics if it chooses. The ministry has 30 days to review the importation application; in the absence of a response after 30 days, the importer may proceed with distribution of the publication. After making a determination, the ministry notifies the customs service of the decision to allow or ban the importation of the publication. Appeals may be made to the ministry, with no independent or judicial review provided for in the decree.

A government official said that rejected book importation requests were almost always for religious books that promote extremist ideas. A January 4 decree established a commission within the Ministry of Religious Affairs to review imports of the Quran. This decree requires all applications to include a full copy of the text and other detailed information. The ministry has three to six months to review the text, with the absence of a response after that time constituting a rejection of the application. A separate January 4 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On March 4, police in the city of Aokas in Bejaia province reportedly prevented a local NGO from holding a conference featuring professor Younes Adli on “Kabyle [Berber] thought in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In September press outlets reported Algiers International Book Fair Commissioner Hamidou Messaoudi announced that of the 120,000 books proposed for inclusion in the annual fair by 920 publishers representing 51 countries, the Book Fair Commission prohibited the inclusion of 130. Messaoudi said the action was taken pursuant to Algerian law prohibiting the exhibition of books that glorify terrorism, encourage radicalization, or incite racism.

Although the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the government severely restricted the exercise of these rights.


The constitution provides for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government continued to curtail this right. A ban on demonstrations in Algiers remained in effect. Authorities utilized the ban to prohibit assembly within the city limits. Nationwide, the government required citizens and organizations to obtain permits from the national government-appointed local governor before holding public meetings or demonstrations. The government restricted licenses to political parties, NGOs, and other groups to hold indoor rallies or delayed permission until the eve of the event, thereby impeding publicity and outreach efforts by organizers. Nonetheless, in many cases authorities allowed unauthorized protests to proceed while negotiations continued regarding protesters’ demands or when government attempts to disperse protests potentially risked igniting violence.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their historic practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering.

Throughout the year police dispersed unauthorized gatherings or prevented marching groups of protesters from demonstrating. Police typically dispersed protesters shortly after a protest began and arrested and detained organizers for a few hours. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other NGOs criticized the government’s use of the law to restrict peaceful assembly.

On July 22, police in Aokas prevented organizers from holding a “Literary Cafe” featuring Berber-language books. After a crowd gathered at the cultural center where the conference was supposed to be held and forced the doors open, police removed them from the building and reportedly fired rubber bullets into the crowd as an impromptu protest formed. On July 29, another march was held to protest the government’s actions, and residents reported that this protest unfolded peacefully.


The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government restricted this right.

The law’s extensive requirements and uneven enforcement served as major impediments to the development of civil society. The law grants the government wide-ranging oversight of and influence in the day-to-day activities of civil society organizations. It requires national-level civil organizations to apply to the Ministry of Interior for permission to operate. Once registered, organizations must inform the government of their activities, funding sources, and personnel, including notification of personnel changes. The law imposes an additional requirement that associations obtain government preapproval before accepting foreign funds. If organizations fail to provide required information to the government or attempt to operate with or accept foreign funds without authorization, they are subject to fines between DZD 2,000 and DZD 5,000 ($17 and $43) and up to six months’ imprisonment.

According to the law, associations that apply for accreditation as required by law are entitled to receive a response within two months for national organizations, 45 days for interregional-level associations, 40 days for province-level associations, and 30 days for communal organizations. While the Ministry of Interior oversees the accreditation process for most associations, the president of a local assembly approves applications for communal associations.

The Ministry of Interior may deny a license to or dissolve any group regarded as a threat to the government’s authority or to public order, and on several occasions failed to grant in an expeditious fashion official recognition to NGOs, associations, religious groups, and political parties. According to the ministry, organizations receive a receipt after submitting their application for accreditation, and after the time periods listed above, this slip is legally sufficient for them to begin operating, to open a bank account, and to rent office or event space. The law does not explicitly include this provision, however. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

Many organizations reported that they never received a deposit slip and that even with the receipt, it was difficult to conduct necessary administrative tasks without formal accreditation. Other organizations reported they never received any written response to their application request. The ministry maintained that organizations that were refused accreditation or that did not receive a response within the specified time period could appeal to the State Council, the administrative court responsible for cases involving the government.

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparu (Missing), the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), the National Association for the Fight Against Corruption, and the Youth Action Movement, all of which submitted their renewal applications in prior years.

The government issued licenses and subsidies to domestic associations, especially youth, medical, and neighborhood associations. According to the Ministry of Interior, there were 108,940 local and 1,293 national associations registered as of 2016. Unlicensed NGOs remained active, but rarely received government assistance, and citizens at times hesitated to associate with these organizations.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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, but the government restricted the exercise of this right.

The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Civil society organizations reported that authorities prevented sub-Saharan African migrants in the areas around Tamanrasset from traveling north toward coastal population centers.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government maintained restrictions for security reasons on travel into the southern locales of El-Oued and Illizi, near hydrocarbon industry installations and the Libyan border, respectively. Citing the threat of terrorism, the government also prevented overland tourist travel between the southern cities of Tamanrasset, Djanet, and Illizi. Newspapers reported that the government restricted foreign tourists from traveling through trails in Tassili and Hoggar, as well as certain areas in and around Tamanrasset, due to security concerns.

Foreign Travel: The constitution states that the right to enter and exit the country is provided to citizens. The law does not permit those under age 18 to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. Married women under 18 may not travel abroad without permission from their husbands, but married women over 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.


The government protected an estimated 90,000 to 165,000 Sahrawi refugees who departed Western Sahara after Morocco took control of the territory in the 1970s. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees. Neither the government nor the refugee leadership has allowed UNHCR to conduct registration or complete a census of the Sahrawi refugees. In the absence of formal registration, UNHCR and WFP based humanitarian assistance on a planning figure of 90,000 refugees. There is, however, a joint Sahrawi–UNHCR effort underway to capture more accurately the actual number of persons residing in the Sahrawi camps. The government said that a drop in aid from international donors led to worsening conditions for Sahrawi refugees, and that it had increased its own contributions as a result.

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Since the outbreak of violence in northern Mali in 2012, international observers reported an influx of individuals into Algeria across the Malian border inconsistent with traditional migratory movements. During the year, the government deported migrants to Mali.

The government said that more than 700 people, primarily Nigeriens, were repatriated during the year. The government, led by the Algerian Red Crescent, repatriated more than 17,000 Nigerien migrants to their country pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the government of Niger since 2014, in several repatriation operations. Various international humanitarian organizations and observers criticized the operations, citing unacceptable conditions of transport, primarily on the Niger side of the border, and what they described as a lack of coordination among the Algerian Red Crescent, the government of Niger, and the Red Cross of Niger. In July the National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) said the Algerian government had dedicated an additional $3.8 million to ensuring the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations. The repatriations were conducted in coordination with consular officials from the countries of origin of the migrants, but the migrants were not permitted to challenge their removal. The government said that it maintained a policy of not removing migrants registered with UNHCR, and that in a few cases it worked with UNHCR to return registered refugees who were mistakenly removed.

Access to Asylum: While the law provides generally for asylum or refugee status, the government has not established a formal system through which refugees can request asylum. There were no reports that the government granted refugee status and asylum to new refugee applicants during the year. According to UNHCR, the government did not accept UNHCR-determined refugee status for individuals. UNHCR offices in Algiers reported an estimated 200 to 300 asylum requests per month, mostly from Syrian, Palestinian, and sub-Saharan African individuals coming from Mali, Guinea, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Those determined by UNHCR to have valid refugee claims were primarily from the DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, and the Central African Republic. There was no evidence of any pattern of discrimination toward asylum applicants, but the lack of a formal asylum system made this difficult to assess.

As of June the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that since the start of the conflict in Syria, it accepted more than 40,000 Syrian refugees. Between 2012 and 2017, UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 6,000 remained registered with UNHCR as of September. The Algerian Red Crescent, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Solidarity, maintained “welcome facilities” that provided food and shelter for those Syrians without means to support themselves. The facilities were located in Sidi Fredj. The government did not grant UNHCR access to these reception centers but reported that by 2016 most Syrians no longer used the centers.

A group of Syrian refugees were stranded on the Moroccan-Algerian border from April to June, with both countries insisting the group was on the other country’s territory. Algeria offered to allow the refugees onto its territory on June 3 but they were not able to enter due to ambiguity regarding the border demarcation. Morocco announced on June 20 it would allow the migrants onto its territory, resolving the issue.

The Ministry of Interior estimated in 2016 that there were 21,073 irregular migrants residing in the country. Independent observers’ estimates in 2017 ranged from 25,000-200,000. Official statistics for 2017 were unavailable, but a government official said the numbers had likely increased compared to previous years due to instability in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Employment: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Because the government does not formally allow refugee employment, many worked in the informal market and were at risk of labor exploitation due to their lack of legal status in the country. Other migrants, asylum seekers, and Malians and Syrians who had a “special status” with the government, relied largely on remittances from family, the support of local family and acquaintances, and assistance from the Algerian Red Crescent and international aid organizations.

Access to Basic Services: Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five camps near the city of Tindouf, administered by the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario). The Polisario (through the Sahrawi Red Crescent Society), UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, and partner NGOs provided basic services including food aid, primary health care, and primary and secondary education, while the government invested heavily in developing the camps’ infrastructure and also provided free secondary and university educations, as well as advanced hospital care, to Sahrawi refugees. The remote location of the camps and lack of government presence resulted in a lack of access by police and courts. Other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had access to free public hospitals, but independent NGOs reported instances of migrants turned away.

School administrators must allow migrant and refugee children to enroll in primary school through high school and require only that they present their passport and documentation showing their level of schooling from their home country. International organizations reported the children had trouble in their attempts to integrate into the educational system but that migrants’ access to education was improving, particularly in the north of the country. These organizations reported that migrant parents were often reluctant to enroll their children in Algerian schools due to language barriers or cultural differences.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees from foreign countries for resettlement. The Sahrawi refugees had not sought local integration or naturalization during their 40-year stay in the refugee camps near Tindouf, and the Polisario Front continued to call for a referendum on independence in Western Sahara.

Temporary Protection: The law does not address formal temporary protection, but authorities provided informal, temporary protection to groups such as Syrians and Malians.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, state dominance of most media outlets, self-censorship by journalists, and the existence of a media regulatory body limited the practical application of these rights. Most private media organizations were located in the capital. On November 9, newly elected President Lourenco dismissed and replaced heads of all major state-owned media outlets. On November 14, the president urged the new leadership of state media entities to ensure an editorial line that serves the public interest and upholds freedom of expression and the press.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.

Press and Media Freedom: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and harshly. Authorities occasionally threatened journalists and publishers with harassment and arrest for covering sensitive stories. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials. State dominance of major media outlets often led to one-sided reporting, with opposition and civil society figures frequently expressing their opinions in privately owned media outlets while government officials kept silent even on noncontroversial issues.

Official news outlets, including Angolan Public Television, Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party and gave only limited coverage to opposition political parties. Official news outlets disproportionately covered ruling party candidates and campaign events in the period preceding the August 23 presidential and parliamentary elections, but at times included opposition party members and other commentators in nationally televised debates on issues such as elections, the rule of law, and the economy. Opposition parties received only limited coverage of their legislative participation in the National Assembly.

Violence and Harassment: Several journalists reported incidents of violence or harassment during the year. For example, a stringer for a foreign broadcaster investigating a series of mysterious fainting spells in Uige Province schools reported that police detained and beat him for photographing the transport of student victims to a hospital.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In January the National Assembly passed a package of five regulatory media laws, one of which established the Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA), a body empowered to license and delicense journalists and determine what constitutes appropriate media content. At year’s end ERCA remained largely inactive.

Journalists practiced self-censorship.

The minister of social communication, spokesperson of the presidency, and national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over the media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media and private media outlets owned by those close to the government rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies.

In March Angolan telecommunications operator ZAP, owned by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of then president Jose Eduardo do Santos, stopped broadcasting two Portuguese-owned television channels, SIC Noticias and SIC Internacional. ZAP notified neither the channels’ owners nor ZAP subscribers in advance. Several journalists, such as Expresso newspaper correspondent in Luanda Gustavo Costa and the president of the Media Institute for Southern Africa-Angola, Alexandre Solombe, alleged that ZAP’s decision to cease broadcasting the two channels was in response to their critical reporting on corruption and poverty in the country.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices. According to the PGR, some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories about government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply. On June 21, Attorney General Joao Maria de Sousa indicted journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques for slander in response to an October 2016 article published on Marques’ website, Maka Angola. The article accused de Sousa of corruption regarding an alleged illicit purchase of land and criticized then president dos Santos for failing to curb such alleged corrupt practices. Journalist and publisher Mariano Bras was also indicted for slander for republishing the article in the newspaper O Crime. Marques could face a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment if convicted of slander, as well as the reinstatement of a six-month suspended sentence he received for a 2015 conviction of criminal libel. At year’s end the court had not ruled on the merits of the indictments against Marques or Bras, nor had it set a trial date.


The law allows ERCA to determine what constitutes appropriate media content, including online content. The government did not, however, 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 oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 13 percent of residents had access to the internet.


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


The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, but the government regularly restricted this right.

The law requires written notification to the local administrator and police three days before public assemblies are to be held. The law does not require government permission to hold public assemblies but it does require public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. The government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. On June 3, thousands of UNITA supporters marched peacefully in Luanda to call for transparent elections while attended by a heavy presence of security forces. UNITA and members of government and security forces coordinated in advance of the march to ensure it took place without incident. Police and administrators did not interfere with progovernment gatherings. Nonpartisan groups intending to criticize the government or government leaders, however, often encountered the presence of police who prevented them from holding the event. Usually authorities claimed the timing or venue requested was problematic or that the proper authorities had not received notification.

Members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (LTPM) held several protests during the year. LTPM leader Jose Mateus Zecamutchima called on supporters to protest on July 29 to demand autonomy. On July 27, Lunda Norte provincial authorities arrested nine Tchokwe individuals, including four traditional leaders. Zecamutchima subsequently canceled the protest due to the arrests and heavy presence of security forces. Some protesters nevertheless proceeded with the protest, resulting in the arrest of 38 individuals. There were reports that security forces used live fire and grenades to disperse the protesters, but there were no reported injuries.

The government at times arbitrarily restricted the activities of associations it considered subversive by refusing to grant permits for organized activities. Authorities generally permitted opposition parties to organize and hold meetings. Nevertheless, opposition officials continued to report obstructions to the free exercise of their parties’ right to meet.


The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right (see also section 7.a.). Extensive delays in the NGO registration process continued to be a problem. Nevertheless, NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate.

On July 5, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a 2015 presidential decree regulating the operation of NGOs. Civil society had criticized the decree as potentially restrictive and intrusive for including requirements that NGOs obtain approval from the government before the implementation of any project, provide frequent financial reports to the government on NGO activities, and allow local authorities to supervise NGO projects within their municipalities. The government stated this regulation is part of its strategy to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The court ruled that only the National Assembly had jurisdiction to legislate such requirements according to the clearly defined separation of powers in the constitution.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government at times restricted these rights.

The government sometimes 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, or other persons of concern. UNHCR commended the government for its efforts to protect and assist more than 32,000 Congolese refugees who fled violence in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province during the year. The government, however, continued to fail to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Following a May 2016 visit, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, issued a report criticizing the government for its lack of adequate protections for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Crepeau cited government failure to implement key elements of the 2015 asylum law, which had the effect of impeding refugee and asylum seekers’ access to basic services and documents, such as birth certificates for children of foreign-born parents. NGOs working with refugee and asylum-seeker populations continued to cite security force harassment of and state discrimination against those communities. At year’s end the asylum law remained unimplemented.

In-country Movement: Police maintained roadside checkpoints throughout the country. Reports by local NGOs suggested some police officers extorted money from civilians at checkpoints and during regular traffic stops. Reports from the diamond mining provinces of Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul indicated some government agents restricted the movements of local communities.


During the year more than 32,000 Congolese, primarily women and children, fled the Kasai region of the DRC and sought refuge in Lunda Norte Province. During the early days of the refugee influx, the government was the sole provider of life-saving assistance, including food and medical care. The government cooperated closely with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist the community. UNHCR continued to press the government to grant the Kasai refugees prima facie status. At year’s end, however, the government had not formally granted them that status.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law did not function in practice during the year. The 2015 asylum law provides specific procedures for the submission of an asylum application and guidance on the determination of asylum and refugee cases. UNHCR and several NGOs reported that asylum seekers and urban refugees did not have a mechanism to apply for or resolve their status. The 2015 law changed the role of the Committee for the Recognition of the Right to Asylum, the former implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, by October the government had not put into practice an alternative mechanism to adjudicate asylum and refugee cases in the committee’s place. The law also established the creation of reception centers for refugees and asylum seekers where they are to receive assistance until the government makes a decision on their cases.

Employment: Formal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to seek employment existed. Regulation 273/13 restricted refugees from obtaining the mandatory business license required to own and operate a business. Refugees often faced difficulty obtaining employment due inability to obtain legal documents required to work in the formal sector. These difficulties were compounded by a general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge about the rights it was intended to safeguard.

Access to Basic Services: Persons with recognized refugee status could at times obtain public services. UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees, however, reported that urban refugees in particular were unable to obtain legal documents following passage of the asylum law and at times faced difficulty accessing public services such as health care and education. Corruption by officials compounded these difficulties.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government attempted to influence media outlets for favorable or uncritical coverage. Broadcast and many larger circulation print media generally expressed views sympathetic to their owners or advertisers–a mix of government officials and wealthy business people–while print and online outlets tended to be more critical. There were several instances of violence against journalists in connection with their coverage of elections and other local developments.

Press and Media Freedom: Broadcast and larger circulation print media generally lacked diversity of political opinion and objective reporting. Private individuals or groups owned most broadcast media and newspapers, which tended to reflect the political leanings and financial interests of their proprietors, who in turn were often close to the government. Broadcast media, particularly national television, remained the primary source of news and information for the majority of the population. Politicians in the ruling party and politically connected executives owned most television stations, which tended to present uncritical views of government policy and events.

There were instances of officials blocking press access to events and information. In March, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) local service was not allowed to cover talks between the secretaries of Armenia’s and Russia’s National Security Councils. When the Russian ambassador saw the RFE/RL reporter at the session, he reportedly asked why the RFE/RL reporter was there. Following that statement, an Armenian Security Council official blocked the RFE/RL crew from entering the hotel while allowing six other outlets (three Armenian and three Russian) to cover the event.

Independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived through international donations, with limited or no revenues from commercials. Advertisers often shied away from advertising on sites critical of the government, seeing such support as risking official harassment.

According to media experts, the dominant positions in the television and online advertising market of a few companies limited diversity of opinions. According to a report presented in September 2016 by the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, the advertising sales house Media International Services (MIS) controlled 74 percent of the country’s television advertisement gross value, with exclusive rights to sell advertising on the country’s five most watched channels. Another company, DG Sales, was majority owned by MIS shareholders and controlled more than one-third of the online commercial market, operating in a manner similar to MIS.

Regional television channels provided some alternative viewpoints, often through externally produced content. By the end of the year, however, 10 regional television stations faced risk of closure due to the mandatory transition from analog to digital broadcasting in October 2016. Although amended legislation allowed regional stations that did not have licenses to broadcast via the state-funded public multiplex to continue their analog broadcasts until a private multiplex entered the market, the requirements established for a private multiplex were too prohibitive for any company to bid. The affected regional stations remained available to a smaller audience through cable, but they faced serious financial strains due to a loss of commercial revenues.

The government did not generally control the content of online media, which together with social media, served as an important alternative source of information and diverse political opinions. Online news outlets nevertheless continued to show increasing signs of influence by politically connected owners and advertisers. There were credible reports that both online and broadcast media were in the hands of a few government-affiliated individuals. Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent.

Violence and Harassment: There were several cases of violence and professional intimidation against journalists during the April 2 parliamentary and May 14 Yerevan municipal election campaigns. Investigations were underway into cases from 2016, when police targeted journalists covering public protests, subjected them to violence, and deliberately destroyed their professional equipment. Authorities did not charge any police officers with violence against journalists in those incidents. Media watchdog groups criticized the slow pace and ineffectiveness of investigations, despite the abundance of audio and video evidence of police violence. While in the country October 6, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir emphasized the need for safe working conditions for journalists.

During parliamentary and municipal elections, several cases of violence against reporters took place. On April 2, for example, RFE/RL reporter Sisak Gabrielyan was assaulted inside the campaign headquarters of ruling RPA candidate Hakob Beglaryan after he went inside and tried to film the premises, having noticed people leaving the headquarters with what appeared to be bribes. Later that day Araratnews journalist Shoghik Galstyan and Sisak Gabrielyan were assaulted near the same headquarters while making similar reporting efforts. Beglaryan’s supporters reportedly beat them and took away their video equipment. The SIS decided not to open an investigation into the incident involving Gabrielyan inside the campaign office, concluding that the reporter did not have a right to enter the building. Law enforcement officials also suggested that the money distributed inside the campaign office were salaries, not election bribes. The SIS, however, opened a criminal case in the second incident involving the Araratnews reporter. Authorities charged two individuals, Levon Gasparyan and Julieta Kokolyan, with using violence against the reporters and preventing them from performing their professional activity. As of year’s end, the case was pending in court.

On July 28, nine prominent media watchdog organizations publicly denounced the slow pace of official investigations into the abuse of journalists during a rally of persons who sympathized with the demands of the Sasna Tsrer armed group in July 2016. The nine organizations asserted police officers and civilians targeted 27 journalists and camera operators from various media outlets, that police used physical violence against 19 of them, and prevented eight others from performing their professional activity. The action also involved the deliberate damaging of the journalists’ photo and video equipment, seizure of memory cards, and destruction of video footage. While charges were brought against eight civilians, as of year’s end, authorities had not brought charges against any law enforcement officer involved in the action. Those identified by the public as having participated in the action included the head of security for national Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan and two of Gasparyan’s personal bodyguards. In December 2016 President Sargsyan awarded a medal to the national chief of the internal police troops, Levon Yeranosyan, who allegedly gave the order to disperse the protesters forcibly, for “excellent maintenance of public order.”

On September 28, Narine Avetisyan, the editor in chief of Lori television, was attacked while filming a video of asphalting work being carried out in a heavy rain. According to Avetisyan, Tigran Nazaryan, the head of the Shinpuls construction company doing the work, and his employees used violence to seize Avetisyan’s mobile telephone and throw her to the ground. According to Avetisyan, this was the fifth such incident against her, and in none of the previous cases had authorities brought the perpetrators to justice. Human rights NGOs and the ombudsperson’s office condemned the violence and demanded a prompt investigation. The Investigation Committee opened an investigation into the case.

In August 2016, more than a year after police beat and detained journalists while dispersing a peaceful 2015 protest in downtown Yerevan, the SIS announced it had charged four police officers, Davit Perikhanyan, Kostan Budaghyan, Tachat Noratunkyan, and Artur Ayvazyan, with obstructing the activities of four reporters. Media NGOs considered the charges inadequate, given that two dozen journalists had been affected by police abuse, which, they maintained, had been ordered by high-ranking police officials. On February 20, the court fined Budaghyan, Noratunkyan, and Ayvazyan 500,000 drams ($1,000) each but allowed them to continue holding law enforcement positions. Perikhanyan was fined 600,000 drams ($1,200) for deliberately damaging or destroying the property of others, causing serious damage; he subsequently lost an appeal of the decision.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets, particularly broadcasters, feared reprisals for reports critical of the government. Such reprisals could include lawsuits, the threat of losing a broadcast license, selective tax investigation, or loss of revenue when advertisers learned an outlet was in disfavor with the government. Fear of retribution resulted in media self-censorship. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) reported on July 10, “undue interference of media owners into editorial autonomy resulted in self-censorship of journalists and discouragement of critical reporting of the government, including on public television.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Shortly after the NGO Union of Informed Citizens (UIC) released recordings of school and kindergarten directors involved in campaigning for the RPA in March, the progovernment daily Iravunk published personal information available only to law enforcement agencies concerning Daniel Ionnisyan, the program director of the UIC, and his family. While the Investigative Committee initially opened a criminal case into the leak, it was later dismissed for failure to identify the alleged perpetrators. With public support from RPA representatives, 30 of the school and kindergarten directors implicated by the UIC report sued Ionnisyan for libel and defamation, asking two million drams ($4,000) each in damages. After significant support from civil society for Ionnisyan, the directors withdrew their suits in July.


Individuals and groups could generally engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by email. Some human rights activists and opposition party members claimed, however, that authorities monitored their email and other internet communications (see section 1.f.). On April 2, as voters went to the polls for a parliamentary election, unknown actors targeted some of the country’s leading independent media voices on social media. Four Twitter accounts subsequently were suspended after being flagged by their Russian-language profiles; the accounts owners also attempted to hijack the election’s hashtag to spread a fake letter about foreign involvement in the election. In addition, prominent academic and commentator Babken DerGrigorian reported two attempts to hack his Facebook account; Facebook allegedly informed him the attack was state sponsored.

The International Telecommunication Union estimated that 62 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.


The administration and student councils of the most prominent state universities were politicized and affiliated with the ruling RPA (see section 3). For example, President Serzh Sargsyan was the president of the Board of Trustees of Yerevan State University. Government ministers led, or were members of, the boards of trustees of other universities. According to human rights observers, student councils in most universities experienced various forms of pressure to support the interests of the university rather than those of the student body and to keep the student body focused on nonpolitical and less sensitive issues. Despite this political influence, most members of academia felt they were able to deliver openly content that could be construed as critical of political institutions and processes.

In July organizers of the Golden Apricot International Film Festival canceled the screening of two LGBTI-themed films after negative public reaction (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On September 11, media reported that the Ministry of Culture had ordered the early closing of an exhibition, entitled “Eclipse,” at the House Museum of Tumanyan that was devoted to the victims of the political repressions in the country during the Stalin era. The closing created a significant reaction in society, to which the Ministry of Culture and other officials responded that the exhibition was too “political” and that it had not been “sanctioned” by the ministry.

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. In some instances, the government restricted those freedoms.


The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. While most political gatherings during the campaign prior to the April parliamentary elections took place without interference, some opposition party supporters reportedly were pressured not to attend opposition campaign rallies (see section 3). In some cases during the year, the government interfered in small-scale gatherings organized by civic activists.

On July 30, Human Rights Watch released a statement stating that, while it aggressively prosecuted protesters, the government failed to ensure full accountability for police violence during the largely peaceful antigovernment protests that took place in Yerevan in July 2016. At some protests, authorities used excessive force, assaulting many demonstrators as well as journalists reporting on events. Authorities arbitrarily detained protest leaders and hundreds of participants, pressing criminal charges against some. According to Human Rights Watch, authorities indicted at least 32 protesters, convicting 21 of them and sentencing 11 to prison terms, but it had not prosecuted any officials in connection with the violence.

From February 27 to March 6, civic activist Shahen Harutyunyan organized a sit-in protest at Yerevan’s Freedom Square demanding the release from pretrial detention of a supporter of the Sasna Tsrer armed group, Artur Sargsyan (see section 1.d.). According to the Helsinki Committee, police demanded that the participants end the protest, claiming the noise bothered residents of nearby buildings, although the number of protesters never exceeded 30 and there were no residential buildings in the vicinity. Harutyunyan told reporters police harassed the participants and their families, visiting their homes or taking them to police stations. Harutyunyan alleged that, in one case, a protest participant was forced to sign a document pledging he would no longer participate in the protest under the threat from the police that his mother would lose her job as a nurse in a local hospital.

On September 19, police detained the wife and three adult children of dual national Armenian-American citizen Garo Yegnukian, who was arrested in 2016 and was standing trial for alleged support of Sasna Tsrer. The family protested the detention of Yegnukian and Zhirayr Sefilyan, both prominent government critics and members of the Founding Parliament party. Police detained the four family members, as well as two other members of the Armenian Women’s Front Movement, in Republic Square in downtown Yerevan as they were distributing leaflets on the politically motivated arrests. Members of the U.S. Congress and other Armenian diaspora guests of the government-hosted Pan-Armenian Forum were staying at a hotel in Republic Square at the time. The detentions took place without a court order, ostensibly due to an anonymous report that the family had explosive materials. According to one family member, they were not searched for explosives until two and a half hours in police custody while their residence was also reportedly searched. Authorities released Yegnukian’s family members and the Armenian Women’s Front Movement representatives after detaining them for more than three hours, exceeding the legal period of detention without filing charges.

The Helsinki Committee, in a report covering its observation of 109 public assemblies between July 2016 and June 2017, noted police presence at most of the rallies was disproportionately high and that police used blanket restrictions to ban rallies or forcibly removed protesters from certain venues, such as in front of the president’s office, the prosecutor general’s office, the prison hospital, and the Russian embassy.

According to official sources, as of mid-December, the SIS had not laid charges or identified any suspects in connection with reported abuses of official authority by law enforcement officers during the July 2016 protests.


The constitution and law provide this right, and the government generally respected it. Under the new Law on Public Organizations, in force since February 4, NGOs have legal standing to act on behalf of their beneficiaries in court that is limited to environmental issues and has other preconditions. The limitations contradict a 2010 Constitutional Court decision that allowed all NGOs to have legal standing on matters pertaining to their charter.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

Authorities 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 (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: While there was no systematic discrimination reported against migrants or refugees, asylum seekers of African descent, or those who adhere to faiths other than the Armenian Apostolic Church, faced discrimination in acceptance of their asylum applications and were often detained when similar ethnic Armenian applicants were not.

During the year there were repeated reports of the detention of asylum seekers for illegal entry, in particular after crossing the highly guarded and fenced border with Turkey. Authorities continued to detain and sentence asylum seekers for illegal entry into the country after registering their asylum applications. Despite a provision in the law exempting asylum seekers from criminal liability for illegal border crossing, authorities required them to remain in detention pending the outcome of their asylum applications or to serve the remainder of their sentences. In November 2016, for example, two asylum seekers from Afghanistan, who were detained for illegal border crossing in 2015, were sentenced to three years in prison. The detention and conviction took place despite their having applied for asylum almost immediately after they were apprehended at the border and despite having a final decision on their asylum claims still pending as of July. According to UNHCR, due to their prolonged detention, both individuals developed severe physical and psychological health problems.

Foreign Travel: Citizens must obtain exit visas to leave the country on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Citizens could routinely purchase exit visas for temporary travel outside the country within one day of application for approximately 1,000 drams (two dollars) for each year of validity.


As of 2016 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, approximately 8,400 IDPs of the estimated 65,000 households evacuated in 1988-94 were still living in displacement. Some of the country’s IDPs and former refugees lacked adequate housing and had limited economic opportunities.


Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The law takes into account specific needs of children, persons with mental disabilities and trauma survivors and allows detention centers to receive asylum applications. Refugees who were not ethnic Armenians needed three years of legal residence in the country to be naturalized.

According to UNHCR, while the overall quality of procedures and decision making for determination of refugee status improved over the last decade, concerns remained regarding adjudication of cases of asylum seekers of certain religious profiles. UNHCR continuously observed that security considerations permeated all aspects of the asylum procedure and implementation of refugee policies. UNHCR noted with concern the increasing influence of the NSS on asylum decision making by the State Migration Service (SMS) and cases of prolonged detention of non-Christian asylum seekers who had entered the country illegally. Nevertheless, during the year the SMS for the first time recognized refugees with LGBTI/gender-based claims, overruling a negative advisory by the NSS.

Shortcomings in asylum procedures included a lack of state funding for interpreters and the limited capacity of eligibility officers. In addition, court practices did not include an in-depth analysis of the material elements of asylum claims, a substantive review of SMS arguments, or any explicit referral to international standards. Despite recent developments in which judges requested that the NSS substantiate its advisories in two asylum cases, the courts ruled that even an unsubstantiated NSS position could serve as a basis to deny asylum.

Authorities offered ethnic Armenians from Syria who remained in the country a choice of protection options, including expedited naturalization, a residence permit, or refugee status. Quick naturalization gave persons displaced from Syria the same legal right to health care and most other social services as other citizens.

The increase in violence along the line of contact and the Armenia-Azerbaijan international border in April 2016 led to the displacement of civilians from villages close to the line of contact. Some of the displaced persons remained in Nagorno-Karabakh, while others entered Armenia seeking refuge. According to UNHCR, the overwhelming majority of displaced persons consisted of women, children, and elderly persons, primarily from the villages close to the line of contact. UNHCR estimated the total number of displaced persons at approximately 2,300 at the peak of displacement, with approximately 570 of those remaining in the country as of January.

Access to Basic Services: Conditions in the only reception center for asylum seekers were substandard and did not address the needs of persons with disabilities. Housing allocated to refugees was often in limited supply and in poor condition and remained, along with employment, their greatest concern. Many displaced families relied on a rental subsidy program supported by UNHCR and diaspora organizations. In 2015 authorities opened an integration house with places for 29 refugees and offered refugees accommodation free of charge during the first months after they acquired refugee status. Language differences with Syrian-Armenian refugees who spoke a different dialect created barriers to employment and, initially, education.

Durable Solutions: In July 2016 the government adopted a concept document outlining its goals concerning the integration of persons granted asylum and refugee status as well as of long-term migrants. According to UNHCR, while in principle a welcome step to enhance the legal framework for the protection of refugees, the concept did not cover Syrians who had obtained Armenian citizenship, thus excluding from the provision of services the majority of displaced Syrians who had arrived in country since the beginning of the conflict. The concept also did not address critical aspects of integration, such as language needs and access to education.

While the government approved an initial concept on local integration, full implementation was pending due to lack of state funds. NGOs partially filled the gap with UNHCR and international donor funding.

The amended constitution and the electoral code grant refugees and certain other persons residing in the country the right to participate in local elections if they have resided in the community for at least one year prior to the election. UNHCR and its NGO partners raised awareness among refugees of this provision and encouraged displaced communities to make use of their political rights, in particular during the Yerevan municipal elections held in May.


According to the Police Passport and Visas Department, the number of stateless persons has grown from 185 in 2015 to 490 persons as of July. The increase was believed to be related to the rising number of citizens renouncing their citizenship with the aim of obtaining citizenship elsewhere, particularly in the Russian Federation. In addition, authorities considered approximately 1,400 refugees from Azerbaijan to be stateless as of July.

The law provides for the provision of Armenian nationality to stateless children born on the country’s territory.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of expression and media independence. Journalists faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. Human rights defenders considered at least 10 journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. During the year authorities continued to pressure media, journalists in the country and in exile, and their relatives.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but the government continued to repress persons it considered political opponents. The incarceration of such persons raised concerns about authorities’ abuse of the judicial system to punish dissent. In a September joint report, three NGOs stated, “Azerbaijan continues to use its legal and criminal justice system to keep tight control over public space and silent critical voices.” The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious, and social discord and animosity,” as well as “hostility and other criteria.”

In addition to the case of Mehman Huseynov (see section 1.c.), incarcerations included Afgan Mukhtarli, a freelance journalist and activist living in exile in Georgia, who was reportedly abducted from Georgia May 29, forcibly rendered to Azerbaijan (see section 5), and immediately arrested. Authorities charged Mukhtarli with illegally crossing the border, smuggling, and resistance to law enforcement activities (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Georgia).

Immediately following Mukhtarli’s arrest in Azerbaijan, the heads of Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s security services claimed Mukhtarli had voluntarily crossed the border into Azerbaijan. Mukhtarli, his wife, and other Azerbaijani activists and journalists disputed this claim. His lawyers stated he was physically abused while in detention (see section 1.c.).

A number of other incarcerations were widely viewed as related to freedom of expression. For example, on June 16, the court convicted Popular Front Party activist Fuad Ahmadli of allegedly illegally disclosing private client information of a mobile operator. On July 24, Faig Amirli, the financial director of opposition newspaper Azadliq, who was also the assistant to Popular Front Party chair Ali Kerimli, was sentenced to three years and three months and fined 39,000 manat ($22,800) for alleged tax evasion. While upholding Amirli’s conviction, the court ordered his conditional release from confinement at his September 15 appeal hearing. In 2016 Ahmadli and Amirli, despite their secular orientation, were arrested for alleged ties with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accused of organizing the failed coup attempt in that country.

In addition to imprisonment, the government attempted to impede criticism through other measures. For example, in early October authorities reportedly granted N!DA activist Ulvi Hasanli a medical exemption from mandatory military service until 2019, but later that month they removed the exemption and forcibly conscripted him. In an example of other methods of intimidation, following a public discussion on October 15, activists reported approximately 40 uniformed and plainclothes police prevented a press conference to discuss political prisoners in the country.

Press and Media Freedom: A number of opposition and independent print and online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, but authorities penalized them in various ways for doing so.

Human rights defenders considered at least 10 journalists and bloggers and two writers or poets to be political prisoners or detainees as of year’s end. Authorities continued exerting pressure on leading media rights organizations.

Foreign media outlets, including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and the BBC, remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies, although the Russian service Sputnik was allowed to broadcast news on a local radio network.

Following the 2016 halt of the newspaper Azadliq’s print edition after the arrest of its financial director, no significant opposition publications remained in the country.

On May 12, in response to a suit brought by the Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies, the Sabayil District Court blocked access to the Azerbaijani-language versions of RFE/RL and other independent media outlets, including the websites of AzadliqAzerbaycan SaatiMeydan TV, and Turan.

During the year authorities continued pressure on independent media outlets outside the country and those individuals associated with them in the country. In high-profile examples, authorities continued the criminal case against Meydan TV initiated in 2015. Prosecutors combined the criminal cases against Afgan Mukhtarli and Meydan TV.

Violence and Harassment: Local observers reported journalists from independent media outlets were subject to physical and cyberattacks during the year. The attacks mainly targeted journalists from Radio LibertyAzadliq and other newspapers, Meydan TV, and Obyektiv Television.

Activists said impunity for assaults against journalists remained a problem and that the majority of physical attacks on journalists were not effectively investigated and went unsolved. There were no indications authorities held police officers accountable for physical assaults on journalists in prior years.

Journalists and media rights leaders continued to call for full accountability for the 2015 beating and death of journalist and IRFS chairman Rasim Aliyev, who reported receiving threatening messages three weeks earlier; the 2011 killing of journalist Rafiq Tagi, against whom Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani issued a fatwa; and the 2005 killing of independent editor and journalist Elmar Huseynov.

Lawsuits suspected of being politically motivated were used to intimidate journalists and media outlets. In one example, the Ministry of Taxation opened a criminal case against the Turan Information Agency in August. On August 24, authorities detained the director of the agency, Mehman Aliyev, conditionally releasing him on September 11. On November 2, the charges against Turan apparently were dropped.

The majority of independent and opposition media outlets remained in a precarious financial situation and experienced problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines. Most relied on political parties, influential sponsors, or the State Media Fund for financing.

The government continued to prohibit some state libraries from subscribing to opposition and independent newspapers, prevented state businesses from buying advertising in opposition newspapers, and put pressure on private businesses not to advertise in them. As a result, paid advertising was largely absent in opposition and independent media. Political commentators noted these practices reduced the wages that opposition and independent outlets could pay to their journalists, which allowed progovernment outlets to hire away quality staff. In addition, international media-monitoring reports indicated that intimidation by Ministry of Taxation authorities further limited the independence of the media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most media practiced self-censorship and avoided topics considered politically sensitive due to fear of government retaliation. The National Radio and Television Council required that local, privately owned television and radio stations not rebroadcast complete news programs of foreign origin.

During the year authorities did not return work confiscated in June 2016 from the Ganun Publishing House in Baku. At the time, civil society activists reported authorities raided the publishing house after it printed posters advocating the release of imprisoned head of the REAL democratic movement, Ilgar Mammadov. The director of the publishing house, Shahbaz Khuduoghlu, reported police took some published materials and printing molds from the office.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses and cover written and verbal statements. The law provides for large fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel or slander. On May 31, the law was amended increasing the fine for libel from 100 to 1,000 manat ($58 to $580) to 1,000 to 1,500 manat ($580 to $875). The fine for slander was increased from 300 to 1,000 manat ($175 to $580) to 1,000 to 2,000 manat ($580 to $1,170). The law was also amended so that insulting the president could no longer be punished by fines, leaving only punishment of up to two years’ corrective labor or up to three years’ imprisonment.

Libel laws were employed against journalists. For example, on March 3, a Baku city court sentenced blogger Mehman Huseynov to two years’ imprisonment for libel after publicly stating he was tortured by police.


The websites of Voice of America, RFE/RL, and Germany-based media outlet Meydan TV were blocked at the beginning of the year, reportedly on the orders of government authorities. On May 12, at the request of the Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies, the Sabayil District Court blocked access to the Azerbaijani-language version of RFE/RL and other independent media outlets, including the websites of AzadliqAzerbaycan SaatiMeydan TV, and Turan.

On May 2, Aziz Orucov, director of the internet television station Kanal 13, was arrested and sentenced to administrative detention. The General Prosecutor’s Office subsequently opened a criminal case against Orucov for alleged tax evasion and abuse of office. On December 15, a court convicted Orucov of these charges and sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment

The government also required internet service providers to be licensed and to have formal agreements with the Ministry of Transportation, Communications, and High Technologies. The law imposes criminal penalties for conviction of libel and insult on the internet.

There were strong indications the government monitored the internet communications of democracy activists. For example, members of the Popular Front Party reported being harassed by police and forced to delete critical Facebook posts under threat of physical abuse. During the year youth activists were questioned, detained, and frequently sentenced to administrative detention for posting criticism of government corruption and commenting on human rights abuses online.

The Freedom House annual Freedom on the Net report, covering the period from June 2016 through May 2017, stated, “Internet freedom declined in Azerbaijan in the past year” and that “the space for free expression online continued to shrink.” The report also noted that, while in previous years the government refrained from extensive blocking, the past year saw more website restrictions.

According to International Telecommunication Union statistics, approximately 78 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2016.


The government on occasion restricted academic freedom. Opposition party members reported difficulty finding teaching jobs at schools and universities.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the government restricted these rights.


The government severely restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Authorities at times responded to peaceful protests and assemblies by using force and detaining protesters. The law permits administrative detention for up to three months for misdemeanors and up to one month for resisting police. Punishment for those who fail to follow a court order (including failure to pay a fine) may include fines of 500 to 1,000 manat ($290 to $580) and punishment of up to one month of administrative detention.

While the constitution stipulates that groups may peacefully assemble after notifying the relevant government body in advance, the government continued to interpret this provision as a requirement for prior permission. Local authorities required all rallies to be preapproved and held at designated locations. Most political parties and NGOs found the requirements unacceptable and unconstitutional. Authorities throughout the country routinely ignored applications for public rallies, effectively denying the freedom to assemble.

As modified by the September 2016 referendum, the constitution provides that public gatherings not disrupt “public order and public morals.” The Venice Commission’s September 2016 preliminary opinion on the proposed constitutional amendments noted it is “almost inevitable” that peaceful gatherings may disrupt public order (for example, by disturbing traffic) or disturb someone’s views on morality and yet be permissible under the European Convention on Human Rights. The commission concluded, “The State should allow such gatherings and even facilitate them provided that those disturbances are not excessive and help convey the message of the public event.”

Activists reported police harassed and/or detained approximately 200 persons before, during, and after authorized rallies on September 28, October 7, and October 28 against corruption and the situation of political prisoners in the country. The courts sentenced 15 opposition activists to administrative detention ranging from 10 to 30 days, allegedly for resisting police. Activists and media reported individuals were fired by the Ministries of Education and Health and informed the reason for their termination was participation in the opposition rallies. Party representatives stated the government approved the rallies to pantomime freedom of assembly for a Western audience but punished participants to send the message to the populace that public dissent would not be tolerated.


The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the law places some restrictions on this right, and amendments enacted during 2014 severely constrained NGO activities. Citing these amended laws, authorities conducted numerous criminal investigations into the activities of independent organizations, froze bank accounts, and harassed local staff, including incarcerating and placing travel bans on some NGO leaders. Consequently, a number of NGOs were unable to operate.

A number of legal provisions allow the government to regulate the activities of political parties, religious groups, businesses, and NGOs, including requiring NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice if they seek “legal personality” status. Although the law requires the government to act on NGO registration applications within 30 days of receipt (or within an additional 30 days, if further investigation is required), vague, onerous, and nontransparent registration procedures continued to result in long delays that limited citizens’ right to associate. Other laws restrict freedom of association, for example, by requiring deputy heads of NGO branches to be citizens if the branch head is a foreigner. Authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of NGOs whose names contained the words “human rights,” “democracy,” “institute,” and “society.”

Laws affecting grants and donations imposed a de facto prohibition on NGOs receiving cash donations and made it nearly impossible for them to receive anonymous donations or to solicit contributions from the public.

In 2014 the president approved a number of amendments to the administrative code and the laws on NGOs, grants, and registration of legal entities that imposed additional restrictions on NGO activities and closed several loopholes for the operations of unregistered, independent, and foreign organizations. The legislation also introduced some restrictions for donors. For example, foreign donors were required to obtain preapproval before signing grant agreements with recipients. The laws make unregistered and foreign NGOs vulnerable to involuntary dissolution, intimidated and dissuaded potential activists and donors from joining and supporting civil society organizations, and restricted their ability to provide grants to unregistered local groups or individual heads of such organizations.

In January the Cabinet of Ministers issued new regulations for establishing a “Single Window” mechanism to streamline the grant registration process. According to the new procedures, obtaining grant registration processes for multiple agencies were merged. The new procedures were not fully implemented, however, further reducing the number of operating NGOs.

Based on extensive authority provided in the 2014 amendments, the Ministry of Justice adopted new rules on monitoring NGO activities in February 2016. The rules authorize the ministry to conduct inspections of NGOs, with few provisions protecting the rights of NGOs and the potential of harsh fines if they do not cooperate.

The far-reaching investigation opened by the Prosecutor’s Office in 2014 into the activities of numerous domestic and international NGOs and local leadership continued during the year. As a result, a number of NGOs were unable to operate, the bank accounts of several NGOs remained frozen, and some NGO leaders were still banned from leaving the country.

The government continued to implement rules pursuant to a law that requires foreign NGOs wishing to operate in the country to sign an agreement and register with the Ministry of Justice. Foreign NGOs wishing to register a branch in the country are required to demonstrate they support “the Azerbaijani people’s national and cultural values” and commit not to be involved in religious and political propaganda. The decree does not specify any time limit for the registration procedure and effectively allows for unlimited discretion of the government to decide whether to register a foreign NGO. As of year’s end, no foreign NGOs had been able to register under these rules.

NGO representatives stated the Ministry of Justice did not act on submitted applications. Some experts estimated up to 1,000 NGOs remained unregistered.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected many of these rights but continued its practice of limiting freedom of movement for at least 20 opposition figures, activists, and journalists.

The government 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.

Foreign Travel: Authorities continued to prevent a number of opposition figures, activists, and journalists from traveling outside the country. Examples included Popular Front Party chairman Ali Kerimli (banned from traveling since 2006), investigative journalist and activist Khadija Ismayilova, lawyers Intigam Aliyev and Asabali Mustafayev, and at least 15 freelance journalists who filed material with Meydan TV. Authorities lifted the travel ban on opposition REAL executive secretary Natig Jafarli after the prosecution dropped a criminal case for tax evasion and abuse of office against him on August 28; a travel ban remained on REAL board member Azer Gasimli.

The law requires men of draft age to register with military authorities before traveling abroad. Authorities placed some travel restrictions on military personnel with access to national security information. Citizens charged with or convicted of criminal offenses but given suspended sentences also were not permitted to travel abroad.


UNHCR reported 612,785 registered IDPs in the country, including persons in IDP-like situations, as of year’s end. The vast majority fled their homes between 1988 and 1993 as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

IDPs were initially required to register their places of residence with authorities and could live only in approved areas. This “propiska” registration system, which formally ceased to exist after the breakup of the Soviet Union, was enforced mainly against persons who were forced from their homes after separatists, with Armenia’s support, took control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories. The government asserted that registration was needed to keep track of IDPs to assist them.

Significant numbers of IDPs remained in overcrowded collective centers, where they reported feeling socially marginalized and faced limited employment opportunities and high rates of poverty. The law requires IDPs to register in the districts where they reside, and registration is necessary to obtain IDP status. Temporary registration where IDPs reside does not restrict migration within the country.


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 some refugees through the Refugee Status Determination Department at the State Migration Service, which is responsible for all refugee matters. Although UNHCR noted some improvements, the country’s refugee-status determination system did not meet international standards. International NGOs continued to report the service remained inefficient and did not operate transparently.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to UNHCR, the country did not allow Russian citizens who fled the conflict in Chechnya access to the national asylum procedure. UNHCR noted, however, that the country tolerated the presence of Chechen asylum seekers and accepted UNHCR’s role in providing for their protection and humanitarian needs.

Access to Basic Services: The estimated 1,193 refugees in the country lacked access to social services. The Ministry of Education reported that 88,019 IDP students studied in 598 schools relocated from occupied regions across 34 regions of the country during the 2016-17 academic year. Many IDP and refugee children also enrolled at ordinary schools in numerous regions throughout the country.


According to UNHCR statistics, there were 3,585 persons in the country under UNHCR’s statelessness mandate at the end of 2016, the most recent year for which data was available. According to the State Migration Service, 573 foreigners and stateless persons were granted citizenship in 2017. The vast majority of stateless persons were ethnic Azerbaijanis from Georgia or Iran. NGOs stated there were many other undocumented stateless persons, with estimates ranging from hundreds to tens of thousands.

While the law provides for the right to apply for stateless status, some persons could not obtain the documentation required for the application and therefore remained formally unrecognized. The law on citizenship makes it difficult for foreigners and stateless persons to obtain citizenship.

For the most part, stateless persons enjoyed freedom of movement. The law permits stateless persons access to basic rights, such as access to health care and employment. Nevertheless, their lack of legal status at times hindered their access to these rights.

Amendments to the constitution adopted by referendum in September 2016 allow citizenship to be removed “as provided by law.” Previously, the constitution explicitly prohibited the loss of citizenship. As of September 2017, the government had stripped 151 persons of citizenship for their alleged affiliation with terrorist organizations.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” The government limited freedom of speech and press through active prosecution of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted citizen and professional journalists and by passing legislation to limit speech in print and social media.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who publicly expressed such opinions often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech, under charges of unlawful assembly or “insulting the king.” The penal code allows penalties for conviction of no less than one year and no more than seven years’ imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.” The government charged two persons with “insulting the king” during the year. Additionally, the government charged or convicted four individuals for “insulting a government institution.” There were 32 cases of “inciting hatred against a religious sect” and 1,017 cases of misuse of a telecommunications device.

In 2016 police arrested BCHR President Nabeel Rajab for tweets released in 2015 criticizing the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen and treatment of prisoners in Jaw Prison. His trial began in July 2016 and continued as of December. A separate trial began January 23 for a second set of charges, spreading false information and malicious rumors. The charges in the second case alleged he provided two television “foreign interviews” to foreign press in 2015 in which he defamed Bahrain. On July 10, although present for some portions of his trial, the Lower Criminal Court convicted Rajab in absentia for his foreign interviews and sentenced him to two years in prison; on September 28, an appeal of the conviction was heard before the Court of Appeals. On November 22, a judge denied Rajab’s appeal in the interviews case. Rajab’s final appeal to the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, was scheduled to begin January 15. His “tweets” case continued as of year’s end, with the next session also scheduled for January 15.

Press and Media Freedom: The government did not own any print media, but the Ministry of Information Affairs and other government entities exercised considerable control over privately owned domestic print media.

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic, Farsi, and English from countries in the region, including by satellite, without interference. The ministry reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs reviewed books that discussed religion.

On June 4, the Ministry of Information Affairs ordered the indefinite suspension of the only independent newspaper operating in the country, al-Wasat. The government accused it of publishing content “offensive to a sisterly Arab state” when it covered protests in Morocco. On June 26, the newspaper’s board of directors issued a letter terminating the contracts of its approximately 160 employees.

On January 7, journalist Faisal Hayyat, a video blogger, was released after serving three months in prison for conviction of posting an allegedly defamatory tweet against an Islamic religious figure. Security forces summoned him again for questioning on April 23 for charges related to the Diraz protests. He was released and banned from international travel while his case remained under investigation.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists and photographers due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists. The government brought criminal complaints against journalists who worked without accreditation. The government arrested or deported individuals engaged in journalism that were in the country on other types of visas.

On March 22, CID detained and questioned Agence France Presse photographer Mohammed al-Sheikh at Bahrain Airport, then released him without charge the same day.

On May 25, the government refused for the second time renewal of Nazeha Saeed’s permit as an independent journalist for France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo and fined her 1,000 dinars ($2,650). The ministry did not give a reason for its decision, nor was recourse available.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government censorship occurred. Ministry of Information Affairs personnel actively monitored and blocked stories on matters deemed sensitive, especially those related to sectarianism, national security, or criticism of the royal family, the Saudi royal family, or the judiciary. Journalists widely practiced self-censorship. Some members of media reported government officials contacted editors directly and told them to stop publishing articles, press releases, or stories on certain subjects.

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion can be banned from publication by a ministerial order.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets”; and it stipulates a punishment for conviction of imprisonment for no more than two years or a fine of no more than 200 dinars ($540). Application of the slander law was selective. The Ministry of Interior reported the government fined or imprisoned 88 individuals for “slander,” “libel,” or “divulging secrets” between January and September.

National Security: National security-related law provides for fines up to 10,000 dinars ($27,000) and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines of up to 2,000 dinars ($5,400) for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization before obtaining ministry approval, publishing any reports that may adversely affect the dinar’s value, reporting any offense against a head of a state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning an accredited representative of a foreign country due to acts connected with the person’s position.


According to the International Telecommunication Union, 98 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016. The government blocked some websites from being accessed from inside the country, including some opposition-linked websites. After the government cut relations with Qatar in June, it blocked Qatari news websites such as al-Jazeeraal-Sharq, and Raya. The government restricted internet freedom and monitored individuals’ online activities, including via social media, leading to degradation of internet and mobile phone services for some neighborhoods and to legal action against some internet users. The government sentenced several journalists and bloggers arrested in 2016-17 to prison for social media postings.

Political and human rights activists reported being interrogated by security forces regarding their postings on social media. They sometimes reported repeated interrogations that included threats against their physical safety and that of their families, threats against their livelihood, and threats of denial of social services like housing and education. Several activists reported shutting down or deciding to cease posting to their social media accounts because of the threats.

Opposition leader Ebrahim Sharif was interrogated on January 15 for using Twitter to criticize the government’s execution of three Shia citizens that same day, and on March 20, he was charged with “inciting hatred against the regime” for a series of tweets critical of the government, including one questioning the dissolution of political societies. Sharif believed he remained under an active international travel ban.


The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Some academics engaged in self-censorship, avoiding discussion of contentious political issues.

Human rights advocates claimed government officials unfairly distributed university scholarships and were biased against Shia students, for both political and religious reasons, when admitting students into certain programs. In 2011 the government instituted interviews into the university selection process, partially to correct for grade inflation, as there is no national standardized test to account for different grading practices across secondary schools; however, students reported authorities questioned them on their political beliefs and those of their families during interviews. The government maintained it distributed all scholarships and made all placements based on merit.


The constitution provides for the right of free assembly, but a number of laws restrict the exercise of this right. The Ministry of Interior maintained a prohibition on public demonstrations, stating the purpose was to maintain public order in view of recent sectarian attacks in the region and that the ban was expected to be temporary in nature. Prior to the ban, the government limited and controlled political gatherings, and activists reported the government denied permits for organized demonstrations by refusing to accept application paperwork. For the third year, there were no authorized demonstrations, although the ministry generally did not intervene in peaceful, unauthorized demonstrations. For the second year in a row, the government declined to issue permits for a “May Day” rally in support of workers’ rights. The permit would have allowed public assembly of the thousands of members of the more than 45 trade unions affiliated with the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU).

The law outlines the locations and times during which it prohibits functions, including areas close to hospitals, airports, commercial locations, security-related facilities, and downtown Manama. The General Directorate of the Police may prevent a public meeting if it violates security, public order, or for any other serious reason. The law states mourners may not turn funeral processions into political rallies, and that security officials may be present at any public gathering.

The law states every public gathering shall have a committee consisting of a head and at least two members. The committee is responsible for supervising and preventing any illegal acts during the function. According to the law, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to justify why it approves or denies requests to allow protests. The penal code penalizes any gathering “of five or more individuals” that is held for the “purpose of committing crimes or inciting others to commit crimes.” Lawyers asserted authorities should not prevent demonstrations in advance based on assumptions crimes would be committed. Authorities prohibited the use of vehicles in any demonstration, protest, or gathering unless organizers obtained special written permission from the head of public security.

Organizers of an unauthorized gathering faced prison sentences of three to six months. The minimum sentence for conviction of participating in an illegal gathering is one month, and the maximum is two years’ imprisonment. Authorities gave longer sentences for cases where demonstrators used violence in an illegal gathering. The maximum fine is 200 dinars ($540). The law regulates election campaigning and prohibits political activities at worship centers, universities, schools, government buildings, and public institutions. The government did not allow individuals to use mosques, maatams (Shia religious community centers), or other religious sites for political gatherings.

Police continued to summon individuals for questioning over their participation in unauthorized gatherings, including protests in Diraz. The government interrogated dozens of individuals, including Shia clerics, for their participation in the protest, which began after the government revoked Sheikh Isa Qassim’s citizenship in June 2016 and ended when police broke up the protests with force on May 23. Those charged with “illegal gathering” during the year included senior defense attorney Abdulnabi al-Ekry; Wa’ad political society founder Ibrahim Sharif, Fareeda Ghulam; Eras Oun, Fatima al-Halwachi; and Adam Rajab, son of imprisoned activists Nabeel Rajab. Many of those who reported being questioned said they remained under a government-imposed “international travel ban.”


The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government limited this right. The government required all groups to register: civil society groups and labor unions with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development and political societies with the Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs. The government decided whether a group was social or political in nature, based on its proposed bylaws. The law prohibits any activity by an unlicensed society, as well as any political activity by a licensed civil society group. A number of unlicensed societies were active in the country (see section 3).

A civil society group applying for registration must submit its bylaws signed by all founding members, together with minutes of the founding committee’s meetings containing the names, professions, places of residence, and signatures of all founding members. The law grants the Ministry of Labor and Social Development the right to reject the registration of any civil society group if it finds the society’s services unnecessary, already provided by another society, contrary to state security, or aimed at reviving a previously dissolved society. Associations whose applications authorities rejected or ignored may appeal to the High Civil Court, which may annul the ministry’s decision or refuse the appeal.

Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society activists asserted the ministry routinely exploited its oversight role to stymie the activities of NGOs and other civil society organizations. While some local NGOs asserted bureaucratic incompetence characterized the ministry’s dealings with NGOs, many others stated officials actively sought to undermine some groups’ activities and imposed burdensome bureaucratic procedures on NGO board members and volunteers. The Ministries of Justice and Interior must vet funding from international sources, and authorities sometimes did not authorize it. (For information on the closure of the Wifaq political society, see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation.)

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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. The government did not always respect these rights.

The government generally 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, or other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: The law provides the government may reject for “reasonable cause” applications to obtain or renew passports, but the applicant has the right to appeal such decisions before the High Civil Court. Individuals, including citizens of other countries, reported authorities banned them from travel out of the country due to unpaid debt obligations or other fiduciary responsibilities with private individuals or with lending institutions, as well as for open court cases. The government launched an online website during the year that allowed individuals to check their status before they traveled. Authorities relied on determinations of “national security” when adjudicating passport applications. During the year authorities prevented a number of activists from leaving the country without providing options for legal recourse.

The government reported that as of September it had banned 102 citizens from international travel for various reasons. The “travel bans” were most often justified by the government to prevent the travel of those with pending criminal charges. Between June 2016 and October 2017, approximately 40 individuals, including activists and opposition figures, reported government agents stopped them from leaving the country. Individuals under “travel bans” sometimes claimed the government had not informed them of the ban, provided them with an official document citing the reason, or allowed them to present an appeal. Critics stated authorities tried to build cases against the individuals retroactively to give the travel bans the appearance of legality. Observers noted the travel bans prevented activists from participating in UNHRC sessions and other international events. Activists reported dozens of cases of travel bans just before and during UNHRC meetings in March, June, and September. In July 2016 the NIHR urged the government to stop issuing travel bans without a judicial order.

High-profile cases with travel bans include those imposed on Ebtisam al-Saegh (see section 1.c.) and Adam Rajab, son of imprisoned activist Nabeel Rajab.

Exile: There were no reports the government prohibited the return of individuals whom the government maintained were citizens. The government, however, prohibited the return of those whose citizenship it formally revoked, or those it no longer considered citizens. There were reports of individuals who lived in self-imposed exile, often to avoid jail time for convictions imposed in their absence.

Citizenship: As a punitive measure, the government continued to revoke citizenship for both criminal and political cases, including in the case of natural-born citizens. Authorities maintained the revocation of citizenship of some opposition political and religious figures. The government has not implemented a comprehensive legal review process concerning citizenship revocation, as recommended by the NIHR in 2015, to assure the government protected the rights of individuals and their family members. The government did not consider whether individuals may become stateless by these actions and has at times threatened to halt payments of pensions, or remove families from government-assisted housing if a head-of-household loses his citizenship. Some family members, especially women and minor children, reported difficulties renewing their passports and residence cards and obtaining birth certificates for children. During the year the government issued limited-validity passports to a number of individuals, whose citizenship it had revoked, and deported them to Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon. There is no procedure for accused persons to mount a defense prior to citizenship revocation.

On May 21, a court sentenced Shia cleric Sheikh Isa Qassim to a one-year suspended prison sentence and confiscated money the government argued he collected illegally. The government revoked Qassim’s citizenship in 2016. Government sources reported Qassim had the right to appeal the decision, but he declined to do so. Authorities indicted him and two staff, Mirza al-Dirazi and Sheikh Hussain al-Mahrous, on money-laundering charges, citing large transfers of funds overseas that allegedly bypassed banks to avoid detection. Qassim denied the charges and did not attend any court proceedings.


Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government at times provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; however, protection was mostly limited to those who had been able to obtain and maintain employment in the country. Such individuals generally had access to health care and education services while employed but were at risk of deportation if they became unemployed or if their country of origin revoked their passports. UNHCR reported that as of June 2016, there were 373 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the agency.


Individuals generally derive citizenship from the father, but the king may confer or revoke it. Since the government only considers the father’s citizenship when determining citizenship, it does not generally grant children born to a non-Bahraini father citizenship, even if they were born in the country to a citizen mother (see section 6. Children). Likewise, the government does not provide a path to citizenship for foreign men married to Bahraini women, unlike the process by which foreign women married to Bahraini men may become citizens. Human rights organizations reported these laws have resulted in stateless children, particularly when the foreign father is unable or unwilling to pursue citizenship from his country of origin for his children, or when the father himself was stateless, deceased, or unknown. It was unknown how many stateless persons resided in the country. Stateless persons had limited access to social services, education, and employment. There were reports authorities refused applications for birth certificates and passports for children whose Bahraini fathers were in prison because the fathers were not able to submit the applications in person (see section 6, Children).

The government charged individuals whose citizenship it revoked with violating immigration law.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government sometimes failed to respect this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of speech. Some journalists self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution equates criticism of the constitution with sedition. Punishment for sedition ranges from three years’ to life imprisonment. In 2016 several high-profile individuals were charged with sedition, including BNP leader Khaleda Zia, television personality Mahmudur Rahman Manna, and reporter Kanok Sarwar. The government did not proceed with the prosecutions of Manna and Sarwar. The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government’s broad powers of interpretation. The government may restrict speech deemed to be against the security of the state; against friendly relations with foreign states; and against public order, decency, or morality; or that constitutes contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense. The Foreign Donation Act criminalizes any criticism of constitutional bodies. Section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

Press and Media Freedom: Both print and online independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views; however, media outlets that criticized the government experienced negative government pressure.

The government maintained editorial control over the Bangladesh public television station (BTV) and mandated that private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society said that political interference influenced the licensing process, since all television channel licenses granted by the government were for stations supporting the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities, including intelligence services on some occasions, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation.

Utpal Das, a journalist for an online news outlet, went missing in October and reappeared in December. Das gave confusing statements after his return, and observers alleged he was forcibly disappeared as a method of intimidation. Mubasher Hasan, a university professor and social media personality, disappeared for 44 days during the year. After The Wire, a news website, alleged that the army intelligence forces were responsible for the disappearance, the government blocked access to The Wire’s website.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on May 17, the Foreign Ministry sent letters to its embassies abroad instructing them to monitor Bangladeshi journalists traveling abroad. The letter cited a recommendation from the Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had expressed concern that traveling journalists were giving “wrong information on Bangladesh in the international arena.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists alleged that intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well.

Privately owned newspapers usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem, however. The government used advertising as a weapon to control the media by withholding advertising spending.

The government penalized media that criticized the government. On multiple occasions, government officials threatened privately owned television channels not to broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. Daily newspapers Prothom Alo and Daily Starwere denied access to prime ministerial events because they published reports critical of the government and prime minister, according to observers. The government also intervened to suppress reports deemed damaging to the ruling party. On September 22, the Burma news portal published a report by Indian journalist Subir Bhaumik under the headline “Bangladesh’s Hasina Survives Another Attempt on Her Life.” On September 23, the local television stations Jamuna TV and DBC News broadcast the report as breaking news but were pressured to pull it off the air.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, particularly due to fear of security force retribution. Although public criticism of the government was common and vocal, some media figures expressed fear of harassment by the government.

Some international media outlets reported delays and difficulties in obtaining visas. A government-managed film censorship board reviewed local and foreign films and had the authority to censor or ban films on the grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation, or plagiarism, but it was less strict than in the past.

Local and international media, including major news agencies, were largely able to report on the influx of Rohingya refugees from Burma, although two Burmese photojournalists were detained in September and charged with espionage. Many members of the international media traveled to the country on tourist visas, but police detained the photojournalists for using tourist visas to enter the country instead of journalist visas. After two weeks in detention, the journalists were released on bail but could not leave the country until authorities dropped the charges four weeks later.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations. In November a human rights lawyer claimed he received death threats for writing about and advocating for the country’s LGBTI community.


The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in isolated incidents. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) reported approximately 77 million internet subscriptions in August, including an estimated 71 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription). The government prohibited Virtual Private Networks and Voice Over Internet Protocol telephony but rarely enforced this prohibition.

In several incidents the government interfered in internet communications, filtered or blocked access, restricted content, and censored websites or other communications and internet services. It suspended or closed many websites based on vague criteria, or with explicit reference to their pro-opposition content in violation of legal requirements.

The BTRC is charged with the regulation of telecommunications. It carries out law enforcement and government requests to block content by ordering internet service providers to take action. The BTRC filtered internet content the government deemed harmful to national unity and religious beliefs. In August 2016 the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and political leaders or were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked.

Section 57 of the ICTA criminalizes the posting online of inflammatory or derogatory information against the state or individuals. Opponents of the law said it unconstitutionally restricted freedom of speech. The government used the ICTA and the threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online.

According to an investigation by the Daily Star, the government prosecuted at least 21 journalists in 11 cases under section 57 of the ICTA from March to June.


Although the government placed few restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, authorities discouraged research on sensitive religious and political topics that might fuel possible religious or communal tensions. Academic publications on the 1971 independence war were also subject to scrutiny and government approval. Appointment of teachers in universities continued to be based on political affiliation.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but there were restrictions on both.


The law provided for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right. The law gives the government broad discretion to ban assemblies of more than four persons. A Dhaka Metropolitan Police order requires advance permission for gatherings such as protests and demonstrations in Dhaka. According to human rights NGOs, authorities continued to use approval provisions to disallow gatherings by opposition groups. Occasionally, police or ruling party activists used force to disperse demonstrations.

During the year police prevented opposition party members from holding events on multiple occasions. For example, police denied permission to the labor committee of the main opposition party, the BNP, to hold a rally in Dhaka acknowledging Labor Day on May 1, whereas government affiliated groups were allowed to host public events.

Police did not allow members of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, an NGO that was once a political party, to meet, even for private, indoor meetings. On October 9, police detained nine Jamaat members, including its amir (president), deputy amir, and secretary general from a house in Dhaka’s Uttara neighborhood, claiming they were devising plans to create instability in the country.


The law provides for the right of citizens to form associations, subject to “reasonable restrictions” in the interest of morality or public order, and the government generally respected this right. The government’s NGO Affairs Bureau sometimes withheld its approval for foreign funding to NGOs working in areas the bureau deemed sensitive such as human rights, labor rights, indigenous rights, or humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees (see sections 2.d., 5, and 7.a.).

The 2016 Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act places additional restrictions on the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs or government officials and provides for punishment of NGOs making any “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution or constitutional institutions (see section 5). The government subsequently announced that a number of NGOs were no longer allowed to operate in the country, including Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Islamic Relief, and Allama Fazlullah Foundation, according to media reports, although it was not known whether the Foreign Donations Act was specifically used to ban them.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on foreigners’ access to the CHT.

Starting on August 25, the country experienced an influx of more than 646,000 Rohingya migrants from Burma, more than doubling the existing refugee and undocumented migrant population in the refugee camps and makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar, near the Burmese border.

The government had a mixed record of cooperation during the year with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. For example, the government restricted UNHCR access in the first eight months of the year to only the 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees and did not allow UNHCR access to the undocumented Rohingya population, estimated to be 200,000-500,000 individuals prior to August. They lived in the towns and villages outside the two official refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar District. The government also initially denied UNHCR unrestricted access to the new influx of Rohingya refugees during the post-August 25 mass influx. Following advocacy from UNHCR and the international community, the government agreed in late September to allow UNHCR to provide protection and assistance to the full population of Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar. The government allowed access to International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other UN agencies to provide services to both the registered and undocumented Rohingya populations in Cox’s Bazar, as well as the new arrivals, after August 25.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Prior to the August influx of Rohingya, UNHCR reported 66 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps who received counseling through March.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The government restricted most of the Rohingya population to the official and makeshift camp areas in Cox’s Bazar. It established checkpoints on major routes to stop movement from the border with Burma to the settlement areas and the established camp areas.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays in getting their passports renewed; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. In March a senior BNP official alleged authorities detained and harassed her for four hours at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport prior to her departure for Australia despite a court order not to prevent her from traveling abroad. She allegedly faced similar circumstances during her departure for the United Kingdom in July.

Adilur Rahman Khan, the founder of the human rights NGO Odhikar, was detained at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 20 for 14 hours while traveling to a conference entitled “The Abolition of the Death Penalty in Malaysia.” The Asian Human Rights Commission alleged that the Bangladesh government orchestrated Khan’s detention and deportation from Malaysia to Bangladesh.

The government prevented war crimes suspects from the 1971 independence war from leaving the country.

The country’s passports are invalid for travel to Israel, according to Bangladesh policy.


Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict that persisted from 1973 to 1997. This policy relocated landless Bengalis from the plains to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance in the CHT to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

The IDPs in the CHT had limited physical security. Indigenous community leaders maintained that indigenous persons faced widespread violation of their rights by settlers, sometimes supported by security forces.

In August 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act to curtail the unilateral authority of the commission chair to make decisions on behalf of the commission. The amended act failed to resolve the disputes during the year, as tribal leaders insisted on establishing a governing framework for the law before hearing disputes for resolution. The term of the commission chair, Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque, ended on September 6, and the government had not appointed his replacement at year’s end.

The number of IDPs in the CHT remained disputed. In 2000 a government task force estimated it to be 500,000, which included nonindigenous as well as indigenous persons. The CHT Commission estimated that slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs dwelled in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and to close the remaining military camps, but the task force on IDPs remained unable to function due to a dispute over classifying settlers as IDPs. The commission reported that authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.


Prior to September the government and UNHCR provided temporary protection and basic assistance to approximately 33,000 registered Rohingya refugees from Burma living in two official camps (Kutupalong and Nayapara), while the government and IOM provided assistance to approximately 200,000 undocumented Rohingya living in makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazaar. As of December the government and UNHCR estimated that 900,000 to one million undocumented Rohingya were in the country, including more than 655,000 Rohingya who entered the country seeking refuge from violence that erupted in Rakhine State, Burma, on August 25. Most of these undocumented Rohingya lived in makeshift settlements and in unofficial sites among the local population in Teknaf and Ukhiya subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar District. Led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government continued to implement a national strategy on Rohingya with six key elements: border management, security, humanitarian assistance, strengthened engagement with Burma, internal coordination on Rohingya problems, and a survey of the undocumented Rohingya.

According to the United Nations, more than 50 percent of the new arrivals since August 25 were female, including approximately 16,000 pregnant women. The new Rohingya arrivals took shelter in jungles, hill villages, and open spaces along the road from Ukhiya to Tenkaf and built homes mostly with bamboo poles and plastic sheets. The government reserved a 3,000-acre tract of land to build a megacamp designed to accommodate the new influx.

The government deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District to streamline relief and rehabilitation activities, and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. The Ministry of Home Affairs instructed law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Rohingya people and their camps. Senior government ministers stated that the new arrivals would not be recognized as refugees, referring to them as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.”

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, nor has the government established a formal system for providing protection to refugees. The government provided some protection and assistance to Rohingya from Burma resident in the country. The government cooperated with UNHCR to provide temporary protection and basic assistance to registered refugees resident in two official camps. After the August 25 influx of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new arrivals biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. As of mid-December more than 844,000 Rohingya had been registered biometrically, to include the more than 655,000 new arrivals since August 25 and Rohingya who had arrived earlier.

Freedom of Movement: There were restrictions on Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. After the August 25 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict Rohingya travel beyond the government-designated areas.

Employment: The government did not authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers or rickshaw pullers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: Working with UNHCR, the government continued to improve aspects of the official refugee camps following findings in recent years that sanitation, nutrition, and shelter conditions had fallen below minimum international standards. Some basic needs remained unmet, and the camps remained overcrowded, with densities on par with the country’s urban slums; this worsened after the August 25 influx. A 2014 nutrition survey report from UNHCR and World Food Program stated the prevalence of malnourished (stunted) and underweight children in refugee camps remained higher than in the rest of the country and above the emergency threshold levels set by the World Health Organization.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through eighth grade throughout the country, expanded during the year to include through the seventh grade in the official refugee camps, compared with the fifth grade in previous years. The government permitted UNHCR to design and operate a nonformal, basic education program in the official camps, which reached an estimated 8,000 youth (ages three-14). The government allowed international NGOs to provide informal education to Rohingya outside the official refugee camps, starting with a group of 10,000 students.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. Instead, UNHCR and NGOs provided basic health services in the official camps to registered refugees, and IOM provided health services to the unregistered Rohingya in the makeshift sites and access to local hospitals as needed.

Six international NGOs provided basic services to undocumented Rohingya and to surrounding impoverished host communities prior to the August 25 Rohingya influx. In response to the crisis, the government allowed additional NGOs to work in Cox’s Bazar. Some organizations reported delays in obtaining necessary permits for working with the Rohingya.


The Rohingya in the country were legally or de facto stateless. They could not acquire citizenship, nor does the government of Burma recognize them as citizens.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. The government did not respect these rights and enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and media. Moreover, the state press propagated views in support of the president and official policies, without giving room for critical voices.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could not criticize the president and the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal. Authorities videotaped political meetings, conducted frequent identity checks, and used other forms of intimidation. Authorities also prohibited wearing facemasks, displaying unregistered or opposition flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On April 27, anarchist activist Viachaslau Kasinerau was given a fine after a court in Minsk found him guilty of hooliganism for putting a rope around the neck of a sculpture of a city guard that stands in front of the Interior Ministry on March 12. Although the prosecutor asked for two years of “restricted freedom” (similar to house arrest), which independent human rights observers called incommensurate with his action, the judge instead fined him 115 rubles ($61).

On June 6, a court in Minsk fined prominent graffiti artist Aleh Larychau and his associate Hanna Novik 690 rubles ($370) and 230 rubles (125), respectively. Police arrested the two on charges of using obscenities after painting political street graffiti in Minsk on June 3. Larychau, a member of a street art group known for painting and posting images that mocked government officials and police officers, claimed he was followed by unidentified individuals before his arrest.

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information that authorities deem false or derogatory to a foreigner concerning the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country.

Press and Media Freedom: Government restrictions limited access to information and often resulted in media self-censorship. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the official version of events. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media were limited primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of media.

By law the government may close a publication, printed or online, after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Additionally, regulations give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Ministry of Information may suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling. The law also prohibits media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs.

On March 14, the independent newspaper Nasha Niva and the most popular news portal TUT.BY received warning Ministry of Information letters informing the publications that they had violated the Law on Mass Media by distributing information that “could cause damage to the national interests of Belarus.” Nasha Niva’s editors reported that the ministry cited eight online comments made by readers that purportedly criticized the government, police actions, and detentions following protests that were immediately removed from the newspaper’s webpage after the warning. Nasha Niva also stated that it would more meticulously moderate its online forums in order to avoid any provocative statements or remarks. In the case of TUT.BY, the warning reportedly stemmed from the site’s February 15 article regarding Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine. The article was immediately removed from the portal. Authorities did not take any further action against the two media outlets.

Limited information was available in the state-run press concerning the September 2016 parliamentary elections, including on independent candidates. Although authorities did not generally censor the publication of candidates’ programs in print media, some opposition candidates complained that local television channels refused to televise their addresses.

While no independent media outlets, including newspapers and internet news websites, applied for registration to the Ministry of Information, they continued to seek to provide coverage of events. They operated, however, under repressive media laws, and most faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limiting access to government officials and press briefings, controlling the size of press runs of newspapers, and raising the cost of printing.

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television. The state-owned postal system, Belposhta, and the state distributor of printed press, Belsayuzdruk, allowed the distribution of at least nine independent newspapers and magazines that covered politics, including Novy ChasBorisovskie Novosti, and Intexpress, which have been banned from distribution for 11 years.

The exclusion of independent print media from the state distribution system and the requirement that private stores secure registration to sell newspapers and magazines effectively limited the ability of the independent press to distribute their publications.

International media continued to operate in the country but not without interference and prior censorship. Euronews and the Russian channels First Channel, NTV, and RTR were generally available, although only through paid cable services in many parts of the country and with a time lag that allowed the removal of news deemed undesirable. At times authorities blocked, censored, or replaced their international news programs with local programming.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely.

Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country. The independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that, as of November 15, police fined, detained, and arrested at least 45 journalists while performing their professional duties in more than 184 separate cases.

On March 31, police searched two Minsk offices of the Poland-based media outlet Belsat TV, confiscating television and computer equipment and reportedly detaining one journalist. The Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the searches, referring to a 2014 Supreme Court case that banned the outlet from using the Belsat TV trademark, allegedly because it was registered in 2001 by another entity called BELSATplus. On October 10, a Minsk district court sentenced Belsat TV camera operator Aliaksandr Barazenka to a fine of 920 rubles ($470) for violating trademark rights and ordered confiscation of his video and computer equipment.

The government routinely denied accreditation to journalists who work with foreign media. As of November 15, at least 22 journalists were fined in 55 cases for not having government accreditation or cooperating with a foreign media outlet. For example, on April 5, a Minsk city court denied an appeal filed by Belsat TV camera operator Aliaksandr Barazenka. Police detained Barazenka at the March 25 protests in Minsk, where he was covering the protest with his colleagues. Authorities convicted him for using obscenities and sentenced him to 15 days in jail. Barazenka’s defense lawyer presented a video in court of his defendant being detained that showed he had not shouted any political slogans or obscenities and had informed police he was a journalist.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government exerted pressure on the vast majority of independent publications to exercise self-censorship, warning them not to report on certain topics or criticize the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state broadcast and print media. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and reported local news, although most were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive issues or risk censorship.

Authorities allowed only state-run radio and television networks to broadcast nationwide. The government used this national monopoly to disseminate its version of events and minimize alternative or opposing viewpoints.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. As a result, independent media outlets operated under severe budgetary constraints.

Journalists reporting for international media that gave extensive coverage to the country, such as the Warsaw-based independent satellite channel Belsat TV and Radio Racyja, were denied press accreditation and received warnings from the Prosecutor’s Office and heavy fines.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. There are large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report.

On March 24, a district court in Minsk ended Aliaksandr Lapitski’s compulsory treatment for mental illness. In April 2016 Lapitski was for convicted of “committing socially dangerous acts” and violating Article 368 (“insulting the President of the Republic of Belarus”), and Article 369 (“insulting the authorities”), Article 391 (“insulting a judge or a lay judge”) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. The charges against Lapitski stemmed from his emails and blog posts that, according to authorities, insulted the president. Authorities stated that Lapitski suffered from mental illness and sentenced him to a period of compulsory psychiatric treatment.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security as grounds for censorship of media.


The government interfered with internet freedom by monitoring email and internet chat rooms. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by email, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions, and at times were believed to practice self-censorship. Opposition activists’ emails and other web-based communications were likely to be monitored.

By law news websites and any internet information sources are subject to the same regulations as print media. Online news providers must remove content and publish corrections if ordered to do so by authorities and must adhere to a prohibition against “extremist” information. The law also restricts access to websites whose content includes promotion of violence, wars, “extremist activities”; materials related to illicit weapons, explosives, and drugs; trafficking in persons; pornography; and information that may harm the national interests of the country. Authorities may block access to sites that fail to obey government orders, including because of a single violation of distributing prohibited information, without a prosecutor or court’s mandate. In addition owners of internet sites may be held liable for users’ comments that carry any prohibited information, and these sites may be blocked. The amended law also mandates the creation of a database of news websites. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from the authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. The law prohibits foreign states and foreign individuals from holding more than a 20 percent stake in the country’s media companies.

Independent online media outlets generally were not blocked during the year.

Authorities monitored internet traffic. By law the telecommunications monopoly Beltelekam and other organizations authorized by the government have the exclusive right to maintain internet domains.

A presidential edict requires registration of service providers and internet websites, and requires the collection of information on users at internet cafes. It requires service providers to store data on individuals’ internet use for a year and provide that information to law enforcement agencies upon request. Violations of the edict are punishable by prison sentences.

State companies and organizations that included the workplaces of up to 70 percent of the country’s workers reportedly had internet filters.

In response to the government’s interference and internet restrictions, many opposition groups and independent newspapers switched to internet domains operating outside the country. Observers reported that the few remaining independent media sites with the country domain BY practiced self-censorship at times.

On several occasions, cyberattacks of unknown origin temporarily disabled independent news portals and social networking sites.

According to various media sources, the number of internet users reached more than seven million persons, of which approximately 90 percent used the internet daily or numerous times a month. Internet penetration was approximately 83 percent among users ages 15 to 50.


The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

Educational institutions were required to teach an official state ideology that combined reverence for the achievements of the former Soviet Union and of Belarus under the leadership of Lukashenka. Government-mandated textbooks contained a heavily propagandized version of history and other subjects. Authorities obligated all schools, including private institutions, to follow state directives to inculcate the official ideology and prohibited schools from employing opposition members as their principals. The minister of education has the right to appoint and dismiss the heads of private educational institutions.

Use of the word “academic” was restricted, and NGOs were prohibited from including the word “academy” in their titles. Opportunities to receive a higher education in the Belarusian language (vice Russian) in the majority of fields of study were scarce. The administrations of higher educational institutions made no effort to accommodate students wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes.

The Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU), an official organization modeled on the Soviet-era KOMSOMOL, urged university students to join the BRYU to receive benefits and dormitory rooms. Local authorities pressured BRYU members to campaign on behalf of government parliamentary candidates and to vote early. Students from various universities and colleges reported to an independent election-monitoring group that their faculties were pressuring students into early voting by threatening them with eviction from their dormitories. Additionally, authorities at times reportedly pressured students to act as informants for the country’s security services.

According to a Ministry of Education directive, educational institutions may expel students who engage in antigovernment or unsanctioned political activity and must ensure the proper ideological education of students. School officials, however, cited poor academic performance or absence from classes as the official reason for expulsions. In March the Mahilyou State University administration expelled Alena Kisel after she was fined 345 rubles ($180) for participating in unauthorized protests in the city.

On May 24, a Minsk district court dismissed an appeal filed by Khrystsiyan Shynkevich challenging his expulsion from the Belarus State Teachers Training University after his detention on March 26 in Minsk. A university representative claimed in court that Shynkevich was expelled because he failed to attend 40 percent of his classes during the academic year.

In some cases the government also restricted cultural events, selectively approving performances of what they deemed opposition music groups at small concert halls. Approvals required groups to go through cumbersome and time-consuming procedures to receive permissions. The procedures continued to force some opposition theater and music groups from public venues and into bars and private apartments by banning their performances.

The government also restricted the activities of a nonofficial writers union, the independent Union of Belarusian Writers, and extensively supported the progovernment Union of Writers of Belarus. Authorities harassed distributors of books authored by critical and independent writers or written in the Belarusian language. Authorities did not allow local printing of books by Sviatlana Aleksievich, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, although her books were widely available in bookstores and online, primarily in Russian editions.

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government severely restricted this right. Authorities employed a variety of means to discourage demonstrations, disperse them, minimize their effect, and punish the participants. The law provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted it and selectively enforced laws and registration regulations to restrict the operation of independent associations that might criticize the government.


Only registered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs could request permission to hold a demonstration of more than 1,000 persons. Authorities usually denied requests by independent and opposition groups. A general atmosphere of repression and the threat of imprisonment or large fines exercised a chilling effect on potential protest organizers.

The law criminalizes the announcement of demonstrations via the internet or social media before official approval, the participation in the activities of unregistered NGOs, the training of persons to demonstrate, the financing of public demonstrations, or the solicitation of foreign assistance “to the detriment” of the country. Violations are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

Organizers must apply at least 15 days in advance for permission to conduct a public demonstration, rally, or meeting, and government officials are required to respond no later than five days prior to the scheduled event. Authorities, however, generally granted permits for opposition demonstrations only if held far from city centers. Authorities used intimidation and threats to discourage persons from participating in demonstrations, openly videotaped participants, and imposed heavy fines or jail sentences on participants in unsanctioned demonstrations. In addition authorities required organizers to conclude contracts with police, fire department, health, and sanitary authorities for their services during and after a mass event. In some localities, local officials told permit applicants that they must first secure these contracts before a permit could be issued. During the year local authorities countrywide rejected dozens of applications for permission to stage demonstrations to protest a presidential decree requiring Belarusian nationals and noncitizens permanently residing in the country who officially work less than 183 calendar days per year to pay an annual tax. They also rejected applications to demonstrate on May Day on May 1.

Opposition activists held dozens of unsanctioned rallies during the year and faced administrative charges and fines for allegedly violating the Law on Mass Events. Those who refused to pay fines, calling them politically motivated, potentially faced property confiscation and travel bans. Authorities regularly fined the same activists for their continuous political activity during the year. For example, on August 1, a Minsk district court sentenced Leanid Kulakou, an activist of the European Belarus campaign, to a fine of 690 rubles ($350) for participating in a July 7 unauthorized protest in Minsk against the September Belarus-Russia joint military exercise ZAPAD.

On March 3-24, authorities detained, fined, or jailed for up to 15 days approximately 300 individuals for their participation in various unauthorized protests against a presidential decree across the country. Activists described continued abuse of force by police, including against Ales Lahviniec, a democratic activist who was hospitalized with a concussion and broken nose after being arrested on March 23.

Authorities took various measures to prevent prodemocracy activists from celebrating Freedom Day, the March 25 anniversary of the country’s 1918 declaration of independence (an event the government does not recognize). The Minsk city authorities failed to respond to an opposition’s application for permission to hold a demonstration in central Minsk within the legally required five days prior to the demonstration. While the Mayor’s Office had originally scheduled a meeting with the Freedom Day organizing committee on March 20, it was postponed until March 24. The organizing committee argued it was too late to notify the public of the changed route requested by the city.

In a police operation meant to prevent any unsanctioned demonstrations from taking place in the center of Minsk to celebrate Freedom Day, metro trains did not stop near the gathering point of the demonstration in front of the Academy of Sciences. Buses and other public transportation also did not stop in the vicinity. Police detained more than 600 participants throughout the city. The majority of those detained were released the same day; more than one hundred faced a variety of charges, including minor hooliganism, resisting police, or participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.


All NGOs, political parties, and trade unions must receive Ministry of Justice approval to become registered. A government commission reviews and approves all registration applications; it based its decisions largely on political and ideological compatibility with official views and practices.

Actual registration procedures required applicants to provide the number and names of founders, along with a physical address in a nonresidential building for an office, an extraordinary burden in view of the tight financial straits of most NGOs and individual property owners’ fears of renting space to independent groups. Individuals listed as members were vulnerable to reprisal. The government’s refusal to rent office space to unregistered organizations and the expense of renting private space reportedly forced most organizations to use residential addresses, which authorities could then use as a reason to deny registration or to deregister. The law criminalizes activities conducted on behalf of unregistered groups and subjects group members to penalties ranging from large fines to two years’ imprisonment (also see section 7.a.).

The law on public associations prohibits NGOs from keeping funds for local activities at foreign financial institutions. The law also prohibits NGOs from facilitating provision of any support or benefits from foreign states to civil servants based on their political or religious views or ethnicity, a provision widely believed to be aimed at the Polish minority.

Only registered NGOs may legally accept foreign grants and technical aid and only for a limited set of approved activities. NGOs must receive approval from the Department for Humanitarian Affairs of the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of the Economy for technical aid before they may accept such funds or register the grants.

The government continued to deny registration to some NGOs and political parties on a variety of pretexts, including “technical” problems with applications. Authorities frequently harassed and intimidated founding members of organizations in an effort to force them to abandon their membership and thus deprive their groups of the number of petitioners necessary for registration. Many groups had been denied registration on multiple occasions.

On May 15, the Ministry of Justice registered Tell the Truth as a public association. On April 11, the group has filed application for registration; it was the seventh time the group had applied for registration as an NGO.

On July 21, the Justice Ministry denied an application to register the research and educational NGO known as “Dzeya (Act).” The main goal of the group was to monitor human rights and fundamental freedoms, track the country’s compliance with international agreements, and promote the rule of law, civil society, and development of democratic institutions. The ministry noted that the application missed a surname and had some other minor errors.

On October 4, the Supreme Court upheld the Justice Ministry’s decision to deny registration to the Social Christian Movement, a new NGO affiliated with the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy party. In August the Ministry denied the registration because a component of one of the founders’ name was written incorrectly and because the NGO chairperson was not named in the application documents. This was the group’s second denial during the year.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times restricted the right of citizens, former political prisoners in particular, to foreign travel. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Passports serve as a form of identity and authorities required them for permanent housing, work, and hotel registration. Police continued to harass selectively individuals who lived at a location other than their legal place of residence indicated in mandatory stamps in their passports.

The law also requires persons who travel to areas within 15 miles of the border (aside from authorized crossing points) to obtain an entrance pass.

Foreign Travel: The government’s database of persons banned from traveling abroad contained the names of individuals who possessed state secrets, faced criminal prosecution or civil suits, or had outstanding financial obligations. Authorities informed some persons by letter that their names were in the database; others learned only at border crossings. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and security agencies, border and customs services, and financial investigation departments have a right to place persons on “preventive” surveillance lists.

Students required permission from the head of their educational institution to study abroad. The Ministry of Internal Affairs is also required to track citizens working abroad, and employment agencies must report individuals who do not return from abroad as scheduled.

Exile: The law does not allow forced exile, but sources asserted that security forces continued to threaten some opposition members with bodily harm or prosecution if they did not leave the country, and many were in self-imposed exile.

Many university students who were expelled or believed they were under the threat of expulsion for their political activities opted for self-imposed exile and continued their studies abroad.


Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, complementary and temporary protection to foreign citizens and stateless persons, with some exceptions. The government has established a procedure for determining refugee status and a system for providing protection to refugees. The law provides for protection against refoulement granted to foreigners who are denied refugee status or temporary protection but cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

All foreigners except Russians have the right to apply for asylum. According to the terms of the Union Treaty with Russia, Russians may legally settle and obtain residence permits in the country based on their Russian citizenship. Overall, as of October 1, immigration authorities accepted 463 applications for asylum compared with 596 in 2016, including from 359 Ukrainians, 10 Syrians, 8 Afghans, and 12 Pakistani.

In addition to refugee status, the country’s asylum law provides for complementary protection in the form of temporary residence. In the period January-September, 364 foreigners were granted complementary protection (333 Ukrainians, 14 Syrians, six Yemenis, seven Afghans, one Georgian, and three Egyptians).

Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers have freedom of movement within the country but must reside in the region where they filed their applications for refugee status and in a place known to authorities while their applications are being considered, including during appeals. Authorities reportedly often encouraged asylum seekers to settle in rural areas; however, the majority settled in cities and towns. Change of residence was possible with a notification to authorities. Authorities issue registered asylum seekers certificates that serve as documents to confirm their status of asylum-seekers and identity and protect them from expulsion. In accordance with the law, they also must register with local authorities at their place of residence.

Durable Solutions: Adult asylum seekers have to pay for higher education as well as for nonemergency medical services while minors receive education and medical services free of charge. Free legal assistance, housing, and language training are not available to either asylum seekers or refugees.

Temporary Protection: Although the government may provide temporary protection (for up to one year) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees, it did not do so during the year.


As of July 1, the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR listed 5,915 stateless persons in the country; all had permanent residence according to authorities.

Permanently resident stateless persons held residence permits and were treated comparably to citizens in terms of access to employment, with the exception of a limited number of positions in the public sector and law enforcement that were available only to citizens. There were reports that stateless persons occasionally faced discrimination in employment, since authorities often encouraged them to settle in rural areas where the range of employment opportunities was limited. According to UNHCR, stateless persons could freely change their region of residence.

There is a path towards citizenship for this stateless population. The main requirement is at least seven years’ permanent residence. Authorities have a procedure for expedited naturalization procedures but mostly for individuals born or permanently residing in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Belarusians, their spouses, and descendants. If a child is born into a family of stateless persons permanently residing in the country, the child is entitled to Belarusian citizenship. The decrease of the number of stateless individuals in the country was attributed to their naturalization.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for freedom of speech including for members of the press. Defamation can carry criminal penalties, and citizens were cautious in their expression, especially as it related to criticism of the royal family or government practices.

Press and Media Freedom: The media law does not provide specific protections for journalists or guarantee freedom of information. The media law also prohibits media outlets from supporting political parties. Media sources suggested that while there was commitment to media freedom at the highest levels, some media professionals continued to find bureaucrats unwilling to share information, especially on issues of corruption and violations of the law. Independent media outlets relied heavily on government advertisements for revenue, and most news outlets struggled to generate sufficient revenue to operate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House reported that a 2015 survey of 119 current and former Bhutanese journalists revealed general concerns about press freedom and access to information. Local contacts reported increased use of social media to raise complaints of official misconduct or abuse.


The government generally permitted individuals and groups to engage in peaceful expression of views via the internet. Government officials stated the government did not block access, restrict content, or censor websites. Freedom House reported the government occasionally blocked access to websites containing pornography or information deemed offensive to the state. Such blocked information typically did not extend to political content. The Annual Statistics 2017 of the Ministry of Information and Communications estimated the number of internet users at 72 percent of the population.


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

The government limited/restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and/or association.


While the constitution provides for the right to assemble peacefully, the government restricted this right. The 1992 National Security Act permits the government to control the public’s right to assembly “to avoid breaches of the peace” by requiring licenses, prohibiting assembly in designated areas, and declaring curfew. The penal code prohibits “promotion of civil unrest” as an act that is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony among different nationalities, racial groups, castes, or religious groups.


The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government permitted the registration of some political parties and organizations that were deemed “not harmful to the peace and unity of the country.” Many of the NGOs in the country maintained formal or informal connections to members of the royal family. In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated the government did not permit the operation of NGOs working on the status of Nepali-speaking refugees. Under the law, all NGOs must register with the government. To register an NGO, an individual must be a Bhutanese citizen, disclose his or her family income and assets, disclose his or her educational qualifications, and disclose any criminal records.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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 limited freedom of movement and repatriation. Freedom of movement was sometimes restricted based on location of permanent residence. Rules established differences in citizenship categories and determined whether a person may be granted a “route permit” to travel internally or obtain a passport for international travel. (Bhutanese citizens are required to obtain a security clearance certificate to obtain a passport.)

Foreign Travel: The law establishes different categories of citizenship under which foreign travel is restricted. NGOs reported these restrictions primarily affected ethnic Nepalis although children of single mothers who could not establish citizenship through a Bhutanese father also were affected.

Exile: The law does not address forced exile, and there were no reported cases of forced exile during the year. In the early 1990s, the government reportedly forced between 80,000 and 100,000 Nepali-speaking residents to leave the country, following a series of decisions taken during the 1970s and 1980s establishing legal requirements for Bhutanese citizenship.

In its Freedom in the World 2016 report, Freedom House stated that 18,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in Nepal as of late 2015. The government claimed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) failed to screen individuals who originally entered these camps to determine whether they had any ties to Bhutan. As of September 2016, after years of international efforts resulting in the resettlement of thousands of refugees, approximately 8,000 Nepali-speaking refugees remained in two refugee camps in Nepal administered by UNHCR.

There continued to be delays in government consideration of claims to Bhutanese citizenship by refugees in Nepal.

Citizenship: Under the constitution, only children whose parents can both be proven to be citizens of Bhutan can apply for citizenship up to their first birthday, after which a petition must be filed with the king to be granted citizenship. Civil society groups noted disproportionate barriers to citizenship faced by Lhotshampa communities and the wives of non-Bhutanese citizens.

NGOs reported that approximately 9,000 applicants have received citizenship since 2006. In June the king granted 137 persons citizenship at a ceremony in Tashichhodzong. The law provides for revocation of the citizenship of any naturalized citizen who “has shown by act or speech to be disloyal in any manner whatsoever to the king, country, and people.” The law permits reapplication for citizenship after a two-year probationary period. The government can restore citizenship after successful completion of the probation and a finding that the individual was not responsible for any act against the government.


Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.

The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) reported that since the 1960s, the country had sheltered Tibetan refugees who were initially located in seven settlements. The government reported that the Tibetans had successfully integrated into society and that approximately 1,600 had applied for and received citizenship. As of July, Department of Immigration records showed 2,583 Tibetan refugees in Bhutan. No current records indicate any of these refugees hold work permits. The CTA did not have an official presence in the country and did not provide social and economic assistance to Tibetans in Bhutan. Authorities keep the country’s border with China closed, and Tibetans generally did not transit the country en route to India. The Tibetan population is decreasing as Tibetan refugees adopt Bhutanese citizenship according to the Department of Immigration.

Employment: Reports suggested that some Tibetan refugees and some Nepali-speaking Bhutanese citizens could not obtain security clearances for government jobs, enroll in higher education, or obtain licenses to run private businesses. According to the government, all Bhutanese citizens are eligible for security clearances provided they do not have criminal records.

Access to Basic Services: The government stated that Tibetan refugees have the same access to government-provided health care and education as citizens. According to the CTA, 13 Tibetan refugees have received licenses to run businesses. The CTA also said that while Tibetan refugees are not eligible for government employment, a few Tibetan refugees worked as teachers and health-care providers under temporary government contracts. They reportedly have difficulties traveling within and outside the country.

Durable Solutions: Tibetan refugees could travel to India, although many faced obstacles in obtaining travel permits. There were also reports the government did not provide the travel documents necessary for Tibetan refugees to travel beyond India. The government continued to delay implementing a process to identify and repatriate refugees with claims to Bhutanese residency or citizenship.


A nationwide census in 1985 resulted in a determination that many Nepali-speaking persons in Bhutan were not citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. The government alleged that they were not citizens because they could not prove they had been resident in the country in 1958. Officials repeated the census in 1988-89 in the southern districts. During the second round of the census, those who were deemed not to be citizens in 1985 could apply for citizenship provided they met certain conditions. The government categorized those who did not meet the new criteria as illegal immigrants and expelled them. According to NGOs, an unknown number of Nepali-speaking stateless persons remained in the country, mainly in the south. Officials conducted the last census in 2005. While records do not show any figures on stateless persons, informed sources estimated 1,000 families are stateless.

For a child to qualify for Bhutanese citizenship, both parents must be Bhutanese citizens. NGOs and media sources highlighted the existence of stateless children born to unwed mothers who were unable to prove the identity of the father of the child. According to 2014 NGO reports, more than 700 children born in the country were not recognized as Bhutanese citizens because their fathers’ nationality was undocumented. Nonetheless, the government claimed that 20 children in the kingdom fell into this category. In May the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) urged the government to end discrimination against children based on ethnic origin, particularly in access to education. The UNCRC also requested that the government amend the Citizenship Act of 1985.

Stateless persons cannot obtain “no objection certificates” and security clearance certificates, which are often necessary for access to public healthcare, employment, access to primary and secondary education, enrollment at institutions of higher education, travel documents, and business ownership. The National Commission for Women and Children stated children without citizenship were eligible for public educational and health services.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Under the law and emergency powers, the government restricted freedom of expression, including of the press.

Freedom of Expression: Members of the LegCo may “speak their opinions freely,” but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the law it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The law also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This concept, the all-pervasive ideology that underscores the law, proclaims Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or “wound religious feelings.”

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers ceased publishing comments on stories after the sultan issued repeated warnings.

All public musical or theatrical performances required prior approval by a censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The SPC was interpreted by the government as prohibiting public celebration of religions other than Islam, including displaying Christmas decorations.

Press and Media Freedom: The law requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval for hiring foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. In 2016 one of the two English-language dailies ceased operations without prior notice. The newspaper’s website and social media presence were removed without access to archives. Although the newspaper’s board of directors attributed the closure to business sustainability, poor journalistic standards, and competition from alternative media, there were widespread reports that the government shuttered the paper following a complaint from the Saudi Arabian embassy regarding alleged “inaccurate” reporting on a change in visa fees for citizens wishing to visit Saudi Arabia.

Foreign newspapers generally were available, although the government must approve their distribution. Internet versions of local and foreign media were generally available without censorship or blocking.

The government owned the only local television station. Three Malaysian television channels were also available, along with two satellite television services. Some content was subject to censorship based on theme or content, including sexual or religious content, but such censorship was not consistent.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything with an alleged seditious intent. The government may suspend publication for a maximum of one year and prohibit publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing, or editing any other newspaper. The government may also seize printing equipment. Persons convicted under the law face a maximum fine of 5,000 Brunei dollars (BND) ($3,640) and a maximum jail term of three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subject to fines or prison sentences. In 2016 the government reprimanded the media for their portrayal of certain events and encouraged reporters to avoid covering controversial topics such as the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At least one editorial deemed critical of government policy was removed from news sites, but there were no reports of fines or charges. The government maintained that most censorship was aimed at stopping violent content from entering the country.

The SPC includes regulations barring publication or importation of publications giving instruction about Islam contrary to sharia. It also bars the distribution of publications related to religions other than Islam to Muslims or persons with no religion. The SPC bars the publication, broadcast, or public expression of a list of words generally associated with Islam (such as Quran) in a non-Islamic context. The SPC also prohibits religious teaching without written approval. There were no reports of charges under these regulations.

Journalists commonly reported practicing self-censorship because of social pressure, reports of government interference, and legal and professional concerns.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits bringing into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the sultan and/or the government. Persons convicted under the law face a fine of BND 5,000 ($3,640) and/or a maximum of three years in prison. For the first time in 30 years, on July 27, the government charged an official of the Ministry of Health, Shahiransheriffuddin bin Sharani Muhammad, with making seditious comments criticizing the Ministry of Religious Affairs following the implementation of the Sultanate’s new halal certification standards approved in May. Bin Sharani posted on his personal Facebook page about the halal certification requirements’ negative impact on small businesses. He pleaded not guilty and is free on bail awaiting trial.


The government monitored private email and internet chat room exchanges believed to be propagating religious extremism or otherwise subversive, including those of religious minorities, or on topics deemed immoral. The Ministry of Communications and the Prime Minister’s Office enforced the law that requires internet service providers and internet cafe operators to register with the director of broadcasting in the Prime Minister’s Office. The Attorney General’s Chambers and the Authority for Info-Communications Technology Industry advised internet service and content providers to monitor for content contrary to the public interest, national harmony, and social morals. The government blocked websites promoting violent extremism and some websites containing sexually explicit material. Internet companies self-censor content and reserve the right to cut off internet access without prior notice. The government also ran an awareness campaign aimed at warning citizens about the misuse of and social ills associated with social media, including the use of social media to criticize Islam, sharia, or the monarchy.

The great majority of the population had access to the internet, and the country had a high rate of social media usage. Social media websites were widely accessible.


Although there are no official government restrictions on academic freedom, quasi-governmental authorities must approve public lectures, academic conferences, and visiting scholars. Academics reported practicing self-censorship, and some researchers chose to publish from overseas under a pseudonym when they perceived that certain topics would not be well received within Brunei. Religious authorities reviewed publications to verify compliance with social norms.

A censorship board composed of officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs determined the suitability of concerts, movies, cultural shows, and other public performances, and censored, banned, or restricted these activities. Traditional Chinese New Year lion dance performances were limited to a two-day period and confined to Chinese temples, Chinese school halls, and private residencies of Chinese association members.

The government limited/restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.


The government’s proclamation of emergency powers restricts the right to assemble. Public gatherings of 10 or more persons require a government permit, and police may disband an unofficial assembly of five or more persons deemed likely to cause a disturbance of the peace. Permits require the approval of the minister of home affairs. The government routinely issued permits for annual events, but occasionally used the restrictions to disrupt political gatherings. Organizers of events on sensitive topics tended to hold meetings in private locations rather than apply for permits, or practiced self-censorship at public events.

On February 21, 19 Indian migrant workers were each fined BND 300 ($211) after pleading guilty to taking part in an unlawful assembly in support of the ancient Indian sport of Jallikattu. In handing down the sentence, the judge reminded the public that it must obtain a permit from the commissioner of police in order to hold a public meeting.


The law does not provide for freedom of association. It requires formal groups, including religious, social, business, labor, and cultural organizations, to register with the Registrar of Societies and provide regular reports on membership and finances. The government reported the majority of applications to form associations were accepted, but applicants were subject to background checks, and proposed organizations were subject to naming requirements, including a prohibition on names or symbols linked to triad societies (Chinese organized crime networks). Some new organizations reported delaying their registration applications after receiving advice that the process would be difficult. The government may suspend the activities of a registered organization if it deems such an act to be in the public interest.

Organizations seeking to raise funds or donations from the general public are required to obtain permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, and each individual fundraising opportunity requires separate permits. Approved organizations dealt with matters such as pollution, wildlife preservation, arts, entrepreneurship, and women in business. An organization called Youth Against Slavery founded in 2015 continued to raise awareness about human trafficking and forced labor, but it had not officially registered as of December.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

In-country Movement: Citizens and stateless persons face no restriction on internal travel and travel freely throughout the country. Women do not need the consent of a husband or other male to travel.

Foreign Travel: Government employees, including both citizens and foreign residents working on a contractual basis, must apply for exit permits to travel abroad. Government guidelines state no government official may travel alone and unrelated male and female officers may not travel together, but this was enforced inconsistently based on ministry and gender. The country’s tourist passports state the bearer may not travel to Israel. There were reports of individuals suspected of violating sharia being told that they were on a travel blacklist or being refused exit from the country, without being notified of the charges against them or of how to appeal the ban.

Exile: By law the sultan may forcibly exile, permanently or temporarily, any person deemed a threat to the safety, peace, or welfare of the country. There have been no cases of banishment since the country became fully independent in 1984.


Refoulement: During the year a refugee family traveling on UN Convention travel documents and in possession of valid Brunei entry visas was denied entry and informed that their travel documents were not recognized by the government and their entry permits had been issued in error.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees.


The 2011 Population and Housing Census reported 13,310 stateless persons normally resident in the country. A significant number of stateless persons were of Chinese or aboriginal descent. The vast majority of stateless persons held a certificate of identity (COI), which looks like and functions as a passport. COI holders have rights including to subsidized health care and education similar to those of permanent residents. The government had no data available on stateless persons who hold no form of residency or COI.

Stateless persons may apply for citizenship if they are permanent residents who have contributed to the country’s economic growth, spouses married to citizens for two years, women married to permanent residents for five years, or children of permanent resident fathers older than two years and six months. All applicants must pass a test demonstrating sufficient knowledge of Malay culture and language.

Stateless persons without permanent resident status or a COI were ineligible for most benefits or services from the government and for government employment. Nonetheless, government agencies offered welfare services to stateless parents unable to gain access to basic needs. The Ministry of Home Affairs sought to expedite the permanent resident registration of the country’s stateless persons if they met all necessary requirements. The strict procedure for assessing the applications continued to cause bureaucratic delays. Contacts in the stateless community who passed the Malay culture and language test reported that five to 10 years had elapsed since they passed their test and they still had not been granted citizenship.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech about the president and other officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Restrictions on freedom of speech and press increased significantly following dissent against the president’s 2015 announcement that he would seek a third term in office and government accusations of media complicity in the 2015 failed coup. These restrictions continued and were applied to press outlets critical of the government or the human rights situation in the country. Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services or government officials. Social media networks, primarily Twitter and WhatsApp, serve as news outlets, often replacing traditional news outlets. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence.

Freedom of Expression: The Penal Code, passed in 2009, protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.” The law also prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. The law mandates a penalty of six months to five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 Burundian francs ($5.65 to $28.35) for insulting the head of state. Some journalists, lawyers, NGO personnel, and leaders of political parties and civil society alleged the government used the law to intimidate and harass them.

Press and Media Freedom: The government owned and operated a daily newspaper, Le Renouveau, and a radio/television station, Burundi National Television and Radio (RTNB). The directors general of both outlets report to the Presidency. Rema FM, a CNDD-FDD radio station, also enjoyed support from the government, although it was technically independent. Radio Isanganiro was the country’s largest independent radio station. Iwacu, an independent newspaper, continued to publish articles in French and English that were critical of the government and its policies. The family of an Iwacu journalist who disappeared in July 2016 reported that it received death threats throughout the year.

Government reports identified 20 public and independent radio stations, four community radio stations, 24 periodicals, and 12 press associations operating in the country. After being closed in the aftermath of the failed coup in 2015, Radio REMA FM, Radio Isanganiro, Radio Humuriza, and Maison de la Presse were reauthorized in February 2016 and continued operating during the year.

On September 28, the National Council for Communication (CNC) announced a decision to withdraw the licenses of Radio Bonesha, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), and Radio/Television Renaissance for breaches of their agreements with the CNC or for not abiding by content regulations. These three stations had been shuttered by the government in 2015 after unidentified men destroyed their broadcasting equipment following the failed coup in May 2015. Radio Bonesha continued to operate a website and RPA continued to broadcast into the country from Rwanda. In the same communique the CNC also announced the suspension for three months of CCIB FM +, a radio station operated by the Federal Chamber of Commerce of Burundi (CFCIB), following a broadcast including critical coverage of the government’s response to the killing of 39 Burundian refugees in the DRC by Congolese security forces. CFCIB appealed the suspension to the CNC and dismissed the station’s editor in chief; there were reports he subsequently fled the country after receiving threats. In December the CNC announced the six-month suspension of Radio Ntumbero for violations of its charter and suspended for one month the opinion section of the Igihe news site. The CNC also revoked the licenses of other radio or television stations because they did not begin broadcasting in a timely manner.

In 2013 the government passed a media law that required journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibited the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. In 2014 parliament revised the law following journalists’ successful appeal to the East African Court of Justice. The court’s decision caused parliament to remove from the media law some of its more draconian elements. Following the failed coup of May 2015, the government invoked the law to intimidate and detain journalists.

Reporters who were able to continue working complained that government agents harassed and threatened media that criticized the government and the CNDD-FDD. Journalists had difficulty corroborating stories, as local sources were intimidated.

Violence and Harassment: The majority of independent journalists fled the country since the political crisis and crackdown in 2015; very few had returned, citing threats to their safety. Several media outlets alleged they received explicit threats that they would be closed if they published or broadcast stories critical of the government. The government detained or summoned for questioning several local and international journalists investigating subjects such as human rights violations, corruption, or refugees fleeing the country. Journalists experienced violence and harassment at the hands of security service members and government officials.

On April 5, intelligence agents interrogated Joseph Nsabiyabandi, the editor in chief of Radio Isanganiro about his alleged collaboration with Burundian radio stations operating in exile in Rwanda. In July 2016 unknown men abducted Iwacu reporter Jean Bigirimana. Police and the SNR denied that he was in their custody. As of October, Bigirimana’s whereabouts remained unknown. According to media reports, his spouse received several anonymous death threats after his disappearance and subsequently fled the country with her children.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censors media content via restrictive press laws established by the CNC, an organization that is nominally independent but subject to political control in practice. In 2016 the CNC passed two decrees regarding media activity: one for domestic journalists and one for foreign outlets operating in the country. The first compels all journalists to register with the CNC annually. The second limits the access granted to international journalists and establishes content restrictions on the products disseminated by these outlets. As of October the government had not enforced these laws on a regular basis. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. Those who did not self-censor reportedly faced “reassignment” to jobs where they did not have access to the public or were fired.

The CNC regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster. According to Freedom House, observers regarded the CNC as a tool of the executive branch, as it regularly issued politicized rulings and sanctions against journalists and outlets.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel laws prohibit the public distribution of information that exposes a person to “public contempt” and carry penalties of prison terms and fines. The crime of treason, which includes knowingly demoralizing the military or the country in a manner that endangers national defense during a time of war, carries a criminal penalty of life imprisonment. It is a crime for anyone knowingly to disseminate or publicize rumors likely to alarm or excite the public against the government or to promote civil war. It is illegal for anyone to display drawings, posters, photographs, or other items that may “disturb the public peace.” Penalties range from two months’ to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Some journalists, lawyers, and leaders of political parties, civil society groups, and NGOs alleged the government used these laws to intimidate and harass them.

Nongovernmental Impact: Many members of the governing party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, collaborated with government security forces. In some cases they were official members of mixed security councils, which comprise police, local administration officials, and civilians. Journalists and human rights defenders accused Imbonerakure members of acting as irregular security forces, using government resources to follow, threaten, and attack individuals they perceived as opposition supporters.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In February 2016 the government announced it would allow two radio stations to resume broadcasting after their closure and destruction in 2015. As a condition for reopening, REMA FM (which supported the ruling party) and Radio Isanganiro (which was critical of the ruling party) were obliged to sign an agreement stating they would be “balanced and objective” and not threaten the country’s security. As of October both stations continued to operate.


According to the International Telecommunication Union’s 2016 survey, only 5 percent of individuals used the internet. Some citizens relied heavily on the social media platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook on both internet and mobile telephone networks to get information about current events. There were no verifiable reports the government monitored email or internet chat rooms. One journalist reported harassment by security officials for the content of messages he composed on WhatsApp. Several radio stations that were closed after the failed coup continued to publish radio segments and articles online.

Beginning in late October, some media websites were occasionally unavailable to internet users in the country. Publications affected included the newspaper Iwacu, which was generally critical of the government, but also the generally progovernment online publication Ikiriho. There was no official comment on the outages; both the reason and mechanism remained unclear. In most cases the outages lasted a few days before access was restored.


There were allegations that hiring practices, student leadership elections, and provision of grades at the University of Burundi were subject to political interference in favor of CNDD-FDD members.


The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but the government severely restricted this right (see section 1.d.). The law requires political parties and large groups to notify the government with details at least four days prior to a meeting, but even when notified, authorities in most cases denied permission for opposition members to meet and dispersed meetings already underway. By contrast, supporters of the CNDD-FDD and government officials were regularly able to organize demonstrations on short notice; these demonstrations were frequently large and included participation by senior officials.

Freedom of assembly was further restricted following the failed coup attempt in May 2015, and these restrictions remained in place. Members of the wing of the FNL political party associated with Agathon Rwasa alleged that government officials harassed or arrested supporters for holding unauthorized meetings. Other political parties reported being unable to hold party meetings or conduct political activities outside Bujumbura.


The constitution provides for freedom of association within the confines of the law, but the government severely restricted this right. On January 27, the government enacted new laws governing domestic CSOs. The law requires registration of CSOs with the Ministry of Interior (or with provincial governments if they operate in a single province), a complex process that includes approval for an organization’s activities from the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries depending on their areas of expertise. There is no recourse when authorities deny registration. The law provides for the suspension or permanent closure of organizations for “disturbing public order or harming state security.” Registration must be renewed every two years.

On January 23, the government also enacted a law restricting international NGOs. The law includes requirements that international NGOs deposit a portion of their budgets at the Bank of the Republic of Burundi and that they maintain ethnic balance in the recruitment of local personnel. The new law contains several clauses that give the government considerable control over NGO selection and programming. In November an international NGO was instructed to suspend its agricultural programs due to a disagreement with the Ministry of Agriculture on program design; in December another international NGO was expelled for allegedly distributing rotten seeds.

In October 2016 the government permanently banned five CSOs that it claimed were part of the political opposition. In December 2016 the government announced its intention to ban Ligue Iteka, the country’s oldest human rights organization, for “sow[ing] hate and division among the Burundian population following a social media campaign created by the International Federation of Human Rights and Ligue Iteka in which a mock movie trailer accused the president of planning genocide.” The ban took effect on January 3; Ligue Iteka continued to operate from Uganda and report on conditions in Burundi. As of year’s end there were no further reported closings of CSOs.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

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

In-country Movement: According to several news sources, the government enforced the use of “cahiers de menage,” booklets that listed the residents and domestic workers of each household in some neighborhoods of the capital. In numerous instances police arrested persons during neighborhood searches for not being registered in household booklets. Persons who attempted to cross the border to flee violence and reach refugee camps were sometimes stopped and turned back by police, the SNR, or Imbonerakure members. Stateless persons also faced restrictions on movement, since in addition to not having identification papers, they cannot apply for driver’s licenses and cannot travel freely throughout the country.

The government strongly encouraged citizens to participate in community-level work projects every Saturday morning and imposed travel restrictions on citizens from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Authorities required permits for movement outside of one’s community during those hours, and police enforced the restrictions through roadblocks. There were reports that members of the Imbonerakure compelled individuals to engage in community work, including an instance in which Imbonerakure members compelled travelers on buses to disembark and participate. Persons could obtain waivers in advance. Foreign residents were exempt.

Foreign Travel: The price of passports was 235,000 Burundian francs ($133). The government issued arrest warrants against members of the opposition group National Council for the Respect of the Arusha Accord and the Rule of Law, whom it accused of participation in the May 2015 failed coup, that were also circulated as Red Notices by the International Police Organization (INTERPOL). Authorities required exit visas for foreign nationals who held nonofficial passports; these visas cost 48,000 Burundian francs ($28) per month to maintain. Stateless persons cannot apply for a passport and cannot travel outside the country.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counted approximately 187,626 IDPs displaced as of December. According to IOM, 69 percent were displaced due to natural disasters while 31 percent were displaced for political or social reasons. Some IDPs reported feeling threatened because of their perceived political sympathies. Some IDPs attempted to return to their homes, but the majority remained in IDP sites or relocated to urban centers. The government generally permitted IDPs at identified sites to be included in programs provided by UNHCR, IOM, and other humanitarian organizations, such as shelter and legal assistance programs.


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

UNHCR estimated 63,234 refugees were in the country as of September. Of these approximately 61,995 were Congolese refugees, including new arrivals during the year. Continuing violence in the DRC prevented their return. Efforts to resettle Congolese refugees in third countries, begun in 2015, continued.

Employment: The employment of refugees was subject to restrictions. The government is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, but with a reservation regarding the employment of refugees that meant Burundian nationals had preferred access to employment opportunities over refugees. In 2016 the government committed to lifting these reservations, but as of December had not taken steps to do so.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees residing in camps administered by the government and the United Nations and its partners received basic services. The large percentage of refugees residing in urban areas also accessed services, such as education, health care, and other assistance offered by humanitarian organizations.


According to UNHCR an estimated 974 persons at risk of statelessness lived in the country as of October 2016. All were from Oman, were awaiting proof of citizenship from the government of Oman, and had lived in Burundi for decades. Most of those who remained at risk of statelessness had refused an offer of Burundian citizenship from the government if they could not get Omani citizenship. Stateless persons face limited freedom of movement as they were ineligible for driver’s licenses and passports.


Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, the government did not always respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution grants freedom of expression except where it adversely affects public security. The constitution also declares that the king is “inviolable,” and a Ministry of Interior directive implementing the country’s criminal defamation law reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame not just the king, but also government leaders and institutions.

Election laws contain provisions that require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaign periods and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties through media.

The government used the penal code to prosecute citizens on disinformation and incitement charges, which carry a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment. Judges also can order fines, which may lead to jail time if not paid. Courts interpreted “incitement” broadly and senior government officials threatened to prosecute opposition figures on incitement charges for acts including calling for a “change in government” by electoral means.

Local human rights NGOs, media, and several independent analysts continued to express concern publicly about government actions targeting their work, including the arrests of ADHOC officials. On September 13, authorities arrested Dem Kundy and Hun Vannak, who worked for the NGO Mother Nature, on charges of incitement to commit a felony and violating privacy for filming sand-dredging operations in Koh Kong Province, a politically sensitive environmental issue.

Press and Media Freedom: A majority of Khmer-language newspapers received financial support from persons closely associated with the ruling CPP.

On September 4, The Cambodia Daily, an independent English language newspaper that had published uninterrupted since 1993, ceased operations a week after it received a warning from the government to pay tax arrears calculated at more than $6 million. The newspaper’s director of press claimed the government used the charge of tax evasion as a pretext to shutter independent press freedom in the country. Tax authorities refused to present detailed information about the tax charges, and information about the arrears quickly leaked to government-controlled media, despite laws calling for the government to attempt to resolve issues of tax noncompliance privately.

The three largest pro-CPP newspapers never criticized the government for politically motivated or human rights problems. As of August no pro-opposition newspapers published regularly, and the government restricted critical voices on electronic publications and social media.

The government, military forces, and the ruling political party continued to influence broadcast media. The great majority of domestic radio and television stations operated under the control or influence of the CPP. In August the government shut down CNRP-aligned Moha Nokor radio station and closed all stations broadcasting content from the Voice of America (VOA) and Voice of Democracy (VOD), claiming the stations violated the law by committing tax evasion and for failing to obtain permission from the Ministry of Information before airing new content. According to an NGO that monitors media, the government routinely used state and state-influenced private television stations to promote the activities of the government and the CPP and to criticize the opposition, while not granting the opposition parties equal access. On September 12, Radio Free Asia (RFA) announced closure of its office in the country, citing legal harassment and a government crackdown on independent media prior to national elections. On November 14, authorities arrested two former RFA journalists on charges of espionage and for allegedly helping foment a “color revolution” in the country. The charges were widely seen as politically motivated.

Authorities never permitted the CNRP to open a television station, despite a 2014 agreement from the government to allow it.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. In May local authorities in Ratanakiri Province briefly detained six journalists for reporting on illegal logging in the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area. On August 28, authorities charged two Cambodia Daily reporters with “inciting violence” for election-related coverage in Ratanakiri.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits prepublication censorship, and no formal censorship system existed. The government, however, increasingly used other means to censor the media and social media following the assassination of Kem Ley, the arrest of some government critics, and by threats from the government, including the prime minister. Methods included harassment and intimidation. Because the government controls permits and licenses for journalists, most media outlets not directly controlled by the government or CPP practiced self-censorship to some degree. Some reporters and editors continued to self-censor their reporting due to fear of government reprisal. Some media agencies reported receiving calls from the Ministry of Interior threatening to revoke their licenses if they did not cease broadcasting opposition-produced content and programs produced by VOA, RFA, and VOD.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel, slander, defamation, and denunciation laws to restrict public discussion on issues it deemed sensitive or against its interests. Prime Minister Hun Sen launched a lawsuit against political analyst and commentator Kim Sok for his online accusation that the government was complicit in the murder of Kem Ley. In August the courts sentenced Kim Sok to 18 months in prison and fined him 800 million riels ($200,000).

National Security: The government continued to cite national security concerns to justify restricting citizens’ rights to criticize government policies and officials. In particular the government routinely threatened to prosecute and arrest anyone who questioned the demarcation of the country’s border with Vietnam or suggested the government had ceded national territory to Vietnam.


The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and there were credible reports government entities monitored private online communications. According to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, more than 31 percent of the population had internet access, primarily those living in urban areas.

The telecommunications law was widely criticized by leading civil society and human rights activists, who stated it provides the government broad authority secretly to monitor online public discussion and communications using private telecommunication devices. According to Licadho the law gave the government legal authority to monitor every telephone conversation, text message, email, social media activity, and correspondence between individuals without their knowledge or consent. Any opinions expressed in these exchanges that the government deemed to violate its definition of national security could result in maximum imprisonment of 15 years.

As of October a local human rights NGO stated authorities arrested at least five persons for content they posted online. One woman was threatened by the government in April for posting online a video of herself throwing a shoe at a billboard depicting the prime minister.

A “Cyber War Team” in the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit is responsible for monitoring and countering “incorrect” information from news outlets and social media. The Quick Reaction Unit was responsible for publishing several videos claiming civil society, independent media, and the opposition were colluding with foreign powers to overthrow the government. The government often used these videos as justification to crack down on those who opposed the rule of the prime minister.


In general there were no formal or overt government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, although scholars tended to exercise caution when teaching political subjects due to fear of offending politicians. Many individuals in academia resorted to self-censorship or expressed their opinions anonymously. In May 2016 the Ministry of Education reminded public and private education institutions the education law strictly prohibits all political activities and discussions on school campuses. Senior government officials again reminded public education institutions of the law in the months leading up to the June 4 local commune council elections. Many activists asserted the law aims to stifle youth support of the opposition, adding that most school principals supported the CPP. Government officials appeared to exempt some large campus-based organizations affiliated with the ruling party, however, including one run by the prime minister’s son, stating these were “extracurricular” groups that promoted “humanitarian causes.” In August a district governor in Battambang Province dismissed a vice principal of a high school for allegedly teaching students about “politics.”


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

The LANGO requires all groups to register and also requires advance notification for meetings, training, protests, marches, or demonstrations, although authorities inconsistently enforced this requirement. One provision requires five days’ notice for most peaceful demonstrations, while another requires 12 hours’ notice for impromptu gatherings on private property or protests at designated venues, and limits such gatherings to 200 persons. By law provincial or municipal governments may issue demonstration permits at their discretion. Lower-level government officials, particularly in Phnom Penh, generally denied requests unless the national government specifically authorized the gatherings. All levels of government routinely denied permits to groups critical of the ruling party.

There were credible reports the government occasionally prevented associations and NGOs from organizing public events, arguing the groups had not registered. Regulations promulgated before the June 4 commune council elections allowed civil servants to campaign after working hours, but did not grant the same freedoms to employees of NGOs or others working in civil society. Following the September 3 arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, many provincial governments prohibited meetings, events, and demonstrations by the opposition CNRP even before its forced dissolution on November 16.

Authorities cited the need for stability and public security–terms not defined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation–as reasons for denying permits. Government authorities also occasionally cited provisions of the law to prevent associations and NGOs from organizing public events or to break up meetings and training deemed hostile to the government. At the same time, the government routinely allowed progovernment demonstrators to gather.

Despite these restrictions, the press reported numerous public protests, most related to land or labor disputes. In some cases police forcibly dispersed peaceful groups assembled without a permit, sometimes causing minor injuries to demonstrators. In other cases police used force against demonstrators after they interfered with traffic, made threats of or carried out acts of violence, or refused orders to disperse.

According to a joint report released in August by the CCHR, ADHOC, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, from April 2016 to March, there were 60 incidents of NGOs prevented by authorities from holding meetings, training, or gatherings due to LANGO provisions. The report also recorded 246 restrictions of fundamental freedoms by the government and third-party entities linked to the government between April and September. Although the vast majority of restrictions occurred in Phnom Penh, restrictions were documented in every province except Prey Veng and Kep. The government sometimes took legal action against peaceful protesters. On October 27, authorities arrested five persons who planned to distribute leaflets during the Water Festival to call for demonstrations to demand the government release political prisoners. On the same day, the Phnom Penh municipal court summoned Leng Seng Hong, president of the Cambodian Democratic Student Intellectual Federation, to appear in the court on charges of incitement to commit felony for appealing to the public to protest if the CNRP was dissolved.

Senior government and military officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, Phnom Penh governor Khoung Sreng, CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan, Council of Ministers spokesperson Phay Siphan, and Armed Forces commander-in-chief Pol Sarouen, warned the public not to gather or demonstrate in the capital during the trial hearings of opposition leader Kem Sokha following his September 3 arrest. Minister of Defense Tea Banh publically called for “crushing the opposition” warning the military would “smash the teeth of protesters” planning to demonstrate against June 4 commune election results. Minister of Social Affairs Vong Sauth said demonstrators who dispute the upcoming 2018 elections would be “hit with …bamboo poles.” The commander of the prime minister’s bodyguards, General Hing Bun Heng, threatened to use force to “crush” any demonstration, citing his possession of “100 tanks.”

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng also instructed provincial governors and police chiefs to block opposition supporters from traveling to the capital and to prevent any demonstrations. Khoung Sreng said authorities would not allow “anarchic” protests in the city and that security forces in all 12 districts of the capital needed to be on alert: “The toughest measures will be applied on the people protesting against the court and [we] won’t forgive those people,” Khoung Sreng said. The threats against peaceful protests followed months of warnings against protesting election results. Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened that a CNRP victory in June commune elections would lead to “civil war.”


The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government did not always respect this right, particularly with regard to workers’ rights (see section 7.a.). The LANGO requires all associations and NGOs to be politically neutral, which not only restricts the right to association, but also restricts those organizations’ rights to free expression.

In June Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Interior to dissolve The Situation Room, a consortium of 40 of the country’s most prominent human rights NGOs, after they issued findings on the conduct of the June 4 commune elections. The Situation Room was charged with violating the LANGO for failing to register as an NGO (although each of the 40 constituent NGOS were registered individually) and for violating the LANGO provisions on political neutrality.

Vaguely worded provisions in the LANGO, the Law on Trade Unions (TUL), and Amended Political Parties Law prohibit any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and culture of Cambodian society.” Civil society organizations expressed concern these provisions created a substantial risk of arbitrary restriction of the right of association. According to critics the LANGO and TUL (see section 7.a.) establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, rendering the registration processes vulnerable to politicization. These laws also impose burdensome reporting obligations on activities and finances, including the disclosure of all successful funding proposals, financial or grant agreements, and bank accounts.

The local NGO consortium Cooperation Committee for Cambodia reported in July that NGOs generally lacked guidance from the government on how to comply with the requirements. As of August the Ministry of Economy and Finance had summoned six civil society and media organizations to prove their compliance with local tax laws. This included ADHOC, Licadho, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, The Cambodia Daily, VOA, and RFA.

On September 15, the Ministry of Interior nullified the registration of Mother Nature, a local NGO working on environmental protection, without providing justification to the organization. In late September the government began requiring all NGOs to report their management structures, funding sources, and other details to the Ministry of Interior. On August 23, the government abruptly ejected the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and its foreign staff from the country, claiming the organization had failed to register properly under the LANGO. NDI had submitted its registration documents more than 18 months prior to its ejection and had failed to receive a reply from government authorities despite a clause in the law that notification was to be given within 45 days of document submission.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

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

Exile: In 2016 the government ordered immigration officials to take unspecified legal action to prevent former opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning to the country. He had gone into exile in France in 2015, when the government issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of defamation while he was outside of the country. Thun Saray, the president of ADHOC, escaped the country and remained in Canada under self-imposed exile due to fear of being targeted by the government. Following the arrest of Kem Sokha, nearly every senior leader of the CNRP went into hiding or exile, with acting CNRP President Pol Ham and Parliamentary Whip Son Chhay the only two prominent leaders remaining in the capital while many lower-level party activists reported increased police surveillance and intimidation.


Refoulement: Stating they were “economic migrants,” the government returned at least 140 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam since 2015, including 13 in August, without conducting proper refugee status determinations. In August, Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, released a statement following her two-week mission to the country in which she stated the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledged the legitimacy of the asylum claims of 36 Vietnamese Christian Montagnards and had decided to find a solution outside of the country and that the government had not agreed to settle them in country or facilitate their transit to the third country. In October the government cooperated in sending seven of the 36 Montagnards to the third country, claiming the remaining 29 had weak asylum claims. The government dismissed the special rapporteur’s statement and condemned her for what it described as interference in its domestic affairs.

The government increased monitoring at the UNHCR-managed compound that provides support to Montagnard asylum seekers. In April authorities forcibly removed a pregnant woman and her husband from the premises and took them to an immigration center for questioning. The family was awaiting final refugee status determination, and authorities later released them.

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 failed to grant equal access to that system for all asylum seekers. In particular, authorities routinely denied access by Montagnard asylum seekers from Vietnam since 2014. During the year the Refugee Department at the Ministry of Interior recognized three Montagnards as refugees and took proactive steps to deport the 29 persons it claimed had weak asylum claims. Some NGOs attributed the government’s lack of commitment to granting asylum to Montagnards to pressure from the government of Vietnam.

Employment: Persons granted refugee status do not have the right to work.

Access to Basic Services: Persons granted refugee status do not have access to basic services, including public and banking services.

Durable Solutions: By agreement with Australia, the government since 2014 has accepted for domestic resettlement seven refugees detained while seeking asylum in Australia. The last refugee arrived in April. Of the seven, three who were Rohingya from Burma remained in the country, while the other four–one from Burma and three Iraqis–chose to return to their countries. Although the three Rohingya refugees decided to stay in the country, no effective pathway to citizenship existed for them.


The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. There was no recent, reliable data on the number or demography of stateless persons; however, UNHCR reported that they were primarily ethnic Vietnamese. The government did not effectively implement laws or policies to provide such persons the opportunity to gain nationality (see section 6, Children). The most common reason for statelessness was lack of proper documents from the country of origin.

According to an NGO, individuals without proof of nationality often did not have access to formal employment, education, marriage registration, the courts, or the right to own land.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future