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Algeria

Executive Summary

Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. A 2016 constitutional revision requires the president to consult with the parliamentary majority before appointing the prime minister. Presidential elections took place in 2014, and voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fourth term. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in the 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in May 2017 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. Foreign observers characterized the 2017 legislative elections as largely well organized and conducted without significant problems on election day, but noted a lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful interference with privacy; laws prohibiting certain forms of expression, which were often vague, as well as criminal defamation laws; limits on freedom of the press; restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association including of religious groups; official corruption, including perceptions of lack of judicial independence and impartiality; criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct and security force sexual abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and trafficking in persons.

The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, but the government provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.

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

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

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

Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and an ISIS affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah. These groups targeted security services personnel in periodic but small-scale attacks. Notably, terrorists killed seven soldiers in an ambush on July 30 in Skikda.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were six prosecutions of law enforcement officers for torture during the year. Human rights activists said police sometimes used excessive force against suspects, including protestors.

The General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) stated that it received 131 complaints of violence or threats by officers and conducted 163 investigations into those threats. As a result, officials suspended six individuals.

Local and international NGOs asserted that police impunity was a problem. Local human rights activists reported that prisoners feared reprisals if they reported abuse by authorities during detention or the interrogation process.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns regarding physical conditions in the country’s 48 prisons and detention centers. According to statistics provided in September, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 63,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by the danger posed by the prisoners. The DGAPR separates vulnerable persons but provides no consideration for sexual orientation. The DGAPR has no legal protections for LGBTI persons in prison arguing that civil protections extend to all people regardless of gender orientation.

The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. The DGAPR maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The government acknowledged that some detention facilities were overcrowded but said it used alternatives to incarceration such as releasing prisoners with electronic bracelets, conditional release, and replacing prison terms with mandatory community service to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry of Justice said cell sizes exceeded international standards set by the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention, despite reforms in 2015 that sought to reduce the practice.

Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government said pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. Religious workers reported that they had access to prisoners during the year and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, and police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.

Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The government said that it closed 11 facilities and opened one new facility to improve prison conditions in the last year but argued that they have alleviated overcrowding by increasing the use of minimum-security centers that permit prisoners to work and by using electronic monitoring. The DGSN’s human rights office, created in July 2017, reported that it was leading seminars and workshops with the National Human Rights Council to provide additional human rights training to its officers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges. Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s order of pretrial detention, and if released, seek compensation from the government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 218,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. Intelligence activities fall under three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The government suspended six of 100 investigated security officers for abuse. During the year the DGSN conducted nine training sessions on human rights, including for all new cadets.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons, police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.

If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney.

The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases, authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the period of detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.

In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while Algerian citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.

Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.

Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.

On August 12, about 30 members of the Mouwatana movement held a sit-in in Algiers to denounce the fifth term of President Bouteflika. Police arrested and interrogated some of the demonstrators and released them after about an hour. Some of those arrested, reported being “brutalized.” On September 8, several leaders were prevented from marching in Constantine. Several members were arrested on September 13 in Bejaia, including the leader of political party Jil Jadid, Soufiane Djilali.

Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice, approximately 12 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention.

The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.

The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases, the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.

Authorities have been holding journalist, Said Chitour, in pretrial detention since June 2017 without trial. He was charged with “sharing intelligence with a foreign power.”

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure grants the right to appeal a court’s order of pretrial detention. The appeal must be filed within three days of the order. A person released from custody following a dismissal or acquittal may apply to a civil commission to seek compensation from the government for “particular and particularly severe” harm caused by pretrial detention. The person must submit an application for compensation within six months of the dismissal or acquittal. Judges found to have ordered an unlawful detention could be subject to penalties or prosecution.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary chosen by the president. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial and was perceived by some observers to be subject to influence and corruption.

On July 13, the Ministry of Justice removed a public prosecutor and his deputy from a court in Boudouaou for their alleged involvement in the legal proceedings following the discovery of 701 kilograms of cocaine in the port of Oran on May 29.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code guarantees defendants the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance.

In July 2017 authorities freed Kamel Eddine Fekhar, a human rights activist. After violent clashes between Ibadis in Ghardaia and security forces, Fekhar wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asking the UN to save the local Ibadite population from persecution by the government. Authorities arrested Fekhar in 2015 and held him for 22 months without a trial. In May 2017 Fekhar was sentenced to five years imprisonment but in July 2017 a court in Medea reduced that sentence to two years. Fekhar was released shortly thereafter, two years after his initial arrest.

Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.

Intelligence services arrested journalist Said Chitour in June 2017 and accused him of sharing intelligence with a foreign power. Chitour has been detained in El Harrach prison since then without trial and faces life imprisonment if convicted. According to his lawyers, authorities have not provided any evidence to support the charges. Several human rights NGOs condemned his arrest as an example of harassment and threats to pressure journalists.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.

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

The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.

In 2016 the government established an anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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 an estimated 20 percent 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.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGO’s) reported during the year that following suppression of public activities in years past, they no longer hold events outside of private locations. They also report that owners of public gathering spaces have been told not to rent their locations to certain NGOs.

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, 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 19 percent of the total advertising market, nongovernmental sources assessed the majority of daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. ANEP stated that it sought to preserve a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers. The government’s lack of transparency over its use of state-funded advertising, however, permitted it to exert undue influence over print media.

Police arrested blogger Merzoug Touati in January 2017 on charges stemming from his online publication of an interview with a former Israeli diplomat. In May a court sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

Many civil society organizations, government opponents, and political parties had access to independent print and broadcast media and used them to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the internet and published communiques but stated they did not have access to the national television and radio. Journalists from independent print and broadcast media expressed frustration over the difficulty of receiving information from public officials. 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 268 accredited written publications. Of the daily printed publications, the ministry stated six were state-operated.

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. 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, there were 14 accredited foreign press agencies reported during the year. In addition, six private domestic television channels, 12 foreign broadcasting channels, and one foreign radio station–the BBC–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. Press outlets report taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials for fear of losing revenue from ANEP.

During a media interview, Omar Belhouchet, the editor of El Watan, an independent daily newspaper, said that media companies self-censor regarding certain topics. According to Belhouchet, the government has a monopoly on advertising that it uses to punish those who criticize the government and thus, weakens freedom of expression.

Libel/Slander Laws: NGOs and observers criticized the law on defamation as vaguely drafted and said the definitions in the law failed to comport with internationally recognized norms. The law defines defamation as “any allegation or imputation of a fact offending the honor or consideration of a person, or of the body to which the fact is imputed.” The law does not require that the fact alleged or imputed be false or that the statement be made with malicious intent to damage another individual’s reputation. Defamation is not a crime but carries a fine ranging from 100,000 Algerian dinars (DZD) to DZD 500,000 ($850 to $4,252). 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.

Printed editions of the monthly news magazine Jeune Afrique have not been available in the country since April 23. At the end of March, the distributor received a notification from the Ministry of Communication to stop importing Jeune Afrique and other titles published by Jeune Afrique Media Group (The Africa Report and La Revue). The Ministry authorized the import of only 350 copies of Jeune Afriquefor delivery to various institutions. Jeune Afrique online remained available.

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 ($850) fine. His sentence was subsequently reduced to three years in prison, and he was released in April.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law, the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines between DZD 50,000 and DZD 500,000 ($425 and $4,252) for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

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 materials, which were posted on social media.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 45 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academic seminars generally occurred with limited governmental interference. The Ministry of Culture reviewed the content of films before they could be shown, as well as books before importation. The Ministry of Religious Affairs did the same for all religious publications. The law gives 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 2017 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 January 2017 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 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious reference, public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period of time is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On May 14, local authorities prohibited a gathering by novelist Hiba Tayda in Tizi Ouzou. Local authorities refused the follow on request for another event.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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.

Hotels in Algiers and other major cities continued their practice of refusing to sign rental contracts for meeting spaces with political parties, NGOs, and civil associations without a copy of written authorization from the Ministry of Interior for the proposed gathering. NGOs reported instances of not receiving the written authorization in time to hold planned meetings. NGOs reported that the government threatened hotel and restaurant owners with penalties if they rented rooms to NGOs without official authorization. In most cases, the NGOs continued to hold their meetings and police came to the hotels to end the gatherings.

In July, Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and 15 representatives from other NGOs gathered at a hotel in Oran to discuss migration. Security services prevented the meeting from taking place “in the absence of an official authorization.” The attendees moved their meetings elsewhere and were followed by police who ordered them to disperse.

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.

In September a group of military veterans organized a protest in Algiers, prompting a crackdown by authorities. Press reported 107 protestors were injured along with 51 police and gendarmes.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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 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. If the application is approved, the ministry issues a final accreditation document.

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

The ministry did not renew the accreditations of the NGOs SOS Disparus (SOS Disappeared), Djazairouna, the 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, 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: In June the Associated Press (AP) reported that the government had forced an estimated 13,000 migrants over the previous 14 months to walk from Guezzam, Algeria, to Assamakka, Niger as part of the repatriation process. According to AP reports, some migrants died during the 20-kilometer desert march.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides citizens “the right to freely choose their place of residence and to move throughout the national territory.” The government requires that foreign diplomats and private sector personnel have armed security escorts from the government should members of these groups travel outside of Algiers wilaya (province), 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 older than 18 may do so. The government did not permit young men eligible for the draft who had not completed their military service to leave the country without special authorization. The government granted such authorization to students and persons with special family circumstances.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

According to UNHCR’s March report on Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, the government protected a significant number of refugees in five camps in Tindouf and a smaller urban refugee population, primarily in Algiers. The report noted the refugee population included Syrians, (an estimated 85 percent), Yemenis, Congolese, Ivoirians, Palestinians, Malians, Central Africans, and other nationalities. UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, the Algerian Red Crescent, the Sahrawi Red Crescent, and other organizations assisted Sahrawi refugees. 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.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the government repatriated 35,113 Nigeriens (including 16,478 women and children) from December to August, pursuant to a bilateral agreement at the request of the Nigerien government. 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. The National Human Rights Committee (CNDH) said the government had dedicated $12 million to ensure the human rights of migrants during repatriation operations (to include accommodation, food, clothing, health care, medicines, and transportation). 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.

According to a 2018 report by the IOM, Algeria has expelled 35,600 Nigeriens to Niger since 2014–more than 12,000 in 2018–as well as more than 8,000 migrants from other African countries.

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.

UNHCR registered more than 10,000 Syrians, but fewer than 7,000 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.

The Ministry of Interior reported in March to a Senate session that approximately 500 illegal migrants try to enter the country daily along the country’s southern borders.

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

Access to Basic Services: UNHCR provided registered refugees with modest food assistance and lodging support. Sahrawi refugees lived predominantly in five 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 some 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. NGOs also indicated that some migrants were denied treatment at healthcare facilities.

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 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Restrictions on freedom of assembly and association as well as restrictions on political party activities inhibited the activity of opposition groups.

Elections and Political Participation

The law states that members of local, provincial, and national assemblies are elected for five-year terms and that presidential elections occur within 30 days prior to the expiration of the presidential term. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in a 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for organizing the election and voting processes. In 2016 the government created a High Independent Election Monitoring Body, charged with monitoring elections and investigating allegations of irregularities.

Recent Elections: Presidential elections took place in 2014, and voters re-elected President Bouteflika for a fourth term. Several hundred international election observers from the United Nations, Arab League, African Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation monitored voting. Foreign observers characterized the elections as largely peaceful but pointed to low voter turnout and a high rate of ballot invalidity. El Watan reported that almost 10 percent of ballots cast were invalid. The Ministry of Interior did not provide domestic or foreign observers with voter registration lists. President of the Constitutional Council Mourad Medelci announced voter participation in the elections was just under 51 percent, a sharp drop from the slightly more than 74 percent turnout during the previous presidential election in 2009.

Opposition candidate Benflis rejected the results and claimed that fraud marred the elections. He appealed to the Constitutional Council without result. A coalition of Islamic and secular opposition parties boycotted the election, describing it as a masquerade and asserting that President Bouteflika was unfit to run due to his health. Several candidates withdrew from the race, claiming that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

The May 2017 elections for the lower chamber of parliament did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. The government allowed international observation of the elections but did not permit local civil society organizations to do the same. Most major opposition parties lost seats in the elections, and several parties claimed the results were significantly altered by fraud. Foreign observers from the African Union, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Arab League characterized the elections as largely well organized and conducted without significant problems on election day. Local media outlets reported that a team of European Union elections experts provided the government a report noting a lack of transparency in vote counting procedures, but the report was not made public. In September 2017 Algerian National Front party leader Moussa Touati stated that his party paid bribes in order to secure its single seat in parliament. Several opposition political parties claimed voter turnout figures were inflated and that the results were fraudulent.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The Ministry of Interior must approve political parties before they may operate legally.

The government maintained undue media influence and opposition political parties claimed they did not have access to public television and radio. Security forces dispersed political opposition rallies and interfered with the right to organize.

Pursuant to the constitution, all parties must have a “national base.” The electoral law adopted by parliament in 2016 requires parties to have received 4 percent of the vote in the preceding election or to collect 250 signatures in the electoral district in order to appear on the ballot. Opposition parties from across the political spectrum criticized the new law for creating a more complex process for qualifying for the ballot, as well as for establishing an electoral monitoring body whose members would be appointed by the president and parliament, which is controlled by a coalition headed by the president’s party.

The law prohibits parties based on religion, ethnicity, gender, language, or region, but there were various political parties commonly known to be Islamist, notably members of the Green Alliance. According to the Ministry of Interior, in September there were 70 registered political parties.

The law does not place significant restrictions on voter registration, but implementation of voter registration and identification laws proved inconsistent and confusing during past elections.

Membership in the Islamic Salvation Front, a political party banned since 1992, remained illegal. The law also bans political party ties to nonpolitical associations and regulates party financing and reporting requirements. According to the law, political parties may not receive direct or indirect financial or material support from any foreign parties. The law also stipulates the collection of resources from contributions by the party’s members, donations, and revenue from its activities, in addition to possible state funding.

Opposition party leaders complained that the government did not provide timely authorizations to hold rallies or party congresses.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did participate. The law requires parties to ensure that at least 30 percent of the candidates on their electoral lists are women.

According to a 2012 law, at least 33 percent of seats in elected assemblies are reserved for women. Due to this law, after the legislative elections of 2012, women held approximately 32 percent of seats (146 out of 462) in the National People’s Congress.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides for criminal penalties of two to 10 years in prison for official corruption, but the government did not fully implement the law. Corruption remained a problem, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.

Corruption: The criminal code stipulates that only the board of directors of the institution concerned may initiate charges related to theft, embezzlement, or loss of public and private funds against senior, public sector “economic managers.” Critics of the law asserted that by permitting only senior officials of state businesses to initiate investigations, the law protects high-level government corruption and promotes impunity.

Media reporting and public opinion viewed the absence of charges against the most senior of government officials as an indication of impunity for government officials.

Corruption throughout the government stemmed largely from a lack of transparent oversight. The National Association for the Fight Against Corruption noted the existence of an effective anticorruption law but stated that the government lacked the “political will” to apply the law.

Financial Disclosure: The law stipulates that all elected government officials and those appointed by presidential decree must declare their assets the month they commence their jobs, if there is substantial change in their wealth while they are in office, and at the end of their term. Few government officials made their personal wealth public, and there was no known enforcement of the law.

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

A variety of domestic human rights groups operated with varying degrees of government restriction and cooperation. The law requires all civil associations to apply for operating permission, and at year’s end several major civil associations remained unrecognized but tolerated.

Amnesty International maintained an office and actively reported on human rights issues, but it did not receive official authorization to operate from the Ministry of Interior.

Although the government did not renew the accreditation of LADDH, the organization had members countrywide, received independent funding, and was one of the most active independent human rights groups. The Algerian League for Human Rights, a separate but licensed organization based in Constantine, had members throughout the country monitoring individual cases.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government extended an invitation to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in 2014 and again in 2015, but no visit occurred. The country joined the Human Rights Council in 2014 but continued to deny requests for visits from the UN special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions (pending since 1998) and counterterrorism and human rights (pending since 2006), the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention (pending since 2009), and the UN Security Council Mali Panel of Experts on Sanctions (since 2016).

Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2016 the government replaced the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (CNCPPDH) with the CNDH. The CNDH has budget autonomy and the constitutional responsibility to investigate alleged human rights abuses, officially comment on laws proposed by the government, and publish an annual report. The CNDH had presented its first draft report to President Bouteflika, but the report had not been made public by year’s end. During the year, the CNDH organized seminars and workshops on topics such as penitentiary reform and trafficking in persons. A CNDH representative said the organization viewed the most serious human rights concerns as limits on socioeconomic rights, as well as limits on free speech.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. Prison sentences for rape range from five to 10 years, and authorities generally enforced the law. A provision of the penal code allows an adult accused of “corruption of a minor” to avoid prosecution if the accused subsequently marries his or her victim and if the crime did not involve violence, threats, or fraud.

Domestic violence remains a society-wide problem. The law states that a person claiming domestic abuse must visit a “forensic physician” for an examination to document injuries and that the physician must determine that the injuries suffered “incapacitated” the victim for 15 days. Additionally, the law prescribes up to 20-year imprisonment for the accused, depending on the severity of injuries. If domestic violence results in death, a judge can prescribe a life sentence.

For the year the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women, reported that there were 1,127 logged cases of violence against women. According to statistics from women’s advocacy groups published in the local press, between 100 and 200 women died each year from domestic violence. The government maintained two regional women’s shelters and was building three additional shelters. These shelters assisted with approximately 220 cases of violence against women during the year. The Information and Documentation Center on the Rights of Children and Women, a network of local organizations that promoted the rights of women, managed call centers in 15 provinces.

During the year a women’s advocacy group, Wassila Network, received 200 cases of domestic violence. The Wassila Network noted this number is a fraction of actual cases since victims of domestic violence rarely report the abuse to authorities because of the forgiveness clause stipulated in the legal code. The clause stipulates that if the victim forgives his or her aggressor, any legal action ceases. The Wassila Network described situations in which a victim went to police to report a domestic violence incident and family members convince the victim to forgive the aggressor, resulting in no charges to the aggressor.

The law provides for sentences of one to 20 years’ imprisonment for domestic violence and six months to two years’ incarceration for men who withhold property or financial resources from their spouses.

In February the Ministry for National Solidarity, Family, and Women and UN Women launched an administrative database, named AMANE, to collect information on violence against women. The information collected is used to assist the government in developing targeted programs to support and protect women in vulnerable situations, including violence.

Sexual Harassment: The punishment for sexual harassment is one to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($425 to $850); the punishment doubles for a second offense. Women’s groups reported that the majority of reported cases of harassment occurred in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for gender equality, aspects of the law and traditional social practices discriminated against women. In addition, some religious elements advocated restrictions on women’s behavior, including freedom of movement. The law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims, although authorities did not always enforce this provision.

Women may seek divorce for irreconcilable differences and violation of a prenuptial agreement. In a divorce, the law provides for the wife to retain the family’s home until the children reach age 18. Authorities normally awarded custody of children to the mother, but she may not make decisions about education or take the children out of the country without the father’s authorization. The government provided a subsidy for divorced women whose former husbands failed to make child support payments.

The law affirms the religiously based practice of allowing a man to marry as many as four wives. The law permits polygamy only upon the agreement of the previous and future wife, and the determination of a judge as to the husband’s financial ability to support an additional wife. It was unclear whether authorities followed the law in all cases since local authorities had significant discretion and the government did not maintain nationwide statistics.

Women suffered from discrimination in inheritance claims and were entitled to a smaller portion of an estate than male children or a deceased husband’s brothers. Women did not often have exclusive control over assets that they brought to a marriage or that they earned.

Women may own businesses, enter into contracts, and pursue careers similar to those of men. The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women said 60 percent of the recipients of government microcredit loans for small businesses were women. Women enjoyed rights equal to those of men concerning property ownership, and property titles listed female landowners’ names.

Women faced discrimination in employment. Leaders of women’s organizations reported that discrimination was common and women were less likely to receive equal pay for equal work or promotions.

Children

Birth registration: The mother or father may transmit citizenship and nationality. By law, children born to a Muslim father are Muslim, regardless of the mother’s religion. The law does not differentiate between girls and boys in registration of birth.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was illegal but was a serious problem. The government devoted increasing resources and attention to it. A national committee is responsible for monitoring and publishing an annual report on the rights of children. The government supported the country’s Network for the Defense of Children’s Rights (NADA).

Laws prohibiting parental abduction do not penalize mothers and fathers differently, and the punishment for convicted kidnappers includes the death penalty.

According to NADA, while there are fewer cases of reported kidnapping, instances of child abuse and exploitation have increased. Exploiters of child labor used methods allegedly learned via the internet to increase their mistreatment of children. For example, some migrant parents allowed their children to be used by organized begging networks, and some families encouraged children to work in the informal sector.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 19 for both men and women, but minors may marry with parental consent, regardless of gender. The law forbids legal guardians from forcing minors under their care to marry against the minor’s will. The Ministry of Religious Affairs required that couples present a government-issued marriage certificate before permitting imams to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits solicitation for prostitution and stipulates prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years when the offense is committed against a minor under age 18. By law, the age for consensual sex is 16. The law stipulates a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years for rape when the victim is a minor.

The law established a national council to address children’s issues, gives judges authority to remove children from an abusive home, and allows sexually abused children to provide testimony on video rather than in court.

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

Anti-Semitism

The country’s Jewish population numbered fewer than 200 persons.

Religious and civil society leaders reported that the Jewish community faced unofficial, religion-based obstacles to government employment and administrative difficulties when working with government bureaucracy.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although the government did not always effectively enforce these provisions. Few government buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. Few businesses abided by the law requiring that they reserve 1 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. NGOs reported that the government did not enforce payment of fines for failing to abide by the law. The Ministry of Labor audited 218 organizations and found that 89 companies did not respect the 1-percent quota. The 89 organizations were given formal notices to abide by the law. The ministry has not confirmed receipt of fine payment.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and the Status of Women provided some financial support to health-care-oriented NGOs, but for many NGOs, such financial support represented a small fraction of their budgets. The government provided disability benefits to persons with disabilities who registered.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women reported that it ran 238 centers throughout the country that provided support for persons with intellectual, auditory, vision, and physical disabilities–down from 242 the previous year.

The ministry stated that it worked with the Ministry of Education to integrate children with disabilities into public schools to promote inclusion. The majority of the ministry’s programs for children with disabilities remained in social centers for children with disabilities rather than in formal educational institutions. Advocacy groups reported that children with disabilities rarely attended school past the secondary level. Many schools lacked teachers trained to work with children with disabilities, threatening the viability of efforts to mainstream children with disabilities into public schools.

Many persons with disabilities faced challenges in voting due to voting centers that lacked accessible features.

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

The law criminalizes public indecency and consensual same-sex sexual relations between adult men or women, with penalties that include imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of DZD 1,000 to DZD 10,000 ($8.50 to $85). The law also stipulates penalties that include imprisonment of two months to two years and fines of DZD 500 to DZD 2,000 ($4.25 to $17) for anyone convicted of having committed a “homosexual act.” If a minor is involved, the adult may face up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 10,000 ($85). LGBTI activists reported that the vague wording of laws criminalizing “homosexual acts” and “acts against nature” permitted sweeping accusations that resulted in multiple arrests for consensual same-sex sexual relations, but no known prosecutions during the year.

LGBTI status is not, in itself, criminalized; however, LGBTI persons may face criminal prosecution under legal provisions concerning prostitution, public indecency, and associating with bad characters. NGOs reported that judges gave harsher sentences to LGBTI persons. An NGO reported that LGBTI men were targeted more often than are women.

The law does not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI persons based on of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Official assert that the law covers LGBTI individuals through general civil and human rights legislation. Government officials did not take measures specifically to prevent discrimination against LGBTI persons. LGBTI persons faced discrimination in accessing health services. Some organizations maintained a list of “LGBTI-friendly” hospitals, and several NGOs operated mobile clinics specifically for vulnerable communities. NGOs reported that employers refused jobs to LGBTI persons, particularly men perceived as effeminate. Community members said that obtaining legal assistance was also a challenge due to similar discrimination.

Members of the LGBTI community reported that forced marriage was a problem, particularly for lesbian women.

During the year authorities blocked LGBTI NGOs from organizing meetings. The NGOs reported harassment and threats of imprisonment by government authorities.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Strong social stigma towards the vulnerable groups in which HIV/AIDS was most concentrated–commercial sex workers, men who have sexual relations with men, and drug users–deterred testing of these groups. The government said it did not take measures to specifically prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the LGBTI community.

The government’s National AIDS Committee met twice during the year. The committee brought together various government and civil society actors to discuss implementation of the national strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Academics and activists said that sub-Saharan African migrants sometimes faced discrimination and that there were tensions in some communities between the native and migrant populations.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice, provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully.

The law requires that workers obtain government approval to form a union, and the Ministry of Labor must approve or disapprove a union application within 30 days. To found a union, an applicant must be Algerian by birth or have held Algerian nationality for 10 years. The law also provides for the creation of independent unions, although the union’s membership must account for at least 20 percent of an enterprise’s workforce. Unions have the right to form and join federations or confederations, and the government recognized four confederations. Unions may recruit members at the workplace. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and provides mechanisms for resolving trade union complaints of antiunion practices by employers.

The law permits unions to affiliate with international labor bodies and develop relations with foreign labor groups. For example, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), which represented a majority of public-sector workers, is an affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation. Nevertheless, the law prohibits unions from associating with political parties and receiving funds from foreign sources. The courts are empowered to dissolve unions that engage in illegal activities. The government may invalidate a union’s legal status if authorities perceive its objectives to be contrary to the established institutional system, public order, good morals, law, or regulations in force.

The law provides for collective bargaining by all unions, and the government permitted the exercise of this right for authorized unions. Nevertheless, the UGTA remained the only union authorized to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce. The decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offered to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained during public-sector service strikes, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services included banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months’ imprisonment. The law protects union members from discrimination or dismissal based on their union activities. Penalties for violations of the rights of union members range from fines of DZD 10,000-50,000 ($85-$425) for first offenses or DZD 50,000-100,000 ($425-$850) and 30 days-six months in prison for repeat offenses. The law says any firing or other employment action based on discrimination against union members is invalid.

The government affirmed there were 101 registered trade unions and employers’ organizations. No new trade unions were registered between January and September, and the government said it did not receive any applications. Many trade unions remained unrecognized by the government; they identified delayed processing and administrative hurdles imposed by the government as the primary obstacles to establishing legal status. In 2017 the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations reiterated that the lengthy registration process seriously impedes the establishment of new unions.

Attempts by new unions to form federations or confederations suffered similar challenges. Representatives of the National Autonomous Union for Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) stated that the union continued to function without official status.

The government continued to deny recognition to the General Autonomous Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA), an independent trade union confederation that includes public and economic sector unions and committees. CGATA membership included workers from unions representing government administrators, diplomatic personnel, state electricity and gas employees, university professors, public transport and postal workers, and lawyers. The confederation also included migrants working in the country.

SNAPAP and other independent unions faced government interference throughout the year, including official obstruction of general assembly meetings and police harassment during sit-in protests. Furthermore, the government restricted union activities and the formation of independent unions in certain critical public services sectors, such as oil and gas and telecommunications. The International Trade Union Confederation reported that judicial persecution of trade union leaders had intensified.

Abdelkader Kouafi, the National Autonomous Union of Sonelgaz Gas and Electricity Workers secretary-general, and Slimane Benzine, president of the National Federation of Internal Security Workers, were sentenced to imprisonment and fines for objecting to poor conditions of work and to the sexual harassment of women workers.

The Committee on the Application of Standards at the International Labor Conference in June requested the government to reinstate employees that the committee determined were fired based on antiunion discrimination and to process expeditiously pending trade union registration applications.

The conclusions of the 2017 ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards recommended that the government accept an ILO direct contacts mission. The ILO tried to visit during the year but had to cancel the visit when the government was unable to guarantee that they would be able to meet with independent trade unions.

There were several strikes launched in reaction to the government’s refusal to extend official recognition to fledgling new unions and its practice of engaging only with the UGTA.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. NGOs reported that irregular migrants sometimes worked in forced labor and that their lack of work permits made them more vulnerable to exploitation. For example, female migrants were subjected to debt bondage as they worked to repay smuggling debts through domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced prostitution. Prescribed penalties under this statute range from three to 20 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Construction workers and domestic workers were reportedly vulnerable. The government increased efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders and to identify and provide protection services to trafficking victims, including those subject to forced labor.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits employment by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night.

Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sales market, often in family businesses. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and refers violators to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. The Ministry of Labor conducted inspections and in some cases investigated companies suspected of hiring underage workers. From March 18 until April 8, the ministry’s Labor Inspector Service conducted inspections into child labor of 9,748 business–down from 11,575 businesses the previous year. It reported the discovery of four minors–down from 12 the year before. The law for the protection of the child criminalizes anyone who economically exploits a child with a penalty of one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of DZD 50,000 to DZD 100,000 ($425 to $850); the punishment is doubled if the offender is a family member or guardian of the child. These penalties are neither sufficiently stringent nor commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. Monitoring and enforcement practices for child labor were inconsistent and hampered by an insufficient number of inspectors to examine the formal and informal economy.

The Ministry of National Solidarity, Family, and Women leads a national committee composed of 12 ministries and NGOs that meets yearly to discuss child labor issues. The committee was empowered to propose measures and laws to address child labor as well as conduct awareness campaigns.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment, salary, and work environment based on age, gender, social and marital status, family links, political conviction, disability, national origin and affiliation with a union. The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination with respect to employment based on sexual orientation, HIV-positive status, or religion. The government did not adequately enforce the law, since discrimination reportedly existed, specifically against migrant workers in the informal economy who lacked a legal means to address unfair working conditions.

Men held a large percentage of positions of authority in government and the private sector. NGOs reported instances in which unaccompanied migrant female youth were exploited as domestic workers and were known to be loaned out to families for extended periods to work in homes or exploited as prostitutes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A tripartite social pact among business, government, and the official union established the national minimum wage of DZD 18,000 ($153) per month in 2012. There is no official estimate of the poverty income level.

The standard workweek was 40 hours, including one hour for lunch per day. Half of the lunch hour is considered compensated working time. Employees who worked longer than the standard workweek received premium pay on a sliding scale from time-and-a-half to double time, depending on whether the overtime occurred on a normal workday, a weekend, or a holiday.

The law contains occupational health and safety standards that were not fully enforced. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they may renegotiate their contract or, failing that, resort to the courts. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees. Labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status, which made them vulnerable to exploitation. The law does not adequately cover migrant workers employed primarily in construction and as domestic workers.

The government requires employers to declare their employees to the Ministry of Labor and to pay social security benefits. Penalties for noncompliance include a prison sentence of two to six months and a fine ranging from DZD 100,000 to DZD 200,000 ($850 to $1,701) and DZD 200,000 to DZD 500,000 ($1,701 to $4,251) for repeat offenders. The government allowed undeclared workers to gain credit for social security and retirement benefits for time spent in the informal economy if they repay any taxes owed after registering.

The Labor Ministry employed one labor inspector per 12,000 workers for a total of 853 as of the end of 2017.

Angola

Executive Summary

Angola is a constitutional republic. In August 2017 the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party won presidential and legislative elections with 61 percent of the vote. MPLA presidential candidate Joao Lourenco took the oath of office for a five-year term in September 2017, and the MPLA retained a supermajority in the National Assembly. Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. The Constitutional Court rejected opposition parties’ legal petitions alleging irregularities during the provincial-level vote count and a lack of transparent decision-making by the National Electoral Commission.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by government security forces; arbitrary detention by security forces; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminal libel and slander; refoulement of refugees to a country where they had a well-founded fear of persecution; corruption, although the government took significant steps to end impunity for senior officials; trafficking in persons; and crimes involving societal violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

The government took some steps to prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses; however, accountability was limited due to a lack of checks and balances, lack of institutional capacity, a culture of impunity, and widespread government corruption.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, on June 1, an officer with the Criminal Investigation Services (SIC) shot and killed a robbery suspect in broad daylight while the suspect lay injured on the ground surrounded by SIC officers. A bystander filmed the killing, and the video footage circulated widely on social media. On June 10, the Ministry of Interior, which oversees SIC, ordered an investigation and placed the SIC officer who killed the suspect in preventive detention. Authorities charged him as well as six other officers present at the scene with qualified homicide. The trial of the seven officers continued at year’s end.

In a 2017 report, The Field of Death, journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques stated a SIC campaign of extrajudicial killings of young men in Luanda. According to Marques, many SIC victims were accused of petty criminality or otherwise labeled as “undesirable” by residents of their respective communities. The report stated the national police at times coordinated with SIC officers in the killings. In December 2017 the public prosecutor announced the creation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegations, and the investigation continued at year’s end.

On August 14, the Luanda Provincial Tribunal convicted First Sergeant Jose Tadi and sentenced him to 18 years in prison and a fine of one million kwanzas ($3,450) for the 2016 killing of 14-year-old Rufino Antonio during an Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) demolition operation of allegedly unauthorized housing. The court convicted three other FAA soldiers for their involvement in the case and sentenced each of them to one year in prison. In September the family of Rufino Antonio filed a lawsuit against the government for failing to try or hold accountable the FAA commanding officers who oversaw the demolition operation.

At year’s end the Supreme Court had not rendered a decision on the appeal of the 28-year sentence imposed in 2016 on Jose Kalupeteka, leader of the Light of the World religious sect, convicted in connection with the 2015 clashes between members of his group and police that left 13 civilians and nine police officers dead, according to official figures.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

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

The constitution and law prohibit all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions. Periodic reports continued of beatings and other abuses of persons on the way to and in police stations during interrogations. The government acknowledged that at times members of the security forces used excessive force when apprehending individuals. Police authorities openly condemned some acts of violence or excessive force against individuals and asked that victims report abuses to the national police or the Office of the Public Defender (Ombudsman).

On April 14, police detained Antonio Castro Cassongo and five other members of the Lunda Tchokwe Protectorate Movement (LTPM) during a training workshop led by Cassongo. For several days police failed to acknowledge the whereabouts of the six individuals. After family members and the LTPM reported the disappearances to the press, a municipal police commander in Cafunfo acknowledged authorities had detained the six individuals in Cafunfo prison. They later released all six detainees; however, Cassongo stated that police brutally beat them while in custody.

During the year there were fewer instances in which security forces reacted violently to public demonstrations against the government. The visible presence of security forces was enough to deter significantly what the government deemed unlawful demonstrations. Authorities claimed known agitators, who sought only to create social instability, organized many of the public demonstrations.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, a lack of medical care, corruption, and violence.

Physical Conditions: On March 19, Meneses Cassoma, the spokesperson and chief prison inspector for the penitentiary services, acknowledged to the press that overcrowding in prisons was a serious problem.

Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with sentenced inmates, and short-term detainees with those serving long-term sentences for violent crimes, especially in provincial prisons. Inmates who were unable to pay court-ordered fines remained in prison after completing their sentence.

Prison conditions varied widely between urban and rural areas. Prisons in rural areas were less crowded and had better rehabilitation, training, and reintegration services. Prisons did not always provide adequate medical care, sanitation, potable water, or food, and it was customary for families to bring food to prisoners. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) stated prison services were insufficient.

There was no additional information on the killing of prisoner Bruno Marques in March 2017. In 2016 newspaper Novo Jornal published photos taken by Marques that allegedly depicted Viana jail’s deplorable conditions and sick and malnourished prisoners.

On March 18, SIC officers detained Mario Francisco, the director of penitentiary services for Cunene Province, and five other individuals on suspicion of diverting food from Peu Peu prison. In July 2017 the NGO Ame Naame Omunu denounced conditions in Peu Peu prison and filed a complaint with the provincial-level representative of the Ministry of Interior after uncovering the deaths of nine Peu Peu prisoners from unidentified causes. Prison records later identified cases of malnutrition resulting in inmate deaths. Francisco awaited trial and remained released on bail at year’s end.

Administration: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions.

Some offenders, including violent offenders, reported paying fines and bribes to secure their freedom, but it was unclear how prevalent this practice was.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to prisons by independent local and international human rights observers and foreign diplomats. Nevertheless, civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

Members of opposition parties visited prisons around the country on a regular basis and reported uneven improvements in living conditions and rehabilitation programs. A local NGO that provides pro bono legal services to inmates stated prison officials were trying to improve conditions but that overcrowding limited results. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, ministry representatives made monthly visits to detention centers with representatives of the Office of the Public Defender, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), and members of the National Assembly to assess prisoners’ living conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, security forces did not always respect these prohibitions. The constitution provides the right of habeas corpus to citizens to challenge their detention before a court.

According to several NGO and civil society sources, police arbitrarily arrested individuals without due process and routinely detained persons who participated, or were about to participate, in antigovernment protests, although the constitution protects the right to protest. While they often released detainees after a few hours, police at times charged them with crimes.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for internal security and law enforcement. The SIC, also under the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for preventing and investigating domestic crimes. The Expatriate and Migration Services and the Border Guard Police, in the Ministry of Interior, are responsible for migration law enforcement. The state intelligence and security service reports to the presidency and investigates sensitive state security matters. The FAA are responsible for external security but also have domestic security responsibilities, including border security, expulsion of irregular migrants, and small-scale actions against Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda separatists in Cabinda.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the FAA and the national police, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The security forces generally were effective, although sometimes brutal, at maintaining stability. There were allegations during the year that the SIC committed extrajudicial killings, at times in coordination with the national police, to combat crime (see section 1.a.). The national police and FAA have internal mechanisms to investigate security force abuses, and the government provided some training to reform the security forces. Impunity for security force abuses remained a problem, however.

Local populations generally welcomed police presence in neighborhoods and on streets as enhancing general safety and security. Nevertheless, police routinely were believed to extort civilians to supplement their income. Corruption and impunity remained serious problems. The national police handled most complaints internally through opaque disciplinary procedures, which sometimes led to formal punishment, including dismissal. They participated in a television series designed to show a gamut of interactions between police and civilians. The goal of the show was to encourage the population to collaborate with police while discouraging security force members’ procurement of bribes or their payment. The national police also utilized social media to communicate with civilians. The PGR has an anticorruption unit, charged with oversight of police wrongdoing. The government disclosed publicly the results of some investigations that led to disciplinary action.

Police participated in professional training provided by national and international organizations that focused on human rights and combatting trafficking in persons.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires a magistrate or judge to issue a warrant before an arrest may be made, although a person caught committing an offense may be arrested immediately without a warrant. Authorities, however, did not always procure warrants before making an arrest.

By law the public prosecutor must inform the detainee of the legal basis for his or her detention within 48 hours. NGO sources reported authorities often did not respect the law. If the public prosecutor is unable to determine whether there is a legal basis for the detention within 48 hours, the prosecutor has the authority to release the person or, depending on the seriousness of the case, require the person to submit to one or more pretrial procedures prescribed by law, such as posting bail, periodic appearance before authorities, or house arrest.

If the public prosecutor determines a legal basis exists for the detention, a person may be held in pretrial detention for up to four months without charge and up to 12 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. Cases of special complexity regarding crimes for which conviction is punishable by eight or more years allow for pretrial detention without charge for up to six months, and up to 14 months before a judge is required to rule on the case. By law the period of pretrial detention counts as time served in fulfillment of a sentence of imprisonment.

The law states that all detainees have the right to a lawyer, either chosen by them or appointed by the government on a pro bono basis. The lack of lawyers in certain provinces at times impeded the right to a lawyer. There was an insufficient number to handle the volume of criminal cases, and the geographical distribution of lawyers was a problem, since most lawyers were concentrated in Luanda. Lawyers and NGOs noted that even in Luanda most poor defendants did not have access to lawyers during their first appearance before a judicial authority or during their trial. When a lawyer is unavailable, a judge may appoint a clerk of the court to represent the defendant, but clerks of the court often lacked the necessary training to provide an adequate defense.

The law allows family members prompt access to detainees, but prison officials occasionally ignored this right or made it conditional upon payment of a bribe. The law requires detainees be held incommunicado for up to 48 hours until being presented to a public prosecutor, except they may communicate with their lawyer or a family member.

A functioning but ineffective bail system, widely used for minor crimes, existed. Prisoners and their families reported that prison officials demanded bribes to release prisoners.

Arbitrary Arrest: Unlawful arrest and detention remained serious problems. The PGR attributed allegations of government wrongdoing on arrest practices made by local and international NGOs to a lack of understanding of national laws. For example, on August 12, authorities detained Joaquim costa Zangui “Lutambi,” a member of the political party Democratic Bloc, in the Viana suburb of Luanda by seizing him as he walked on the street. The Monitoring Group on Human Rights, an NGO, issued an alert several days after his disappearance, and police subsequently acknowledged they took Zangui to Ndalatando prison on suspicion of criminal activity. On September 6, authorities released Zangui.

Pretrial Detention: Excessively long pretrial detention continued to be a serious problem. An inadequate number of judges and poor communication among authorities contributed to the problem. In some cases authorities held inmates in prison for up to two years in pretrial detention. On March 18, the Ministry of Interior reported that approximately 45 percent of the total inmate population were pretrial detainees. The government often did not release detainees confined beyond the legal time limit, claiming previous releases of pretrial detainees had resulted in an increase in crime.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent and impartial judiciary. Institutional weaknesses in the judicial system, however, such as political influence in the decision-making process, were problems. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights and the PGR worked to improve the independence of prosecutors and judges. The National Institute for Judicial Studies conducted capacity-building programs on the importance of an independent judicial system.

There were long trial delays at the Supreme Court. Criminal courts also had a large backlog of cases, which resulted in major delays in hearings.

Informal courts remained the principal institutions through which citizens resolved civil conflicts in rural areas, such as disputes over a bartering deal. Each community in which informal courts were located established local rules, creating disparities in how similar cases were resolved from one community to the next. Traditional leaders (known as “sobas”) also heard and decided local civil cases. Sobas do not have the authority to resolve criminal cases, which only courts may hear.

Both the national police and the FAA have internal court systems that generally remained closed to outside scrutiny. Although members of these organizations may be tried under their internal regulations, cases that include violations of criminal or civil laws may also fall under the jurisdiction of provincial courts. Both the PGR and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights have civilian oversight responsibilities over military courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the law provides all citizens the right to a fair trial, authorities did not always respect this right. Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Authorities must inform defendants of the charges levied against them in detail within 48 hours of their detention. Defendants have the right to free language interpretation during all legal proceedings from the moment charged through all appeals. By law trials are usually public, although each court has the right to close proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present and consult with an attorney, either chosen by them or appointed by the state, in a timely manner. According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, all public defenders are licensed lawyers. Defendants do not have the right to confront their accusers. They may question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right to sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law protects defendants from providing self-incriminating testimony. Individuals have the right to appeal their convictions. Authorities did not always respect these trial procedure rights.

A separate juvenile court is designated for children’s affairs. A juvenile court hears cases of minors between the ages of 12 and 16 accused of committing a criminal offense. Minors older than age 16 accused of committing a criminal offense are tried in regular courts. In many rural municipalities, there is no provision for juvenile courts, so offenders as young as 12 may be tried as adults. In many cases traditional leaders have state authority to resolve disputes and determine punishments for civil offenses, including offenses committed by juveniles. The constitution defines traditional authorities as ad hoc units of the state.

The president appoints Supreme Court justices for life terms without confirmation by the National Assembly. The Supreme Court generally hears cases concerning alleged political and security crimes.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Damages for human rights violations may be sought in municipal or provincial courts and appealed to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The constitution recognizes the right to housing and quality of life, and the law states that persons relocated should receive fair compensation. The constitution provides that all untitled land belongs to the state. In 2016 security forces demolished hundreds of allegedly illegal, privately built homes in Zango, a suburban Luanda zone that falls within the restrictive perimeter of the Luanda-Bengo Special Economic Zone. The demolitions displaced thousands of persons and resulted in several deaths. Some persons forced to move did not receive fair compensation, at times due to lack of clear title or permits for the destroyed property. Relocated persons who received housing units often complained their units were located far from their jobs or places of business, or were of substandard quality.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions. Civil organizations and politically active individuals, including government critics, members of opposition parties, and journalists, complained the government maintained surveillance of their activities and membership. These groups also frequently complained of threats and harassment based on their affiliations with groups that were purportedly or explicitly antigovernment.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the right of peaceful assembly, and the government increasingly respected 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 permits authorities to restrict or stop assemblies in public spaces within 109 yards of public, military, detention, diplomatic or consular buildings for security reasons. The law also requires public assemblies to start after 7 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The government at times prohibited events based on perceived or claimed security considerations. 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.

On May 26, in Luanda, police intervened to prevent a group of 20 activists from commemorating the 41st anniversary of a 1977 protest against the MPLA that resulted in the arrest and killings of thousands of individuals. Protesters stated police prevented their access to the protest site and attacked them with dogs and sticks. One protester was badly injured. Opposition parties, UNITA and the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola-Electoral Coalition (CASA-CE), as well as Amnesty International, criticized the police intervention.

Members of LTPM held several protests during the year. On November 17, security forces allegedly fired shots in the direction of LTPM protesters in Cafunfo, Lund Norte province, to disperse them. LTPM and several media sources reported that security forces shot one protester in the leg and detained dozens.

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.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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; however, NGOs that had not yet received registration were allowed to operate.

In July 2017 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 was 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. 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. As of November 16, UNHCR reported that security forces expelled or voluntarily repatriated an estimated 450,000 irregular migrants. The overwhelming majority of these individuals were Congolese whom authorities expelled or voluntarily repatriated to the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). On October 25, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the government for creating a humanitarian crisis due to the massive influx of people crossing into the unstable Kasai region of the DRC. UNHCR reported that security forces refouled 2,200 registered Congolese refugees as part of the expulsions or voluntarily repatriations. There were other reports throughout the year that Lunda Norte provincial authorities exerted pressure on irregular migrants and refugees to return to the DRC. The government failed to provide adequate protection for asylum seekers and urban refugees.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: On September 25, security forces began Operation Transparency, a security campaign directed at irregular migrants working in the diamond-mining region in the northern part of the country. The operation resulted in the expulsion or voluntary repatriation of an estimated 450,000 Congolese irregular migrants and smaller numbers of primarily West African migrants from the country. Multiple sources report security forces committed abuses against these migrants during the campaign.

On November 6, security forces began the nationwide campaign Operation Rescue, a nationwide law enforcement campaign focused on addressing criminality and unlicensed commercial activity. Following a 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.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

In 2017 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 generally cooperated with UNHCR, the World Food Program, and NGOs to protect and assist the community. At year’s end, however, the government had not formally granted the Kasai refugees prima facie status, despite repeated requests from UNHCR.

Refoulement: On November 16, UNHCR reported the government had forcibly returned 2,200 registered Congolese refugees since the beginning of Operation Transparency on September 25. On February 25-27, the government forcibly returned 52 registered and 480 unregistered Congolese refugees, including 217 children, to the Kasai region of the DRC despite continued reports of violence and inadequate humanitarian conditions in that region. Congolese provincial government leaders made several visits to Lunda Norte during the year and reportedly pressured refugees to return to the DRC.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the law did not function 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 prior implementing mechanism to identify, verify, and legalize asylum seekers, to that of an advisory board; however, at year’s end 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.

Freedom of Movement: UNHCR, NGOs, and refugees themselves reported restrictions on freedom of movement in Lunda Norte Province. Police arbitrarily arrested or detained refugees and confiscated their registration documents during periodic round ups, particularly in Dundo, the provincial capital. Refugees also reported periodic restrictions on freedom of movement from their resettlement site in Lovua, Lunda Norte Province.

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. A general lack of acceptance of the refugee card and lack of knowledge concerning the rights it was intended to safeguard compounded the difficulties.

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 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In August 2017 the government held presidential and legislative elections, which the ruling MPLA won with 61 percent of the vote. In September 2017 the country inaugurated MPLA party candidate Joao Lourenco as its third president since independence.

Domestic and international observers reported polling throughout the country was peaceful and generally credible, although the ruling party enjoyed advantages due to state control of major media and other resources. Opposition parties complained to the Constitutional Court aspects of the electoral process, including the National Electoral Commission’s lack of transparent decision making on key election procedures and perceived irregularities during the provincial-level vote count. The court rejected opposition appeals, citing a lack of evidence. The court concluded that members of the two opposition parties, UNITA and the Social Renewal Party, forged election documents submitted in support of their appeals, a crime for which conviction carries a penalty of two to eight years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The court referred the matter to the public prosecutor, but at year’s end there were no additional details on the investigation.

The central government appoints the provincial governors, and the constitution does not specify a timeline for implementing municipal-level elections. On March 22, President Lourenco announced that municipal elections in select municipalities would occur in 2020.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The ruling MPLA party dominated all political institutions. Political power was concentrated in the presidency and the Council of Ministers, through which the president exercised executive power. The council may enact laws, decrees, and resolutions, assuming most functions normally associated with the legislative branch. The National Assembly consists of 220 deputies elected under a party list proportional representation system. The National Assembly has the authority to draft, debate, and pass legislation, but the executive branch often proposed and drafted legislation for the assembly’s approval. The MPLA retained its supermajority in the National Assembly in the August 2017 elections; however, opposition parties increased their representation by winning 32 percent of parliamentary seats, up from 20 percent in the 2012 elections.

Political parties must be represented in all 18 provinces, but only the MPLA, UNITA, and CASA-CE, to a lesser extent, had truly national constituencies. By law no political party may limit party membership based on ethnicity, race, or gender.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Of the 220 deputies in the national assembly, 60 were women. There were two female provincial governors, and 12 of 32 cabinet ministers were women. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors prevented women from participating in political life to the same extent as men. The country has multiple linguistic groups, many of which were represented in government.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government took concrete steps during the year to remove from office, investigate, and prosecute government officials for alleged corrupt practices. During the year President Lourenco dismissed cabinet ministers, provincial governors, senior military officers, and other high-level government officials due to alleged corrupt practices. The PGR launched investigations and brought criminal charges against several of these officials. Official impunity, however, remained a serious problem, and President Lourenco repeatedly stressed that ending impunity for corruption was among his administration’s top priorities.

Corruption: Government corruption at all levels was widespread, and accountability was limited due to inadequate checks and balances, a lack of institutional capacity, and an entrenched culture of impunity. On June 26, the Law on the Repatriation of Capital Assets Domiciled Abroad entered into force, mandating that every Angolan who had in excess of $100,000 undeclared abroad must return and invest the money in the country by year’s end or face criminal penalties. On May 17, the National Assembly passed the law with the votes of 133 MPLA parliamentarians. Opposition parties voted as a block against the bill and, along with civil society, harshly criticized the law as sanctioning impunity by allowing individuals who stole state funds to keep their ill-gotten gains without facing an investigation or criminal penalties if they returned and invested the funds in the country by year’s end.

Several investigations or prosecutions of government officials allegedly involved in corruption were in process at year’s end. For example, on September 22, authorities charged Valter Filipe, the former governor of the National Bank of Angola (BNA), and Jose Filomeno dos Santos, the son of former president dos Santos, with criminal association, money laundering, and influence peddling for the alleged illicit transfer of $500 million from the BNA to a bank in the United Kingdom. On September 21, authorities announced the pretrial detention of former minister of transportation, Augusto Tomas, whom the president fired on June 20, on charges of corruption and money laundering. Tomas remained in pretrial detention at year’s end. On August 13, the Provincial Tribunal of Luanda convicted Angolan General Tax Administration (AGT) administrator, Nicholas da Silva, and four AGT associates on charges of money laundering, tax fraud, and corruption for embezzling collected tax revenue designated for the national treasury. The former AGT officials, first detained in October 2017, received sentences ranging from 3.5 to five years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine.

On July 13, the PGR acknowledged receiving from Portuguese authorities the case file of former Angolan vice president, Manuel Vicente. In January 2017 Portuguese authorities charged Vicente with corruption, money laundering, breach of judicial secrecy, and document forgery but on May 10 announced the transfer of the case to Angolan jurisdiction. The case extended back to 2012, when Vicente was under investigation in Portugal for alleged money laundering and corruption related to both the purchase of a luxury Lisbon apartment for 3.8 million euros ($4.37 million) and the purchase of shares in the Angolan telecommunications company Movicel and bank BES Angola. Portuguese authorities stated Vicente bribed then Portuguese public prosecutor Orlando Figueira to close both investigations with payments amounting to 763,000 euros ($877,000). Angolan authorities continued to review the case file at year’s end.

Government ministers and other high-level officials commonly and openly owned interests in public and private companies regulated by, or doing business with, their respective ministries. Laws and regulations regarding conflict of interest exist, but they were not enforced. Petty corruption among police, teachers, and other government employees was widespread. Police extorted money from citizens and refugees, and prison officials extorted money from family members of inmates.

Financial Disclosure: The law on public probity requires senior government officials to declare their assets to the attorney general. Following his election in August 2017, President Lourenco ordered all presidential appointees to comply with the law, which the previous dos Santos government did not enforce.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, the financial information of government officials was provided to the appropriate government office. The law treats these reports as confidential. The president, vice president, and president of the National Assembly are exempt from these public probity requirements. Nonexempt government officials are to make a declaration within 30 days of assuming a post and every two years thereafter. The law does not stipulate a declaration be made upon leaving office but states that officials must return all government property within 60 days.

Penalties for noncompliance with the law on public probity vary depending on which section of the law was violated, but they include removal from office, a bar from government employment for three to five years, a ban on contracting with the government for three years, repayment of the illicitly gained assets, and a fine of up to 100 times the value of the accepted bribe. The National Office of Economic Police is responsible for investigating violations of this law, as well as other financial and economic crimes, and then referring them to the Financial Court for prosecution. There were no known cases related to this law during the year.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups operated throughout the country. Some of those investigating government corruption and human rights abuses alleged government interference in their activities. Civil society organizations faced difficulties in contacting detainees, and prison authorities undermined civil society work in the prisons.

The Law of Associations requires NGOs to specify their mandate and areas of activity. The government used this provision to prevent or discourage established NGOs from engaging in certain activities, especially those that the government deemed politically sensitive. In July 2017 the Constitutional Court ruled that a 2015 presidential decree to regulate NGO operations was unconstitutional (see section 2.b.).

The government allowed local NGOs to carry out human rights-related work, but many NGOs reported they were forced to limit the scope of their work because they faced problems registering, were subject to subtle forms of intimidation, and risked more serious forms of harassment and closure.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The state-funded Interministerial Commission for the Writing of Human Rights Reports includes only representatives from various government ministries. Leading civil society members decided not to participate on the commission because they did not believe it was independent or effective.

The 10th Commission on Human Rights of the National Assembly is charged with investigating citizen complaints of alleged human rights violations and makes recommendations to the National Assembly.

An Office of the Ombudsman existed to mediate between an aggrieved public, including prisoners, and an offending public office or institution. The office did not cover the entire country and had neither decision-making nor adjudicative powers, but it helped citizens obtain access to justice, advised government entities on citizen rights, and published reports. In December 2017 the National Assembly elected Carlos Alberto Ferreira Pinto as ombudsman. Opposition parliamentarians either abstained or voted against Pinto due to his position as an elected member of the National Assembly representing the ruling MPLA party and his membership in the MPLA Central Committee.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to eight years’ imprisonment if convicted. Limited investigative resources, poor forensic capabilities, and an ineffective judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights worked with the Ministry of Interior to increase the number of female police officers and to improve police response to rape allegations.

The law criminalizes domestic violence and penalizes offenders with prison sentences of up to eight years and monetary fines, depending on the severity of their crime. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights maintained a program with the Angolan Bar Association to give free legal assistance to abused women and established counseling centers to help families cope with domestic abuse. According to a survey conducted by the country’s National Statistics Institute, one in every five women suffered domestic physical violence “frequently or from time to time” during the year and 31 percent of women ages 15-49 reported experiencing domestic violence at some point in their lives.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: There were anecdotal reports that some communities abused women and children due to accusations they practiced witchcraft. The Ministry of Culture and the National Institute for Children (INAC) had educational initiatives and emergency programs to assist children accused of witchcraft.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was common and not illegal. It may be prosecuted, however, under assault and battery and defamation statutes.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: Under the constitution and law, women enjoy the same rights and legal status as men. The government, however, did not enforce the law effectively as societal discrimination against women remained a problem, particularly in rural areas. Customary law prevailed over civil law, particularly in rural areas, and at times had a negative impact on a woman’s legal right to inherit property.

The law provides for equal pay for equal work, although women generally held low-level positions.

The Ministry of Social Assistance, Family, and Promotion of Women led an interministerial government information campaign on women’s rights and domestic abuse, and hosted national, provincial, and municipal workshops and training sessions.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country or from one’s parents. The government does not register all births immediately, and activists reported many urban and rural children remained undocumented. During the year the government continued programs to improve the rate of birth registration through on-site registries collocated in maternity hospitals in five provinces and the training of midwives in rural areas to complete temporary registration documents for subsequent government conversion into official birth certificates.

Education: Education is tuition-free and compulsory for documented children through the sixth grade, but students often faced significant additional expenses such as books or fees paid to education officials. When parents were unable to pay the fees, their children were often unable to attend school.

There were reports that parents, especially in more rural areas, were more likely to send boys to school rather than girls. According to UNESCO, enrollment rates were higher for boys than for girls, especially at the secondary level.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Reports of physical abuse within the family were commonplace, and local officials largely tolerated abuse. A 2012 law significantly improved the legal framework protecting children, but problems remained in its implementation and enforcement.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age for marriage with parental consent is 15 for girls and 16 for boys. The government did not enforce this restriction effectively, and the traditional age of marriage in lower income groups coincided with the onset of puberty.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: All forms of prostitution, including child prostitution, are illegal. Police did not actively enforce laws against prostitution, and local NGOs expressed concern regarding child prostitution. The law does not prohibit the use, procurement, offering, and financial benefit of a child for the production of pornography and pornographic performances. The law does not criminally prohibit either the distribution or the possession of child pornography. On September 19, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the Association for the Reintegration of Children and Youth in Social Life (SCARJoV), a local NGO, and INAC launched a digital public platform to allow anonymous reporting of images and videos of child pornography and sexual abuse. SCARJoV and IWF explained that experts based in the United Kingdom would scrutinize the video and images, remove them from the internet, and refer suspected cases of abuse to local law enforcement.

Sexual relations between an adult and a child younger than 12 are considered rape, and conviction carries a potential penalty of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Sexual relations with a child between the ages of 12 and 17 are considered sexual abuse, and convicted offenders may receive sentences from two to eight years in prison. The legal age for consensual sex is 18. Limited investigative resources and an inadequate judicial system prevented prosecution of most cases. There were reports of prosecutions during the year.

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

Anti-Semitism

There is a Jewish community of approximately 500 persons, primarily resident Israelis. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. The constitution grants persons with disabilities full rights without restriction and calls on the government to adopt national policies to prevent, treat, rehabilitate, and integrate persons with disabilities to support their families; remove obstacles to their mobility; educate society regarding disability; and encourage learning and training opportunities for persons with disabilities. In 2016 the Law of Accessibilities entered into force, requiring changes to public buildings, transportation, and communications to increase accessibility for persons with disabilities, but civil society organizations and persons with disabilities reported the government failed to enforce the law and significant barriers to access remained.

On April 22, the Platform for Inclusion, an activist group for persons with disabilities, held a protest in Luanda to raise awareness of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Police, however, intercepted and forbade demonstrators in wheelchairs from using placards and continuing on the planned route. According to Amnesty International, police subjected the protesters to violence. A member of the Platform for Inclusion, Adao Ramos, criticized the government for failing to implement the Law of Accessibilities and provide adequate protection for persons with disabilities. According to police, they halted the protest because the Platform for Inclusion did not comply with the legal requirement to inform authorities 72 hours in advance of a protest.

Persons with disabilities included more than 80,000 survivors of land mines and other explosive remnants of war. The NGO Handicap International estimated that as many as 500,000 persons had disabilities. Because of limited government resources and uneven availability, only 30 percent of such persons were able to take advantage of state-provided services such as physical rehabilitation, schooling, training, or counseling.

Persons with disabilities found it difficult to access public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to find employment or participate in the education system. Women with disabilities were reported to be vulnerable to sexual abuse and abandonment when pregnant. The Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion sought to address problems facing persons with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, and several government entities supported programs to assist individuals disabled by landmine incidents.

On August 23, the National Association of University Students with Disabilities (ANEUD) filed a complaint with the PGR alleging discrimination against students with disabilities in violation of the law. Micael Daniel, the president of ANEUD, stated the Ministry of Education failed to reserve the required 4 percent of university public education slots for persons with special needs during an open competition for university slots. At year’s end the PGR continued to investigate the case.

Indigenous People

The constitution does not specifically refer to the rights of indigenous persons, and no specific law protects their rights and ecosystems. The estimated 14,000 San lacked adequate access to basic government services, including medical care, education, and identification cards, according to a credible NGO. The government permitted businesses and well-connected elites to take traditional land from the San.

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

The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination but does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity. Local NGOs reported that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals faced violence, discrimination, and harassment. The government, through its health agencies, instituted a series of initiatives to decrease discrimination against LGBTI individuals. During the year the government formally registered Association Iris Angola, the country’s first LGBTI rights NGO. Also during the year, one of the former president’s children announced publicly that he was gay.

Discrimination against LGBTI individuals was rarely reported, and when reported, LGBTI individuals asserted that sometimes police refused to register their grievances. The association continued to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and the National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS to improve access to health services and sexual education for the LGBTI community.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is illegal, but lack of enforcement allowed employers to discriminate against persons with the condition or disease. There were no news reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. Reports from local and international health NGOs suggested discrimination against individuals with HIV/AIDS was common. The government’s National Institute to Fight HIV/AIDS includes sensitivity and antidiscrimination training for its employees when they are testing and counseling HIV patients.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers, except members of the armed forces and police, to form and join independent unions. To establish a trade union, at least 30 percent of workers in an economic sector in a province must follow a registration process and obtain authorization from government officials. The law provides for the right to collective bargaining except in the civil service. The law prohibits strikes by members of the armed forces, police, prosecutors and magistrates of the PGR, prison staff, fire fighters, public-sector employees providing “essential services,” and oil workers.

While the law allows unions to conduct their activities without government interference, it also places some restrictions on their ability to strike. Before engaging in a strike, workers must make a good-faith effort to negotiate their grievances with their employer. Should they fail to negotiate, the government may deny the right to strike. The government may intervene in labor disputes that affect national security and energy sectors. Essential services are broadly defined, including the transport sector, communications, waste management and treatment, and fuel distribution. In exceptional circumstances involving national interests, authorities have the power to requisition workers in the essential services sector. Collective labor disputes are to be settled through compulsory arbitration by the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security. The law does not prohibit employer retribution against strikers, and it permits the government to force workers back to work for “breaches of worker discipline” or participation in unauthorized strikes. Nonetheless, the law prohibits antiunion discrimination and stipulates that worker complaints should be adjudicated in the labor court. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had a hotline for workers who believed their rights had been violated. By law employers are required to reinstate workers who have been dismissed for union activities. There were no known cases of retribution against strikers during the year.

The government generally did not effectively enforce applicable labor laws. Labor courts functioned but were overburdened by a backlog of cases and inadequate resources. The law provides for penalties for violations of the labor code and labor contracts, but the penalties were not an effective deterrent due to the inefficient functioning of the courts.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not generally respected. Government approval is required to form and join unions, which were hampered by membership and legalization issues. In September 2017 the president of the National Union of the Workers in Angola, Manuel Viage, stated that many foreign companies, primarily Chinese-owned, prohibited their workers from joining labor unions under threat of dismissal. Labor unions, independent of those run by the government, worked to increase their influence, but the ruling MPLA continued to dominate the labor movement due to historical connections between the party and labor, and also the superior financial base of the country’s largest labor union (which also constitutes the labor wing of the MPLA). The government is the country’s largest employer, and the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security mandated government worker wages with no negotiation with the unions.

In April the National Teachers’ Union began a six-day strike to demand higher salaries, step increases, and fewer work hours for primary and secondary schools. There were reports that some government administrators threatened teachers with disciplinary measures, including salary cuts, if they participated in the strike.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law due in part to an insufficient number of inspectors. Penalties for violations are the same as those for trafficking in persons, ranging from eight to 12 years in prison, and were insufficient to deter violations, primarily due to lack of enforcement.

Forced labor of men and women occurred in fisheries, agriculture, construction, domestic service, and artisanal diamond mining sectors, particularly in Lunda Norte and Lunda Sul Provinces. Migrant workers were subject to seizure of passports, threats, denial of food, and confinement. The government continued to make use of a training video for law enforcement and immigration officials that included a short segment on how to identify victims of trafficking, although this was not the sole objective of the film. INAC continued working to reduce the number of children traveling to agricultural areas in the country’s southern regions to work on farms, mostly through community outreach concerning the importance of an education. Forced child labor also occurred.

On July 24, the Union of Fisheries and Derivatives denounced the unfair labor practices of Guanda Pesca, a Chinese and Angolan-administered fishing company. Joaquim de Sousa, the secretary general of the union, harshly criticized the company’s poor operating condition and seven-day work week as akin to modern slavery and threatened to file a criminal complaint. Following the public allegations, Guanda Pesca representatives met with employees and agreed to improve working conditions and decrease working hours.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits children younger than age 14 from working. To obtain an employment contract, the law requires youth to submit evidence they are 14 years of age or older. Children could work from age 14 to 16 with parental permission or without parental consent if they are married and the work did not interfere with schooling or harm the physical, mental, and moral development of the minor. The law also allows orphan children who want to work to get official permission in the form of a letter from “an appropriate institution,” but it does not specify the type of institution. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security; the Ministry of Social Assistance, Families, and Women’s Promotion; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Labor; INAC; and the national police are the entities responsible for enforcement of child labor laws. On June 12, the Ministry of Labor launched the National Action Plan for the Eradication of Child Labor for 2018-2022, which aimed to map the most prevalent zones and types of child labor in the country to strengthen coordination of child labor investigations, prosecutions, and the imposition of criminal penalties. An interministerial commission to combat trafficking in persons was created in 2014 to coordinate enforcement actions. The government had difficulty monitoring the large informal sector, where most children worked.

Inspectors are authorized to conduct surprise inspections whenever they see fit. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations. Penalties for not signing a written contract for children age 14 and older is a fine of two to five times the median monthly salary offered by the company. Children older than age 14 who are employed as part of an apprenticeship are also required to have a written contract. The penalty on employers for not having this contract is three to six times the average monthly salary of the company. For children found to be working in jobs categorized as hazardous (which is illegal), the fines are five to 10 times the average monthly salary of the company. Nonpayment of any of these fines results in the accrual of additional fines.

The government did not consistently enforce the law. Child labor, especially in the informal sector, remained a problem. On June 19, INAC filed two complaints against four Chinese companies for violating labor laws and child protection statutes. The first complaint stated that a Chinese cement brick manufacturing company in the northwestern city of Saurimo hired underage children to manufacture bricks and load trucks and paid them very little compensation. At year’s end the case was before the Provincial Tribunal of Lunda Sul. The second INAC complaint was against three Chinese fishing companies–Famao-Lda, Fuhaui Atlantico, and Guanda Pesca-Benguela Province. INAC stated the companies recruited children between the ages of 14 and 17 without parental consent as required by law and employed them in poor conditions for little compensation. The investigation into the complaint was ongoing at year’s end. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security had oversight of formal work sites in all 18 provinces, but it was unknown whether inspectors checked on the age of workers or conditions of work sites. If the ministry determined a business was using child labor, it transferred the case to the Ministry of Interior to investigate and possibly press charges. It was not known whether the government fined any businesses for using child labor. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security, other government agencies, and labor unions implemented a national plan to limit child labor.

Children engaged in economic activities such as agricultural labor on family farms and commercial plantations–particularly in orchards–as well as in fishing, brick making, artisanal mining, charcoal production, domestic labor, and street vending. Exploitive labor practices included involvement in the sale, transport, and offloading of goods in ports and across border posts. Children were forced to act as couriers in the illegal cross-border trade with Namibia. Adult criminals sometimes used children for forced criminal activity, since the justice system prohibits youths younger than 12 from being tried in court.

Street work by children was common, especially in the provinces of Luanda, Benguela, Huambo, Huila, and Kwanza Sul. Investigators found children working in the streets of Luanda, but many returned during the weekends to some form of dwelling in Luanda or outlying cities. Most of these children shined shoes, washed cars, carried water and other goods, or engaged in other informal labor, but some resorted to petty crime and begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children occurred as well.

The government, through INAC, worked to create, train, and strengthen child protection networks at the provincial and municipal levels in all 18 provinces. No central mechanism existed to track cases or provide statistics. The government also dedicated resources to the expansion of educational and livelihood opportunities for children and their families.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on race, sex, religion, disability, or language, and the government in general effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. The constitution prohibits all forms of discrimination, although it does not specifically address political opinion, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity (see section 6). The law provides for equal pay for equal work, and many women held high-level positions in state-run industries and in the private sector or worked in the informal sector. There were no known prosecutions of official or private sector gender-based discrimination in employment or occupation. Women held ministerial posts.

The government did not effectively implement the law. Persons with disabilities found it difficult to gain access to public or private facilities, and it was difficult for such persons to participate in the education system and thus find employment. Reports during the year indicated that persons with albinism also experienced discrimination in employment and access to public services. There were no known prosecutions for discrimination in employment. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.

Discrimination against migrant workers also occurred.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A minimum wage for the formal sector exists, and varies by sector. The minimum wage for the formal sector may be updated annually or when the government assesses economic conditions warrant. The minimum wage law does not cover workers in informal sectors, such as street vendors and subsistence farmers.

The standard workweek in the private sector is 44 hours, while in the public sector it is 37 hours. In both sectors the law mandates at least one unbroken period of 24 hours of rest per week. In the private sector, when employees engage in shift work or a variable weekly schedule, they may work up to 54 hours per week before the employer must pay overtime. In the formal sector, there is a prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime, defined as more than two hours a day, 40 hours a month, or 200 hours a year. The law also provides for paid annual holidays. By law employers must provide, at a minimum, a 50 percent of monthly salary bonus to employees each year in December and an annual vacation. Workweek standards were not enforced unless employees filed a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security. Labor law protected foreign workers with permanent legal status or a temporary work visa.

The government effectively enforced the minimum wage law within the formal labor sector. An employer who violates the minimum wage law faces a penalty of between five and 10 times the applicable sector-specific minimum wage payable to the affected employee. Most workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage or occupational safety standards. An estimated 60 percent of the economy derived from the informal sector, and most wage earners held second jobs or depended on the agricultural or other informal sectors to augment their incomes.

A 2016 presidential decree established minimum employment standards for domestic workers, including national minimum wage protection, an eight-hour work day for domestic workers living outside of their employer’s home, a 10-hour work day for domestic workers living inside their employer’s home, compulsory employer contributions to a domestic worker’s social security protection, and maternity and holiday allowances. The Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security is charged with implementing and enforcing the law. An insufficient number of adequately trained labor inspectors hampered enforcement efforts. Some companies received advance warning of impending labor inspections.

The labor law requires a safe work environment in all sectors of the economy. Employees have the right to remove themselves from hazardous working conditions and may file a formal complaint with the Ministry of Public Administration, Employment, and Social Security if employers insist they perform hazardous tasks. The government enforced occupational safety and health standards and investigated private company operations based on complaints made by NGOs and labor unions.

Bangladesh

Executive Summary

Bangladesh’s constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government, but in fact, most power resides in the Office of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free and fair, and was marred by reported irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. During the campaign leading up to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. International election monitors were not issued accreditation and visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission, and only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved to conduct domestic election observation.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary or unlawful detentions by the government or on its behalf; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organizations (NGO) laws and restrictions on the activities of NGOs; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation, where elections have not been found to be genuine, free, or fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons and criminalization of same-sex sexual activity; restrictions on independent trade unions, workers’ rights, and use of the worst forms of child labor.

There were reports of widespread impunity for security force abuses. The government took few measures to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse and killing by security forces.

The United Nations reported three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Bangladesh in 2017; the allegations remained pending.

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

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

The constitution provides for the rights to life and personal liberty. There were numerous reports, however, that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Law enforcement raids occurred throughout the year, primarily to counter terrorist activity. Suspicious deaths occurred during some raids, arrests, and other law enforcement operations. Security forces frequently accounted for such deaths by claiming when they took a suspect in custody to a crime scene to recover weapons or identify coconspirators, the suspect was killed during an exchange of gunfire when accomplices at the location shot at police. The government usually described these deaths as “crossfire killings,” “gunfights,” or “encounter killings,” terms used to characterize exchanges of gunfire between the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) or other police units and criminal gangs. The media also sometimes used these terms to describe legitimate uses of police force. Human rights organizations and media outlets claimed many of these crossfire incidents actually constituted extrajudicial killings. In some cases human rights organizations claimed law enforcement units detained, interrogated, and tortured suspects, brought them back to the scene of the original arrest, executed them, and ascribed the death to lawful self-defense in response to violent attacks. A domestic human rights organization, Human Rights Support Society (HRSS), reported security forces killed more than 400 individuals in crossfire incidents from January through September. Another domestic human rights organization, Odhikar, reported security forces killed 415 individuals in crossfire incidents from January through October.

The government initiated an antinarcotics drive in May aimed at addressing a perceived narcotics problem in the country. The drive resulted in an increase of reported extrajudicial killings relative to last year. Local media reported approximately 230 alleged drug dealers were killed and 17,000 arrests were made from May through June. Human rights organizations and civil society expressed concern over the alleged extrajudicial killings and arrests, claiming many of the victims were innocent and contended the antinarcotics drive was a government effort to exert increased political control over the populace in advance of the national election.

On May 26, RAB forces shot and killed Teknaf City Municipal Councilor Ekramul Haque in Cox’s Bazar District during a gunfight with drug dealers. Haque’s family members disputed RAB’s assertion Haque was involved in narcotics and claimed plainclothes government agents picked up Haque from his home hours before his death to discuss what the government agents alleged was a recent real estate purchase. Community members also disputed Haque’s involvement with illegal narcotics.

Odhikar reported 57 detainees died while under law enforcement custody in the first 10 months of the year.

On March 6, according to press reports, plainclothes law enforcement officers arrested Zakir Hossain Milon, a student leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) on allegations of obstruction of justice. During his interrogation Milon complained of an “illness” and was transported to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH), where staff physicians declared him dead on March 12. Family members alleged Milon died from torture by law enforcement while under interrogation, claiming when they retrieved the remains from DMCH, the victim’s fingernails were missing, and his lower extremities showed multiple severe bruises.

Competition among factions and members of the ruling party for local offices or dominance in their respective neighborhoods provoked violent intraparty clashes, resulting in killings and injuries between supporters of rival candidates. Human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) reported political violence resulted in approximately 30 deaths and 2,850 injuries from January through October.

Terrorists inspired two attacks this year. On March 3, Foyzur Rahman attacked Professor Muhammad Zafar Iqbal at a university in Sylhet. Rahman attacked Iqbal with a knife deeming him an “enemy of Islam.” Iqbal had been a staunch critic of Islamist politics and growing intolerance in local Bangladeshi society. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU) found Rahman had links to Dawah Ilallah, an internet forum run by terrorist organization Ansarullah Bangla Team. Students attempted to restrain Rahman during his attack and turned him over to law enforcement. Iqbal survived the attack with injuries to his head and upper extremity.

b. Disappearance

Human rights groups and media reported disappearances and kidnappings continued, committed mostly by security services. The government made limited efforts to prevent or investigate such acts. Following alleged disappearances, security forces released some individuals without charge, arrested others, found some dead, and never found others. HRSS stated there were 58 enforced disappearances from January through September. Odhikar stated there were 83 enforced disappearances from January through November.

Authorities took into custody in 2016 the sons of three former opposition politicians convicted by Bangladesh’s International Criminal Tribunal. The detainees were never formally detained or charged with a crime. Authorities released Humam Quader Chowdhury seven months later, but Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem and Amaan Azmi remained missing at year’s end. The government did not respond to a request from the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country.

High-ranking government officials repeatedly denied incidents of enforced disappearance and claimed victims were hiding of their own accord. A 2017 judicial inquiry concluded enforced disappearances occurred and ordered the Police Bureau of Investigation to take actions regarding disappeared persons. Local law enforcement maintains they continued investigating these disappearances throughout the year.

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

Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, local and international human rights organizations and the media reported security forces, including the intelligence services and police, employed torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Security forces reportedly used torture to gather information from alleged militants and members of political opposition parties. Security forces reportedly used threats, beatings, kneecappings, and electric shock, and sometimes committed rapes and other sexual abuses. Odhikar reported five deaths from torture during the first 10 months of the year.

The law contains provisions allowing a magistrate to place a suspect in interrogative custody, known as remand, during which questioning of the suspect can take place without a lawyer present. Human rights organizations alleged that many instances of torture occurred during remand.

On May 4, the Detective Branch (DB) of the Bangladesh Police detained Ashraf Ali on suspicion of kidnapping. After 35 hours of detention, Ali was taken to DMCH where he died three hours later. An autopsy conducted at DMCH concluded Ali suffered severe bruising on his lower body and sustained intestinal torsion. According to hospital authorities, DB asked the staff physicians at the hospital to issue a death certificate stating Ali died of natural causes. The physicians refused, reportedly due to Ali’s physical condition upon arrival. Ali’s family stated Ali was a hernia patient but was in otherwise good health.

On August 5, photojournalist Shahidul Alam was arrested for making “provocative comments” when reporting on student protests for road safety (see section 2. a.). When Alam was brought to court on August 6, he appeared unable to walk unassisted and showed visible injuries. During his testimony in front of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Alam alleged on the first night of detention, he was blindfolded, a weight was placed on his head, and he was hit on the face. Subsequent medical reports released to the court on August 9, a day after a legally required medical examination at a public hospital, stated Alam had been deemed “physically and mentally sound.” On August 22, Alam’s wife, Rahnuma Ahmed, issued a press release requesting his transfer to a hospital. Ahmed reported during a visit to the jail, her husband claimed he was suffering from breathing difficulties, pain in his gums, and vision problems. Ahmed reported these health issues did not predate his detention. Alam was released on bail on November 20.

According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Bangladeshi peacekeepers reported from 2015-17 remained pending. The cases alleged both sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex) and abuse (sexual assault against minors) involving peacekeepers deployed in the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti and the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Two allegations have been substantiated according to UN investigations. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations. The investigations by Bangladesh authorities were pending at the end of the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate facilities, and a lack of proper sanitation. There are currently no private detention facilities. ASK claimed these conditions contributed to custodial deaths, which it claimed totaled 74 from January through December.

Physical Conditions: According to the Department of Prisons, in November more than 95,000 prisoners occupied a system designed to hold approximately 37,000 inmates. Authorities often incarcerated pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, as of October, Bangladesh prisons held more than 90,000 prisoners compared to an official capacity of roughly 36,000; prisoners slept in shifts and did not have adequate toilet facilities. In 2016 human rights organizations and the media stated some prisoners did not receive medical care or water, although prison authorities maintained each prisoner had access to water. Water available in prisons was comparable with water available in the rest of the country, which was frequently not potable.

Conditions in prisons, and often within the same prison complex, varied widely. Authorities lodged some prisoners in areas subject to high temperatures, poor ventilation, and overcrowding. The law allows individuals whom prison officials designated as “VIPs” to access “Division A” prison facilities with improved living and food, more frequent family visitation rights, and the provision of another prisoner without VIP status to serve as an aide in the cell.

While the law requires holding juveniles separately from adults, authorities incarcerated many juveniles with adults. Children were sometimes imprisoned (occasionally with their mothers) despite laws and court decisions prohibiting the imprisonment of minors.

Authorities routinely held female prisoners separately from men. Although the law prohibits women in “safe custody” (usually victims of rape, trafficking, and domestic violence) from being housed with criminals, officials did not always provide separate facilities. Authorities must issue permission for these women to leave this “safe custody.”

Although Dhaka’s central jail had facilities for those with mental disabilities, not all detention facilities had such facilities, nor are they required to by law. Judges may reduce punishments for persons with disabilities on humanitarian grounds. Jailors also may make special arrangements, for example, by transferring inmates with disabilities to a prison hospital.

Administration: Prisons had no ombudsmen to whom prisoners could submit complaints. Prison authorities indicated they were constrained by significant staff shortages. The scope for retraining and rehabilitation programs was extremely limited.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits from governmental inspectors and nongovernmental observers who were aligned with the incumbent party. No reports on these inspections were released.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the Special Powers Act of 1974 permits authorities to arrest and detain an individual without an order from a magistrate or a warrant if authorities perceive the individual may constitute a threat to security and public order. The act was widely cited by law enforcement in justifying their arrests. The constitution provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not generally observe these requirements. Media, civil society, and human rights organizations accused the government of conducting enforced disappearances not only against suspected militants but also against civil society and opposition party members. Authorities sometimes held detainees without divulging their whereabouts or circumstances to family or legal counsel, or without acknowledging having arrested them.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Bangladesh Police, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has a mandate to maintain internal security and law and order. Numerous units of the Bangladesh Police operate under competing mandates. The most significant among such units are the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTCU), the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)–a mostly counterterrorism-focused Special Mission Unit–and the Detective Branch (DB).

The military, which reports directly to the prime minister (who also holds the title of minister of defense), is responsible for external security. The military may also be “activated” as a backup force with a variety of domestic security responsibilities when required to aid civilian authorities. This includes responding to instances of terrorism.

The Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and National Security Intelligence (NSI) are the two primary intelligence agencies with overlapping responsibilities and capabilities. Both are responsible for domestic as well as foreign affairs and report directly to the prime minister in her capacity as minister of defense. Media reports asserted that the DGFI and, to a lesser degree, the NSI engaged in politically motivated violations of human rights. This included violations against suspected terrorists, members of opposition parties, civil society, and others.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the military and other security forces. While the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption within the security forces, these mechanisms were not regularly employed. The government continued to take steps to improve police professionalism, discipline, training, and responsiveness–and to reduce corruption. Police basic training continued to incorporate instruction on the appropriate use of force as part of efforts to implement community-based policing.

According to police policy, all significant uses of force by police, including actions that resulted in serious physical injury or death, triggered an automatic internal investigation, usually by a professional standards unit that reports directly to the Inspector General of Police. The government neither released statistics on total killings by security personnel nor took comprehensive measures to investigate cases. Human rights groups expressed skepticism over the independence of the professional standards units conducting these assessments. In the few known instances in which the government brought charges, those found guilty generally received only administrative punishment.

Security forces continued to commit abuses with impunity. Plaintiffs were reluctant to accuse police in criminal cases due to lengthy trial procedures and fear of retribution. Reluctance to bring charges against police also perpetuated a climate of impunity. Officers with political ties to the ruling party occupied many of the key positions in the law enforcement agencies.

The government continued support of the Internal Enquiry Cell that investigates cases of human rights abuses within the RAB, which did not widely publish its findings and did not otherwise announce significant actions against officers accused of human rights abuses.

Security forces failed to prevent societal violence (see section 6).

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution requires arrests and detentions be authorized by a warrant or occur as a result of observation of a crime in progress, but the Special Powers Act of 1974 grants broad exceptions to these protections.

Under the constitution detainees must be brought before a judicial officer to face charges within 24 hours, but this provision was not regularly enforced. The government or a district magistrate may order a person detained for 30 days to prevent the commission of an act that could threaten national security; however, authorities sometimes held detainees for longer periods with impunity.

There is a functioning bail system, but law enforcement routinely rearrested bailed individuals on other charges, despite a 2016 directive from the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division prohibiting rearrest of persons when they are released on bail in new cases without producing them in court.

Authorities generally permitted defense lawyers to meet with their clients only after formal charges were filed in the courts, which in some cases occurred weeks or months after the initial arrest. Detainees are legally entitled to counsel even if they cannot afford to pay for it, but the country lacked sufficient funds to provide for this entitlement.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests occurred, often in conjunction with political demonstrations or as part of security force responses to terrorist activity, and the government held persons in detention without specific charges, sometimes in an attempt to collect information about other suspects. The expansiveness of the 1974 Special Powers Act grants a legal justification to arrests that would often otherwise be considered arbitrary, since it removes the requirement that arrests be based on crimes that have previously occurred. This year experienced a significant increase in arrests of opposition party activists. According to figures provided to the Dhaka Tribune by the BNP, 434,975 criminal charges in 4,429 cases were lodged against BNP members from September 1 through November 14. Law enforcement also arrested at least 100 students, most of whom participated peacefully in the quota reform and road safety protest movements.

On September 5, DB officers in Dhaka arrested numerous students from their student residences late at night, allegedly for their roles in the road safety protests in July and August. While authorities later released some of the students, 12 of the students were kept in custody for days before being brought before a judge. Human rights activists criticized the DB for its initial denial of the arrests and failure to produce them before the court within 24 hours of arrest, as mandated by the law. Some of the students released by DB alleged physical abuse during their informal detention.

In a September 11 article, the Daily Star newspaper published a listed of allegedly false criminal charges by police against opposition party BNP activists. The list included charges against an 82-year bedridden man in a hospital, a person who was abroad on the day of the alleged incident, and an individual who died approximately two years before the alleged crime. On November 7, the BNP submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office what it claimed to be a partial list of 1,046 “fictitious cases” filed against its leaders and activists.

Police routinely detained opposition activists in their homes, in public places, or when commuting to and from their respective parties’ events. On September 10, multiple newspapers reported police in Dhaka apprehended dozens of BNP supporters as they were returning home after participating in a peaceful human chain in front of the National Press Club to demand the release of incarcerated party chair Khaleda Zia.

Pretrial Detention: Arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention continued due to bureaucratic inefficiencies, limited resources, lax enforcement of pretrial rules, and corruption. In some cases the length of pretrial detention equaled or exceeded the sentence for the alleged crime.

In July, Hasnat Karim, a UK citizen detained without charges and denied bail for more than two years as part of the investigation into the 2016 Holey Bakery Attack that killed more than 20 persons, was released. Law enforcement authorities decided not to charge Karim, due to a lack of evidence against him.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Pursuant to the Special Powers Act, a magistrate must inform a detainee of grounds for detention within 15 days. Regulations require an advisory board, appointed by the government, to examine each case of detention that lasts longer than four months. Detainees have the right to appeal.

Judicial vacancies hampered legal challenges to cases of detention. In 2017 The Daily Star reported delays in the recruitment of judges were hampering judicial proceedings and leading to a substantial case backlog. The article noted approximately 400 lower court judgeships, including 50 district judgeships, remained vacant. On January 16, the Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister reported to parliament that 3,309,789 cases were pending with the court system on the last day of 2017.

On May 31, the president appointed 18 additional judges to the High Court division of the Supreme Court, raising the number of High Court Judges to 98. As of September the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court had appointed four judges on an 11-member bench.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and political interference compromised its independence. In 2014 parliament passed the 16th amendment, authorizing parliament to remove judges. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled the amendment unconstitutional. The resulting public dispute with parliament and the prime minister resulted in the resignation and departure from the country of Chief Justice S. K. Sinha. In an interview with BBC Bangla broadcast on September 19, Sinha claimed he was placed under house arrest following judgment and forced by the intelligence service to leave the country. In his autobiography, released in August, Sinha claimed the prime minister, the president, and law minister pressured him to rule in favor of the government. A petition filed by the government seeking to review the decision remained pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The government continued to pursue corruption charges against Sinha at year’s end. Media observers and political commentators alleged the charges were politically motivated.

On January 3, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court accepted a government draft of disciplinary rules for lower court judges, putting an end to protracted negotiations between the judiciary and government. While the Supreme Court claimed the rules did not undermine its supremacy and it did not lose its oversight over the lower courts, some senior jurists interpreted the rules as making the lower courts subordinate to the executive branch. On February 2, the president appointed Appellate Division judge Syed Mahmud Hossain as the Chief Justice of Bangladesh, superseding Justice Abdul Wahab Miah, who had been officiating as the Chief Justice since October 2017. Miah immediately resigned as a Supreme Court justice, citing “personal reasons.”

On September 4, the Law Ministry transferred criminal proceedings against former BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia from a public courtroom to a closed facility at a prison. The Law Ministry cited security reasons for the transfer. Subsequent proceedings took place in the prison on September 5 without Zia’s lawyers present. An appeal was filed September 5 challenging the lack of a public tribunal for the accused. The appeal was rejected by the High Court.

On June 6, a High Court panel reproved a Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate court for “abusing the process of the court” to prolong disposal of a bail petition filed by Zia.

Human rights observers maintained magistrates, attorneys, and court officials demanded bribes from defendants in many cases, or they ruled based on influence by or loyalty to political patronage networks. Observers claimed judges who made decisions unfavorable to the government risked transfer to other jurisdictions. Officials reportedly discouraged lawyers from representing defendants in certain cases.

Corruption and a substantial backlog of cases hindered the court system, and the granting of extended continuances effectively prevented many defendants from obtaining fair trials.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not always protect this right due to corruption, partisanship, and weak human resources.

Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to appeal, and have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them. The accused are entitled to be present at their public trial. Indigent defendants have the right to a public defender. Trials are conducted in the Bengali language. The government does not provide free interpretation for defendants who cannot understand or speak Bengali. Defendants also have the right to adequate time to prepare a defense.

Accused persons have the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They also have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt although defendants who do not confess their guilt are often kept in custody. The government frequently did not respect these rights.

Mobile courts headed by executive branch magistrates rendered immediate verdicts that often included prison terms to defendants who were not afforded the opportunity for legal representation. Deputy commissioners from various districts requested the government expedite the passage of an amendment to the Mobile Court Act of 2009 giving executive magistrates increased judicial powers. Parliament had not introduced such legislation by year’s end. In 2017 the High Court ruled that empowering executive magistrates with judicial powers was “a frontal attack on the independence of the judiciary and violates the theory of separation of powers.” The government appealed the verdict through the Appellate Panel of the Supreme Court, which stayed the verdict, allowing the mobile courts to function pending the Appellate Panel’s next decision.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees. Political affiliation often appeared to be a factor in claims of arrest and prosecution of members of opposition parties, including through spurious charges under the pretext of responding to national security threats. The opposition BNP maintained thousands of its members were arrested arbitrarily throughout the year.

On February 8, former prime minister of Bangladesh and chairperson of the BNP, Khaleda Zia, was sentenced to five years imprisonment on corruption and embezzlement charges, on charges first filed in 2008 under a nonpartisan caretaker government. International and domestic legal experts commented on the lack of evidence to support the conviction, suggesting a political ploy to remove the leader of the opposition from the electoral process. The courts were generally slow in considering petitions for bail on her behalf. A person convicted under similar circumstances would normally receive an immediate bail hearing. In Zia’s case the bail hearing was postponed nearly a month. When the High Court granted bail on March 12, the order was immediately stayed for two months by the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court. Upon confirming the bail order, approximately three months after the conviction, the government obtained arrest warrants in other cases against her.

ASK claimed 1,786 BNP party members were arrested in the eight days preceding Zia’s sentencing. A BNP spokesperson told Human Rights Watch thousands had been detained including members of the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami, and others not linked to any party. It was not possible to verify these numbers independently.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek judicial remedies for human rights violations; however, lack of public faith in the court system deterred many from filing complaints. While the law has a provision for an ombudsman, one had not been established.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government did not implement the 2001 Vested Property (Return) Act to accelerate the process of return of land to primarily Hindu individuals (see section 2.d.). The act allows the government to confiscate property of anyone whom it declares to be an enemy of the state. It was often used to seize property abandoned by minority religious groups when they fled the country, particularly after the 1971 independence war.

Minority communities continued to report land ownership disputes that disproportionately displaced minorities, especially in areas near new roads or industrial development zones where land prices had increased. They also claimed local police, civil authorities, and political leaders were sometimes involved in evictions or shielded politically influential land grabbers from prosecution (see section 6). In 2016 the government amended the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Land Dispute Resolution Commission Act which may allow for land restitution for indigenous persons living in the CHT. The amendment has not yet provided resolution to any of the disputes (see section 2.d.).

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

The law does not prohibit arbitrary interference with private correspondence. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies may monitor private communications with the permission of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but police rarely obtained such permission from the courts to monitor private correspondence. Human rights organizations alleged the Bangladesh Police, the NSI, and the DGFI employed informers to conduct surveillance and report on citizens perceived to be critical of the government.

The government became increasingly active in monitoring social media sites and other electronic communications in an effort to intimidate the public. The government formed a monitoring cell to “detect rumors” on social media. State Minister for Posts, Telecommunications, and Information Technology Tarana Halim said content that threatens communal harmony, disrupts state security, or embarrasses the state would be considered rumors and sent to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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.

The law limits hate speech but does not define clearly what constitutes hate speech, which permits the government 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. The 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA) references defamation of individuals and organizations and was used to prosecute opposition figures and civil society.

As of November, Khaleda Zia had secured bail in 34 of 36 cases against her on issues such as corruption, violence, and sedition. She remained in prison because she had not received bail in two other pending cases.

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 and mandated private channels broadcast government content at no charge. Civil society said 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, and student affiliates of the ruling party, subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation, especially during the August student road safety protests.

On July 22, editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, was physically assaulted following court proceedings in a defamation case regarding his comments about the prime minister and her niece. A recording of the incident shows police standing by while Mahmudur was attacked. An investigation had not taken place by the end of the year.

According to BDnews24.com, on August 4, a group of approximately 12 journalists, including Associated Press photojournalist AM Ahad, was attacked by unidentified individuals near Dhaka City College while covering student traffic safety protests. AM Ahad suffered severe injuries to his legs, and attackers also broke his camera. The information minister requested an investigation into the attack.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported 23 journalists, including Shahidul Alam, were attacked while reporting on student traffic safety protests on August 5. In a Skype interview with al-Jazeera on August 4, Alam discussed the student protests and subsequently described attacks on the student protestors on his personal Facebook page. The next day Alam was arrested for making “provocative comments.” When Alam was brought to the court on August 6, he appeared unable to walk unassisted and showed visible signs of injury (see section 1.c.) Alam was charged under the ICTA, which criminalize the publication of material that “tends to deprave and corrupt” its audience, causes a “deterioration in law and order,” or “prejudices the image of the state or a person.” After multiple bail hearing postponements, the High Court granted Alam bail, and he was released on November 20. The government filed an appeal of the bail order. Alam’s trail proceedings recommenced on December 11, but they were subsequently postponed to 2019. Domestic and international NGOs consider the case against Alam to be politically motivated.

A top Dhaka Metropolitan Police official reported the government gathered details on approximately 100 social media accounts, which they claimed incited violence during student traffic safety protests by spreading provocative content. It was difficult to obtain reliable counts on the total number of those arrested, detained, released, or disappeared in conjunction with either the April through May quota protests or the August student traffic safety protests. Reports varied in the media. Families of the detained held press conferences to encourage the government to acknowledge their family members were being held in custody.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Independent journalists alleged intelligence services influenced media outlets in part by withholding financially important government advertising and pressing private companies to withhold their advertising as well. RSF alleged media self-censorship is growing due to “endemic violence” against journalists and media outlets, and the “almost systematic impunity enjoyed by those responsible.”

Privately owned newspapers, however, usually enjoyed freedom to carry diverse views. Political polarization and self-censorship remained a problem.

In September parliament passed the Digital Security Act (DSA), claiming it was intended to reduce cybercrimes. Human rights groups, journalists, media outlets, and political opposition parties denounced the DSA as intended to suppress freedom and criminalize free speech. The DSA provides for sentences of up to 10 years imprisonment for spreading “propaganda” against the Bangladesh Liberation War, the national anthem, or the national flag. Human rights organizations criticized the DSA as restricting freedom of expression.

The government penalized media that criticized the government or broadcast the opposition’s activities and statements. During the August student traffic protests, the government blocked internet connections to limit the ability of the protesters to organize. Television stations reported that they were “asked” by government officials not to broadcast reports of the students on the streets.

According to some journalists and human rights NGOs, journalists engaged in self-censorship, due to fear of security force retribution and the possibility of being charged with politically motivated cases. 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.

Nongovernmental Impact: Atheist, secular, and LGBTI writers and bloggers reported they continued to receive death threats from violent extremist organizations. In May a LGBTI rights activist expressed fear about organizing the LGBTI community in the country, as formal organization would require the disclosure to the government of LGBTI activists’ identities, making them potential targets for government monitoring and harassment.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content in isolated incidents. The government prohibited Virtual Private Networks and Voice Over Internet Protocol telephone 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 being in violation of legal requirements.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (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 2016 the BTRC carried out a directive to block 35 news websites that had published material critical of the government and political leaders who were perceived to feature overt support for political opposition groups. Many of the sites remained blocked.

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 threat of sedition charges, which carry a possible death penalty, to limit online activity and curtail freedom of expression online. The Digital Security Act (DSA) was passed on September 19. Telecommunications and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar said on September 15 that section 57 of the ICTA would be removed by the passage of the bill; however, much of section 57 was incorporated into the final DSA law.

According to nongovernmental organization Article 19, the government arrested at least 87 individuals under section 57 of the ICTA from January to August. According to Odhikar, in August, 22 individuals were charged under the ICTA for allegedly providing “false” information or “spreading rumors” deemed to be against the state through Facebook and social media during the road safety protest movement.

On June 18, the bdnews24 website was blocked for several hours by the BTRC without an official explanation. According to independent journalists, a report written by the media outlet contained a paragraph about the offer of presidential clemency and release from prison of the brother of the recently appointed army chief. The paragraph was removed and the newspaper portal later unblocked.

The BTRC blocked the Daily Star’s website on June 2, following a June 1 article reporting on extrajudicial killing in Cox’s Bazar. On December 9, the BTRC also blocked 58 various news portals’ websites affiliated with political opposition parties (see section 1.a.).

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) reported in 2017 that approximately 18 percent of the population uses the internet. The BTRC reported approximately 90 million internet subscriptions in September, including an estimated 85 million mobile internet subscriptions (one individual may have more than one subscription).

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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 (DMP) 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.

Throughout the year the BNP was hindered by the government from hosting assemblies and rallies. The BNP was denied applications “for security reasons” to hold rallies in Dhaka on March 11, 19, and 29 at the Suhrawardy Udyan, one of the few large places designated for political rallies, but it was ultimately permitted to host its rally at a different location.

In a separate instance, the BNP claimed it received verbal permission to conduct a rally on its founding anniversary on September 1 in Dhaka and to conduct a human chain in front of the National Press Club on September 10. Law enforcement officials, however, apprehended hundreds of participants in the two BNP events. The BNP reported law enforcement detained 304 leaders and activists in the first three days of September and approximately 200 leaders and activists during the party’s human chain later in the month. The assistant inspector general of police headquarters denied reports of raids to detain opposition activists.

The incumbent Awami League (AL) and its allies were allowed to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan and other venues of their choice throughout the year.

On September 15, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she would instruct the DMP commissioner to allow political parties to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan. According to Prothom Alo, on September 29, the DMP gave permission to the BNP to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan, under 22 conditions, including that they provide their own security and install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at the venue. The DMP also “banned all activities that can hamper public safety; carrying sticks; speech hurting religious sentiments, and arriving at the venue in processions.”

During the year police used force to disperse peaceful demonstrations. According to the Daily Star, on March 14, police dispersed a group of approximately 1,000 protesters marching towards the secretariat building in Dhaka, using batons and tear gas and injuring 15 protesters. The protesters were scheduled to arrive at a prescheduled sit-in at the secretariat. After the violent dispersal occurred, a DMP spokesperson defended the government’s actions on the grounds the protesters were obstructing traffic.

Beyond formal government hindrance and police obstruction of peaceful demonstrations, there were reports the government deployed ruling party student activists to areas where peaceful assemblies took place. On August 4, alleged Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) activists attacked a group of students in Dhanmondi with batons, rocks, and pistols in an effort to quell road safety protests. The action resulted in a reported 150 injuries. Multiple news outlets reported police did not try to prevent or restrain the attackers. Police detained dozens of students and supporters publicly supporting the road safety protestors.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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 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 announced in October 2017 a number of NGOs were no longer allowed to operate in Cox’s Bazar, including Muslim Aid Bangladesh, Islamic Relief, and Allama Fazlullah Foundation. The three organizations remain barred from operating in Cox’s Bazar during the year, according to media reports.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, except in two sensitive areas–the CHT and Cox’s Bazar. The government enforced some restrictions on access to the CHT by foreigners.

More than 700,000 individuals, mostly Rohingya women and children, have fled violence in Burma since August 2017, which the Secretary of State determined in November constituted a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Burmese military. The total number of Rohingya refugees hosted in Bangladesh was approximately one million living in refugee camps and host communities in Cox’s Bazar near the Burmese border. The government restricts Rohingya refugees to the Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts in Cox’s Bazar, although the government has allowed exceptions for medical treatment in Cox’s Bazar city.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Prior to the August 2017 influx of Rohingya, UNHCR reported 66 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps who received counseling through March. In October the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported it identified approximately 100 cases of human trafficking among Rohingya refugees since September 2017 with the majority subjected to labor trafficking.

In-country Movement: The government is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. As a result the government claims it is not bound under legal obligation to uphold the basic rights enshrined in this document.

The government does not recognize the new Rohingya arrivals as refugees, referring to them instead as “forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals.” In practice, however, the government abides by many of the established UN standards for refugees. One notable exception is the Rohingya do not enjoy full freedom of movement throughout Bangladesh. While the refugees are able to move largely unrestricted in the Ukhia and Tekhaf subdistricts, the government established checkpoints to prevent their movement outside this area.

Members of the political opposition were sometimes prevented from moving around the country or faced harassment and detention when attempting to do so. Senior BNP leader and former law minister Moudud Ahmed was confined to his house in Noakhali twice during the year. Ahmed claimed police officials barricaded him in his home, preventing him from contact with his supporters and constituents, and from attending party-related events. He alleged police curbed his freedom of movement at the behest of Obaidul Quader, General Secretary of the incumbent Awami League and Minister for Road Transport and Bridges, who is his electoral rival in the area. Police claimed the measures were intended to increase security at Ahmed’s home in his capacity as a senior political figure.

Foreign Travel: Some senior opposition officials reported extensive delays renewing their passports; others reported harassment and delays at the airport when departing the country. On September 12, authorities at Shah Jalal International Airport in Dhaka delayed immigration clearance for BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.

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 government policy.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Societal tensions and marginalization of indigenous persons continued in the CHT as a result of a government policy initiated during an internal armed conflict from 1973-97. This policy relocated landless Bengalis to the CHT with the implicit objective of changing the demographic balance to make Bengalis the majority, displacing tens of thousands of indigenous persons.

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

In 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. In December 2017 the government reappointed Justice Mohammad Anwarul Haque chair of the commission for three years. The Land Ministry formulated rules for implementation of the act, but the rules have yet to be officially promulgated.

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 slightly more than 90,000 indigenous IDPs resided in the CHT. The prime minister pledged to resolve outstanding land disputes in the CHT to facilitate the return of the IDPs and close 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 authorities displaced several indigenous families to create border guard camps and army recreational facilities. No land disputes were resolved during the year.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Prior to the August 2017 Rohingya influx, 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 Bazar. Since the additional influx of refugees in August 2017, approximately one million Rohingya refugees lived in refugee camps, makeshift settlements, and host communities. According to the United Nations, more than half of the population is less than 18 years old. A National Task Force, established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, leads the coordination of the overall Rohingya crisis. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief coordinates the Rohingya response with support from the Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh. At the local level, the Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) and the deputy commissioner provide coordination.

The government temporarily deployed the military to Cox’s Bazar District in the fall of 2017 to streamline relief and rehabilitation activities and to assist in registration of Rohingya in coordination with the civilian administration. In response to growing security concerns, the military has again become more active in the refugee camps, conducting patrols 24 hours a day. The Ministry of Home Affairs instructed law enforcement agencies to provide protection to the Rohingya people and their camps. International organizations alleged some Bangladeshi border guard, military, and police officials were involved in facilitating the trafficking of Rohingya women and children, ranging from “looking the other way” for bribes allowing traffickers to access Rohingya in the camps to direct involvement.

Refoulement: There was no refoulement or forced repatriation. On November 15, in an effort to demonstrate it was not blocking returns as alleged by Burma, Bangladesh sent buses to selected Rohingya camps to pick up anyone ready to return. Bangladesh called off the operation when no refugees volunteered. Several times during the year, senior government officials reaffirmed Bangladesh’s commitment to voluntary, safe, and dignified refugee returns, based on informed consent.

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 significant protection and assistance to Rohingya 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 2017 arrival of Rohingya refugees, the government started to register the new refugees biometrically and provided identity cards with their Burmese address. The government is working jointly with UNHCR to verify Rohingya refugees and issue ID cards that replace prior cards and provide for protection of Rohingya refugees as well as better systems for accessing services and assistance. The card also affirms the government’s commitment against forced returns to Burma. Despite this documentation system, the lack of formal refugee status for Rohingya and clear legal reporting mechanisms in the camps impeded their access to the justice system, leading to underreporting of cases of abuse and exploitation and impunity for traffickers.

Freedom of Movement: There continued to be restrictions on Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. According to the 1993 memorandum of understanding between Bangladesh and UNHCR, registered Rohingya refugees are not permitted to move outside of the two camps. After the August 2017 influx, police set up checkpoints on the roads to restrict Rohingya travel beyond the Ukhia and Tefnaf subdistricts.

Many camp authorities have introduced curfews and law enforcement patrols, particularly at night, in response to reported concerns about violent attacks, abductions, or kidnappings in the camps.

Employment: The government did not formally authorize Rohingya refugees living in the country to work locally, although it allowed limited cash-for-work schemes for Rohingya to perform construction and maintenance tasks within the camps. Despite their movement restrictions, some refugees worked illegally as manual laborers in the informal economy. Undocumented Rohingya also worked illegally, mostly in day-labor jobs.

Access to Basic Services: The rapid increase in the population has occurred has strained services both inside and outside of the designated camps and makeshift settlements. The UN-led Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) coordinates the multitude of actors and agencies providing basic services to the Rohingya. Nonetheless, according to the ISCG, refugees lived in congested sites that were poorly equipped to handle the monsoon rains and cyclone seasons. While agencies have responded with significant efforts to move those most vulnerable, the shortage of land remains a central issue that hinders the ability of Rohingya to have access to basic services.

Public education, while mandatory as of 2010 through fifth grade throughout the country, remained a significant challenge for those children residing in the refugee camps and makeshift settlements. According to the ISCG, the education response since 2017 has focused on the provision of preprimary and primary education for refugee girls and boys and by September had reached a total of 139,444 children. There remained a significant gap for preprimary and primary-age children in the camps as well as inadequate coverage of adolescents between 15 to 24 years of age.

Government authorities did not allow registered or unregistered Rohingya formal and regular access to public health care. The health sector maintained information about all of the health facilities within the camps and the surrounding areas. There were 278 functional facilities known to the health sector, with a further 37 planned or under construction. Based on the data available, overall coverage met the minimum requirements.

STATELESS PERSONS

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party won a third consecutive five-year term in an improbably lopsided December parliamentary election that was not considered free, fair, and credible and was marred by irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters. With more than 80 percent of the vote, the AL and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 directly elected seats, while the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies won only seven. During the campaign leading to the election, there were credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. According to data assembled by the NGO Democracy International, there were 1,324 acts of violence against the opposition BNP and its political allies and 211 acts of violence against the ruling AL and its allies during the month prior to the election.

The government did not grant credentials and issue visas within the timeframe necessary to conduct a credible international monitoring mission to the majority of international election monitors from the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL). ANFREL issued a statement on December 23 noting that as of December 21, the government granted accreditation to 13 of 32 applications submitted, and due to significant delays in the accreditation approval by the EC and the ministries of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, it was forced to terminate its observation mission on December 22. Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the Home Ministry, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the EC to conduct domestic election observation.

City elections held during the year in Khulna, Gazipur, Barisal, Rajshahi, and Sylhet were similarly characterized by credible reports of harassment, arrests, intimidation, and violence against opposition candidates and their supporters, as well as election-day rigging, fraud, and irregularities. The ruling AL party won four of the five elections and narrowly lost the contest in Sylhet to the BNP.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government mobilized law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders. BNP leader Khaleda Zia was convicted and imprisoned on February 8 based on corruption charges filed under a nonpartisan caretaker government in 2008. She was unable to take advantage of bail awarded in this case pending appeal because of more than two dozen other charges filed against her in recent years by the government. Police implicated approximately 435,000 BNP members in criminal charges in the run-up to the national election and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed many of these charges were politically motivated.

The 86 criminal charges filed by the government against BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in the previous years remained unresolved. Alamgir remained free on bail. The charges involved attacks on police, burning buses, and throwing bombs. Other opposition activists faced criminal charges. Jamaat leaders and members could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement. Although Jamaat has been deregistered as a political party by the government, prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name, the fundamental constitutional rights of speech and assembly of its leaders and members continued to be violated. Media outlets deemed critical of the government and the AL were subjected to government intimidation and cuts in advertising revenue, and they practiced some self-censorship to avoid adverse responses from the government. AL-affiliated organizations (such as the BCL student wing) reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

In some instances the government interfered with the right of opposition parties to organize public functions and restricted the broadcasting of opposition political events. While Jamaat’s appeal of a 2012 High Court decision canceling the party’s registration remained pending with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, the EC issued a notification deregistering Jamaat on October 28, disqualifying the organization from participating in the national election.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. In July parliament amended the constitution to extend by 25 more years a provision that reserves 50 seats for women in parliament. These female parliamentarians are nominated by the 300 directly elected parliamentarians. The seats reserved for women are distributed among parties proportionately to their parliamentary representation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: Corruption remained a serious problem. According to a 2018 survey by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), law enforcement agencies were the most corrupt of 18 government departments and sectors providing services to the people. The Department of Immigration and Passports and the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority were deemed the second and third most corrupt, TIB said in its survey report published on August 30. These sectors were followed, among others, by the services related to judiciary, land, education, health, agriculture, power, gas, local government institutions, insurance companies, and taxes and duties. Overall, 66.5 percent of the households surveyed by TIB fell victim to corruption, the report said.

On August 20, the cabinet approved a law prohibiting the arrest of any public servant by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) without permission from the government. Campaigners for good governance and transparency decried the provision saying it aimed to shield corrupt officials and clip the wings of the ACC. The law still needed parliamentary approval and presidential assent to become effective.

According to ACC data, 180 of the 2,476 cases on trial were resolved (brought to completion) from January through October. Of these 110 resulted in conviction and 70 resulted in acquittal. Approximately 2,800 cases remained pending with the ACC through October.

In 2017 the ACC introduced a hotline to receive corruption complaints. The call center received 75,000 calls in the first seven days and approximately 500,000 through May 2018. Most of the complaints implicated government land offices, hospitals, railway and road transportation authorities, schools, and utility services in corruption.

From January 2016 to April, the ACC filed more than 100 cases against 759 government employees. The accused included employees to the level of Joint Secretary. The ACC filed a charge sheet or criminal complaint against 83 government employees from January to April. It filed charge sheets against 288 government employees in 2017 and 399 government employees in 2016, according to a Daily Ittefaq report.

According to its strategic plan for the year, the ACC formed 25 teams to monitor and investigate corruption in different government offices. The ACC also formed an intelligence unit so it could launch an effective campaign against corruption.

In some cases the government allegedly used the ACC as a political tool, including having the ACC launch or threaten inquiries into the activities of some businesspeople, newspaper owners, opposition political activists, and civil society members for criticizing the government. In 2017 the Supreme Court rebuked the ACC for maintaining a “pick and choose” policy with regard to pursuing corruption allegations against politically connected individuals.

The government took steps to address widespread police corruption through continued expansion of its community-policing program and through training.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires candidates for parliament to file statements of personal wealth with the EC. The law does not require income and asset disclosure by officials.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated with some government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views.

Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers commented on the diminished strength of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for public criticism of government policies.

The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar. Although the ACC dropped a case against Odhikar in 2016, Odhikar representatives continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. On June 6, Special Branch (SB) officers entered Odhikar offices demanding information on the organization’s activities. SB also requested the mobile phone numbers of the organization’s officers. On June 25, SB officers entered Odhikar offices again demanding information on the organization’s president. Family members and Odhikar staff reported additional harassment and claimed security officers constantly monitored their telephone calls, emails, and movements.

The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous peoples, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals. Some civil society members reported repeated audits by the National Board of Revenue in contrast with most citizens, who were almost never audited.

Numerous NGOs entered Bangladesh in response to the August 2017 Rohingya influx. During the year the NGO Affairs Bureau imposed restrictions on 41 NGOs related to the Rohingya relief effort. The 41 NGOs were permitted to finish ongoing projects, but they were denied the ability to commence new projects. The government did not disclose the names of the NGOs, nor did the government state why restrictions were imposed on the NGOs.

The Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act restricts foreign funding of NGOs and includes punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (that is, government institutions and leaders).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government had not responded to a UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances request to visit the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has seven members, including five honorary positions. Observers noted the NHRC’s small government support staff was inadequate and underfunded, limiting the commission’s effectiveness and independence. The NHRC’s primary activity was educating the public about human rights and advising the government on key human rights issues.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of a female by a male and physical spousal abuse, but the law excludes marital rape if the female is older than 13. Rape can be punished by life imprisonment or the death penalty.

There were reports of sexual violence with impunity. On August 17, police freed Awami League official Mohammed al-Helal four hours after he was arrested on charges of raping an 18-year-old girl in her home in Sherpur Upazila in 2017. Responding to the victim’s cries for help, locals restrained Helal and handed him over to police. When the victim’s family tried to file a case against Helal, Officer-in-Charge Khan Mohammed Erfan refused to file the case. Helal attempted to give the victim’s mother 18,000 BDT ($211) to refrain from pursuing a case against him. The victim’s family then filed a case against Helal with the Borga Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-2 in 2017. In July the Borga Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-2 issued an arrest warrant for Helal. Helal was taken into custody but was freed later, on technical grounds.

According to human rights monitors, many victims did not report rapes due to lack of access to legal services, social stigma, fear of further harassment, and the legal requirement to furnish witnesses.

In April the High Court released a 16-point guideline on the handling of rape cases by law enforcement personnel and other parties to the matter. The guidelines came in response to a 2015 writ petition following complaints of delays in recording rape cases. According to the guidelines, the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of a police station must record any information relating to rape or sexual assault irrespective of the place of occurrence. Chemical/DNA tests are required to be conducted within 48 hours from when the incident was reported. The High Court guidelines also stipulated every police station must have a female police officer available to victims of rape or sexual assault during the recording of the case by the duty officer. The statements of the victim are required to be recorded in the presence of a lawyer a social worker or protection officer, or any other individual the victim deems appropriate. Victims with disabilities should be provided with government-supported interpretation services, if necessary, and the investigating officer along with a female police officer should escort the victim to a timely medical examination.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Some NGOs reported violence against women related to disputes over dowries. From January through September, HRSS documented 35 women killed and an additional 41 women injured as a result of dowry-related violence.

On March 6, Rima Begum died at Ujirpur Health Complex after sustaining injuries from dowry-related violence by her husband. Begum’s brother, Arif, said during his sister’s one and a half year marriage to her husband, Shipon Howlader, Begum was often subjected to violence by Howlader and his parents for insufficient dowry. Begum’s father, Akkel Ali, filed a case with the Ujirpur Police Station against Howlader and his parents for the death of his daughter.

On September 16, parliament, in an apparent bid to stop abuse of the 1980 Dowry Prohibition Act, adopted the Dowry Prohibition Act of 2018 incorporating new provisions and rearranging some of the provisions in the original law. The new law contains provisions that have imposed a maximum five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 50,000 BDT (approximately $590) or both for the filing of a false charge under the law. Anyone demanding dowry will be imprisoned for one to five years, or fined 50,000 BDT (approximately $590), or will face both punishments, according to the new law.

A Supreme Court Appellate Division ruling allows the use of “fatwas” (religious edicts) only to settle religious matters; fatwas may not be invoked to justify punishment, nor may they supersede secular law. Islamic tradition dictates only those religious scholars with expertise in Islamic law may declare a fatwa. Despite these restrictions village religious leaders sometimes made such declarations. The declarations resulted in extrajudicial punishments, often against women, for perceived moral transgressions.

Incidents of vigilantism against women occurred, sometimes led by religious leaders enforcing fatwas. The incidents included whipping, beating, and other forms of physical violence.

Assailants threw acid in the faces of victims–usually women–leaving them disfigured and often blind. Acid attacks were often related to a woman’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal or were related to land disputes. From January through September, HRSS documented 13 incidents of acid violence against women.

The law seeks to control the availability of acid and reduce acid-related violence directed toward women, but lack of awareness of the law and poor enforcement limited its effect. The Commerce Ministry restricted acid sales to buyers registered with relevant trade organizations.

On February 4, Sujan Chandra Paul and Arjun Chandra Paul, along with two other assailants, threw acid on the newlywed Jharna Rani, while she was riding on a motorcycle in Baliadangi Upazila with her husband, causing severe burns to her. The Paul family had proposed the marriage of their sister to Rani’s husband, Dilip Kumar, who refused. Rani’s father filed a case with the Baliadangi Police Station against the suspects for the attack on Rani. The charges against the assailants were pending at the end of the year.

Sexual Harassment: Although sexual harassment is prohibited by a 2009 High Court guideline, a 2016 Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) document noted harassment remained a problem and monitoring and enforcement of the guidelines were poor, which sometimes prevented girls from attending school or work.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution declares all citizens equal before the law with entitlement to equal protection of the law. It also explicitly recognizes the equal rights of women to those of men “in all spheres of the state and of public life.” According to human rights NGOs, the government did not always enforce the constitution or the laws pertaining to gender equality effectively. Women do not enjoy the same legal status and rights as men in family, property, and inheritance law. Under traditional Islamic inheritance law, daughters inherit only half of what sons do. Under Hindu inheritance law, a widow’s rights to her deceased husband’s property are limited to her lifetime and revert to the male heirs upon her death.

Children

Birth Registration: Individuals are born citizens if their parents were Bangladeshi citizens, if the nationality of the parents is unknown and the child is born in Bangladeshi territory, or if their fathers or grandfathers were born in the territories now part of the country. If a person qualifies for citizenship through ancestry, the father or grandfather must have been a permanent resident of these territories in or after 1971. Birth registration is required to obtain a national identity card or passport.

Education: Education is free and compulsory through fifth grade by law, and the government offered subsidies to parents to keep girls in class through 10th grade. Despite free classes, teacher fees, books, and uniforms remained prohibitively costly for many families, and the government distributed hundreds of millions of free textbooks to increase access to education. Enrollments in primary schools showed gender parity, but completion rates fell in secondary school, with more boys than girls completing that level. Early and forced marriage was a factor in girls’ attrition from secondary school.

Child Abuse: Many forms of child abuse, including sexual abuse, physical and humiliating punishment, child abandonment, kidnapping, and trafficking, continued to be serious and widespread problems. Children were vulnerable to abuse in all settings: home, community, school, residential institutions, and the workplace. In 2016 the government, with support from UNICEF, launched “Child Helpline–1098,” a free telephone service designed to help children facing violence, abuse, and exploitation.

On August 4, Supreme Court Chief Justice Syed Mahmud Hossain expressed frustration with 75 judges of 69 juvenile courts across the country for keeping more than 21,500 juvenile cases pending, including 614 cases pending for more than five years. The Children Act of 2013 calls for opening child friendly courts across the country.

Despite advances, including establishing a monitoring agency in the Ministry of Home Affairs, trafficking of children and inadequate care and protection for survivors of trafficking continued to be problems. Child labor and abuse at the workplace remained problems in certain industries, mostly in the informal sector, and child domestic workers were vulnerable to all forms of abuse at their informal workplaces.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. In 2017 parliament passed the Child Marriage Restraint Act, which includes a provision for marriages of women and men at any age in “special circumstances.” The government ignored the recommendations and concerns raised by child rights organizations, human rights organizations, and development partners concerning this act. In 2017 the High Court ruled that the government should explain why the provision allowing the marriage of a minor should not be declared illegal in response to a writ petition filed by BNWLA. BNWLA’s petition argued the Muslim Family Law describes marriage as a “contract,” and a minor could not be a party to a contract.

In June, Abhaynagar subdistrict officials stopped the underage marriage of 15-year-old Bonna Roy. Officials and police officers arrived at the fiance’s family’s home shortly before the ceremony after receiving an anonymous tip. The fiance fled the scene. The fiance’s father was arrested and subsequently released on bail. Roy was returned to her parents.

According to government data, 52 per cent of girls were victims of child marriage in 2011. UNICEF’s 2018 report estimated this figure at 59 per cent. The secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs disagreed with UNICEF’s findings and claimed to the Prothom Alo newspaper the rate of child marriages fell significantly in the country during the year. According to the UNICEF report, child marriage prevalence has fallen by 15 percent globally, whereas the rate of decrease in South Asia was 30 percent.

In an effort to reduce early and forced marriages, the government offered stipends for girls’ school expenses beyond the compulsory fifth-grade level. The government and NGOs conducted workshops and public events to teach parents the importance of their daughters waiting until age 18 before marrying.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalty for sexual exploitation of children is 10 years’ to life imprisonment. Child pornography and the selling or distributing of such material is prohibited.

Displaced Children: See section 2.d.

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

Anti-Semitism

There was no Jewish community in the country, but politicians and imams reportedly used anti-Semitic statements to gain support from their constituencies.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law provides for equal treatment and freedom from discrimination for persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions.

Although the law requires physical structures be made accessible to those with disabilities, the government did not implement the law effectively. The law calls for the establishment of local committees to expedite implementation of the law, but most committees have not yet been activated. In many cases local authorities are not aware of their responsibilities under this law. A report prepared by several NGOs in 2016 highlighted negligence in areas such as accessibility in physical structures; access to justice; rights of women with disabilities; freedom from exploitation, violence, and abuse; the right to education, health, and a decent work place; the right to employment; and political rights and representation.

The law requires persons with disabilities to register for identity cards to track their enrollment in educational institutions and access to jobs. This registration allows them to be included in voter lists, to cast votes, and to participate in elections. It states no person, organization, authority, or corporation shall discriminate against persons with disabilities and allows for fines or three years’ imprisonment for giving unequal treatment for school, work, or inheritance based on disability, although implementation of the law was uneven. The law also created a 27-member National Coordination Committee charged with coordinating relevant activities among all government organizations and private bodies to fulfill the objectives of the law. Implementation of the law was slow, delaying the formation and functioning of Disability Rights and Protection Committees required by the legislation.

According to the NGO Action against Disability, 90 percent of children with disabilities did not attend public school. The government trained teachers about inclusive education and recruited disability specialists at the district level. The government also allocated stipends for students with disabilities.

The law affords persons with disabilities the same access to information rights as nondisabled persons, but family and community dynamics often influenced whether these rights were exercised.

The law identifies persons with disabilities as a priority group for government-sponsored legal services. The Ministry of Social Welfare, the Department of Social Services, and the National Foundation for the Development of the Disabled are the government agencies responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

The government did take official action to investigate those responsible for violence and abuses against persons with disabilities. On February 15, the Bangladesh Police arrested Amzad Ali for the rape of a girl with disabilities. Amzad lured the girl into an open field with promises of agricultural produce. Upon cries for help, the girl’s sister rushed to the scene, and Amzad fled. Members of the community telephoned the Bangladesh National Help Desk. The family of the victim filed a case against Amzad under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act.

On January 21, Bangladesh Police arrested the father, grandparents, and aunt for the murder of one-month old Akita Khatun. Akita was born prematurely and suffered from severe disabilities. According to Assistant Superintendent of Ishwardi Police Mohammad Johurul Haque, Akita’s family did not want the burden associated with caring for a child with disabilities. The child’s relatives hid her in a cabinet away from her mother. Later, police found Akita dead in the cabinet in her home. Akita’s mother, Nishi Khatun, told police she was tortured by her in-laws for not birthing a male child and for Akita’s disabilities. The cases against Akita’s father, grandparents, and aunt remained pending.

Government facilities for treating persons with mental disabilities were inadequate. The Ministry of Health established child development centers in all public medical colleges to assess neurological disabilities. Several private initiatives existed for medical and vocational rehabilitation as well as for employment of persons with disabilities. National and international NGOs provided services and advocated for persons with disabilities. The government established 103 disability information and service centers in all 64 districts, where local authorities provided free rehabilitation services and assistive devices. The government also promoted autism research and awareness. The government inaugurated an electronic system to disburse social welfare payments, including disability allowances.

Government inaction limited the rights of persons with disabilities to participate in civic life, including accessibility in elections.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were no major attacks on religious minorities motivated by transnational violent extremism. There were, however, reports of attacks on Hindu and Buddhist property and temples for economic and political reasons. Police had not filed charges against Muslim villagers accused of vandalizing and burning approximately 30 Hindu houses in Rangpur in November 2017 in response to a rumored Facebook post demeaning Islam.

NGOs reported national origin, racial, and ethnic minorities faced discrimination. For example, some Dalits (lowest-caste Hindus) had restricted access to land, adequate housing, education, and employment.

Indigenous People

The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) indigenous community experienced widespread discrimination and abuse despite nationwide government quotas for participation of indigenous CHT residents in the civil service and higher education. These conditions also persisted despite provisions for local governance in the 1997 CHT Peace Accord, which had not been fully implemented. Indigenous persons from the CHT were unable to participate effectively in decisions affecting their lands due to disagreements regarding land dispute resolution procedures under the Land Commission Act.

Indigenous communities in areas other than the CHT reported the loss of land to Bengali Muslims, and indigenous peoples’ advocacy groups reported continued land encroachment by Rohingya settlers from Burma. The government continued construction projects on land traditionally owned by indigenous communities in the Moulvibazar and Modhupur forest areas. According to an August 9 Daily Starnewspaper report, the last six Marma families of Saingya Marmapara village in Bandarban moved out of the village in January because influential individuals made continued land grab attempts. In this village 42 Marma families used to live; however, most have departed at the behest of “land grabbers.” According to the tribal headman, who has taken shelter at his relative’s house in a neighboring village, the land and jhum crop left behind are now under the control of Jasim Uddin Mantu, Chairman of Sylvan Wye Resorts and Spa Limited.

The central government retained authority over land use. The land commission, designed to investigate and return all illegally acquired land, did not resolve any disputes during the year.

The Chakma and Marma indigenous communities, organized under different political groups, engaged in intraindigenous community violence causing dozens of deaths. According to press accounts, at least 34 members of the two indigenous groups were killed by intraindigenous community rivals from January to August. On August 18, seven individuals, including three leaders of the United Peoples’ Democratic Forum (UPDF), were killed and six were injured in two attacks where firearms were used in Khagrachhari District. On May 28, three UPDF members were shot and killed as they were conducting a meeting at a private home in Baghaichhari Upazila of Rangamati District. On May 3, Shaktiman Chakma, chairman of Naniarchar Upazila Council in Rangamati and leader of Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) (MN Larma faction), was shot and killed on his way to work. PCJSS blamed the killing on UPDF, which denied the accusation. The factional clashes between and within UPDF and PCJSS resulted mostly from the desire to establish supremacy in particular geographic areas. Media reports said many leaders of these factions are engaged in extortion of money. Meanwhile, the deaths and violence remain unresolved.

There were reports of sexual assaults on indigenous women and children by Bengali neighbors or security personnel. According to the Kapaeeng Foundation, at least 32 indigenous women and children faced sexual assaults from January to July. Of them 11 were raped and four were killed after their rape. According to media reports, two members of the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) in Bandarban offered two minor girls belonging to the Tripura tribe money in exchange for a sexual favor. When the two minor girls refused, they allegedly raped the girls on August 22. The commanding officer of BGB battalion at Naikhangchhari dismissed the incident as a rumor but promised to “look into it.”

Police heavily guarded the hospital where the two girls were admitted and prevented media and NGO personnel from visiting the 12- and 17-year-old girls.

On January 22, security personnel allegedly raped an 18-year-old Marma girl and sexually assaulted her 13-year-old sister during a raid on the village Orachhari in Rangamati. The accused officials publically denied any incidence of rape but administratively confined to the battalion headquarters a personnel member accused of the rape. Police filed a general diary on insistence from civil society but prevented media and NGO personnel from talking to the victims.

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

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal under the Bangladesh Penal Code. The government does not actively enforce the law. LGBTI groups reported the government retains the law as a result of societal pressure. LGBTI groups reported police used the law as a pretext to harass LGBTI individuals, as well as those considered effeminate regardless of their sexual orientation, and to limit registration of LGBTI organizations. Some groups also reported harassment under a suspicious behavior provision of the police code. The transgender population has long been a marginalized, but recognized, part of society, but it faced continued high levels of fear, harassment, and law enforcement contact in the wake of violent extremist attacks against vulnerable communities.

Members of LGBTI communities received threatening messages via telephone, text, and social media, and some were harassed by police.

The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services such as health care. LGBTI groups reported official discrimination in employment and occupation, housing, and access to government services.

There were no reports of incidents of involuntary, coercive medical, or psychological practices to “treat” or punish LGBTI individuals.

Organizations specifically assisting lesbians continued to be rare. Strong social stigma based on sexual orientation was common and prevented open discussion of the subject.

The case of Xulhaz Mannan, a human rights activist who was killed in 2016, remained unresolved at the year’s end.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Social stigma against HIV and AIDS and against higher-risk populations could be a barrier for accessing health services, especially for the transgender community and men who have sex with men.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Vigilante killings occurred. Local human rights organizations acknowledged the number of reported cases probably represented only a small fraction of the actual incidents. Illegal fatwas and village arbitration, which a prominent local NGO defined as rulings given by community leaders rather than religious scholars, also occurred. According to Odhikar 45 individuals suffered from vigilante killings from January through October, primarily by public lynching.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right to join unions and, with government approval, the right to form a union, although labor rights organizations said that cumbersome requirements for union registration remained. The law requires a minimum of 20 percent of an enterprise’s total workforce to agree to be members before the Ministry of Labor and Employment may grant approval for registration of a union. The ministry may request a court to dissolve the union if membership falls below 20 percent. Generally, the law allows only wall-to-wall (entire factory) bargaining units.

The labor law definition of workers excludes managerial, supervisory, and administrative staff. Fire-fighting staff, security guards, and employers’ confidential assistants are not entitled to join a union. Civil service and security force employees are prohibited from forming unions. The Department of Labor may deregister unions for other reasons with the approval of a labor court. The law affords unions the right of appeal in the cases of dissolution or denial of registration. Export processing zones (EPZs), which do not allow trade union participation, are a notable exception to the national labor law.

Prospective unions continued to report rejections based on reasons not listed in the labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Employment reported in 2017 that the country had 7,751 trade unions, covering nearly three million workers, with 596 unions in the garment sector. This figure includes 561 new unions in the garment sector since 2013. The ministry reported the shrimp sector had 16 unions and the leather and tannery sector had 13. According to the Solidarity Center, a significant number of the unions in the ready-made garment sector ceased to be active during the year due to factory closures or alleged unfair labor practices on the part of employers, and it has become increasingly harder to register unions in larger ready-made garment factories. After a sharp increase in trade union applications in 2014, there has been a decline every year since. During the year the number of trade-union applications declined again, but the approval rate by the Department of Labor increased.

The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but with many limitations. For example, the government may prohibit a strike deemed to pose a “serious hardship to the community” and may terminate any strike lasting more than 30 days. The law additionally prohibits strikes for the first three years of commercial production or if the factory was built with foreign investment or owned by a foreign investor. Workers and union activists continued to face repercussions from widespread strikes that occurred in 2016 in Ashulia, an industrial suburb of Dhaka, which led to the termination of at least 1,600 workers and left approximately 25 labor leaders and activists in jail. While factories resumed operations by the end of December, labor leaders and workers continued to report police harassment, intimidation, and general antiunion behavior. Ongoing intimidation tactics included frequent police visits to union meetings and offices, police taking pictures and video recordings of union meetings, and police monitoring of NGOs involved in supporting trade unions. While most workers from the Ashulia labor unrest were reinstated, labor leaders still have cases pending against them despite international pressure to resolve these cases.

In response to unrest in the Dhaka industrial suburb of Ashulia in 2016, the government formed a permanent tripartite consultative council to address labor concerns in the garment industry. The state minister for labor and employment and the ministry’s deputy secretary serve as president and secretary of the 20-member council. The council also includes six representatives from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, six additional representatives from the government, and six worker representatives. The council was supposed to meet at least three times a year, but the president may convene meetings as needed. Labor leaders expressed concern that worker representatives were appointed, not elected, and that some of the appointed council members were either not active in the ready-made garment industry, were leaders of very small federations, or were closely aligned with industry. According to the Solidarity Center, in October government officials filed charges stemming from the 2016 Ashulia incident against 15 labor activists and political leaders despite previous government assurances that all cases would be dropped.

Legally registered unions that are recognized as official Collective Bargaining Agents (CBAs) are entitled to submit charters of demands and bargain collectively with employers. This occurred rarely, but instances were increasing. The law provides criminal penalties for unfair labor practices such as retaliation against union members for exercising their legal rights. Labor organizations reported that in some companies, workers did not exercise their collective bargaining rights due to their unions’ ability to address grievances with management informally or due to fear of reprisal.

The law includes provisions protecting unions from employer interference in organizing activities; however, employers, particularly in the readymade garment industry, often interfered with this right. Labor organizers reported acts of intimidation and abuse, the termination of employees, and scrutiny by security forces and the intelligence services. Labor rights NGOs alleged that some terminated union members were unable to find work in the sector because employers blacklisted them. The BGMEA reported that some factory owners complained of harassment from organized labor, including physical intimidation, but statistics and specific examples were unavailable.

According to the labor law, every factory with more than 50 employees is required to have a Participation Committee (PC). In 2015 the government passed the Bangladesh Labor Rules calling for an amended labor law. The rules include an outline of the process for the PC’s workers representative elections.

A separate legal framework under the authority of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zone Authority (BEPZA) governs labor rights in the EPZs, with approximately 458,000 workers. EPZ law specifies certain limited associational and bargaining rights for Worker Welfare Associations (WWAs) elected by the workers, such as the rights to bargain collectively and represent their members in disputes. The law prohibits unions within EPZs. While an earlier provision of the EPZ law banning all strikes under penalty of imprisonment expired in 2013, the law continues to provide for strict limits on the right to strike, such as the discretion of the BEPZA’s chairperson to ban any strike he views as prejudicial to the public interest. The law provides for EPZ labor tribunals, appellate tribunals, and conciliators, but those institutions were not established. Instead eight labor courts and one appellate labor court heard EPZ cases. The BEPZA has its own inspection regime with labor counselors that function as inspectors. WWAs in EPZs are prohibited from establishing any connection to outside political parties, unions, federations, or NGOs. There were no reports of legal strikes in the EPZs.

The government adopted standard operating procedures regarding union registration. With the exception of limitations on the right of association and worker protections in the EPZs, national labor law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court may order the reinstatement of workers fired for union activities, but this right was rarely exercised.

The government did not always enforce applicable law effectively or consistently. For example, labor law establishes mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration, and dispute resolution by a labor court. It also establishes that workers in a collective-bargaining union have the right to strike in the event of a failure to reach a settlement. Few strikes followed the cumbersome legal requirements, however, and strikes or walkouts often occurred spontaneously.

Penalties for violating the law increased in 2013, enabled by the issuance of implementing rules. The maximum fine for a first violation is 25,000 BDT (approximately $300); the fine doubles for a second offense. The law also allows for imprisonment of up to three years. If a violation results in death, the law allows a fine of up to 100,000 BDT ($1,250), four years’ imprisonment, or both. Administrative and judicial appeals were subjected to lengthy delays.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties for forced or bonded labor offenses are five to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of not less than 50,000 BDT ($625). Inspection mechanisms that enforce laws against forced labor did not function effectively. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were inadequate. The law also provides that victims of forced labor have access to shelter and other protective services afforded to trafficking victims.

Some individuals recruited to work overseas with fraudulent employment offers subsequently were exploited abroad under conditions of forced labor or debt bondage. Many migrant workers assumed debt to pay high recruitment fees, imposed legally by recruitment agencies belonging to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies and illegally by unlicensed subagents.

Children and adults were also forced into domestic servitude and bonded labor that involved restricted movement, nonpayment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depend on the type of work and the child’s age. The minimum age for work is 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law allows for certain exceptions, permitting children who are ages 12 or 13 to perform restricted forms of light work. Minors may work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories and mines or up to seven hours per day and 42 per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through fifth grade.

The Labor Ministry’s enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and authorities rarely enforced child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children.

Under the ministry’s 2012-16 child labor national plan of action, the National Child Labor Welfare Council is charged with monitoring child labor. The council met only twice, however, since its inception. The government-mandated child protection networks at district and subdistrict levels to respond to a broad spectrum of violations against children, including child labor; to monitor interventions; and to develop referral mechanisms.

The law specifies penalties for violations involving child labor, including nominal fines of less than 5,000 BDT ($63). These penalties insufficiently deterred violations. The government occasionally brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants.

Child labor was widespread in the informal sector and in domestic work. According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of six- to 14-year-old children were out of school and engaged in full-time work. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), agriculture was the primary employment sector for boys, and services was the main sector for girls. According to Young Power in Social Action, an NGO working to protect the rights of shipbreakers in Chittagong, 11 percent of the shipbreaking workforce was under the age of 18. NGOs, such as Shipbreaking Platform, reported laborers worked long hours without training, safety equipment, holidays, adequate health care, and also without contractual agreements.

Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, primarily in dangerous activities in agriculture. Children working in agriculture risked using dangerous tools, carrying heavy loads, and applying harmful pesticides. Children frequently worked long hours, were exposed to extreme temperatures, and suffered high rates of injury from sharp tools. Children also worked in such hazardous activities as stone and brick breaking, dyeing operations, blacksmith assistance, and construction. Forced child labor was present in the fish-drying industry, where children were exposed to harmful chemicals, dangerous machines, and long hours of work. In urban areas street children worked pulling rickshaws, garbage picking, recycling, vending, begging, repairing automobiles, and in hotels and restaurants. These children were vulnerable to exploitation, for example, in forced begging, forced smuggling, or selling drugs.

Children frequently worked in the informal sector in areas including the unregistered garment, road transport, manufacturing, and service industries.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex or disability, but it does not prohibit other discrimination based on sex, disability, social status, caste, sexual orientation, or similar factors. The constitution prohibits adverse discrimination by the state on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth and expressly extends that prohibition to government employment; it allows affirmative action programs for the benefit of disadvantaged populations.

The lower-wage garment sector traditionally offered greater employment opportunities for women. Women represented the majority of garment-sector workers, making up approximately 56 percent of the total ready-made garment workforce, according to official statistics although statistics varied widely due to a lack of data. The ILO estimated that women made up 65 percent of the ready-made garment workforce. Despite representing a majority of total workers, women were generally underrepresented in supervisory and management positions and generally earned less than their male counterparts, even when performing similar functions. A 2017 study by Andreas Menzel (Center for Economic Research and Graduate Education Economics Institute) and Christopher Woodruff (Oxford University) during the year found that women earned lower wages in export-oriented garment factories, even after controlling for worker productivity. According to the study, approximately two-thirds of the wage gap remained even after controlling for skills, which the study attributed to higher mobility for male workers. Women were also subjected to abuse in factories, including sexual harassment.

Some religious, ethnic, and other minorities reported discrimination, particularly in the private sector (see section 6).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The National Minimum Wage Board established minimum monthly wages on a sector-by-sector basis. The board may convene at any time, but it is supposed to meet at least every five years in a tripartite forum to set wage structures and benefits industry by industry. By law the government may modify or amend wage structures through official public announcement in consultation with employers and workers. In the garment industry, the board increased the minimum monthly wage from 5,300 BDT ($66) which was set in 2013, to 8,000 BDT (approximately $95). Ready-made garment industry workers conducted public protests after the announcement. They had requested a minimum wage of 16,000 BDT (approximately $190). The increase took effect on December 1. Also dissatisfied were more senior workers, whose pay was not increased at the same rate as the minimal wage. That left some of them earning only marginally more than entry-level workers.

In September a member from the country’s intelligence community threatened trade union leaders in Chittagong with bodily harm should workers protest the new minimum wage, according to Solidarity Center. Wages in the apparel sector often were higher than the minimum wage, and wages in the EPZs typically were higher than general wage levels, according to BEPZA. Among the lowest minimum wages were those for tea packaging, set in 2013 at 69 BDT ($0.86) per day as established by a memorandum of understanding. None of the set minimum wages provided a sufficient standard of living for urban dwellers. The minimum wage was not indexed to inflation (which averaged 6 to 8 percent annually since 2010, according to World Bank data), but the board occasionally made cost-of-living adjustments to wages in some sectors.

By law a standard workday is eight hours. A standard workweek is 48 hours, but it may be extended to 60 hours, subject to the payment of an overtime allowance that is double the basic wage. Overtime cannot be compulsory. Workers must have one hour of rest if they work for more than six hours a day or a half-hour of rest for more than five hours’ work a day. Factory workers are supposed to receive one day off every week. Shop workers receive one and one-half days off per week.

The law establishes occupational health and safety standards, and amendments to the law created mandatory worker safety committees. The law says that every worker should be allowed at least 11 festival holidays with full wages in a year. The days and dates for such festivals are supposed to be fixed by the employer in consultation with the CBA, if any, or on the recommendation of the participation committee in absence of the CBA.

Labor law implementing rules outline the process for the formation of occupational safety and health committees in factories, and the government reported that approximately 2,175 safety committees were formed as of July. The committees include both management and workers nominated by the CBA or, in absence of CBA, workers representatives of the factory’s Worker Participation Committee (WPC). Where there is no union or WPC, the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) arranges an election among the workers for their representatives.

The government did not effectively enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards in all sectors. Although increased focus on the garment industry improved compliance in some garment factories, resources, inspections, and remediation were generally not adequate across sectors, and penalties for violations were not sufficient to deter violations.

DIFE’s resources were inadequate to inspect and remediate problems effectively. In 2017, DIFE employed 317 labor inspectors; however, this number is likely insufficient for a workforce that includes more than 83 million workers, and the DIFE lacked authority to sanction employers directly without filing a court case. The ministry nonetheless took steps to increase DIFE’s staff and technical capacity.

The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse killed 1,138 workers and injured more than 2,500. In the aftermath of the collapse, private companies, foreign governments, and international organizations worked with the government to inspect more than 3,780 garment factories. Many factories began to take action to improve safety conditions, although remediation in many cases proceeded slowly due to a range of factors, including failure to obtain adequate financing. Two private buyers’ initiatives, the Alliance and the Accord, conducted initial fire and safety inspections of 2,400 factories, but government oversight and enforcement of garment factories outside of these initiatives remained limited. These initiatives also covered only the formal ready-made garment industry, leaving thousands of informal garment and nongarment factories without proper oversight. Boiler or chemical-related explosions increased the focus on nonfire industrial accidents. The Alliance terminated its operations at the end of the year, following the successful remediation of more than 400 factories under its purview. Several U.S. brands worked with a new local organization to sustain the culture of safety at remediated factories.

The court case against Sohel Rana, the owner of Rana Plaza, and 40 other individuals on charges, including murder began in 2016. Rana received a maximum three-year sentence for failing to declare his personal wealth to an antigraft commission. The murder trial against Rana and others continued.

A trial against those implicated in the 2012 Tazreen Fashions fire started in 2015 after charges were brought against 13 individuals, including chairman Mahmuda Akhter and managing director Delwar Hossain, in September 2015. Media reported that the trial was stalled at year’s end.

Workers’ groups stated that safety and health standards established by law were sufficient and that more factories took steps toward compliance. The law provides for a maximum fine of 25,000 BDT (approximately $300) for noncompliance, but this did not deter violations.

Legal limits on hours of work were violated routinely. In the ready-made garment sector, employers often required workers to labor 12 hours a day or more to meet export deadlines, but they did not always properly compensate workers for their time. According to the Solidarity Center, workers often willingly worked overtime in excess of the legal limit. Employers in many cases delayed workers’ pay or denied full leave benefits.

Few reliable labor statistics were available on the large informal sector in which the majority of citizens worked, and it was difficult to enforce labor laws in the sector. The BBS 2010 Labor Force Survey reported the informal sector employed 47.3 million of the 56.7 million workers in the country.

Belarus

Executive Summary

Belarus is an authoritarian state. The constitution provides for a directly elected president who is head of state, and a bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both in fact and in law. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections. Since his election as president in 1994, Aliaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. All subsequent presidential elections fell well short of international standards. The 2016 parliamentary elections also failed to meet international standards.

Civilian authorities, President Lukashenka in particular, maintained effective control over security forces.

Human rights issues included torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; undue restrictions on free expression, the press and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel and defamation of government officials; violence against and detention of journalists; severe restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association, including by imposing criminal penalties for calling for a peaceful demonstration and laws criminalizing the activities and funding of groups not approved by the authorities; restrictions on freedom of movement, in particular of former political prisoners whose civil rights remained largely restricted; failure to account for longstanding cases of politically motivated disappearances; restrictions on political participation; corruption in all branches of government; allegations of pressuring women to have abortions; and trafficking in persons.

Authorities at all levels operated with impunity and failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.

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

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

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

During the year there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and no reports of deaths from torture.

b. Disappearance

During the year there were no reports of new disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. There were no developments in the reportedly continuing investigations into the 1999 disappearances of former deputy prime minister Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and former interior minister Yuri Zakharanka. There was evidence of government involvement in the disappearances, but authorities continued to deny any connection with them.

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

The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the Committee for State Security (KGB), riot police, and other security forces, often without identification and in plain clothes, beat detainees on occasion. Security forces also reportedly mistreated individuals during investigations. Police occasionally beat persons during arrests.

Human rights advocates, opposition leaders, and activists released from detention facilities reported maltreatment and other forms of physical and psychological abuse of suspects during criminal and administrative investigations.

There were numerous reports of hazing of conscripts into the army that included beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Some of those cases reportedly resulted in deaths. For example, in October 2017 a senior official from the Investigative Committee announced a criminal investigation into alleged hazing and violence that preceded the discovery of the body of a 21-year-old soldier, Aliaksandr Korzhych, in the basement of his military barracks near Barysau. On November 5, the Minsk regional court sentenced three former sergeants to nine, seven, and six years in prison respectively for driving Korzhych to suicide by abusing and maltreating him. Authorities also charged the three with theft, bribery, and abuse of power. The sergeants claimed at hearings that investigators pressured them into testifying against themselves and admitting to the charges.

Korzhych’s former commanders, Senior Lieutenant Paval Sukavenka and Chief Warrant Officer Artur Virbal, were tried separately for abuse of power and sentenced on October 19 to six and four years respectively.

At a press conference on February 14, Defense Minister Andrey Raukou committed to eradicating hazing and said the ministry had opened 48 criminal cases to investigate allegations of mistreatment and bullying in the armed forces. Accepting Korzhych’s case as his “personal fault,” Raukou said that the army registered three cases of suicide in 2017 and four cases in 2016. Raukou said that many of the conscripts involved in hazing had mental and psychological problems, histories of alcohol and drug abuse, criminal records, and lacked motivation to serve in the army.

On July 31, the Supreme Court reported that between January and June courts across the country convicted 28 officers on charges related to bullying, hazing, and abuse of power in the armed forces. Courts convicted 31 officers on similar charges in 2017. For example, on March 30, a district court in Barysau sentenced an army warrant officer to five years in jail for abusing his powers, taking bribes, and beating conscripts.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained poor and in many cases posed threats to life and health.

Physical Conditions: According to local activists and human rights lawyers, there were shortages of food, medicine, warm clothing, and bedding as well as inadequate access to basic or emergency medical care and clean drinking water. Ventilation of cells and overall sanitation were poor, and authorities failed to provide conditions necessary for maintaining proper personal hygiene. Prisoners frequently complained of malnutrition and low-quality uniforms and bedding. Some former political prisoners reported psychological abuse and sharing cells with violent criminals or prisoners with contagious diseases. The law permits family and friends to provide detainees with food and hygiene products and to send them parcels by mail, but authorities did not always allow this.

On November 15, the Minsk city court dismissed an appeal filed by Alena Doubovik and Maryna Doubina, who were detained for up to 14 days in March 2017 on charges related to unsanctioned demonstrations. The two activists complained that holding facilities in Minsk and Zhodzina did not have female personnel to search them and that the two were deprived of privacy, including for personal hygiene, and were always visible to male officers.

Overcrowding of pretrial holding facilities, and prisons generally, was a problem.

Although there were isolated reports that police placed underage suspects in pretrial detention facility cells with adult suspects and convicts, authorities generally held juvenile prisoners separately from adults at juvenile penal colonies, arrest houses, and pretrial holding facilities. In general conditions for female and juvenile prisoners were slightly better than for male prisoners.

According to human rights NGOs and former prisoners, authorities routinely abused prisoners.

Credible sources maintained that prison administrators employed inmates to intimidate political prisoners and compel confessions. They also reported that authorities neither explained nor protected political prisoners’ legal rights and excessively penalized them for minor violations of prison rules.

Observers believed tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, and other communicable diseases were widespread in prisons because of generally poor medical care.

Administration: As in the previous year, authorities claimed to have conducted annual or more frequent investigations and monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. Human rights groups, however, asserted that such inspections, when they did occur, lacked credibility in view of the absence of an ombudsperson and the inability of reliable independent human rights advocates to visit prisons or provide consultations to prisoners.

On March 15, prison authorities in Horki refused to allow independent observers to meet with Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, cofounder of the prison monitoring NGO Platforma. According to human rights groups, Zhamchuzhny, who was serving a six and a half year sentence on charges of deliberately disclosing classified information and offering a bribe, was subject to mistreatment and inhuman prison conditions, including beatings by a fellow inmate. Human rights groups claimed that prison authorities continued to isolate Zhamchuzhny to punish him for allegedly violating prison regulations. The courts repeatedly dismissed Zhamchuzhny’s complaints of mistreatment.

Prisoners and detainees had limited access to visitors, and denial of meetings with families was a common punishment for disciplinary violations. Authorities often denied or delayed political prisoners’ meetings with family as a means of pressure and intimidation.

Although the law provides for freedom of religion, and there were no reports of egregious infringements, authorities generally prevented prisoners from holding religious services and performing ceremonies that did not comply with prison regulations.

Former prisoners reported that prison officials often censored or did not forward their complaints to higher authorities and that prison administrators either ignored or selectively considered requests for investigation of alleged abuses. Prisoners also reported that prison administrators frequently refused to provide them with copies of responses to their complaints, which further complicated their defense. Complaints could result in retaliation against prisoners, including humiliation, death threats, or other forms of punishment and harassment.

Corruption in prisons was a serious problem, and observers noted that parole often depended on bribes to prison personnel or on a prisoner’s political affiliation.

Independent Monitoring: Despite numerous requests to the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, government officials refused to meet with human rights advocates or approve requests from NGOs to visit detention and prison facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law limits arbitrary detention, but the government did not respect these limits. Authorities arrested or detained individuals for political reasons and used administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after protests and other major public events.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs exercises authority over police, but other bodies outside of its control, for example, the KGB, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee, the Investigation Committee, and presidential security services exercise police functions. The president has the authority to subordinate all security bodies to his personal command and he maintained effective control over security forces. Impunity among law enforcement personnel remained a serious problem. Individuals have the right to report police abuse to a prosecutor, although the government often did not investigate reported abuses or hold perpetrators accountable.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

By law police must request permission from a prosecutor to detain a person for more than three hours, but police usually ignored this procedure and routinely detained and arrested individuals without warrants. Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges and for up to 18 months after filing charges. By law, prosecutors, investigators, and security service agencies have the authority to extend detention without consulting a judge. Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities frequently suppressed or ignored such appeals. The country has no functioning bail system.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained opposition and civil society activists for reasons widely considered politically motivated. In isolated cases authorities used administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after planned demonstrations and protests, as well as other public events.

On March 21, police arrested former presidential candidate and opposition activist Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu, European Belarus activist Maksim Vinyarski, and opposition activist Vyachyaslau Siuchyk. The three supported former presidential candidate and opposition activist Mikalai Statkevich in his plans to lead an unauthorized march in central Minsk to mark the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR) on March 25. Authorities sentenced Vinyarski to 10 days of administrative detention for posting an opposition banner in central Minsk in March. Siuchyk was transported to a holding facility to serve five days in jail for participating in a September 2017 protest against the joint Russia-Belarus military exercise ZAPAD. Nyaklyaeu was also placed in a holding facility to serve 10 days for calling in an interview for persons to participate in unauthorized demonstrations in November 2017.

Despite wearing blue vests and badges, which marked them as “observers,” police detained the group of observers on March 25 while they were monitoring a protest in central Minsk. The observers complained police refused to provide them with access to their defense lawyers, kept them outside against the wall of the precinct building without food and water, and failed to ensure access to personal hygiene for up to eight hours before charging them with participating in an unauthorized demonstration and resisting police. On April 13, investigators questioned human rights group Vyasna’s observer Tatsyana Mastykina after she filed a complaint. Authorities dismissed the complaint and dropped all charges against the observers.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges. Prior to being charged, the law provides detainees with no access to their families or to outside food and medical supplies, both of which are vital in view of the poor conditions in detention facilities. Police routinely held persons for the full 10-day period before charging them.

Police often detained individuals for several hours, ostensibly to confirm their identity; fingerprinted them; and then released them without charge. Police and security forces frequently used this tactic to detain members of the democratic opposition and demonstrators, to prevent the distribution of leaflets and newspapers, or to break up civil society meetings and events.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities frequently suppressed or ignored such appeals. By law courts have 24 hours to issue a ruling on a detention and 72 hours on an arrest. Courts hold closed hearings in these cases, which the suspect, a defense lawyer, and other legal representatives may attend. Prosecutors, suspects, and defense lawyers may appeal lower court decisions to higher courts within 24 hours of the ruling. Higher courts have three days to rule on appeals, and their rulings may not be challenged. Further appeals may be filed only when investigators extend the period of detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread. Courts convicted individuals on false and politically motivated charges brought by prosecutors, and observers believed that senior government leaders and local authorities dictated the outcomes of trials.

As in previous years, according to human rights groups, prosecutors wielded excessive and imbalanced authority because they may extend detention periods without the permission of judges. Defense lawyers were unable to examine investigation files, be present during investigations and interrogations, or examine evidence against defendants until a prosecutor formally brought the case to court. Lawyers found it difficult to challenge some evidence because the Prosecutor’s Office controlled all technical expertise. According to many defense attorneys, this power imbalance persisted throughout the year, especially in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases. Courts did not exonerate criminal defendants except in rare circumstances.

By law, bar associations are independent, and licensed lawyers are permitted to establish private practices or bureaus. All lawyers must be licensed by the Ministry of Justice and must renew their licenses every five years.

No repressive or retaliatory measures against lawyers were reported during the year. In September 2017 a Ministry of Justice standing commission, which reviews lawyers’ performance, found that prominent independent lawyer Ana Bakhtsina had “insufficient professional skills” to be a defense lawyer. Bakhtsina appealed the commission’s decision revoking her license but her appeal was dismissed. Additionally, at least seven more defense lawyers were ordered to retake their bar exams within six months following the ministry’s determination that their professional skills were “partially insufficient.”

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but authorities occasionally disregarded this right.

The law provides for the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the lack of judicial independence, state media practice of reporting on high-profile cases as if guilt were already certain, and widespread limits on defense rights frequently placed the burden of proving innocence on the defendant.

The law also provides for public trials, but authorities occasionally held closed trials in judges’ chambers. Judges adjudicate all trials. For the most serious cases, two civilian advisers assist the judge.

The law provides defendants the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect these rights.

The law provides for access to legal counsel for the defendant and requires courts to appoint a lawyer for those who cannot afford one. Although by law defendants may ask for their trials to be conducted in Belarusian, most judges and prosecutors were not fluent in this language, rejected motions for interpreters, and proceeded in Russian. Interpreters are provided when the defendant speaks neither Belarusian nor Russian. The law provides for the right to choose legal representation freely; however, a presidential decree prohibits NGO members who are lawyers from representing individuals other than members of their organizations in court. The government’s past attempts to disbar attorneys who represented political opponents of the regime further limited defendants’ choice of counsel. The government also required defense attorneys to sign nondisclosure statements that limited their ability to release any information regarding the case to the public, media, and even defendants’ family members.

Courts often allowed statements obtained by force and threats of bodily harm during interrogations to be used against defendants. Some defendants were tried in absentia.

Defendants have the right to appeal convictions, and most defendants did so. Nevertheless, appeals courts upheld the verdicts of the lower courts in the vast majority of cases.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Local human rights organizations reported several different lists of political prisoners in the country. Leading local human rights groups, including Vyasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), recognized two individuals as prisoners of conscience.

Dzmitry Palienka, an opposition and anarchist movement activist who participated in the “Critical Mass” bicycle ride of April 2016, was sentenced to a two-year suspended term for using violence against a traffic police officer during his detention and for distributing pornographic images on social media in October 2016. He was rearrested and had the suspension of his sentence revoked in April 2017, allegedly for participating in unauthorized mass events. On a judge’s order, he spent 18 months and 13 days (the remainder of the two-year sentence) in prison and was released in October. Local human rights advocates called for his unconditional and immediate release, pointing to the peaceful nature of the “Critical Mass” ride and all subsequent protest events in which Palienka participated.

Mikhail Zhamchuzhny, cofounder of the now-defunct prison monitoring NGO Platforma, continued to serve a six and a half year sentence. He was convicted in 2015 in a closed-door session for deliberately disclosing classified information, illegally acquiring or making equipment for obtaining classified information, and offering a bribe to an official.

Former political prisoners released in August 2015 continued to be unable to exercise some civil and political rights at year’s end.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides that individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for a human rights violation, but the civil judiciary was not independent and was rarely impartial in such matters.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

There are no laws providing for restitution or compensation for immovable private property confiscated during World War II and the Holocaust. The country also has no legislative regime for restitution of communal property or of heirless property. The government reported that, in the last 10 years, it did not receive any requests or claims from individuals, NGOs, or any other public organization, either Jewish or foreign, seeking compensation or restitution of any property.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but the government did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities used wiretapping, video surveillance, and a network of informers that deprived persons of privacy.

By law persons who obstruct law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties may be penalized or charged with an administrative offense, even if the “duties” are inconsistent with the law. “Obstruction” could include any effort to prevent KGB or law enforcement officers from entering the premises of a company, establishment, or organization; refusing to allow KGB audits; or denying or restricting KGB access to information systems and databases.

The law requires a warrant before, or immediately after, conducting a search. Nevertheless, some democratic activists believed the KGB entered their homes unannounced. The KGB has the authority to enter any building at any time, as long as it applies for a warrant within 24 hours after the entry.

Security forces continued to target prominent opposition and civil society leaders with arbitrary searches and interrogations at border crossings and airports. On March 7, the independent Belarusian Trade Union of Workers of Radio and Electronics Industry (REP) reported that its deputy chair Zinaida Mikhnyuk and youth network coordinator Hanna Dous were briefly detained and searched at the Belarus-Lithuania border. Dous told the media that border officers searched her belongings without giving an explanation or bringing any charges.

While the law prohibits authorities from intercepting telephone and other communications without a prosecutor’s order, authorities routinely monitored residences, telephones, and computers. Nearly all opposition political figures and many prominent members of civil society groups claimed that authorities monitored their conversations and activities. The government continued to collect and obtain personally identifiable information on independent journalists and democratic activists during raids and by confiscating computer equipment.

The law allows the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, special security services, financial intelligence personnel, and certain border guard detachments to use wiretaps. Wiretaps require the permission of a prosecutor, but the lack of prosecutorial independence rendered this requirement meaningless.

The independent election observation group Prava Vybaru (Right to Choose) claimed that the two state-controlled television channels broadcast illegally wiretapped conversations between its activists. According to Prava Vybaru, the channels misrepresented the recording’s content in order to discredit the group before February local elections.

The Ministry of Communications has the authority to terminate the telephone service of persons who violate telephone contracts, which prohibit the use of telephone services for purposes contrary to state interests and public order.

Authorities continued to harass family members of NGO leaders and civil society and opposition activists through selective application of the law. Maryna Adamovich, the spouse of opposition activist Mikalai Statkevich, told the press that the tires of their two cars were damaged on the eve of Statkevich’s arrest on March 25. Adamovich filed a police complaint but there were no developments in the case.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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 certain historical flags and symbols, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

On March 25, a Radio Liberty journalist reported that she and at least four individuals were detained for carrying white-red-white flags beyond the police perimeter near the Minsk Opera House, following a concert commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic.

On September 10, police detained opposition activist Nina Bahinskaya for holding a banner that read “No to Communism” in central Minsk. Authorities fined her 1,225 rubles ($612) for purportedly holding an unauthorized protest.

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 rare and limited primarily to those required by law during election campaigns. Authorities warned, fined, detained, and interrogated members of independent 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.

Limited information was available in the state-run press concerning the February 18 local elections, including on independent candidates.

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 publications, 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 September 15, police fined, detained, and arrested at least 30 journalists who were performing their professional duties in more than 108 separate cases.

On August 7, the Investigative Committee reported it had opened a criminal case, based on materials submitted by the Interior Ministry’s cybersecurity department, to investigate “illegal access to computer information stemming from personal interests which caused significant damages.” The case was reportedly triggered by a complaint filed by state-run news agency Belta. The Interior Ministry’s preliminary investigation found that “information held on Belta’s computer systems was illegally accessed more than 15,000 times without the knowledge or agreement of Belta in 2017-2018.” Authorities detained and interrogated more than 20 journalists from the independent news agencies tut.byBelaPANrealt.by, and Deutsche Welle among others. Investigators also searched their residences and offices, confiscating computer equipment. In November investigators charged 15 journalists for illegal access, including BelaPAN staff writer Tatsyana Karavenkova, BelaPAN chief editor Iryna Leushyna, and eight tut.by journalists, including Chief Editor Maryna Zolatava. Observers said the investigation and charges were disproportionate to the alleged crime, because the subscription-only Belta news service the journalists were accused of illegally accessing posted the same information for free public consumption shortly after its release to paid subscribers. Charges against all except Zolatava were later dropped when the journalists agreed to pay a penalty of 735 rubles ($350) each and up to 17,000 rubles ($7,980) in compensation for damage their actions allegedly caused. Zolatava was charged with “executive inaction” and faced up to five years in prison.

The government refused to recognize some foreign media, such as Poland-based Belsat TV and Radio Racyja, and routinely fined free-lance journalists working for them. As of September 25, at least 31 journalists were fined in 80 cases for not having government accreditation or cooperating with a foreign media outlet. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, freelance journalists received fines totaling more than 66,000 rubles ($33,000). Most of the fines were imposed on journalists working for Belsat TV.

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. Television channels are required to air at least 30 percent local content. 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.

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 November 22, authorities convicted a resident of the village of Vetryna in the Vitsyebsk region on charges of “publicly insulting the president” and causing a false bomb alert and sentenced him to two years of restricted freedom. The charges reportedly stemmed from the resident’s post on his social media, using derogatory language and saying that he allegedly planted a bomb at a local shopping center.

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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.

Under amendments to the Media Law that came into force December 1, news websites and any internet information sources are subject to the same regulations as print media. If websites choose not to apply for registration, they can continue to operate but without the status of a media outlet. Unregistered online media cannot receive accreditation from state agencies for its correspondents, who will also not be able to cover mass events or protect sources of information, among other things. Registration requires the site to have an office located in nonresidential premises with a chief editor who is a citizen with at least five years of experience in managerial media positions.

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, or “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. If blocked, a network publication loses its media registration. Owners of a website or a network publication will be able to appeal a decision to limit access to their sites or to deny restoring access to them in court within a month.

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 and identification of all commentators by personal data and cell phone numbers. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. On January 24, authorities blocked opposition news website Charter’97 for allegedly publishing information that harmed national interests. The Information Ministry claimed that the site ran articles announcing the time and venue of unauthorized demonstrations and published information on behalf of unregistered groups.

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.

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 took down independent news portals and social networking sites.

According to various media sources, the number of internet users reached nearly seven million persons, or more than 70 percent of population, 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.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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. While the administrations of higher educational institutions made no effort to accommodate students wishing to study in Belarusian-language classes, on March 27 authorities registered as a legal entity a private university, named after prominent Belarusian poet Nil Hilevich, where all instruction will be in the Belarusian language. In September the university, run by the independent Belarusian Language Society and funded from private sources, opened pre-enrollment courses for students to major in the humanities, linguistics, and other disciplines.

Students, writers, and academics said authorities pressured them to join ostensibly voluntary progovernment organizations, such as the Belarusian Republican Youth Union (BRYU) and the Union of Writers of Belarus. Students who declined to join the BRYU risked economic hardships, including lack of access to dormitories, which effectively limited their ability to attend the country’s top universities.

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 January Belarus State University expelled Hanna Smilevich, a Belarusian Popular Front youth group member, after she had become chair of the group in December 2017.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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 as well as those of self-organized citizens’ groups in various communities around the country. 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 an intention to hold demonstrations via the internet or social media before official approval, participation in the activities of unregistered NGOs, training of persons to demonstrate, financing of public demonstrations, or solicitation of foreign assistance “to the detriment” of the country. Violations are punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. Persons with unexpunged criminal records for crimes related to violating peace and order, statehood and governance, public security, safety, and public morals did not have the right to act as mass event organizers. Such 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 at designated venues far from city centers. The amended law allowed organizers to notify authorities of a mass event planned at a designated location no later than 10 days before the date of the event. Authorities should inform organizers of denial no later than five days before the event. By law denials can be issued for one of two reasons: the event conflicted with one organized by a different individual or group or the notification did not comply with regulations.

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 unauthorized demonstrations. In addition authorities required organizers to conclude contracts with police, fire department, health, and sanitary authorities for their services after a mass event. Authorities waived some of these requirements for the March 25 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic (BPR). All media representatives had to be clearly identified and carry an official media ID or foreign media accreditation. They have to provide their personal ID and press documents to law enforcement upon request.

On March 27, President Lukashenka told Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich that the Ministry should be ready to “immediately suppress” any unauthorized events which “impede people’s lives” because “chaos stems from them [unauthorized protests].” Shunevich responded that “not a single event, which is not sanctioned by authorities, will take place, and even if it starts it will be immediately stopped in an effective manner and in compliance with the law.”

During the year local authorities countrywide rejected dozens of applications for permission to stage various demonstrations.

While Minsk city authorities cooperated with opposition groups to stage a rally and concert on the 100 anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic in front of the Opera House on March 25, they denied two other applications to hold marches the same day. Organizers of the concert had sought to walk from a nearby park to the concert location before the concert. A second application was filed by opposition activist Mikalai Statkevich and his supporters to march from the central Yakub Kolas square via the main avenue to the concert location. When Statkevich decided to go ahead with his plan without permission, police arrested him as he was leaving his home. Police also arrested approximately 60 individuals gathered at Yakub Kolas square.

In addition, authorities in Mahilyou and Homyel denied local activists’ permission to hold rallies in city centers on March 25. They alleged that the venues were not designated for mass events or had been already booked for other events.

Across the country in at least 11 different localities, approximately 57 individuals were briefly detained, apparently in order to prevent their participation in March 25 events in Minsk.

On July 3, celebrated as the Belarusian Independence Day, police dispersed an unauthorized protest and detained approximately 30 individuals, including Mikalai Statkevich, in front of a WWII monument to Soviet soldiers in central Minsk. Statkevich called upon his associates to hold a rally to mark the “liberation [of Minsk from the Nazis on July 3, 1944] and solidarity.” Statkevich was arrested as he was leaving his house on his way to the site on July 3. Police detained approximately 30 activists at the site, including five observers from the human rights group Vyasna, transported them to a local precinct, and released the majority later in the day. Statkevich and at least three other activists remained in detention overnight and stood trial on July 4. A Minsk district court sentenced Statkevich to a fine of 980 rubles ($490) for making calls to participate in an unauthorized protest on July 3.

From June through October, authorities fined, detained, or arrested more than 20 protesters at the site of the Stalinist-era execution site Kurapaty. The protesters opposed the building and operation of a restaurant in close vicinity to the site. While police repeatedly fined the majority of activists for purportedly violating traffic regulations and participating in unauthorized demonstrations, a number of protesters, including Belarusian Christian Democracy (BCD) party cochair Paval Sevyarynets, European Belarus campaign activist Maksim Vinyarski, and filmmaker Alyaksei Tourovich were sentenced to up to 10 days of administrative detention.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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 them. 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 March 21, Minsk city authorities registered an educational NGO called “Out Loud.” This was the group’s ninth registration application under its previous name, “Make Out,” which the government requested it change before granting registration. The NGO focused on advancing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and countering discrimination and violence against them.

On April 6, the BCD reported that the Ministry of Justice denied its seventh registration application. The ministry said the BCD had failed to include phone numbers of some of its members and had incorrectly listed the birth dates of two party founders in its application documents. The party submitted the application on January 22, and the ministry decided to suspend the registration process and seek additional documents on February 23. The Supreme Court upheld the ministry’s denial on May 25.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government at times 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 as indicated by 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.

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.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and 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, eight Afghans, and 12 Pakistanis.

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.

STATELESS PERSONS

As of July 1, the Ministry of the Interior and UNHCR listed 6,618 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 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.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government consistently denied citizens this ability by not conducting elections according to international standards.

Since his election in 1994 to a four-year term as the country’s first president, Lukashenka has steadily consolidated power in the executive branch to dominate all branches of government, effectively ending any separation of powers among the branches. Flawed referendums in 1996 and 2004 amended the constitution to broaden his powers, extend his term in office, and remove presidential term limits. Subsequent elections, including the presidential elections held in 2015 and parliamentary elections held in 2016, continued to deny citizens the right to express their will in an honest and transparent process including fair access to media and to resources.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: According to independent local observation groups, the February 18 local elections were marred by numerous violations, including inflated early and election day turnout, multiple voting, nontransparent home voting, and nontransparent vote tabulation across the country. On February 19, the Central Election Commission (CEC) reported official turnout of 77.05 percent.

Independent observers noted that a number of opposition candidates were denied registration for far-fetched reasons and that the registration process was not open to observers. In a number of cases, commissions removed independent observers from polling stations for allegedly interfering with their work and banned them from videotaping or taking photos. Human rights monitors, independent observers, and experts concluded that elections did not comply with international standards and that authorities dismissed the majority of complaints filed by opposition candidates, their representatives, or independent observers.

Government authorities do not invite OSCE/ODIHR observers to local elections.

The September 2016 parliamentary elections failed to meet international standards. For the first time in 12 years, however, alternative voices were seated in parliament. The elections were marred by a number of long-standing systemic shortcomings, according to the OSCE/ODIHR, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe international election observation mission intermediate report. While the observer missions and the international community welcomed visible efforts by authorities to make some procedural improvements, a number of key long-standing recommendations by the OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe Venice Commission remained unaddressed.

The 2016 OSCE report found that the legal framework restricts political rights and fundamental freedoms and was interpreted in an overly restrictive manner. While there was an overall increase in the number of candidates, including from the opposition, media coverage did not enable voters to make an informed choice, and the campaign lacked visibility. As in past years, only a negligible number of election commission members were appointed from opposition nominees, which undermined confidence in the commission’s independence. The early voting, counting, and tabulation procedures continued to be marred by a significant number of procedural irregularities and a lack of transparency.

Local human rights groups Vyasna and the BHC stated at a postelection press conference that based on their observation the election fell short of international standards and did not fully abide by the country’s legislation. They especially noted their concern regarding early voting procedures, the lack of transparency in the vote-count process, and the domination of election commissions by progovernment organizations.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Authorities routinely harassed and impeded the activities of opposition political parties and activists. Some opposition parties lacked legal status because authorities refused to register them, and the government routinely interfered with the right to organize, run for election, seek votes, and publicize views. The government allowed approximately half a dozen largely inactive but officially registered pro-Lukashenka political parties to operate freely.

During the year authorities fined and arrested opposition political parties’ leaders for violating the Law on Mass Events and participating in numerous unauthorized demonstrations. The law allows authorities to suspend parties for six months after one warning and close them after two. Members of parties that authorities refused to register, such as the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, continued to be subjected to harassment and arbitrary checks. The law also prohibits political parties from receiving support from abroad and requires all political groups and coalitions to register with the Ministry of Justice.

Authorities continued to limit activities of the unrecognized Union of Poles of Belarus and harass its members.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process but patriarchal social attitudes disfavored women’s efforts to achieve positions of power.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government regularly prosecuted officials alleged to be corrupt; however, reports indicated that some officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. The World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem in the country.

In 2016 the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) released a summary of the interim compliance report that stated the government partially implemented only one of the 20 recommendations made by the Council of Europe’s anticorruption monitoring body in June 2015. GRECO noted the “lack of an evidence-based comprehensive strategy and a plan of action for the fight against corruption, and of a mechanism that does not only involve the law enforcement agencies to monitor its implementation independently, comprehensively and objectively.” In its annual report released in May, GRECO stated that the government’s implementation of the group’s recommendations was “unsatisfactory.”

Individuals dismissed for lower-level corruption face a five-year ban on public-service employment, while those found to have committed more serious abuses are banned indefinitely from government employment. The law also allows seizure of property worth more than 25 percent of a public servant’s yearly income for those found guilty of corrupt practices. The law provides for public monitoring of the government’s anticorruption efforts.

Corruption: According to official sources, most corruption cases involved soliciting and accepting bribes, fraud, and abuse of power, although anecdotal evidence indicated such corruption usually did not occur as part of day-to-day interaction between citizens and minor state officials.

The absence of independent judicial and law enforcement systems, the lack of separation of powers, and a harried independent press largely barred from interaction with a nontransparent state bureaucracy made it virtually impossible to gauge the scale of corruption or combat it effectively.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for organizing and coordinating activities to combat corruption, including monitoring law enforcement operations, analyzing the efficacy of implemented measures, supervising engaged parties, and drafting further legislation.

In June the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that from January to May authorities investigated 1,107 corruption cases compared with 584 cases in the same period in 2017. The most corrupt sectors were state administration and procurement, the industrial sector, the construction industry, health care, and education.

There were numerous corruption prosecutions during the year, but prosecutions remained selective, nontransparent, and in some cases appeared politically motivated, according to independent observers and human rights advocates. For example, the head of the KGB, Valery Vakulchyk, stated on October 5 that approximately one hundred head doctors from the regions and Minsk, officials of the healthcare ministry, including a deputy minister, representatives of local pharmaceutical productions, and owners of pharmacy businesses were investigated for numerous accounts of corruption related to procurement of medicines and equipment.

Financial Disclosure: Anticorruption laws require income and asset disclosure by appointed and elected officials, their spouses, and members of households who have reached legal age and continue to live with them in the same household. According to the law, specialized anticorruption departments within the Prosecutor General’s Office, the KGB, and the Internal Affairs Ministry monitor and verify anticorruption practices, and the prosecutor general and all other prosecutors are mandated to oversee the enforcement of anticorruption law. These declarations were not available to the public. An exception applies to candidates running in presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections. There are administrative sanctions and disciplinary penalties for noncompliance.

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

There were a number of active domestic human rights NGOs, although authorities were often hostile to their efforts, restricted their activities, selectively cooperated with them, and were not responsive to their views.

Two prominent human rights NGOs–the BHC and the Center for Legal Transformations–operated as registered entities. The government refused to register a number of others, placing them at risk under the criminal code that criminalizes organizing or participating in any activity by an unregistered organization. The law also prohibits persons from acting on behalf of unregistered NGOs. Nonetheless, some unregistered NGOs, including Vyasna and Legal Assistance to the Population, continued to operate.

Authorities harassed both registered and unregistered human rights organizations. They subjected them to frequent inspections and threats of deregistration, reportedly monitored their correspondence and telephone conversations, and harassed family members of group leaders and activists. The government ignored reports issued by human rights NGOs and only met with registered groups. State-run media rarely reported on human rights NGOs and their activities.

During the year the BHC’s bank accounts remained blocked due to long-standing tax arrears related to foreign funding in the early 2000s, but the government allowed the committee to operate without other interference.

Authorities were reluctant to engage on human rights problems with international human rights NGOs or other human rights officials, and international NGO representatives often had difficulty gaining admission to the country. Authorities routinely ignored local and international groups’ recommendations on improving human rights in the country and requests to stop harassing the human rights community.

Authorities may close an NGO after issuing only one warning that it violated the law. The most common pretexts prompting a warning or closure were failure to obtain a legal address and technical discrepancies in application documents. The law allows authorities to close an NGO for accepting what it considered illegal forms of foreign assistance and permits the Ministry of Justice to monitor any NGO activity and to review all NGO documents. NGOs also must submit detailed reports annually to the ministry regarding their activities, office locations, officers, and total number of members.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On September 28, the UN Human Rights Council appointed Anais Marin as the new Special Rapporteur on Belarus. On October 1, Belarusian MFA Spokesperson Anatoli Hlaz stated that the government continued to speak against “the politicized” mandate of the rapporteur and did not recognize it. The previous rapporteur, Miklos Haraszti, whose mandate expired on October 31, published his final report at the 73rd session of the UNGA’s Third Committee on October 24, noting that the human rights record in Belarus had not improved in his six-year tenure. In a response, a Belarusian diplomat, Counsellor Ina Vasileuskaya, called the report and Haraszti’s speech “a farce.”

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government took minor steps to implement the Human Rights Action Plan adopted in 2016 to outline, in the government’s words, “main activities for us to implement our international obligations” on human rights. In addition to holding various conferences and seminars jointly with UN organizations, the government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016. While independent human rights groups, including the human rights center Vyasna and the BHC, welcomed the plan’s adoption, they also noted that the documents lack specific target goals or results assessment mechanisms. Civil society groups noted that the government failed to include any of the concrete suggestions they recommended during drafting that they believed would have made the plan more substantial.

A standing commission on human rights in the lower chamber of parliament was ineffective.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 184 registered cases of rape or attempted rape in 2017.

Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took measures to prevent it during the year. The government issued protective orders mandating the separation of victims and abusers and provided temporary accommodations for the duration of the orders. It also operated crisis rooms that provided limited shelter and psychological and medical assistance to victims.

The law on crime prevention establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders, which are from three to 30 days in duration. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protective orders expire. In addition, the code on administrative offenses prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member.

On November 26, a senior representative of the Interior Minister stated every third person killed in the country was killed by a family member and that in January-October the ministry identified 115 women as victims of murder and severe bodily harm in crimes related to domestic violence, 41 of whom died. From January-August authorities also issued approximately 5,500 protective orders, including 5,000 ordering perpetrators to move out of residences shared with their victims.

On April 25, authorities arrested a resident of the city of Valozhyn on a charge of beating his spouse to death. The family, with two minor children, lived in a dormitory, and their neighbors told police the victim had complained of abuse and domestic violence. According to witnesses and press reports, the victim sustained at least 30 severe injuries. The case was pending at year’s end.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.

Coercion in Population Control: Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.

Children

Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one parent is not a citizen. Births were generally registered immediately.

Child Abuse: Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions, providing foster care to children who could not remain with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate. The government instituted a 2017-21 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, and acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures.

With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child abuse victims for hearings. More experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education generally heard cases that affected the rights and legitimate interests of minors. The government failed to resume operations of a national hotline for assisting children despite various NGOs’ requests to support the hotline.

A UNICEF report, released in March, registered children’s and parents’ low awareness of existing types of violence against children; limited capacity of professionals to identify, register, report, and address incidents of violence, and weak collaboration on violence prevention and response among professionals. In addition, the report found an inadequate monitoring system that operated only with data on investigated crimes against children and cases of child separation because of identified violence in the home.

As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors finding themselves in vulnerable and dangerous conditions. General health-care institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.

According to the UNICEF study, two-thirds of professionals reported they had never had training on violence against children. One-third of professionals said that specialists working with children often ignored or concealed facts of violence in their institutions.

Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to five years imprisonment.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18, although girls as young as 14 may marry with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem, and the government took some steps to address it. From January through October, the Internal Affairs Ministry investigated 63 cases of the production and distribution of child pornography and identified 25 minors as victims. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The law generally was enforced. The law, however, failed to criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking by requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense.

Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.

The UNICEF study reported that more than two in five children at residential care institutions were exposed to either psychical or psychological violence. Approximately one in four children participating in the survey reported exposure to physical violence at institutions. The children living in institutions appeared significantly more vulnerable compared to children living in families: they had two to three times higher exposure to violence than children from secondary schools. Children from special closed-type educational institutions and penitentiary institutions reported greater exposure to violence both at home and in the institutions.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 Jews lived in the country.

Anti-Semitic incidents continued. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern regarding pan-Slavic nationalism professed by some extremist groups. Neo-Nazis, such as the Russian National Unity group and supporters of similar groups were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and xenophobic newspapers, literature, digital video discs, and videotapes, frequently imported from Russia, were widely available. The government did not promote antibias and tolerance education.

Media continued to report that many Holocaust memorials built in Soviet times and more recently do not acknowledge Jewish victims. The Jewish community continued to work with local authorities to erect new monuments that specifically commemorate Jewish victims.

During the year authorities convicted a number of offenders who reportedly associated themselves with neo-Nazis or skinhead movements for inciting ethnic and religious hatred against Jews, among others. On February 27, a court in the Vitsyebsk region sentenced a resident in Navapolatsk to three years in prison for posting racist videos on social media. In a similar case, authorities convicted an individual from the Baranavichy district of posting videos with anti-Semitic content and sentenced him to a year and a month in jail on April 18.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and discrimination was common.

The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for hearing and vision-impaired persons. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not suitable to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated, although the situation slightly improved during the year.

The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 80 such institutions across the country housed more than 19,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care.

Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. In September 2017 experts of the ACT NGO released a monitoring report indicating that 3.3 percent of all educational institutions across the country were accessible to persons with disabilities, including with vision and hearing disabilities, and most of these facilities were recently constructed.

Disability rights organizations reported difficulty organizing advocacy activities due to impediments to freedom of assembly, censorship, and the government’s unwillingness to register assistance projects (see section 2.b.).

Persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, often encountered problems with access to courts and obtaining court interpreters. Women with disabilities often faced discrimination, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that they would not appropriately care for their children. Women with disabilities, as well as pregnant women whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero, reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, mistreatment in detention, and ethnic insults.

Authorities continued to harass the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus, while supporting a progovernment organization of a similar name. On November 19, independent media sources reported that authorities in Minsk interrupted a concert, organized by the unregistered union to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland’s regained independence. It was their fourth attempt to hold the event after three denied requests to rent premises.

Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 (according to Romani community estimates) Roma. The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Roma generally held citizenship, but many lacked official identity documents and refused to obtain them.

There were also expressions of hostility toward proponents of the national culture that the government often identified with actors of the democratic opposition, repeatedly labeled by the president as “the fifth column.” Because the government viewed many proponents of the Belarusian language as political opponents, authorities continued to harass academic and cultural groups that sought to promote Belarusian and routinely rejected proposals to widen use of the language.

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

Consensual same-sex conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, and harassment occurred. The law does not provide antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. Police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against them.

On June 29 and July 21, police disrupted parties organized by an LGBTI group at a nightclub in Minsk and wrote down everyone’s names as well as their places of employment or education. Officers reportedly claimed they received notices of possible crimes, including drug trafficking and abuse of minors, at the club.

The government allows transgender persons to update their name and gender marker on national identification documents, but these documents retain old identification numbers that include a digit indicating the individual’s sex assigned at birth. Transgender persons reportedly were refused jobs when potential employers noted the “discrepancy” between the applicant’s identification number and their gender marker. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds.

According to local media, on July 31 authorities refused a foreign LGBTI rights activist entry to Belarus at the Minsk National Airport. A representative of the border service told the media the decision was made in accordance with a law that says a foreigner can be denied entry if his or her presence in the country ran counter to national security, public order, the protection of morality, public health, or the rights and liberties of the citizens of Belarus and other persons. The LGBTI organization Out Loud stated the activist planned to deliver a lecture in Minsk on discrimination and street violence against migrants, nonwhite, and transgender persons.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS noted there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews. There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware.

The government continued to broadcast and post public service advertisements raising awareness concerning HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

Although the law provides for the rights of workers, except state security and military personnel, to form and join independent unions and to strike, it places a number of serious restrictions on the exercise of these rights. The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively but does not protect against antiunion discrimination. Workers who say they are fired for union activity have no explicit right to reinstatement or to challenge their dismissal in court, according to independent union activists.

The law provides for civil penalties in the form of fines for violations of the freedom of assembly or collective bargaining, which, according to local worker rights advocates, were not sufficient to deter violations. The government also did not enforce these penalties.

The government severely restricted independent unions. The government-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus is the largest union federation, claiming more than four million members. It largely resembled its Soviet predecessors and served as a control mechanism and distributor of benefits. The Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU), with four constituent unions and approximately 10,600 members of independent trade unions, was the largest independent union umbrella organization, but tight government control over registration requirements and public demonstrations made it difficult for the congress to organize, expand, and strike.

The government did not respect freedom of association and collective bargaining. Prohibitive registration requirements that any new independent union have a large membership and cooperation from the employer continued to present significant obstacles to union formation. Trade unions may be deleted from the register by a decision of the registrar, without any court procedure. The registrar may remove a trade union from the register if, following the issuance of a written warning to the trade union stating that the organization violates legislation or its own statutes, the violations are not eliminated within a month. Authorities continued to resist attempts by workers to leave the official union and join the independent one.

The legal requirements to conduct a strike are high. For example, strikes may only be held three or more months after dispute resolution between the union and employer has failed. The duration of the strike must be specified in advance. Additionally, a minimum number of workers must continue to work during the strike. Nevertheless, these requirements were largely irrelevant, since the unions that represented almost all workers were under government control. Government authorities and managers of state-owned enterprises routinely interfered with union activities and hindered workers’ efforts to bargain collectively, in some instances arbitrarily suspending collective bargaining agreements. Management and local authorities blocked worker attempts to organize strikes on many occasions by declaring them illegal. Union members who participated in unauthorized public demonstrations were subjected to arrest and detention. Due to a persistent atmosphere of repression and the fear of imprisonment, few public demonstrations took place during the year.

The Law on Mass Events also seriously limited demonstrations, rallies, and other public action, constraining the right of unions to organize and strike. No foreign assistance may be offered to trade unions for holding seminars, meetings, strikes, pickets, etc., or for “propaganda activities” aimed at their own members, without authorities’ permission. Authorities across the country continuously denied applications for permission from independent trade unions to hold demonstrations to highlight labor-related issues.

Government efforts to suppress independent unions included frequent refusals to extend employment contracts for members of independent unions and refusals to register independent unions. According to BCDTU leader Aliaksandr Yarashuk, no independent unions have been established since a 1999 decree requiring trade unions to register with the government. Authorities routinely fired workers who were deemed “natural leaders” or who involved themselves in NGOs or opposition political activities.

On August 24, a Minsk district court convicted independent Radio and Electronics Trade Union Chairman Genadz Fedynich and Chief Accountant Ihar Komlik for allegedly evading taxes in 2011 and sentenced the two to four years of house arrest. The court also banned the trade unionists from holding any administrative positions for five years. Protesters outside the courthouse were detained while protesting the trial. On November 9, the Minsk city court dismissed their appeal. At the end of the year the verdict was under appeal at a higher court.

The government requires state employees, including employees of state-owned enterprises, who constituted approximately 70 percent of the workforce, to sign short-term work contracts. Although such contracts may have terms of up to five years, most expired after one year, which gave the government the ability to fire employees by declining to renew their contracts. Many members of independent unions, political parties, and civil society groups lost their jobs because of this practice. A government edict provides the possibility for employers to sign open-ended work contracts with an employee only after five years of good conduct and performance by the employee.

Opposition political party members and democratic activists sometimes had difficulty finding work due to government pressure on employers.

In 2014 the president issued Decree No. 5 On Strengthening the Requirements for Managers and Employees of Organizations, which the authorities stated was aimed at rooting out “mismanagement,” strengthening discipline, and preventing the hiring of dishonest managers in new positions. Among other subjects under the new decree, managers may reduce payment of employee bonuses (which often comprised a large portion of salaries) and workers may be fired more easily. An independent trade union lawyer told the press that workers have fewer rights under the new law.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce its provisions.

Parents who have had their parental rights stripped and are unemployed, or are working but fail to compensate state childcare facilities for the maintenance of their children, are subject to forced employment by court order. Individuals who refuse forced employment may be held criminally liable and face community service or corrective labor for a period of up to two years, imprisonment for up to three years, or other freedom restrictions, all involving compulsory labor and garnishment of 70 percent of their wages to compensate expenses incurred by the government.

In 2010 the government enforced procedures for placing individuals suffering from chronic alcohol, drug or other substance abuse in so-called medical labor centers when they have been found guilty of committing criminal violations while under the influence of alcohol, narcotics and psychotropic, toxic or other intoxicating substances. Such offenders may be held in these centers by court orders for 12 to 18 months. They are mandated to work and if they refuse, they may be placed in solitary confinement for up to 10 days. In July 2017 the deputy head of the Supreme Court, Valer Kalinkovich, justified operations of the medical labor centers, saying there was no alternative for alcohol addicts who also “violated rights of other people.”

In January the government rescinded a 2015 presidential decree, On Preventing Social Parasitism, which aimed to force individuals to find employment and established a supplemental tax on persons who worked less than six months during the year of up to 360 rubles ($180) annually, depending on how much they paid in taxes when working. The decree would have applied to all permanent residents, with senior pensioners, legal minors, persons with disabilities, and certain other groups exempted.

Minsk authorities required officially registered unemployed individuals to perform paid community service two days a month from May to September and one day a month from October to December and January to April. In addition they were banned from receiving an unemployment benefit of up to 46 rubles ($24) a month, depending on their length of unemployment, if they performed less than 22 working days of community service during a year. Individuals with disabilities, single parents and parents of three and more children, as well as parents of children with disabilities and under age 18 were exempt.

Regulations against forced labor were seldom enforced, and resources and inspections dedicated to preventing forced and compulsory labor were minimal and inadequate to deter violations. Penalties for violations included forfeiture of assets and sentences of five to 15 years’ imprisonment. The government rarely identified victims of trafficking, and prosecution of those responsible for forced labor remained minimal. Government efforts to prevent and eliminate forced labor in the country did not improve.

The government continued the Soviet practice of “subbotniks,” (Saturday work) that requires employees of government, state enterprises, and many private businesses to work on some Saturdays and donate their earnings to finance government social and other projects. Employers and authorities intimidated and fined some workers who refused to participate. In some localities authorities forced students and state companies’ employees to participate in harvesting in September-October.

Prison labor practices amounted to forced labor. Former inmates stated that their monthly wages were as low as three to four rubles ($1.5 to $2). Senior officials with the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry stated in November 2015 that at least 97 percent of all work-capable inmates worked in prison as required by law, excluding retirees and persons with disabilities, and that labor in prison was important and useful for rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for employment is 16, but children as young as 14 may conclude a labor contract with the written consent of one parent or a legal guardian. The Prosecutor General’s Office is responsible for enforcement of the law. Persons under age 18 are allowed to work in nonhazardous jobs but are not allowed to work overtime, on weekends, or on government holidays. Work may not be harmful to children’s health or hinder their education.

The government generally enforced these laws and penalties ranging from fines and reprimands to 12 years’ imprisonment; these provisions were sufficient to deter most violations. Child labor occurred in the agricultural sector.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, language, or social status. These laws do not apply specifically to employment or occupation. The government did not effectively enforce these laws or secure any effective penalties to deter violations. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to ethnicity, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and HIV-positive status (see section 6). In addition some members of the Romani community complained that employers often discriminated against them and either refused to employ them or did not provide fulltime jobs. The government did not take any action during the year to prevent or eliminate employment discrimination. Employment discrimination happened across most economic sectors and in both private and public workplaces.

The law requiring equal pay for equal work was not regularly enforced, and the minister of labor and social welfare stated in 2016 that on average women were paid 24 percent less than men.

Very few women were in the upper ranks of management or government, and most women were concentrated in the lower-paid public sector. Although the law grants women the right to three years of maternity leave with assurance of a job upon return, employers often circumvented employment protections by using short-term contracts, then refusing to renew a woman’s contract when she became pregnant.

A government prohibition against workdays longer than seven hours for persons with disabilities reportedly made companies reluctant to hire them. Local NGOs reported that up to 85 percent of persons with disabilities were unemployed. Authorities provided minimal welfare benefits for persons with disabilities, and calculations of pensions did not consider disability status. Members of the country’s Paralympic teams received half the salaries and prize money of athletes without disabilities.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

As of October 1, the national minimum monthly wage was in excess of the poverty line.

The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. The law provides for mandatory overtime and nine days of holiday pay and restricts overtime to 10 hours a week, with a maximum of 180 hours of overtime each year.

The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and worker health, but employers often ignored these standards. Workers at many heavy machinery plants did not wear minimal safety gear. The state labor inspectorate lacked authority to enforce employer compliance and often ignored violations. The number of inspectors was insufficient to deter violations.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare was responsible for enforcement of these laws. Information regarding resources, inspections, remediation, and penalties was not available. The government reported that approximately 400,000 persons worked in the informal economy. The law did not cover informal workers.

The Labor Ministry reported 70 persons killed at workplaces from January through June.

The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.

Cambodia

Executive Summary

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliamentary government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 National Assembly seats in the July 29 national election, having banned the chief opposition party in November 2017. Prior to the victory, Prime Minister Hun Sen had already served for 33 years. International observers, including foreign governments and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and domestic NGOs criticized the election as neither free nor fair and not representative of the will of the Cambodian people.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces, which often threatened force against those who opposed Prime Minister Hun Sen and were generally perceived as an armed wing of the ruling CPP.

Human rights issues included unlawful or arbitrary killings carried out by the government or on its behalf; forced disappearance carried out by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary arrests by the government; political prisoners; arbitrary interference in the private lives of citizens, including pervasive electronic media surveillance; censorship and selectively enforced criminal libel laws; interference with the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; pervasive corruption, including in the judiciary; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.

The government did not provide evidence of having prosecuted any officials for abuses, including corruption. A pervasive culture of impunity continued.

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. As of July a local human rights NGO reported four extrajudicial killings.

In March 2017 the court sentenced Oeuth Ang to life imprisonment for the 2016 murder of Kem Ley, an outspoken and popular political analyst. As of July the case remained open and the government pledged to look for coconspirators, although it took no action. Noting that the victim and killer were not acquainted and other anomalies, including the impoverished assailant’s possession of an expensive handgun, many observers believed a third party hired Oeuth Ang.

On March 8, violence broke out in Kratie Province when security forces opened fire on persons protesting the transfer of land, decades before, to a rubber plantation. Several media outlets reported a death toll of two to six persons with another 40 injured. Shortly after the violence occurred, the government ordered local media to “correct” its news reports. Four NGOs and the UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) formed an investigation committee to tour the site. They found that on March 7, the company began demarcating its land and that a day later 150 soldiers, military police, and police burned down villagers’ houses, leading the villagers to block the main road and demand an immediate stop to the arson. According to the OHCHR report, the security forces opened fire to disperse the villagers. OHCHR acknowledged that, because the security forces closed off the site of the shooting, there were no reliable counts of the dead or injured.

After the incident Kratie governor Sar Chamrong denied reports that security forces shot the protesters. National Police spokesperson Kirt Chantharith claimed villagers with homemade rifles injured as many as seven police officers while only two villagers were slightly injured, not by gunfire, but by bamboo sticks.

b. Disappearance

The Venerable Meas Vichet, a well known monk and social activist who disappeared in June 2017 in Krobei Riel commune, Siem Reap Province, after security officials beat him, remained missing, and no new information on his case arose during the year to October.

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

The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.

There were credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. As of July a local NGO observed physical assaults against detainees and prisoners in nine cases. Journalist Kim Sok told local media following his release from detention that prison guards beat him whenever he disobeyed an order or opened books. Other detainees reported authorities forced them to walk for up to an hour with a bucket of water on their heads, or forced them to stand in the hot sun for several hours.

As of July a local NGO reported nine physical assaults against civilians not in detention by local authorities, government agents, or the private bodyguards of government officials.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening. In February the International Labor Organization (ILO) requested the government to defend its practice of compulsory labor for detainees and urged the government to amend several laws to ensure they did not lead to incarceration involving forced labor.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), in July 2017 authorities held more than 26,000 prisoners and detainees in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum 11,000 prisoners. GDP officials reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding. The GDP declined to release updated figures.

In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners; of male and female prisoners; or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to the GDP, in 2016 approximately 34 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention and 29 percent had received a final verdict, approximately 8 percent of prisoners were women, and 4 percent were minors. A local NGO indicated it witnessed pregnant women in prison as well as children living with incarcerated mothers. The same NGO reported that the number of infants and toddlers living with their mothers in prison had increased sharply since 2016 due to the government’s campaign against drugs. According to one local NGO, the number of infants in prison rose from 30 in 2015 to 149 as of March.

During the year to October, the GDP did not report how many prisoners died in prison. In 2016, the most recent year on record, 76 died. Local NGOs maintained that allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on the number of prisons in which inmates had access to clean water, although as of 2016, 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfer to better cells, and the opportunity to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families could pay bribes. According to a local NGO, “prisoner self-management committees,” groups of inmates organized and directed by prison guards, sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.

The country has seven government and three private drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed the majority of detainees in such facilities were there involuntarily, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense exercise.

Administration: There were no legal provisions establishing prison ombudspersons. Prisoners could submit uncensored complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitors prison and detention center conditions through the GDP, which reportedly produced biannual reports on prison management. The GDP, however, did not release the reports despite frequent requests by civil society organizations.

Authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners or provide food and other necessities. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full term of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells. Kung Raiya, a student who served one year in prison for a politically sensitive Facebook posting, said he had to bribe prison guards approximately one dollar each time he met with imprisoned politicians or human rights activists.

Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and OHCHR, to visit prisons or provide human rights training to prison guards. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities, but it was difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees. This was particularly true in high-profile cases such as that of opposition leader Kem Sokha, released on September 10 after a year in pretrial detention while authorities permitted visits only by his wife and defense lawyers. Despite the family’s requests for visits by the ICRC, the terms under which the government would allow such visits–including no direct access to the detainee–were unacceptable to the family.

The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners–often from multiple government agencies depending on the individual case–and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their “roles” during prison visits.

Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government periodically refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of a political opposition party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. OHCHR representatives reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not respect these prohibitions, notably with the arbitrary detention of five Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) staffers for 427 days on politically motivated charges. ADHOC is one of the country’s oldest and most prominent human rights NGOs. Authorities released the ADHOC staffers on bail in July 2017; in September 2018 hearings on their case reconvened.

The government’s pursuit of criminal defamation cases also led to a number of arrests. Provincial labor leader Sam Sokha, for example, was tried and found guilty in absentia in January of defaming Hun Sen after she was filmed throwing a shoe at his photograph. Although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) gave her refugee status in Thailand, the Thai government repatriated her involuntarily at the Cambodian government’s request in February, and she was serving a two-year prison sentence.

In February the government adopted a new “lese-majeste” (royal insult) law, which had led to the arrest of at least three citizens.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The General Commissariat of the National Police, under Ministry of Interior supervision, manages all civilian police units. Police forces are organized into those with authority to make arrests, those without such authority, and judicial police, whose authority only extends to enforcing court warrants. The government permitted military police to arrest civilians if the officers met the training and experience requirements to serve as civilian police, if civilians were on military property, or when authorized by local governments. The military police, however, sometimes engaged in civilian law enforcement activities under the authority and direction of provincial or local governments, often in support of civilian police unable to exercise effective crowd control.

There were credible reports that police officials committed abuses with impunity, and in most cases, the government took little or no action. Government officials and their family members were generally immune to prosecution.

From January to July, one local human rights organization tracked nine instances of impunity affecting 10 victims. The NGO claimed the number of instances might be far higher, but victims feared filing reports ahead of the politically sensitive election. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for evaluating security force killings, and the law requires police, prosecutors, and judges to investigate all complaints, including those of police abuse. Judges and prosecutors, however, rarely conducted independent investigations. If abuse cases came to trial, presiding judges usually passed down verdicts based only on written reports from police and witness testimony. In general police received little professional training on protecting or respecting human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police to obtain a warrant from an investigating judge prior to making an arrest, unless police apprehend a suspect while in the act of committing a crime. Authorities frequently cited this exception when arresting opposition political figures, even if the alleged offenses occurred years before. Critics accused the government of employing this practice to circumvent laws providing lawmakers with parliamentary immunity. The law allows police to take a person into custody and conduct an investigation for 48 hours, excluding weekends and government holidays, before police must file charges or release a suspect. In felony cases of exceptional circumstances prescribed by law, police may detain a suspect for an additional 24 hours with the approval of a prosecutor. Nevertheless, authorities routinely held persons for extended periods before charging them.

There was a bail system, but many prisoners, especially those without legal representation, had no opportunity to seek release on bail. Authorities routinely denied bail for cases considered politically motivated.

Under the law police may arrest and detain accused persons for a maximum of 24 hours before allowing them access to legal counsel, but authorities routinely held prisoners incommunicado for several days before granting them access to a lawyer or family members. According to government officials, such prolonged detention was frequently the result of the limited capacity of the court system. The government did not provide free access to lawyers for indigent detainees.

Arbitrary Arrest: As of July, one local human rights NGO reported at least six new cases of arbitrary arrest. The actual number of arbitrary arrests and detentions was likely higher, since many victims in rural areas did not file complaints due to the difficulty of traveling to human rights NGO offices or due to concern for their family’s security. Authorities took no legal or disciplinary action against persons responsible for the illegal detentions.

As of July authorities at the crowded Prey Speu social affairs center reported 585 persons still in detention following the Phnom Penh city government’s 2017 roundup of 1,727 homeless persons, beggars, persons with mental disabilities, and persons engaged in prostitution. Authorities initially placed 1,560 detainees, including 262 children, in Prey Speu without adequate medical treatment or food. The facility, operated by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth, was notorious for abuses that led to the death of two detainees in 2015. According to Prey Speu authorities, 585 detainees remained in the facility following reintegration into the community of 1,100 of the original detainees.

Pretrial Detention: The law allows for a maximum pretrial detention of six months for misdemeanors and 18 months for felonies. Authorities occasionally held pretrial detainees without legal representation. NGOs reported that authorities held many accused of minor crimes in pretrial detention for longer than six months.

Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: A backlog of court cases and long delays in obtaining judicial rulings interfered with a person’s right to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of his or her detention.

Amnesty: The government traditionally offers a number of royal pardons during important national festivals. As of September the government had not timed any pardons to coincide with national festivals; however, the government offered several royal pardons to political prisoners following the July national elections. In August the government pardoned 14 opposition party leaders and four land activists. The government made clear through public pronouncements and allegedly through private harassment, however, that all of those pardoned could face rearrest if they engaged in activities the government deemed problematic.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the government generally did not respect judicial independence. The courts were subject to influence and interference by the executive branch, which has the authority to promote, dismiss, and discipline judges at will. Judicial officials, up to and including the chief of the Supreme Court, often simultaneously held positions in the ruling party, and observers alleged only those with ties to the CPP or the executive received appointments to the judiciary. Corruption among judges, prosecutors, and court officials was widespread. The judicial branch was very inefficient and could not assure due process.

Observers alleged the Bar Association of Cambodia (BAC) heavily favored admission of CPP-aligned members at the expense of nonaligned and opposition attorneys and at times admitted unqualified individuals to the bar solely due to their political affiliation. Impartial analysts revealed that many applicants to the bar paid high bribes for admittance. At times the outcome of trials appeared predetermined. For example, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared shortly before the November 2017 Supreme Court hearing on the dissolution of the main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), that he was “99.99 percent certain” the court would decide to dissolve the opposition party.

A shortage of judges and courtrooms delayed many cases, according to NGO reports. In August, BAC reported there were only 151 judges in the country. NGOs also believed court officials focused on cases that might benefit them financially. Court delays or corrupt practices often allowed accused persons to escape prosecution. As in past years, NGOs asserted that rich or powerful defendants, including members of the security forces, often paid money to victims and authorities to drop criminal charges. Authorities sometimes urged victims or their families to accept financial restitution in exchange for dropping criminal charges or for failing to appear as witnesses.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial; however, the judiciary rarely enforced this right.

Defendants are by law presumed innocent and have the right of appeal, but they often resorted to bribery rather than rely on the judicial process. Trials are often public and frequently face delays due to court bureaucracy. Court staffers reportedly undertook efforts to speed case processing. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney, confront and question witnesses against them, and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. In felony cases, if a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the law requires the court to provide the defendant with free legal representation; however, the judiciary was not able to provide legal counsel, and most defendants sought assistance from NGOs, pro bono representation, or “voluntarily” proceeded without legal representation. In the absence of required defense attorneys in felony cases, trial courts routinely adjourned cases until defendants could secure legal representation, a process that often took months. Trials were typically perfunctory, and extensive cross-examination usually did not take place. The courts offered free interpretation. The law extends these rights to all defendants.

There was a critical shortage of trained lawyers, particularly outside the capital. The right to a fair public trial often was denied de facto for persons without means to secure counsel. A report by the International Commission of Jurists indicated the high cost of bribes needed to join the bar association was partly responsible for keeping the number of trained lawyers low, which helped raise lawyers’ income whether earned through legal or illegal means.

NGOs reported sworn written statements from witnesses and the accused usually constituted the only evidence presented at trials. Authorities sometimes allegedly coerced confessions through beatings or threats, or forced illiterate defendants to sign written confessions without informing them of the contents. Courts accepted such forced confessions as evidence during trials despite legal prohibitions against doing so. According to a human rights NGO, which observed the appellate courts from November 1, 2016, to October 31, 2017, while they heard 340 cases involving 558 defendants, 20 defendants were threatened and 40 defendants were tortured to confess. The difficulty in transferring prisoners from provincial prisons to the appeals court in Phnom Penh meant that defendants were present at less than one-half of all appeals.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

As of August 1, a local human rights NGO estimated authorities held 21 political prisoners or detainees. In September, following the postelection pardons and several grants of bail, the same NGO estimated the number at five.

Among those released after the election was Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition CNRP. In September 2017 police arrested him on charges of treason. Several high-ranking CNRP officials went into hiding and most fled abroad. The government’s case against Kem Sokha centered on a four-year-old video of the CNRP leader telling an audience in Australia of his party’s work in grassroots organizing with advice from foreign experts. The government claimed this amounted to Kem Sokha “confessing” that a foreign country had instructed him on how to foment a “color revolution” in the country. Although authorities held him for one year, Kem Sokha’s lawyers said there was no progress in the government’s investigation, even though the court had questioned 13 witnesses, including various human rights activists, many of them claiming no relationship to Sokha. On September 10, the government transferred Sokha to what effectively amounted to house arrest, although there is no legal basis for “house arrest” under the country’s law. Authorities prevented Sokha from leaving an estimated three-block radius surrounding his house; meeting with former CNRP leaders, journalists, and foreigners; and participating in any political activity or gatherings.

In April the appeals court upheld the conviction of 11 CNRP activists on charges of insurrection and sentenced them from seven to 20 years in prison. Authorities charged the 11 with participating in a 2014 protest that resulted in injury to six protesters and 39 Daun Penh District security guards.

In September Hun Sen released former CNRP National Assembly member Sam An along with 13 other CNRP leaders through royal pardons. They were arrested as long ago as 2016, convicted on various charges seen as politically motivated, and sentenced to prison terms as long as 30 months.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The country has a system in place for hearing civil cases, and citizens are entitled to bring lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Both administrative and judicial remedies generally were available; however, authorities often did not enforce court orders.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Forced collectivization and the relocation of much of the population under the Khmer Rouge left land ownership unclear. The land law states that any person who peacefully possessed private or state land (excluding public lands, such as parks) or inhabited state buildings without contest for five years prior to the 2001 promulgation of the law has the right to apply for a definitive title to that property. Most citizens, however, continued to lack the knowledge and means to obtain formal documentation of land ownership.

Provincial and district land offices continued to follow pre-2001 land registration procedures, which did not include accurate land surveys or opportunities for public comment. Land speculation, in the absence of clear title, fueled disputes in every province and increased tensions between poor rural communities and speculators. Some urban communities faced forced eviction to make way for commercial development projects.

Authorities continued to force inhabitants to relocate, although the number of cases declined in recent years. Some persons also used the threat of legal action or eviction to intimidate poor and vulnerable persons into selling their land at below-market values. As of June a local NGO reported 27 new cases of land grabbing and forced evictions, affecting 1,647 families. Another NGO reported 39 new property-related conflicts between businesspersons and villagers, including accusations of land grabbing, theft of natural resources, economic land concessions, social land concessions, and evictions. Some of those evicted successfully contested the actions in court, but the majority of cases remained pending.

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

Although the law provides for the privacy of residence and correspondence and prohibits illegal searches, NGOs reported police routinely conducted searches and seizures without warrants. The government installed closed-circuit television cameras in the National Election Committee (NEC). It also routinely leaked personal correspondence and surreptitiously recorded telephone calls of opposition and civil society leaders to government-aligned media. Police, who arrested Kem Sokha in September 2017, reportedly entered his house by force without a warrant. Local authorities entered and searched community-based organizations and union offices with increasing regularity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including the press; however, in 2017-18 the government carried out a sustained campaign to eliminate independent news media in the country, and most individuals and institutions reported on the need for self-censorship.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, during the year the government spent much effort to weaken the independent press and enacted ever greater restrictions on free expression.

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 criminal defamation law reiterates these limits and prohibits publishers and editors from disseminating stories that insult or defame the king, government leaders, and public institutions.

Election laws require civil society organizations to remain “neutral” during political campaigns and prohibit them from “insulting” political parties in the media. Although campaign laws require news outlets to give equal coverage to each party participating in an election, there was no evidence of the law’s enforcement during the year, and news outlets gave significantly greater coverage to the CPP than to other parties.

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.

In February the government amended the law to criminalize royal insult. As of September the government had arrested at least three persons for insulting the monarch. On October 4, a court in Siem Reap convicted barber Ban Samphy, a member of the dissolved CNRP, to seven months’ imprisonment after he allegedly shared a Facebook post about King Norodom Sihamoni in May. It was the first such conviction since the government adopted the royal insult law.

A statement released by 117 NGOs in June expressed concern over government suppression of their freedom of expression and privacy rights due to government monitoring of their private telephone calls and social media.

Press and Media Freedom: A majority of Khmer-language newspapers were either owned directly by or received financial support from persons closely associated with the ruling CPP. 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. The three largest pro-CPP newspapers never criticized the government for politically motivated acts or human rights issues. As of August no pro-opposition newspapers published regularly, and authorities never permitted the CNRP to open a television station, despite a 2014 agreement to allow it.

In May the NEC issued a code of conduct for the September election, telling reporters they would face a maximum penalty of a 30 million riel ($7,500) fine if they interviewed any voter near a polling station, or if they published news that could affect political stability or cause the public to lose confidence in the election. Also in May the government appeared to engineer the sale of the country’s last remaining independent newspaper to a Malaysian businessperson who advertised his business as “covert public relations.”

In September 2017 the Cambodia Daily, one of two independent English-language newspapers, closed its offices after 25 years of operation. The government accused the newspaper of evading taxes amounting to 25.2 billion riel ($6.3 million). Tax authorities, however, did not present detailed information about the charges, and information about the tax arrears leaked quickly to government-controlled media–despite legal requirements on the government to resolve tax noncompliance cases privately. In August 2017 the government shuttered 32 FM radio frequencies across 20 provinces, affecting stations relaying independent news–Radio Free Asia (RFA), Voice of America, and the Voice of Democracy.

Violence and Harassment: Threats and violence against journalists and reporters remained common. According to the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), 38 percent of reporters said government authorities either verbally attacked or physically assaulted them in 2017.

In the May 2017 communal elections, authorities charged two Cambodia Daily reporters with “incitement” and violation of voter rights for allegedly asking individuals about their voting preferences. Both reporters fled the country; the case against them continued in absentia.

Authorities released two former RFA journalists on bail in September, after their November 2017 arrest on charges of treason, to which authorities later added charges of distribution of pornography.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits prepublication censorship, and no formal censorship system existed. The government increasingly used other means to suppress traditional and social media. In addition to threats, violence, harassment, arrests, and surveillance, the government used its control of permits and licenses for journalists and media outlets not controlled directly by the government or CPP. Private media admitted to practicing some degree of self-censorship, in part from fear of government reprisal. According to the CCIM, 67 percent of reporters felt afraid to report on political and human rights issues.

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. On August 17, authorities released Kim Sok after he served an 18-month prison sentence following a complaint lodged by Prime Minister Hun Sen. Hun Sen claimed that Sok accused him of responsibility for the killing of Kem Ley. As of September, Kim Sok had not yet paid 800 million riels ($200,000) in fines and compensation to the prime minister; failure to pay could result in another two years’ imprisonment. Sok also faced charges of defaming the CPP, whom he accused of hiring murderers.

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.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports of government entities monitored private online communications. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 34 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

The telecommunications law was widely criticized by leading civil society and human rights activists, who stated it provides the government broad authority to monitor secretly online public discussion and communications using private telecommunication devices. The law gives 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 a maximum 15 years’ imprisonment.

In May the government issued an interministerial regulation entitled “Publication Controls of Website and Social Media Processing via Internet in the Kingdom of Cambodia.” The regulation gives the government authority to shut down any social media page or website that published information leading to “turmoil in the society that undermined national defense, national security, national relations with other countries, economy, social order, discrimination or national culture or tradition.” The regulation was invoked for the first time three days before the July 29 national election, when the government ordered local telecommunication companies to block several independent news websites, including Voice of America in KhmerRFA Khmer, and Voice of Democracy.

A “Cyber War Team” in the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit was responsible for monitoring and countering “incorrect” information from news outlets and social media. The Quick Reaction Unit published 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. During the 2018 election campaign, the prime minister regularly threatened that his cyber experts could identify the telephone of anyone who posted a defamatory Facebook post within four minutes and to a range of five feet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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 July civil society activists criticized the government for vote buying when the Ministry of Education ordered schools shut for three days to allow students to return to their home provinces to vote. Critics considered the move significant in the context of an election where the government openly sought to boost voter turnout to bolster the election’s legitimacy because it did not apply this policy equally across sectors. For example the government did not give factory workers extra days off work to vote.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

The Law on Associations and Nongovernmental Organizations (LANGO) requires all groups to register and 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 prevented associations and NGOs from organizing human rights-related events and meetings, because those NGOs failed to receive permission from local authorities; however, the law does not require preapproval any such events. Authorities cited the need for stability and public security–terms left undefined in the law and therefore subject to wide interpretation–as reasons for denying permits. Government authorities occasionally cited the LANGO simply to break up meetings and trainings deemed hostile to the government.

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 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 2017 to March, there were 48 incidents of NGOs prevented by authorities from holding meetings, training, or gatherings due to LANGO provisions. The report also recorded 539 restrictions of fundamental freedoms by the government and third-party entities linked to the government between April 2017 and March, a 52 percent increase from the previous year. 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 February 14, authorities arrested four union leaders and charged them with organizing an illegal strike at the Cosmo Textile Factory in Kandal Province. In October 2017 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 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 of opposition leader Kem Sokha following his arrest in September 2017.

In April the NEC threatened to prosecute anyone who urged voters to boycott the elections. In June it sent a message to mobile phone subscribers forbidding “criticizing, attacking, or comparing their party policies to other parties.” Government officials threatened that persons who boycotted the election but inked their fingers to indicate they had voted would receive punishment.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

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 law 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 2017 Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Interior to dissolve the Situation Room, a consortium of 40 of the country’s prominent human rights NGOs, after it issued findings on the conduct of the June 4 communal 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. After COMFREL, the lead NGO in the Situation Room, announced it would unofficially observe election-day atmospherics without entering polling stations, it received a warning from the Ministry of Interior that any COMFREL volunteers found observing the election would be subject to legal penalties.

In September 2017 the government dissolved environmental NGO Mother Nature without explanation, simply issuing a letter stating the Interior Ministry’s power to do so: “The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior (Sar Kheng) decides to cancel the Mother Nature organization…from the list of the nongovernmental organizations of the Ministry of Interior.”

In August 2017 authorities forced the National Democratic Institute to cease operations in the country, after authorities found it did not properly register with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (despite a valid memorandum of understanding with the NEC).

In September 2017 the Ministry of Interior also suspended the operations of land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia due to what the ministry alleged were violations of the organization’s own bylaws and failures to update the ministry with the most recent staff roster. The ministry finally permitted the NGO to reopen in February.

Vaguely worded provisions in several laws prohibit any activity that may “jeopardize peace, stability, and public order” or harm “national security, national unity, traditions, and the 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 laws on associations and trade unions (see section 7.a.) establish heavily bureaucratic, multistep registration processes that lack both transparency and administrative safeguards, rendering 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.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

Exile: In previous years government critics and opposition politicians often went into self-imposed foreign exile. In some cases the government subsequently took steps to block exiles’ return. Thai authorities forcibly returned one local labor activist with refugee status in Thailand to Cambodia in February.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: Alleging that their claim to asylum was weak and that they were “economic migrants,” the government began deportation proceedings against 29 Vietnamese Christian Montagnards. These were the latest cases in the refoulement of at least 140 Montagnard asylum seekers to Vietnam since 2015. Some NGOs attributed this policy to pressure from the Vietnamese government. Following a critical August 2017 statement by Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, in which she acknowledged the legitimacy of the asylum claims of 36 Vietnamese Christian Montagnards, the Cambodian government sent seven of the Montagnards to a third country. The government also dismissed the special rapporteur’s statement and condemned her for interference in the country’s domestic affairs.

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 system, however, is not equally accessible to all refugees and asylum seekers (see above).

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, in 2014 the government began accepting for domestic resettlement seven refugees detained while seeking asylum in Australia. The last refugee arrived in April 2017. 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 home countries. Although the three Rohingya refugees decided to stay in the country, no effective pathway to citizenship existed for them. During the year one of the remaining refugees threatened a hunger strike unless authorities reunited him with his family.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had habitual residents who were de facto stateless. There were no recent, reliable data on the number or demography of stateless persons; however, UNHCR reported 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.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Parliament amended the Law on Political Parties twice in 2017, expanding the grounds on which the government could dissolve parties and ban individuals from party leadership positions and political life more broadly. The amendments also bar parties from using any audio, visual, or written material from a convicted criminal.

In November 2017 the Supreme Court cited the new amendments in its decision to dissolve the opposition CNRP; distribute its existing seats in parliament and local government to other parties, primarily the ruling CPP; and bar 118 named leaders of the CNRP from participating in political activity for five years. The prime minister claimed this redistribution upheld the country’s constitutional commitment to multiparty democracy. A number of observers, however, accused the Supreme Court, whose chief justice was a CPP party leader, of political bias and questioned its decision and lack of adherence even to flawed legal norms. For instance the decision to ban the CNRP came before a court convicted its leader on any charges.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent election occurred on July 29 and included participation by 20 political parties; however, the election excluded the country’s main opposition party, the CNRP. In addition the 19 opposition parties that competed in the election had limited support, and many were newly established.

Given the decline in independent media outlets, government-controlled news outlets provided the majority of content and coverage prior to the election. This was particularly the case in rural areas, where voters had less access to independent media via the internet and received most of their news from media outlets owned or controlled by the Hun family and the CPP.

More voters chose to invalidate their ballots rather than vote for any opposition party. According to government figures, nearly seven million citizens, representing 83 percent of eligible voters, went to the polls. The ruling CPP received 4.8 million votes, winning all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Authorities deemed approximately 600,000 of the ballots cast invalid, compared with approximately 100,000 in the 2013 election.

Although six countries accepted the election as free, fair, and transparent, most observers considered the entire election process seriously flawed. Most diplomatic missions to the country declined to serve as official observers in the election. Major nonstate election observation bodies, including the Carter Center and Asian Network for Free Elections, also decided against monitoring the election because those organizations determined the election lacked basic credibility. The NEC accused the international community of bias, arguing the international community supported the NEC only when the CNRP was on the ballot. With no credible, independent observers present, election results could not be independently verified.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Similar to the CPP, political parties suffered from a wide range of legalized discrimination, selective enforcement of the law, intimidation, and biased media coverage. These factors contributed significantly to the CPP’s effective monopolization of political power. Many observers complained the first-past-the-post system and the splintering of the opposition facilitated the CPP’s absolute control of the National Assembly. Membership in the CPP was a prerequisite for many government positions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of ethnic minorities in the political process, but cultural traditions limited women’s role in politics and government. Despite repeated vows by the CPP to increase female representation, the number of female candidates elected in the July national election declined from 20 percent in 2013 to 15 percent. The June 2017 local elections saw participation for the first time of the Cambodia Indigenous People’s Democracy Party.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

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

Corruption: The penal code defines various corrupt acts and specifies penalties for them. The anticorruption law establishes the National Council against Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to receive and investigate corruption complaints. The ACU did not collaborate frequently with civil society and was considered ineffective in combating official corruption. Instead, the ACU actively headed corruption investigations against members of the political opposition, leading to a widespread perception the unit served the interests of the ruling CPP. The ACU had never investigated a high-level member of the ruling party, despite widespread allegations of corruption at senior levels of the party and government. For example, according to a July al-Jazeera investigative report, the director-general of the country’s taxation department violated the Australian Corporations Act and evaded Australian tax on major petroleum holdings, but Cambodian authorities neither investigated nor prosecuted him. Civil servants must seek clearance and permission from supervisors before responding to legislative inquiries about corruption allegations.

Corruption was endemic throughout society and government. There were reports police, prosecutors, investigating judges, and presiding judges took bribes from owners of businesses, both legal and illegal. Citizens frequently and publicly complained about corruption. Meager salaries contributed to “survival corruption” among low-level public servants, while a culture of impunity enabled corruption to flourish among senior officials.

Transparency International’s 2017 Global Corruption Barometer report noted the judiciary remained the most corrupt sector of government for the fourth year in a row, followed by law enforcement.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires public servants, including elected and appointed officials, to disclose their financial and other assets. The ACU is responsible for receiving the disclosures, with penalties for noncompliance ranging from one month to one year in prison. Senior officials’ financial disclosure statements were not publicly available and remained sealed unless allegations of corruption were filed. Only one financial disclosure statement had ever been unsealed, that of then CNRP vice president Kem Sokha.

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

There were multiple reports of a lack of official cooperation with human rights investigations and, in some cases, intimidation of investigators by government officials.

Domestic and international human rights organizations reported intensifying harassment, surveillance, threats, and intimidation from local officials and persons with ties to the government. Several civil society and labor organizations reported after the July election that police raided their offices and the taxation department investigated their accounts.

Approximately 25 human rights NGOs operated in the country, and a further 100 NGOs focused on other areas included some human rights matters in their work, but only a few actively organized training programs or investigated abuses.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally permitted visits by UN representatives. In March Rhona Smith, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, conducted a 10-day mission to the country. In her meetings with the National Assembly, the NEC, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), and NGOs, she raised serious concerns about restrictions on the media, political participation, freedom of expression, and the redistribution of CNRP seats to the ruling party contending that “peace, stability, and development” cannot be separated from human rights obligations. The government often turned down high-level meetings with UN representatives and denied them access to opposition officials, including Kem Sokha. Government spokespersons regularly chastised UN representatives publicly for their remarks on a variety of human rights problems.

Government Human Rights Bodies: There were three government human rights bodies: separate committees for the Protection of Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in the Senate and National Assembly and the CHRC, which reported to the prime minister’s cabinet. The CHRC submitted government reports for participation in international human rights review processes, such as the Universal Periodic Review, and issued responses to reports by international organizations and government bodies, but it did not conduct independent human rights investigations. Credible human rights NGOs considered the government committees of limited efficacy and criticized their role in vocally justifying the government crackdown on civil society and the opposition.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), created in 2006, continued to investigate and prosecute the most senior leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime who were most responsible for the atrocities committed between 1975 and 1979, when nearly one-quarter of the country’s population was killed. The ECCC is a hybrid tribunal, having both domestic and international jurists and staff, and is governed by both Cambodian domestic law and an agreement between the government and the United Nations. On November 16, the ECCC convicted former Khmer Rouge senior leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan of genocide, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The court’s guilty verdicts were the first official acknowledgement that the Khmer Rouge regime’s crimes constituted genocide as defined under international law. As many as two million persons were believed to have died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

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

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape and domestic violence were significant problems. The law criminalizes rape and assault. Rape is punishable by five to 30 years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape is not specifically mentioned in the penal code, but the underlying conduct can be prosecuted as “rape,” “causing injury,” or “indecent assault.” Charges for spousal rape under the penal code or domestic violence law were rare. The domestic violence law criminalizes domestic violence but does not set out specific penalties. The penal code assigns penalties for domestic violence ranging from one to 15 years’ imprisonment.

Local and international NGOs reported violence against women, including domestic violence and rape, was common. Victims of rape and domestic violence likely underreported it due to fear of reprisal by perpetrators, discrimination from the community, and their distrust of the judiciary system. Women comprised a very small proportion of judicial officials: 14 percent of judges, 12 percent of prosecutors, and 20 percent of lawyers, which likely was a mitigating factor for reporting by female survivors of rape and domestic abuse. NGOs reported authorities inadequately enforced domestic violence laws against perpetrators and avoided involvement in domestic disputes. Only 20 percent of domestic violence cases monitored from 2014 to 2016 resulted in criminal proceedings.

Rape and domestic violence frequently ended in death: a local NGO reported 10 killings in a January-June investigation of 39 cases of domestic violence and 18 of rape. Of all 57 cases, authorities arrested only 23 perpetrators. According to a 2017 report by a human rights NGO, neither the authorities nor the public generally regarded domestic violence as a criminal offense.

In July 2017 the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs began to implement a code of conduct for all media outlets for reporting on violence against women. The code banned publication of a survivor’s personal identifiable information, as well as photographs of victims, depictions of a woman’s death or injury, depictions of nudity, and the use of certain offensive or disparaging words against women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs also announced a reporting system within the government to increase accountability and transparency in the government’s response to violence against women. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs continued to coordinate with NGOs and local media outlets to produce radio and television programming on topics related to women.

Sexual Harassment: The penal code criminalizes sexual harassment, imposing penalties of six days’ to three months’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000-500,000 riels ($25-$125). A study by CARE International in 2017 found that nearly one-third of female garment workers experienced sexual harassment at their workplace during the last 12 months.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution provides for equal rights for women, equal pay for equal work, and equal status in marriage. For the most part, women had equal property rights, the same legal status to initiate divorce proceedings, and equal access to education; however, cultural traditions and child-rearing responsibilities limited the ability of women to reach senior positions in business and government or even participate in the workforce (see section 7.d.).

Children

Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship by birth to a mother and father who are not ethnic Khmer if both parents were born and living legally in the country or if either parent acquired citizenship through other legal means. Indigenous Khmer are considered citizens. The Ministry of Interior administered an updated birth registration system, but not all births were registered immediately, primarily due to lack of public awareness of the importance of registering births and rampant corruption in local government. As of January the government no longer charged a fee to register births.

Failure to register births resulted in discrimination, including the denial of public services. Children of ethnic minorities and stateless persons were disproportionately unlikely to be registered. NGOs that service disenfranchised communities reported authorities often denied books and access to education and health care for children without birth registration. NGOs stated such persons, when adults, were often unable to gain employment, own property, vote, or access the legal system.

Education: Education was free, but not compulsory, through grade nine. Many children left school to help their families in subsistence agriculture or work in other activities. Others began school at a late age or did not attend school at all. The government did not deny girls equal access to education, but families with limited resources often gave priority to boys, especially in rural areas. According to international organization reports, enrollment dropped significantly for girls after primary school in urban areas, while secondary school enrollment for boys dropped significantly in rural areas.

Child Abuse: Child abuse was common and legal action against perpetrators was rare, according to observers. According to UNICEF’s Violence Against Children Report, approximately one in two Cambodian children had experienced extreme violence. Child rape continued to be a serious problem, and reporting of the crime had risen in the past several years.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both men and women is 18 years; however, children as young as age 16 may legally marry with parental permission. Parents, community members, and politicians did not consider child marriage a problem.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: Sexual intercourse with a person younger than age 15 is illegal. The government continued to raid brothels to identify and remove child sex-trafficking victims, although the majority of child sex trafficking was clandestine, occurring indirectly in beer gardens, massage parlors, beauty salons, karaoke bars, and noncommercial sites. Police continued to investigate cases of child sex trafficking occurring in brothels or cases where victims filed complaints directly, but police did not typically pursue more complicated cases, for example, those involving online sexual exploitation. Undercover investigation techniques were not allowed in trafficking investigations, which impeded officials’ ability to hold child sex traffickers accountable.

The country remained a destination for child sex tourism. The government used the law to prosecute both sex tourists and citizens for exploiting children through sex trafficking. The law provides penalties ranging from two to 20 years in prison for commercial sexual exploitation of children. While the law also prohibits the production and possession of child pornography, it does not criminally prohibit offering a child for pornographic performances.

According to a local human rights organization, perpetrators with ties to the government were not held accountable under the law, and local experts reported concern regarding the government’s failure to impose appropriate punishments on foreign residents and tourists who purchase or engage in sex with children. Endemic corruption at all levels of the government severely limited the ability of officials to hold child sex traffickers accountable, and the government took no action to investigate or prosecute complicit officials.

Displaced Children: The government offered limited, inadequate services to street children at a rehabilitation center. Displaced children represented a serious and growing problem–particularly because outward migration of workers continued, and greater numbers of children were left behind. A local NGO estimated there were 1,200 to 1,500 displaced street children in Phnom Penh with no relationship to their families and 15,000 to 20,000 children who worked on the streets but returned to families in the evenings.

Institutionalized Children: NGOs and other observers alleged many private orphanages were mismanaged and populated by sham orphans to lure donations from foreigners. From 36,000 to 49,000 children lived in residential care institutions or orphanages, according to UNICEF and research conducted by Columbia University. Approximately 80 percent of these children had at least one living parent. Residential care resulted in lower developmental and health outcomes for children and put them at higher risk for future exploitation. There was no state-supported or -implemented child protection program that provided safe alternatives for children.

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

Anti-Semitism

A small Jewish foreign resident community lived in Phnom Penh. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

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

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment of persons with disabilities, including mental and intellectual disabilities. The law does not address accessibility to transport. The Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans, and Youth has overall responsibility for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, although the law assigns specific tasks to other ministries, including the Ministries of Health, Education, Public Works and Transport, and National Defense. The government requested all television stations to adopt sign-language interpretation for all programming. As of June, two major television stations–one state run and one private–had done so in their news programming.

Persons with disabilities faced significant societal discrimination, especially in obtaining skilled employment.

Children with limited physical disabilities attended regular schools. According to a Ministry of Education report, approximately 19,000 children with disabilities attended primary schools in the academic year 2015-16. The ministry worked on training teachers how to integrate students with disabilities into the class with nondisabled students.

Children with more significant disabilities attended separate schools sponsored by NGOs in Phnom Penh; education for students with more significant disabilities was not available outside of Phnom Penh.

There are no legal limits on the rights of persons with disabilities to vote or participate in civic affairs, but the government did not make any concerted effort to assist their civic engagement.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Experts acknowledged an increasing backlash against the growing Chinese economic role and rising number of Chinese in the country. Khmer-language newspapers were filled with stories of crimes committed by Chinese residents and business owners, including gang violence, counterfeiting, pornography, drunk driving, and drug possession. In September the Ministry of Interior announced it would design a task force to cope with Chinese-dominated crime.

Indigenous People

In November a local NGO reported that only 26 of 458 indigenous communities had received land titles from the government.

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

No law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, nor was there official discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; however, societal discrimination persisted, particularly in rural areas.

In general LGBTI persons had limited job opportunities due to discrimination and exclusion. LGBTI persons were occasionally harassed or bullied for their work in the entertainment and commercial sex sectors. There were no reports of government discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, citizenship, access to education, or health care. During the year the visibility of lesbian women in media increased.

A local LGBTI rights organization reported more than 100 incidents of violence or abuse against LGBTI persons, including domestic violence by family members. Stigma or intimidation may have inhibited further reporting of incidents.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Studies showed a significant share of the population held discriminatory attitudes towards persons with HIV/AIDS.

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice, the right to strike, and the right to bargain collectively. The law, however, limits the right to strike, facilitates government intervention in internal union affairs, excludes certain categories of workers from joining unions, and permits third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions, while imposing only minor penalties on employers for unfair labor practices.

Onerous union registration rules amount to a requirement for prior authorization for union formation. Union registration requirements include filing charters, listing officials and their immediate families, and providing banking details to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. The law forbids unregistered unions from operating. The law also specifies that only unions that have “most representative status” (MRS)–the largest union in a workplace, provided it also represents at least 30 percent of workers in an enterprise–may represent workers in collective bargaining. Civil servants, teachers, workers employed by state-owned enterprises, and workers in the banking, health care, and informal sectors may form only “associations,” not trade unions, affording them fewer worker protections than unionized trades.

As of September the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training had issued eight sets of implementing regulations to the 2016 Law on Trade Unions; at least one more remained unissued. In July, for example, the ministry issued a regulation clarifying that all trade unions can represent their members in collective dispute resolution processes. The ministry also issued a regulation on the election of shop stewards, as well as regulations requiring unions and employer associations to submit two annual reports to their members and the ministry, one on finance and one on its activities. Many unions expressed concern they would not be able to comply with the financial reporting regulations, which require all local unions to maintain daily, weekly, and annual financial records, as well as physical copies of all receipts. Union representatives feared local chapters would not have adequate capacity to meet the requirements.

The law stipulates workers can strike only after several requirements have been met, including the successful registration of a union; the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as conciliation, mediation, and arbitration); completion of a 60-day waiting period following the emergence of the dispute; a secret-ballot vote of the union membership; and seven days’ advance notice to the employer and the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. Strikers are liable to criminal penalties if they block entrances or roads, or engage in any other behavior interpreted by local authorities as harmful to public order. Once a union has successfully carried out a strike vote, which requires the consent of a majority of voting members, with 50 percent of union members forming a quorum, the court may issue an injunction against the strike and require the restart of negotiations with employers.

Government enforcement of the right to association, including freedom from antiunion discrimination, and of collective bargaining rights, was highly inconsistent. Close relationships among government officials, employers, and union leaders, particularly those operating progovernment unions, limited the government’s willingness to address violations of workers’ rights. These relationships hampered the independent operation of unions, since the majority of the country’s union federations had affiliation with the ruling party, and only a minority were affiliated with opposition parties or worked independently.

The resolution of collective disputes was also inconsistent, largely due to a provision in the Law on Trade Unions that was interpreted to allow only MRS unions to represent members in collective disputes. After the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training issued a regulation in July clarifying minority unions could represent their members in collective dispute resolution procedures, the Arbitration Council–an independent body that hears and resolves collective labor disputes–resolved at least one collective dispute brought by a non-MRS union; however, some activists complained the regulation goes too far in interpreting the law, to the point of contradicting it. Prior to July the number of cases reaching the independent Arbitration Council had dropped from more than 30 per month prior to the Law on Trade Unions being passed to approximately two per month afterwards, causing many outside observers to express concerns.

Individual labor disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent. There is no specialized labor court. The Arbitration Council requested that the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training permit it to run a pilot project adjudicating certain types of individual disputes, although unions expressed concern the government considers collective disputes as individual disputes in order to diminish the value of union membership.

Workers reported various obstacles while trying to exercise their right to free association. There were reports of government harassment targeting independent labor leaders, including the use of spurious legal charges. Several prominent labor leaders associated with the opposition or independent unions had charges pending against them or were under court supervision; the Cambodian Labor Confederation reported at least 20 union leaders faced criminal charges.

In July the Phnom Penh municipal court dropped “breach of trust” charges against prominent labor activist Mouen Tola, which outside observers believed were politically motivated, and for which he faced a large fine and a maximum three years’ imprisonment. The court dismissed the case after an international outcry.

Reports continued of other forms of harassment; for instance police raided at least one labor advocacy NGO twice since July, reportedly searching for registration papers, tax documents, foreign worker visas, and proof of a building lease. Some unions and NGOs reported that government officials pressured their property owners to break the organization’s lease. Several unions reported harassment and intimidation from local government officials while attempting to hold routine meetings and workshops–particularly in the period preceding the July election.

Some employers reportedly refused, with impunity, to sign notification letters to recognize unions officially or to renew the short-term contract employees who had joined unions (approximately 80 percent of workers in the formal manufacturing sector were on short-term contracts). Employers and local government officials often refused to provide necessary paperwork for unions to register. Labor activists reported that many banks refused to open accounts for unregistered unions, although unions are unable by law to register until they provide banking details. Provincial-level labor authorities reportedly kept registration applications in abeyance indefinitely by requesting more materials or resubmissions due to minor errors late in the 30-day application cycle, although anecdotal evidence suggested this practice had decreased by midyear, particularly for garment and footwear sector unions. The Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Confederation (BWTUC), on the other hand, successfully registered in August on its fifth attempt, after having initially filed its application in January. As of November only 12 of its 42 local union members had been able to register.

Unionization rates varied across economic sectors. In the hospitality industry, it approached 20 percent. In the formal apparel and footwear sector, despite the great number of unions, unionization rates were estimated at only 20-30 percent. Many of these unions represented the interests of factory owners and the CPP over those of workers. In 2017 a BWTUC study showed only 9 percent of 1,010 construction workers across Phnom Penh worksites belonged to a union or association.

There were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. While the majority of strikes were illegal, participating in an illegal strike was not by itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers failed to renew the short-term contracts of active unionists; in others they pressured union personnel or strikers to accept compensation and quit. The union movement did not generally find government-sponsored remedies for these dismissals effective.

The ILO noted reports of antiunion discrimination by employers through interference with and dismissal of members of independent unions, as well as through the creation of employer-backed unions. Although the law affords protection to union leaders, many factories successfully terminated elected union officials prior to the unions’ attainment of formal registration.

The ILO-International Finance Corporation Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program found ongoing concerns with workers’ ability to form and join unions freely, management interference with unions, and employer control of unions. The BFC’s coverage was limited to the export sector, so the actual level of union harassment was likely significantly higher, particularly in unregistered factories.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor.

The government did not effectively enforce the law. Officials reported particular difficulties in verifying working conditions and salaries in the informal fishing, agricultural, construction, and domestic service sectors. Legal penalties for forced labor were stringent, including imprisonment and fines.

Although the government made efforts to highlight the problem of forced labor domestically, the extent to which these efforts were effective remained unclear. Moreover, there was some evidence employers worked with local law enforcement authorities to subject workers to bonded labor, including in the brick industry. For example a 2016 report from the local human rights NGO LICADHO highlighted reports of child and bonded labor in brick kilns, including some evidence that employers used local authorities to keep workers in bonded labor. Although the government initially denied the reports and threatened to prosecute individuals for defamation if the report was proven untrue, in May the National Committee for Counter Trafficking reported it had shut down three brick factories for child labor violations and was investigating as many as 100 more.

Third-party debt remained an important issue driving forced labor. According to the findings of a BWTUC survey conducted in 2017, 48 percent of 1,010 construction workers in Phnom Penh had debts; 75 percent of the debtors owed money to microfinance or banks, and 25 percent owed money to family members.

Forced labor, usually related to overtime work, occurred in six of 395 export-sector textile and apparel factories, approximately the same rate as in 2017. Workers were required to obtain written approval from foreign supervisors before they could leave the factory and complained they feared termination if they refused to work overtime.

Children were also at risk of forced labor (see section 7.c.).

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

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law establishes 15 years as the minimum age for employment and 18 as the minimum age for hazardous work. The law permits children between ages 12 and 15 to engage in “light work” that is not hazardous to their health and does not affect school attendance; an implementing regulation provides an exhaustive list of activities considered “heavy work.” These include agriculture, brickmaking, fishing, tobacco, and cassava production. The law limits work by children between ages 12 and 15 to a maximum of four hours on school days and seven hours on nonschool days, and it prohibits work between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Minimum age protections do not apply to domestic workers.

The law stipulates fines of 31 to 60 times the prevailing daily base wage for persons convicted of violating the country’s child labor provisions. In 2017 the Department of Child Labor, part of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, received funding from the government for the first time. The government appropriated 40 million riel ($10,000) for child labor enforcement operations and implementation of the National Social Protection Strategy, although none of the stakeholders involved in counter-child labor efforts believed this amount was sufficient. The department employed 33 inspectors based in Phnom Penh and one child labor inspector in each of the country’s 25 provinces. Child labor inspections were concentrated in Phnom Penh and provincial, formal-sector factories producing goods for export, rather than in rural areas where the majority of child laborers work. The department began unannounced complaints-based and follow-up inspections during the year, although these were infrequent. In 2017 the government imposed penalties on 42 occasions for child labor violations, which was significantly lower than the reported prevalence of child labor in the country.

Inadequate training limited the capacity of local authorities to enforce these regulations, especially in rural areas and high-risk sectors, and the thoroughness of inspections was questionable. For example ministry inspectors visited various brick factories in 2017 but found no child labor violations, despite numerous reports of children working in brick factories. In addition sanctions for labor violations, including those related to child labor, were rarely imposed in accordance with the law.

Children were vulnerable to involvement in the worst forms of child labor, including in agriculture, brick making, and commercial sex (also see section 6, Children). Poor access to basic education and the absence of compulsory education contributed to children’s vulnerability to exploitation. Children from impoverished families were at risk because some affluent households reportedly used humanitarian pretenses to hire children as domestic workers whom they abused and exploited. Children were also subjected to forced begging.

Child labor in export-sector garment and footwear factories declined significantly in recent years. Some analysts attributed the decline to pressure from the BFC’s mandatory remediation program. Since 2015 the BFC had found fewer than 20 child workers per year in a pool of approximately 800 factories. In its latest synthesis report for May 1, 2017-June 30, 2018, the BFC discovered 10 cases of children younger than age 15 working in factories.

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

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, political opinion, birth, social origin, or union membership. Two separate laws explicitly prohibit discrimination against HIV-positive persons. The law does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, or communicable disease. The constitution stipulates that citizens of either sex shall receive equal pay for equal work.

The government generally did not enforce these laws. Penalties for employment discrimination include fines, civil, and administrative remedies. Fines for workplace discrimination ranged from 2.5 to 3.6 million riels ($625 to $900).

Women and men continued to face employment discrimination in various industries. According to a BWTUC survey, daily wages for male construction workers was 20.2 percent higher than for women performing similar work. In the garment and footwear sector, the BFC reported factory management discriminated heavily against men in hiring and benefits due to perceived behavioral problems, and generally without legal consequence. The BFC reported 7 percent of export-licensed factories discriminated based on gender in their hiring decisions, while 2 percent reportedly terminated or forced pregnant women to resign.

In a January report, the BFC found that 37 factories (8 percent of the national total) had negligible discriminatory practices, 10 factories did not dismiss pregnant women, and eight factories did not discriminate against workers based on union membership.

Harassment of women was widespread. A large-scale research project conducted by Care International found that one-third of women in the garment industry suffered some form of sexual harassment in the previous 12 months. According to a BFC report in March, more than 38 percent of workers surveyed felt uncomfortable “often” or “sometimes” because of behavior in the factory, and 40 percent of workers did not believe there was a clear and fair system for reporting sexual harassment in their factory.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Prior to June the law did not mandate a minimum wage for any sector except the garment sector. The Law on the Minimum Wage passed in June expands the minimum wage to cover new sectors or the entire formal economy, although there are no time-bound requirements for the law to do so; the new provisions had not entered into effect during the year. The Law on Minimum Wage also establishes a National Minimum Wage Council with representatives from the government, unions, and employer organizations to conduct research into and provide recommendations on the minimum wage. As of November the government had not clarified how membership of the new tripartite wage body would be chosen. Informal-economy worker associations and civil society organizations criticized the law for failing to cover workers in the informal economy. The minimum wage for 2019, however, was set in October under the old Labor Advisory Council system, which sets wages only for the garment and footwear sector. The minimum wage was more than the official estimate for the poverty income level.

The law provides for a standard legal workweek of 48 hours, not to exceed eight hours per day. The law establishes a rate of 130 percent of daytime wages for nightshift work and 150 percent for overtime, which increases to 200 percent if overtime occurs at night, on Sunday, or on a holiday. Employees may work a maximum two hours of overtime per day. The law prohibits excessive overtime, states that all overtime must be voluntary, and provides for paid annual holidays. Workers in marine and air transportation are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from limitations on work hours prescribed by law.

In June, after at least nine factories shut their doors abruptly in the first half of the year without paying more than 88 billion riel ($22 million) in wages due or required severance payments to workers, the government amended the law to eliminate severance for employees on unlimited duration contracts. Instead, the amended law requires payments equal to 15 working days’ wages, paid every six months, to all employees on unlimited duration contracts.

Workplace health and safety standards must be adequate to provide for workers’ well-being. Labor inspectors assess fines according to a complex formula based on the severity and duration of the infraction, as well as the number of workers affected. Labor ministry inspectors are empowered to assess these fines on the spot, without the necessary cooperation of police, but there are no specific provisions to protect workers who complain about unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is responsible for enforcing labor laws, but the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to conduct thorough inspections. Penalties were seldom assessed and were insufficient to address problems. The government did not effectively enforce working-hour and overtime regulations. Outside the garment industry, the government rarely enforced working-hour regulations. The government enforced standards selectively due to poorly trained staff, lack of necessary equipment, and corruption. Ministry officials admitted their inability to carry out thorough inspections on working hours and implicitly relied upon the BFC to do so in export-oriented garment factories.

Workers reported overtime was often excessive and sometimes mandatory; many complained employers forced them to work 12-hour days, although the legal limit is 10 including overtime. Workers often faced fines, dismissal, or loss of premium pay if they refused to work overtime. Workers and labor organizations raised concerns that the use of short-term contracts (locally known as fixed duration contracts) allowed firms, especially in the garment sector where productivity growth remained relatively flat, to avoid certain wage and legal requirements. Fixed duration contracts also allowed employers greater freedom to terminate the employment of union organizers and pregnant women simply by failing to renew their contracts. The law limits such contracts to a maximum of 24 months. Employers regularly hired workers on fixed duration contracts–most often of three-month duration–indefinitely. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training interpreted the law to allow for such serial short-term contracts, provided there was some break in employment every 24 months. The Arbitration Council and the ILO disputed this interpretation of the law, noting that after 24 months, an employee must be offered a permanent “unlimited duration contract.” (Also see section 7.a.).

An April 2017 survey conducted by the BWTUC estimated there were 200,000 citizens working in the construction industry; 89 percent of 1,010 respondents did not have contracts, most never received bonuses or severance pay, and only 9 percent were enrolled with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Work-related injuries and health problems were common. Most large garment factories producing for markets in developed countries met relatively high health and safety standards as conditions of their contracts with buyers. Working conditions in small-scale factories and cottage industries were poor and often failed to meet international standards. The Department of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) reported 2,533 work-related injuries in the first six months of the year, up slightly from 2017; of these injuries, 444 were the result of road accidents, since employers often transported garment workers to and from work in the back of unsafe open-bed trucks.

Mass fainting remained a problem. The NSSF reported 1,350 workers fainted in 13 factories in the first six months of the year, up from 415 workers fainting in eight factories in the same period in 2017. There were no reports of serious injuries due to fainting. Observers reported excessive overtime, poor health, insufficient sleep, poor ventilation, lack of nutrition, pesticide in nearby rice paddies, and toxic fumes from the production process all contributed to mass fainting.

The BFC reported that complying with OSH standards was a growing challenge in the garment export sector largely due to improper company policies, procedures, and poorly defined supervisory roles and responsibilities. The BFC reported increased noncompliance in every OSH variable measured, including exposure to chemicals and hazardous substances, emergency preparedness, OSH management systems, welfare facilities, worker environment, worker protection, and worker accommodations.

China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – China

Executive Summary

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


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

Civilian authorities maintained control of security forces.

During the year the government significantly intensified its campaign of mass detention of members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Authorities were reported to have arbitrarily detained 800,000 to possibly more than two million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities. Government officials claimed the camps were needed to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism. International media, human rights organizations, and former detainees reported security officials in the camps abused, tortured, and killed some detainees.

Human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; arbitrary detention by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members; censorship and site blocking; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws that apply to foreign and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); severe restrictions of religious freedom; significant restrictions on freedom of movement (for travel within the country and overseas); refoulement of asylum seekers to North Korea, where they have a well-founded fear of persecution; the inability of citizens to choose their government; corruption; a coercive birth-limitation policy that in some cases included sterilization or abortions; trafficking in persons; and severe restrictions on labor rights, including a ban on workers organizing or joining unions of their own choosing. Official repression of the freedoms of speech, religion, movement, association, and assembly of Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan areas and of Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang worsened and was more severe than in other areas of the country.

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

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In many instances few or no details were available.

There were reports Shanghai police shot and killed Ju Hailiang on April 13, while he was protesting a decision to demolish his home. Police reportedly also injured Ju’s sister and his nephew. Authorities charged Ju’s sister, her husband, and their son with “endangering public safety.” His sister and her husband were also charged with “disorderly behavior” for throwing bricks and rocks at the police.

In Xinjiang there were reports of custodial deaths related to detentions in the expanding internment camps. Some of these deaths occurred before 2018 and were reported only after detainees escaped to other countries.

Abdulreshit Seley Hajim, a Uighur businessperson, died in May or June while being held in an internment camp. According to those interviewed by Radio Free Asia, he died from strikes to the head with a blunt object.

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

b. Disappearance

There were multiple reports authorities detained individuals and held them at undisclosed locations for extended periods.

The government conducted mass arbitrary detention of Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in Xinjiang. China Human Rights Defenders reported these detentions amounted to enforced disappearance, as families were not given information about the length or location of the detention.

Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who went missing in 2017, remained missing throughout 2018. In September 2017 Radio Free Asia reported Gao’s family said they were told he was in police custody at an undisclosed location, although authorities did not release any details surrounding his detention.

In November award-winning Chinese documentary photographer Lu Guang disappeared after traveling to Xinjiang to lead a photography workshop. Authorities did not respond to requests by Lu’s wife and international advocacy organizations to account for Lu’s status and whereabouts.

Lawyer Wang Quanzhang was reported alive in the Tianjin Detention Center in July after being held in incommunicado detention for more than three years. Wang had a closed court hearing on the charges against him on December 26. Authorities detained Wang in the July 2015 “709” roundup of more than 300 human rights lawyers and legal associates.

The government still had not provided a comprehensive, credible accounting of all those killed, missing, or detained in connection with the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Many activists who were involved in the 1989 demonstrations and their family members continued to suffer official harassment.

The government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.

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

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

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

Many human rights advocates expressed concern that lawyers, law associates, and activists detained in the “709” crackdown continued to suffer various forms of torture, abuse, or degrading treatment, similar to the 2017 reports of authorities’ treatment of Wu Gan, Li Chunfu, Xie Yang, and Jiang Tianyong.

In September, according to Radio Free Asia, Huang Qi, founder and director of 64 Tianwang Human Rights Center, sustained injuries from multiple interrogation sessions. Huang was detained in the city of Mianyang, Sichuan Province, in 2016 for “illegally supplying state secrets overseas.” Multiple contacts reported detention officials deprived Huang of sleep and timely access to medical treatment in an attempt to force Huang to confess. In October prosecutors brought more charges against Huang, including “leaking national secrets.” The Mianyang Intermediate People’s Court had not set a new trial date for Huang since its sudden cancellation of his scheduled trial in June. Huang’s mother, Pu Wenqing, petitioned central authorities in October to release him because she believed her son was mistreated. She had not been able to see him in two years. Pu disappeared on December 7 after plainclothes security personnel detained her at the Beijing train station.

Members of the minority Uighur ethnic group reported systematic torture and other degrading treatment by law enforcement officers and officials working within the penal system and the internment camps. Survivors stated authorities subjected individuals in custody to electrocution, waterboarding, beatings, stress positions, injection of unknown substances, and cold cells (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). Practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement and members of the Church of Almighty God also reported systematic torture in custody.

The treatment and abuse of detainees under the new liuzhi detention system, which operates outside the judicial system to investigate corruption, retained many characteristics of the previous shuanggui system, such as extended solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, beatings, and forced standing or sitting in uncomfortable positions for hours and sometimes days, according to press reports and an NGO report released in August (see section 4).

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

According to the Legal Daily (a state-owned newspaper covering legal affairs), the Ministry of Public Security directly administered 23 high-security psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane. While many of those committed to mental health facilities were convicted of murder and other violent crimes, there were also reports of activists, religious or spiritual adherents, and petitioners involuntarily subjected to psychiatric treatment for political reasons. Public security officials may commit individuals to psychiatric facilities and force treatment for “conditions” that have no basis in psychiatry.

In February, according to Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, a human rights oriented website, local security officers sent Chongqing dissident Liu Gang to a psychiatric hospital for the seventh time. Since 2004 Liu often criticized the Chinese Communist Party, and authorities regularly detained him on the charge of “disturbing public order.”

Some activists and organizations continue to accuse the government of involuntarily harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience, especially members of Falun Gong. The government denied the claims, having officially ended the long-standing practice of involuntarily harvesting the organs of executed prisoners for use in transplants in 2015.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

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

Adequate, timely medical care for prisoners remained a serious problem, despite official assurances prisoners have the right to prompt medical treatment. Prison authorities at times withheld medical treatment from political prisoners.

In May Guangdong government officials sent Xu Lin, a songwriter first detained in September 2017 for singing about the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, to Guangzhou Armed Police Hospital with a medical emergency. Detention center authorities told Xu’s wife he was ill due to food he ate in detention. In June Xu Lin was diagnosed with “breast hyperplasia,” an enlargement of breast tissue that often occurs in the early stages of cancer. Authorities denied a request by Xu’s wife and lawyer for his release on medical bail. Xu’s wife maintained Xu Lin did not have any health problems before being detained.

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

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

In Xinjiang authorities constructed new internment camps for Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims. In some cases authorities used repurposed schools, factories, and prisons. According to Human Rights Watch, these camps focused on “military-style discipline and pervasive political indoctrination of the detainees.” Available information was limited, but some reports described the withholding of food as punishment for those who could not learn Chinese phrases and songs.

Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur woman from Xinjiang, recounted to media in October how Chinese authorities arbitrarily detained her multiple times after she returned to Xinjiang in 2015. Tursun reported nine deaths in her cell, an underground, windowless room that held 68 women, occurred during her detention in 2018.

Administration: The law states letters from a prisoner to higher authorities of the prison or to the judicial organs shall be free from examination; it was unclear to what extent the law was implemented. While authorities occasionally investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions, their results were not documented in a publicly accessible manner. Authorities denied many prisoners and detainees reasonable access to visitors and correspondence with family members. Some family members did not know the whereabouts of their relatives in custody. Authorities also prevented many prisoners and detainees from engaging in religious practices or gaining access to religious materials.

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

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

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

The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but the government generally did not observe this requirement.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

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

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

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

While civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces, in the absence of reliable data, it was difficult to ascertain the full extent of impunity for the domestic security apparatus. Anecdotal accounts of abuse were common on social media and appeared in state media reports as well. Authorities often announced investigations following cases of reported killings by police. It remained unclear, however, whether these investigations resulted in findings of police malfeasance or disciplinary action. There were few known government actions to increase respect for human rights by the security forces.

On April 28, police in Shanwei, Guangdong, arrested a security official for administering extrajudicial punishment, illegal detention, and illegal use of police equipment. On April 24, the security official caught a teenager who tried to steal money from a nearby Taoist temple, handcuffed him to a flagpole, beat and tortured him with a police electric shock baton, filmed the process, and uploaded it to social media.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

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

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

The law stipulates detainees be allowed to meet with defense counsel before criminal charges are filed. The criminal procedure law requires a court to provide a lawyer to a defendant who has not already retained one; is blind, deaf, mute, or mentally ill; is a minor; or faces a life sentence or the death penalty. This law applies whether or not the defendant is indigent. Courts may also provide lawyers to other criminal defendants who cannot afford them, although courts often did not do so. Lawyers reported significant difficulties meeting their clients in detention centers, especially in cases considered politically sensitive.

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

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

Under certain circumstances the law allows for residential surveillance in the detainee’s home, rather than detention in a formal facility. With the approval of the next-higher-level authorities, officials also may place a suspect under “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL) for up to six months when they suspect crimes of endangering state security, terrorism, or serious bribery and believe surveillance at the suspect’s home would impede the investigation. Authorities may also prevent defense lawyers from meeting with suspects in these categories of cases. Human rights organizations and detainees reported the practice of RSDL left detainees at a high risk for torture since being neither at home nor in a monitored detention facility reduced opportunities for oversight of detainee treatment and mechanisms for appeal.

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

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

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

Swedish bookseller and Hong Kong resident Gui Minhai, who went missing from Thailand in 2015 and was released by Chinese authorities in October 2017, was detained again by Chinese authorities in late January while traveling on a train. The Chinese government issued a statement on February 12 stating Gui had violated Chinese law, and his case would be dealt with in accordance with Chinese law. The press reported Gui remained in detention, although his whereabouts were unclear.

In July authorities released Liu Xia, widow of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, from eight years of home confinement. Authorities had held Liu Xia without a criminal charge or a judicial proceeding against her. Liu Xia suffered deteriorating physical and emotional health, according to those who could communicate with her. Liu Xia’s brother Liu Hui remained in the country on medical parole related to his 11-year sentence for a 2013 fraud conviction. Human rights advocates argued the government was holding Liu Hui as a hostage to restrict Liu Xia from publicly criticizing authorities.

According to media reports, officials had detained Bishop “Peter” Shao Zhumin, the leader of the underground Catholic Church in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, five times since he was ordained in 2016. Shao spent more than seven months in custody from May 2017 to January 2018. Authorities sent Shao to Qinghai for “re-education” during some of his previous detentions for refusing to join the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention could last longer than one year. Defendants in “sensitive cases” reported being subjected to prolonged pretrial detention. Authorities held many of the “709” detainees in pretrial detention for more than a year without access to their families or their lawyers. Statistics were not published or made publicly available, but lengthy pretrial detentions were especially common in cases of political prisoners.

On June 29, the Tiexi District Court in Shenyang sentenced human rights advocate Lin Mingjie, after two years of pretrial detention, for assembling a group of demonstrators in front of the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing to protest Shenyang Public Security Bureau Director Xu Wenyou’s abuse of power in 2016. Lin was sentenced to two years and six months in prison, including time served.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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

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

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

Courts are not authorized to rule on the constitutionality of legislation. The law permits organizations or individuals to question the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but a constitutional challenge may be directed only to the promulgating legislative body. Lawyers had little or no opportunity to rely on constitutional claims in litigation. In March lawyers and others received central government instructions to avoid discussion of the constitutionality of the constitutional amendments that removed term limits for the president and vice president.

Media sources indicated public security authorities used televised confessions of lawyers, foreign and domestic bloggers, journalists, and business executives in an attempt to establish guilt before their criminal trial proceedings began. In some cases, these confessions were likely a precondition for release. NGOs asserted such statements were likely coerced, perhaps by torture, and some detainees who confessed recanted upon release and confirmed their confessions had been coerced. No provision in the law allows the pretrial broadcast of confessions by criminal suspects.

Jiang Tianyong remained in prison following his 2017 conviction for inciting state subversion in Changsha, Hunan. A court sentenced him to two years in prison. The case against him was based on his interviews with foreign journalists and his publishing of articles on the internet, actions that, outside the country, were widely seen as normal for someone in his profession. Authorities prevented Jiang from selecting his own attorney to represent him at a trial that multiple analysts viewed as neither impartial nor fair.

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

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Although the amended criminal procedure law reaffirms the presumption of innocence, the criminal justice system remained biased toward a presumption of guilt, especially in high profile or politically sensitive cases.

Courts often punished defendants who refused to acknowledge guilt with harsher sentences than those who confessed. The appeals process rarely reversed convictions, and it failed to provide sufficient avenues for review; remedies for violations of defendants’ rights were inadequate.

Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court require trials to be open to the public, with the exception of cases involving state secrets, privacy issues, minors, or, on the application of a party to the proceedings, commercial secrets. Authorities used the state secrets provision to keep politically sensitive proceedings closed to the public, sometimes even to family members, and to withhold a defendant’s access to defense counsel. Court regulations state foreigners with valid identification should be allowed to observe trials under the same criteria as citizens, but foreigners were permitted to attend court proceedings only by invitation. As in past years, authorities barred foreign diplomats and journalists from attending a number of trials. In some instances authorities reclassified trials as “state secrets” cases or otherwise closed them to the public.

The Open Trial Network (Tingshen Wang), a government-run website, broadcast trials online; the majority were civil trials.

Regulations require the release of court judgments online and stipulate court officials should release judgments, with the exception of those involving state secrets and juvenile suspects, within seven days of their adoption. Courts did not post all judgments. They had wide discretion not to post if they found posting the judgment could be considered “inappropriate.” Many political cases did not have judgments posted. The Dui Hua Foundation observed a reduction in the number of judgments posted online.

Individuals facing administrative detention do not have the right to seek legal counsel. Criminal defendants are eligible for legal assistance, although the vast majority of criminal defendants went to trial without a lawyer.

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

Despite the government’s stated efforts to improve lawyers’ access to their clients, in 2017 the head of the All China Lawyers Association told China Youth Daily defense attorneys had taken part in less than 30 percent of criminal cases. In particular, human rights lawyers reported authorities did not permit them to defend certain clients effectively or threatened them with punishment if they chose to do so. Some lawyers declined to represent defendants in politically sensitive cases, and such defendants frequently found it difficult to find an attorney. In some instances authorities prevented attorneys selected by defendants from taking the case and appointed an attorney to the case instead.

On January 18, the Guangdong Provincial Justice Department summoned prominent Guangzhou rights attorney Fu Ailing after visiting her client Zhan Huidong at the Xinhui Detention Center in Jiangmen municipality. Justice department officials repeatedly questioned her about who contacted her for legal assistance and who employed her as Zhan’s defense attorney. Zhan Huidong was a prodemocracy activist who attended a memorial event for Liu Xiaobo.

The government suspended or revoked the business licenses or law licenses of some lawyers who took on sensitive cases, such as defending prodemocracy dissidents, house-church activists, Falun Gong practitioners, or government critics. Authorities used the annual licensing review process administered by the All China Lawyers Association to withhold or delay the renewal of professional lawyers’ licenses. Other government tactics to intimidate or otherwise pressure human rights lawyers included unlawful detentions, vague “investigations” of legal offices, disbarment, harassment and physical intimidation, and denial of access to evidence and to clients. In February a number of Chinese lawyers wrote an open letter protesting the government’s harassment of lawyers who took on human rights cases.

In January the Guangdong Provincial Justice Department revoked the law license for high-profile human rights lawyer Sui Muqing. In April he requested administrative review of the department’s decision to revoke his license, but he had not received a response as of August.

Lawyers who take on politically sensitive cases often become targets of harassment and detention themselves. Beijing-based lawyer Li Yuhan, who defended human rights lawyers during the “709” crackdown, remained in custody in Shenyang without formal trial proceedings, other than “pretrial meetings” in July and October. Authorities initially detained Li in October 2017.

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

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

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

Zhuhai city authorities in Guangdong Province denied permission for prominent anticensorship campaigner Zhen Jianghua to meet with his lawyer, Ren Quanniu, on “national security” grounds. In 2017 authorities arrested Zhen, charged him with “incitement to subvert state power,” and held him in residential surveillance at an RSDL. Zhen, also known by his online moniker GuestsZhen, was the executive editor of the anticensorship website Across the Great Firewall, an overseas-registered site offering information about censorship and circumvention tools for accessing the internet beyond China’s borders.

Under the law lawyers are assigned to convicted prisoners on death row who cannot afford one during the review of their sentences. Official figures on executions were classified as a state secret. According to the Dui Hua Foundation, the number of executions stabilized after years of decline following the reform of the capital punishment system initiated in 2007. Dui Hua believed an increase in the number of executions for bosses of criminal gangs and individuals convicted of “terrorism” in Xinjiang likely offset the drop in the number of other executions.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

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

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

Many political prisoners remained in prison or under other forms of detention at year’s end, including writer Yang Maodong (pen name: Guo Feixiong); Uighur scholars Ilham Tohti and Rahile Dawut; activist Wang Bingzhang; activist Liu Xianbin; Taiwan prodemocracy activist Lee Ming-Che; pastor Zhang Shaojie; Falun Gong practitioners Bian Lichao and Ma Zhenyu; Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai Thaddeus Ma Daqin; rights lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Xia Lin, Gao Zhiseng, Tang Jingling, Yu Wensheng, and Jiang Tianyong; blogger Wu Gan; Buddhist monk Xu Zhiqiang (who also went by the name Master Shengguan); and Shanghai labor activist Jiang Cunde.

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

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

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Courts deciding civil matters faced the same limitations on judicial independence as criminal courts. The State Compensation Law provides administrative and judicial remedies for plaintiffs whose rights or interests government agencies or officials have infringed. The law also allows compensation for wrongful detention, mental trauma, or physical injuries inflicted by detention center or prison officials.

Although historically citizens seldom applied for state compensation because of the high cost of bringing lawsuits, low credibility of courts, and citizens’ general lack of awareness of the law, there were instances of courts overturning wrongful convictions. In July Li Jinlian in Jiangxi Province applied for state compensation of 41.4 million yuan ($6.1 million) for his wrongful conviction and subsequent death sentence with reprieve for the 1998 murder of two children with poisoned candy. In June the Jiangxi Provincial Higher People’s Court acquitted Li, ruling the previous conviction was based on unclear facts and insufficient evidence. In September the Jiangxi Higher People’s Court decided to award Li approximately 2.93 million yuan ($431,000) for his wrongful conviction. In October the Supreme People’s Court accepted Li’s request to reconsider the Jiangxi court decision, and on November 19, it heard Li’s claim that the amount of the original award was insufficient, and a final ruling was still pending at year’s end.

The law provides for the right of an individual to petition the government for resolution of grievances. Most petitions address grievances about land, housing, entitlements, the environment, or corruption, and most petitioners sought to present their complaints at local “letters and visits” offices. The government reported approximately six million petitions were submitted every year; however, persons petitioning the government continued to face restrictions on their rights to assemble and raise grievances.

Despite attempts at improving the petitioning system, progress was unsteady. While the central government reiterated prohibitions against blocking or restricting “normal petitioning” and against unlawfully detaining petitioners, official retaliation against petitioners continued. Regulations encourage all litigation-related petitions be handled at the local level through local or provincial courts, reinforcing a system of incentives for local officials to prevent petitioners from raising complaints to higher levels. Local officials sent security personnel to Beijing to force petitioners to return to their home provinces to prevent them from filing complaints against local officials with the central government. Such detentions often went unrecorded and often resulted in brief periods of incarceration in extralegal “black jails.”

On June 3, police in Guangzhou, Guangdong, detained Yang Suyuan, an activist who petitioned for employment severance benefits for staff dismissed from big state-owned banks. The police interrogated Yang, collected her fingerprints, took a DNA blood sample and facial record, and transferred her to a police station in her hometown in Qingyuan, Guangdong, for further questioning.

In June the Beijing Number 2 Intermediate People’s Court tried 12 suspects accused of illegally detaining, tying up, and beating a petitioner from Jiangxi Province in June 2017. The petitioner, Chen Yuxian from Shangyou, died in Beijing eight hours after the suspects took him away. The 12 suspects were reportedly from an illegal crime group under the guise of a car rental company that had close connections to local government officials, who had demanded the petition be intercepted. The Beijing court had not issued a verdict as of year’s end.

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

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

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

According to media reports, the Ministry of Public Security used tens of millions of surveillance cameras throughout the country to monitor the general public. Human rights groups stated authorities increasingly relied on the cameras and other forms of surveillance to monitor and intimidate political dissidents, religious leaders and adherents, Tibetans, and Uighurs. These included facial recognition and “gait recognition” video surveillance, allowing police not only to monitor a situation but also to quickly identify individuals in crowds. The monitoring and disruption of telephone and internet communications were particularly widespread in Xinjiang and Tibetan areas. The government installed surveillance cameras in monasteries in the TAR and Tibetan areas outside the TAR (see Special Annex, Tibet). The law allows security agencies to cut communication networks during “major security incidents.”

According to Human Rights Watch, the Ministry of State Security partnered with information technology firms to create a “mass automated voice recognition and monitoring system,” similar to ones already in use in Xinjiang and Anhui Province, to help with solving criminal cases. According to one company involved, the system was programmed to understand Mandarin Chinese and certain minority languages, including Tibetan and Uighur. In many cases other biometric data such as fingerprints and DNA profiles were being stored as well. This database included information obtained not just from criminals and criminal suspects but also from entire populations of migrant workers and all Uighurs applying for passports.

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

Property-related disputes between citizens and government authorities sometimes turned violent. These disputes frequently stemmed from local officials’ collusion with property developers to pay little or no compensation to displaced residents, combined with a lack of effective government oversight or media scrutiny of local officials’ involvement in property transactions, as well as a lack of legal remedies or other dispute resolution mechanisms for displaced residents. The problem persisted despite central government claims it had imposed stronger controls over illegal land seizures and taken steps to standardize compensation.

The government continued implementing a “social credit system,” which collects vast amounts of data to create scores for individuals and companies in an effort to address deficiencies in “social trust,” strengthen access to financial credit instruments, and reduce public corruption. Unlike Western financial credit-rating systems, the social credit system also collected information on academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, quality of friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics. This system is intended to promote self-censorship, as netizens would be liable for their statements, relationships, and even information others shared within closed social media groups.

An individual’s “social credit score,” among other things, quantifies a person’s loyalty to the government by monitoring citizens’ online activity and relationships. There were indications the system awarded and deducted points based on the “loyalty” of sites visited, as well as the “loyalty” of other netizens with whom a person interacted. The system also created incentives for citizens to police each other. Organizers of chat groups on messaging apps were responsible for policing and reporting any posts with impermissible content, making them liable for violations.

Although the government’s goal is to create a unified government social credit system, there were several disparate social credit systems under several Chinese technology companies, and the specific implementation of the system varied by province and city. In Hangzhou the scoring system, which applies to residents 18 years or older, included information on individuals’ education, employment, compliance with laws and regulations (such as tax payments), payment of medical bills, loan repayment, honoring contracts, participating in volunteer activities, and voluntary blood donations.

There were several cases in which an individual’s credit score resulted in concrete limitations on that person’s activities. Users with low social credit scores faced an increasing series of consequences, including losing the ability to communicate on domestic social media platforms, travel, and buy property. In April state media reported the social credit system “blocked” individuals from taking 11 million flights and four million train trips.

In a separate use of social media for censorship, human rights activists reported authorities questioned them about their participation in human rights-related chat groups, including WeChat and WhatsApp. Authorities monitored the groups to identify activists, which led to users’ increased self-censorship on WeChat, as well as several separate arrests of chat group administrators.

The government instituted the “double-linked household” system in Xinjiang developed through many years of use in Tibet. This system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of 10 households each, with the households in each unit instructed to watch over each other and report on “security issues” and poverty problems to the government, thus turning average citizens into informers. In Xinjiang the government also required Uighur families to accept government “home stays,” in which officials or volunteers forcibly lived in Uighurs’ homes and monitored families for signs of “extremism.” Those who exhibited behaviors the government considered to be signs of “extremism,” such as praying, possessing religious texts, or abstaining from alcohol or tobacco, could be detained in re-education camps.

The government restricted the rights of men and women to have children (see section 6, Women).

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

In July, in the midst of a national outcry over faulty children’s vaccines, police visited the homes of concerned parents to attempt to stop their online discussion of the issue. Some parents were shown a document that said police intended to charge parents who attended a planned media session with “colluding with foreign media.” The parents subsequently cancelled the press conference.

In April Cui Haoxin, a Muslim poet, was detained in a Xinjiang internment camp for one week, which he attributed to the political views he expressed in his poetry and other writings. On August 16, police in Xinjiang threatened Cui in an attempt to stop him from posting information on Twitter about these camps.

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

During the year state media reported senior authorities issued internal CCP rules detailing punishments for those who failed to hew to ideological regulations, ordering a further crackdown on illegal internet accounts and platforms, and instructing the media to engage in “journalism based on Marxism.” The rules also planned for greater political and ideological indoctrination efforts targeting at university students.

The government tightened ideological control over media and public discourse by restructuring its regulatory system. The CCP’s propaganda department has direct control of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT). Authorities also restructured SAPPRFT in March, relocating some of its responsibilities and renaming it the State Administration for Radio and Television Agency (SARFT). The new structure greatly expands CCP control of film, news media, newspapers, books, and magazines. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which directly manages internet content, including online news media, also promotes CCP propaganda.

On November 14, the CAC issued a statement saying more than 9,800 internet accounts had been “cleaned up” as part of an ongoing campaign. On November 15, the CAC issued a notice that further restricted what opinions could be posted online and said the CAC would start to require detailed logs on users from internet and media firms as part of its new policy targeting dissenting opinion and social movements online. As of November 30, the CAC said it would require internet platforms that could be used to “socially mobilize” or that could lead to “major changes in public opinion” to submit reports on their activities.

The government took further action to build its propaganda tools. In March it consolidated China Central Television, China Radio International, and China National Radio into a new super media group known as the “Voice of China.” State media explained the restructuring was meant to “strengthen the party’s concentrated development and management of important public opinion positions.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. As in the past, nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over those new technologies (such as livestreaming) and clamped down on new digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the Communist Party does not consider internet news companies “official” media, they are subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories. According to the most recent All China Journalist Association report from 2017 on the nation’s news media, there were 231,564 officially credentialed reporters working in the country. Only 1,406 worked for news websites, with the majority working at state-run outlets such as XinhuaNet.com and ChinaDaily.com. This did not mean online outlets did not report on important issues. Instead, many used creative means to share content, but limited their tactics and topics since they were acting outside official approval.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. In 2017 authorities detained dozens of relatives of at least six reporters for Radio Free Asia’s Uighur Service. The reporters, members of the country’s Uighur minority group, were reporting on the Xinjiang internment camps (see section 1).

A journalist could face demotion or job loss for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. In particular academics–a traditional source of information–were increasingly unwilling to meet with journalists.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media.

On June 26, a Sichuan province court sentenced political cartoonist Jiang Yefei to six years and six months in prison on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegally crossing the border.” Jiang fled to Thailand in 2008 after his cartoons criticizing the 2008 Sichuan earthquakes and lampooning Chinese government officials attracted government attention. In 2015 he was forcibly returned to China and then held incommunicado until his June 2018 trial, which was held in secret.

On August 1, authorities entered the house of retired professor Sun Wenguang in Jinan, Shandong, during an on-air telephone interview with Voice of America (VOA). Listeners heard the police stop the interview as the professor protested their incursion. The government held Sun for approximately two weeks and then released him under “strict supervision.” A pair of VOA journalists, Yibing Feng and Allen Ai, went to Sun’s home after his release on August 13, at which point the police detained them for six hours, destroyed their cell phones, and scanned their equipment.

Authorities in Xinjiang arrested four employees of state-sanctioned Xinjiang newspapers in September and accused them of publishing inappropriate content in the Uighur-language versions of their papers. A representative for the Xinjiang Daily group confirmed the arrests and said the four were accused of being “two-faced,” a euphemism for individuals who outwardly support CCP rule while secretly disagreeing with restrictions on minority culture, language, and religion.

Restrictions on foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments remained strict, especially during sensitive times and anniversaries. Foreign press outlets reported local employees of foreign news agencies were also subjected to official harassment and intimidation and this remained a major concern for foreign outlets.

Journalists who traveled to Xinjiang reported very high levels of surveillance, monitoring, harassment, and interference in their work.

Foreign ministry officials again subjected a majority of journalists to special interviews as part of their annual visa renewal process. During these interviews the officials pressured journalists to report less on human rights issues, referencing reporting “red lines” journalists should not cross, and in some cases threatened them with nonrenewal of visas. Many foreign media organizations continued to have trouble expanding or maintaining their operations in the country due to the difficulty of receiving visas. Some foreign media companies were increasingly unwilling to publicize such issues due to fear of provoking further backlash by the government.

Authorities continued to enforce tight restrictions on citizens employed by foreign news organizations. The code of conduct for citizen employees of foreign media organizations threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers information that projects “a good image of the country.”

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

Chinese-language media outlets outside the country reported intimidation and financial threats from the government. For example, the manager of Australia’s largest independent Chinese-language newspaper, Vision China Times, spoke at a conference in February about the pressure Chinese officials put on the newspaper’s advertising clients in an attempt to silence the media outlet’s views. Some clients were “grilled” by Chinese consulate officials in Australia, while others were visited during trips to China and pressured to stop doing business with Vision China Times.

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

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

On February 8, the Guangdong Provincial Propaganda Department revoked the position and official title of Duan Gongwei, chief editor of the Southern Weekly, who oversaw two investigative financial reports about Hainan Airlines Group. The reports showed how the airline, which was reportedly linked to senior Chinese leaders, went on “acquisition sprees” despite operating with large debts.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by authoritative official departments, especially with respect to sensitive or prominent situations. Directives often warned against reporting on issues related to party and official reputation, health and safety, and foreign affairs.

Control over public depictions of President Xi increased, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon on social media because internet users used the symbol to represent President Xi Jinping. A June segment of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight program on HBO criticizing Xi Jinping resulted in authorities temporarily blocking access to HBO’s online content.

It was extremely difficult for foreign journalists to report from the TAR, other Tibetan areas, or Xinjiang without experiencing serious interference. Foreign reporters also experienced restricted access and interference when trying to report in other sensitive areas, including the North Korean border, at places of historical significance to the founding of the Communist party, sites of recent natural disasters, and areas–including in Beijing–experiencing social unrest.

Overseas television newscasts, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects.

Politically sensitive coverage in Chinese, and to a lesser extent in English, was censored more than coverage in other languages. The government prohibited some foreign and domestic films deemed too sensitive or selectively censored parts of films before they were released. Under government regulations, authorities must authorize each foreign film released in the country, with a restriction on the total number that keeps annual distribution below 50 films.

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

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games, that do not already have government approval. The ban also applies to services related to publications.

One year after the death in July of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the government continued to censor a broad array of related words and images across public media and on social media platforms. Besides his name and image, phrases such as “rest in peace,” “grey,” quotes from his writings, images of candles, and even candle emojis were blocked online and from private messages sent on social media. Attempts to access censored search results resulted in a message saying the result could not be displayed “according to relevant laws, regulations, and policies.” Government censors also blocked online access to news regarding Liu Xiaobo’s widow, Liu Xia.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government tightly controlled and highly censored domestic internet usage. According to an official report released in August by the China Internet Network Information Center, the country had more than 802 million internet users, accounting for 57.7 percent of its total population. According to International Telecommunication Union data, 54 percent of the population used the internet in 2017. Major media companies estimated more than 625 million persons obtained their news from social and online media sources.

Although the internet was widely available, authorities heavily censored content. The government continued to employ tens of thousands of individuals at the national, provincial, and local levels to monitor electronic communications and online content. The government reportedly paid personnel to promote official views on various websites and social media and to combat alternative views posted online. Internet companies also independently employed thousands of censors to carry out CCP and government directives on censorship. When government officials criticized or temporarily blocked online platforms due to content, the parent corporations were required to hire additional in-house censors, creating substantial staffing demands well into the thousands and even tens of thousands per company.

In April censors temporarily shut down prominent news app Toutiao. It reopened after its owner apologized for failing to promote “core socialist values” through the app and promised to hire 4,000 new in-house censors, bringing the total number to 10,000. Authorities permanently shuttered the company’s other app, Neihan Duanzi, which was used by its 200 million users to share jokes and memes.

On March 19, Guangdong province authorities released environmental activist Lei Ping after the government-linked China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation submitted a letter to Xinyi police, who had detained Lei after she posted online an investigative report uncovering illegal quarry operations and their effects on local water resources.

The government continued to issue an array of regulations implementing the Cybersecurity Law, which took effect in 2017. The law allows the government to “monitor, defend, and handle cybersecurity risks and threats originating from within the country or overseas sources.” Article 12 of the law criminalizes using the internet to “creat[e] or disseminat[e] false information to disrupt the economic or social order.” For example, Guangzhou anesthesiologist Tan Qindong spent three months in jail for “damaging a company’s reputation” after his criticism of a traditional Chinese medicinal tonic began circulating widely on WeChat. Chinese news reports speculated the arrest most likely occurred at the behest of the tonic manufacturer. Authorities released Tan after he wrote an apology admitting he had “not thought clearly.” The law also codifies the authority of security agencies to cut communication networks across an entire geographic region during “major security incidents,” although the government had previously implemented such measures before the law’s passage.

CAC regulations on Internet News Information Services require websites, mobile apps, forums, blogs, instant communications services, and search engines to ensure news coverage of a political, economic, diplomatic, or commentary nature conforms to official views of “facts.” These regulations extend longstanding traditional media controls to new media–including online and social media–to ensure these sources also adhere to the Communist Party directive.

According to January state media reports, authorities closed 128,000 websites in 2017. These were deemed “harmful” due to inappropriate content, which includes politically sensitive materials, as well as pornography and gambling. The pace continued during the year, with the CAC reporting it shuttered 3,673 websites and 1.2 million social media accounts in just the second and third quarters of the year. In July the CAC reported receiving 6.72 million “valid” reports of online “illegal and harmful” information in that month alone.

The CAC also required all live-streaming platforms, video platforms, commercial websites, web portals, and apps to register with the CAC. Online content platforms by licensed central media and their affiliates were not required to register. In April state media announced content on short video sites that violated core socialist values would be removed, and the CAC announced it had “talked” to several short video sites. Shortly thereafter, the live streaming and comment section of a prominent platform, Douyin, ceased to function. Various other platforms faced shutdowns for “illicit” or “illegal” content over the last year.

Regulators required a special permit for transmission of audio and visual materials on blogging platforms such as Weibo and instant messaging platforms such as WeChat. Platform managers were made directly responsible for ensuring user-posted content complies with their permit’s scope. This includes television shows, movies, news programs, and documentaries, which many netizens consumed exclusively through social media channels. The rules prohibit the uploading of any amateur content that would fall under the definition of news programming or “sensitive” topics.

The changes in cybersecurity law put in place by the CAC in 2017 also bolstered real-name registration requirements for websites and social media platforms, with Baidu and Sina Weibo announcing accounts without real name registration would have restricted access to certain website functions (e.g., commenting on posts). Cybercafes in Xingtai and Shanghai also began using facial recognition to match users with their photographs printed on national identification documents.

The government continued efforts to limit virtual private network (VPN) service use. A new ban on “unauthorized” VPNs went into effect on March 31. While some users, including international companies, were permitted to use VPNs, smaller businesses, academics, and citizens did not have access to authorized VPNs. However, news reports indicated authorities were not strictly enforcing the ban. Authorities stepped up efforts to block VPN service providers ahead of major events such as November trade and internet shows. A software engineer in Shanghai was sentenced to three years in prison after providing illegal VPNs to hundreds of customers since 2016, reported the government-owned newspaper People’s Court Daily. The man, surnamed Dai, was also ordered to serve three years of probation and fined 10,000 yuan ($1,400).

Many other websites for international media outlets, such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg, in addition to those of human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, remained perennially blocked. In August censors blocked the Australian Broadcast Corporation’s (ABC) website and phone app. ABC launched a Chinese-language site in 2017, and in 2018 ABC’s stories about Chinese influence in Australia drew strong criticism from official Chinese media.

Government censors continued to block websites or online content related to topics deemed sensitive, such as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, Tibet, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Thousands of social media and other websites remained blocked, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, and YouTube. While countless news and social media sites remained blocked, a large percentage of censored websites were gambling or pornographic websites.

Early in the year, the government warned airlines not to list Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau as separate countries on their websites, and it published a list of offending airlines. Officials obligated Marriott hotels to shut down its website for a week and publicly apologize for listing Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau as separate countries. Mercedes Benz was similarly forced to apologize to the government after a posting on its official Instagram account included this quotation, “‘Look at the situations from all angles, and you will become more open.’ — Dalai Lama.” Officials’ response to the posting included the state-run People’s Daily calling Mercedes Benz an “enemy of the people.”

References to same-sex acts/same sex-relations and the scientifically accurate words for genitalia remained banned following SAPPRFT’s 2017 pronouncement listing same-sex acts/relations as an “abnormal sexual relation” and forbidding its depiction. In January domestic media reported a Beijing court agreed to hear a gay-rights activist’s lawsuit challenging SAPPRFT regarding homosexuality, although by December no ruling had been announced. Meanwhile, in May a nationally popular Hunan-based television broadcaster blacked out parts of Eurovision, a European music performance, that depicted gay relationships and pixelated an image of the gay-pride flag.

Censors shut down a prominent feminist Weibo account on International Women’s Day, March 8. With 180,000 followers, the account was one of the country’s most prominent online feminist advocacy platforms. Officials had similarly shut down the account in 2017 on International Women’s Day, then allowed it to reopen, but this time they shuttered the account permanently.

During the year authorities began manipulating the content of individual Twitter accounts. There were reports of authorities forcing individuals to give them access to their Twitter accounts, which authorities then used to delete their tweets. In October tens of thousands of postings from human rights advocate Wu Gan were deleted.

Authorities continued to jail numerous internet writers for their peaceful expression of political views. On June 27, authorities subjected dissident author Peng Peiyu to a two-week detention. Peng’s critical writing included an essay entitled “On Xi: A Call to Arms,” which he posted online shortly before his arrest. According to his attorney, Peng had been detained “many times before.”

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

While such censorship was effective in keeping casual users away from websites hosting sensitive content, many users circumvented online censorship by using various technologies. Information on proxy servers outside the country and software for defeating official censorship were available, although frequently limited by the Great Firewall. Encrypted communication apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp and VPN services were regularly disrupted, especially during “sensitive” times of the year.

The State Secrets Law obliges internet companies to cooperate fully with investigations of suspected leaks of state secrets, stop the transmission of such information once discovered, and report the crime to authorities. This was defined broadly and without clear limits. Furthermore, the companies must comply with authorities’ orders to delete such information from their websites; failure to do so is punishable by relevant departments, such as police and the Ministry of Public Security.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued restrictions on academic and artistic freedom and on political and social discourse at colleges, universities, and research institutes. Restrictive Central Propaganda Department regulations and decisions constrained the flow of ideas and persons.

Many intellectuals and scholars exercised self-censorship, anticipating books or papers on political topics would be deemed too sensitive to be published. Censorship and self-censorship of artistic works was also common, particularly artworks deemed to involve politically sensitive subjects. Authorities frequently denied Western musicians permission to put on concerts, scrutinized the content of cultural events, and applied pressure to encourage self-censorship of discussions.

The government and the CCP Organization Department continued to control appointments to most leadership positions at universities, including department heads. While CCP membership was not always a requirement to obtain a tenured faculty position, scholars without CCP affiliation often had fewer chances for promotion. Academic subject areas deemed politically sensitive (e.g., civil rights, elite cronyism, civil society, etc.) continued to be off-limits. Some academics self-censored their publications, faced pressure to reach predetermined research results, or were unable to hold conferences with international participants during politically sensitive periods. Foreign academics claimed the government used visa denials, along with blocking access to archives, fieldwork, or interviews, to pressure them to self-censor their work. The use of foreign textbooks in classrooms remained restricted, and domestically produced textbooks continued to be under the editorial control of the CCP.

Undergraduate students, regardless of academic major, must complete political ideology coursework on subjects such as Marxism, Maoism, and Deng Xiaoping thought. In July the Ministry of Education announced its intention to strengthen party leadership at all levels of private education, including K-12.

Multiple media reports cited a tightening of ideological controls on university campuses, with professors dismissed for expressing views not in line with party thought. In August an economics professor at Guizhou University was expelled from his university after posting online an article critical of the party. In September Xiamen University dismissed an assistant history professor for comments online that the university said “harmed the image of the party and the country.” Similar controls were applied to students. For example, a program in Chongqing required high school students to pass a review of their political ideology in order to take the national university entrance examination.

In June both foreign and domestic media reported a growing incidence of university professors being suspended or fired after their students reported them for comments deemed politically sensitive or inappropriate. In some cases the university assigned the students to act as informants.

In November media outlets reported crackdowns against student labor activists on Peking University and Renmin University campuses. Students and several recent graduates were detained and held incommunicado, one of whom was kidnapped from Peking University’s campus. Students on the scene were beaten, forced to the ground, and prevented from taking photographs or speaking by security forces. Renmin University officials allegedly harassed, threatened, employed surveillance against, and hindered the free movement of student activists (see section 7.a.).

In August the Financial Times reported foreign universities establishing joint venture universities in the country must establish internal CCP committees, granting greater decision-making power to CCP officials and reversing an earlier promise to guarantee academic freedom. In July the Financial Times reported a foreign academic was removed from the management board of the first joint venture university in the country for being critical of CCP-backed initiatives.

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

The CCP’s reach increasingly extended beyond the country’s physical borders. A survey of more than 500 China scholars outside the PRC found 9 percent of scholars reported having been “taken for tea” by Chinese government authorities in the past 10 years to be interviewed or warned about their research; 26 percent of scholars who conducted archival research reported being denied access; and 5 percent reported difficulties obtaining a visa. According to the survey, 68 percent of foreign scholars said self-censorship was a problem in the field of China studies.

The CCP actively promoted censorship of Chinese students outside the country, with media reporting examples of self-censorship and the use of financial incentives to tamp down anti-Chinese speech on foreign campuses.

Academics and intellectuals in Xinjiang, along with the hundreds of thousands of other Xinjiang residents, disappeared or died, most likely in internment camps. Some officials and academics were charged with being “two-faced,” a euphemism referring to members of minority groups serving state and party occupations who harbor “separatist” or “antiofficial” tendencies, including disagreeing with official restrictions on minority culture, language, and religion. Those disappeared and believed to be held in the camps included Rahile Dawut, an internationally known folklorist; Abdukerim Rahman, literature professor; Azat Sultan, Xinjiang University professor; Gheyretjan Osman, literature professor; Arslan Abdulla, language professor; Abdulqadir Jalaleddin, poet; and Yalqun Rozi, writer. Authorities detained former director of the Xinjiang Education Supervision Bureau Satar Sawut and removed Kashgar University president Erkin Omer and vice president Muhter Abdughopur; all were disappeared at year’s end. Courts delivered suspended death sentences for “separatism” to Halmurat Ghopur, former president of Xinjiang Medical University Hospital, and Tashpolat Tiyip, former president of Xinjiang University. Religious scholars Muhammad Salih Hajim and Abdulnehed Mehsum died in the camps, according to reports from international organizations during the year.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

Citizens throughout the country continued to gather publicly to protest evictions, forced relocations, and inadequate compensation, often resulting in conflict with authorities or formal charges. Media reported thousands of protests took place during the year across the country. Although peaceful protests are legal, public security officials rarely granted permits to demonstrate. Despite restrictions, many demonstrations occurred, but authorities quickly broke up those motivated by broad political or social grievances, sometimes with excessive force.

On March 20-30, more than one thousand residents from Longyan’s Changting County in Fujian province protested outside the local government office against the government’s plan to construct a garbage incinerator one kilometer (0.6 mile) from the town’s residential areas. On March 30, local authorities called in riot police to restore order. Later that day government officials announced they were canceling the planned incinerator project.

Concerts, sports events, exercise classes, or other meetings of more than 200 persons require approval from public security authorities. Large numbers of public gatherings in Beijing and elsewhere were canceled at the last minute or denied government permits, ostensibly to ensure public safety.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government restricted this right. CCP policy and government regulations require all professional, social, and economic organizations officially register with and receive approval from the government. These regulations prevented the formation of autonomous political, human rights, religious, spiritual, labor, and other organizations that the government believed might challenge its authority in any area. The government maintained tight controls over civil society organizations and in some cases detained or harassed NGO workers.

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

In 2016 the CCP Central Committee issued a directive mandating the establishment of CCP cells within all domestic NGOs by 2020. According to authorities, these CCP organizations operating inside domestic NGOs would “strengthen guidance” of NGOs in areas such as “decision making for important projects, important professional activities, major expenditures and funds, acceptance of large donations, and activities involving foreigners.” The directive also mandates authorities conduct annual “spot checks” to ensure compliance on “ideological political work, party building, financial and personnel management, study sessions, foreign exchange, acceptance of foreign donations and assistance, and conducting activities according to their charter.”

In January 2017 the Law on the Management of Foreign NGOs’ Activities in Mainland China (Foreign NGO Management Law) came into effect. The law requires foreign NGOs to register with the Ministry of Public Security and to find a state-sanctioned sponsor for their operations. NGOs that fail to comply face possible civil or criminal penalties. The law provides no appeal process for NGOs denied registration, and it stipulates NGOs found to have violated certain provisions could be banned from operating in the country. The law also states domestic groups cooperating with unregistered foreign NGOs will be punished and possibly banned.

Some international NGOs reported it was more difficult to work with local partners, including universities, government agencies, and other domestic NGOs, as the law codified the CCP’s perception that foreign NGOs were a “national security” threat. Finding an official sponsor was difficult for most foreign NGOs, as sponsors could be held responsible for the NGOs’ conduct and had to undertake burdensome reporting requirements. After the Ministry of Public Security published a list of sponsors, NGOs reported most government agencies still had no unit responsible for sponsoring foreign NGOs. Professional Supervisory Units reported they had little understanding of how to implement the law and what authorities would expect of them. The vague definition of an NGO, as well as of what activities constituted “political” and therefore illegal activities, left many business organizations and alumni associations uncertain whether they fell within the purview of the law. The lack of clear communication from the government, coupled with harassment by security authorities, caused some foreign NGOs to suspend or cease operations in the country. As of December 31, approximately 439 of the officially estimated 7,000 previously operational foreign NGOs had registered under the Foreign NGO Management Law, with most focusing on trade and commerce activities.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, by the end of 2017, there were more than 800,000 registered social organizations, public institutions, and foundations. Many experts believed the actual number of domestic NGOs to be much higher. Domestic NGOs reported foreign funding continued to drop, as many domestic NGOs sought to avoid such funding due to fear of being labeled as “subversive” in the face of growing restrictions imposed by new laws. NGOs existed under a variety of formal and informal guises, including national mass organizations created and funded by the CCP that are organizationally prohibited from exercising any independence, known as government-operated NGOs or GONGOs.

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

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

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

While seriously restricting its scope of operations, the government occasionally cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which maintained an office in Beijing.

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

In some instances the government pressured other countries to return asylum seekers or UNHCR-recognized refugees forcibly. On July 13, Radio Free Asia reported a Chongqing court had secretly sentenced human rights activists Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping in July 2017 for “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegally crossing a national border.” Jiang and Dong had fled to Thailand with their families and received refugee status from UNHCR, but Thailand then forcibly returned them from Bangkok in 2015. During their televised “confessions,” Jiang and Dong appeared to have sustained torture while in detention. The families received no notification from authorities concerning the trial. According to contacts, authorities denied Dong’s former lawyer permission to meet with his client when he visited the Chongqing Number 2 Detention Center in July 2017.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: There were reports North Korean agents operated clandestinely within the country to repatriate North Korean citizens against their will. In addition, North Koreans detained by government authorities faced repatriation unless they could pay bribes to secure their release. North Korean refugees were either detained in holding facilities or placed under house arrest at undisclosed locations. Family members wanting to prevent forced returns of their North Korean relatives were required to pay fees to Chinese authorities purportedly to cover expenses incurred while in detention. While detained North Koreans were occasionally released, they were rarely given the necessary permissions for safe passage to a third country.

In-country Movement: Authorities continued to maintain tight restrictions on freedom of movement, particularly to curtail the movement of individuals deemed politically sensitive before key anniversaries, visits by foreign dignitaries, or major political events, as well as to forestall demonstrations. Freedom of movement for Tibetans continued to be very limited in the TAR and other Tibetan areas (see Tibet Addendum). Uighurs faced new restrictions on movement within Xinjiang and outside the region, as well. Although the use of “domestic passports” that called for local official approval before traveling to another area was discontinued in 2016, identification checks remained in place when entering or leaving cities and on public roads. In Xinjiang security officials set up checkpoints managing entry into public places, including markets and mosques, that required Uighurs to scan their national identity card, undergo a facial recognition check, and put any baggage through airport-style security screening. Such restrictions were not applied to Han Chinese in these areas. On September 26, the Urumqi Evening News announced Xinjiang railway administrative departments would stop selling tickets on all passenger services leaving Xinjiang starting on October 22. This occurred around the time reports surfaced about authorities criminally sentencing Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims en masse of groups of 200-500 persons from the internment camps to prisons in other parts of the country, such as Heilongjiang Province.

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

The household registration system added to the difficulties faced by rural residents, even after they relocated to urban areas and found employment. According to the Statistical Communique of the People’s Republic of China on 2017 National Economic and Social Development published in February by the National Bureau of Statistics of China, 291 million persons lived outside the jurisdiction of their household registration. Migrant workers and their families faced numerous obstacles with regard to working conditions and labor rights. Many were unable to access public services, such as public education for their children or social insurance, in the cities where they lived and worked because they were not legally registered urban residents.

From April to June, non-Beijing residents could apply for a Beijing hukou under the special municipality’s new points-based system. Under the new policy, nonnatives of the city under the legal retirement age who have held a Beijing temporary residence permit with the city’s social insurance records for seven consecutive years and were without a criminal record were eligible to accumulate points for the hukou. Those with “good employment, stable homes in Beijing, strong educational background, and achievements in innovation and establishing start-ups in Beijing” were reportedly likely to obtain high scores in the point-based competition. The city was to announce the new hukou winners in the fourth quarter of the year.

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

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

Border officials and police cited threats to “national security” as the reason for refusing permission to leave the country. Authorities stopped most such persons at the airport at the time of their attempted travel.

Most citizens could obtain passports, although individuals the government deemed potential political threats, including religious leaders, political dissidents, petitioners, and ethnic minorities, routinely reported being refused passports or otherwise prevented from traveling overseas.

Uighurs, particularly those residing in Xinjiang, reported great difficulty in getting passport applications approved at the local level. They were frequently denied passports to travel abroad, particularly to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, to other Muslim countries, or to Western countries for academic purposes. Since 2016 authorities ordered Xinjiang residents to turn in their passports or told residents no new passports were available. The passport recall, however, was not limited to Uighur areas. Foreign national family members of Uighur activists living overseas were also denied visas to enter the country. During the year the government continued its concerted efforts to compel Uighurs studying abroad to return to China, often pressuring relatives in Xinjiang to ask their overseas relatives to return. Authorities also refused to renew passports for Uighurs living abroad, leading them to either go home or pursue ways to maintain legal status in those countries. Upon return, many of these Uighurs, or persons connected with the Xinjiang residents, were detained or disappeared.

Tibetans faced significant hurdles in acquiring passports, and for Buddhist monks and nuns, it was virtually impossible. Authorities’ unwillingness to issue or even renew old passports for Tibetans created, in effect, a ban on foreign travel for the Tibetan population. Han Chinese residents of Tibetan areas did not experience the same difficulties.

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government forcibly returned vulnerable asylum seekers, especially North Korean asylum seekers. The government continued to consider North Koreans as “illegal economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers and forcibly returned many of them to North Korea.

Human rights groups reported a relatively large number of North Korean asylum seekers being held in detention in Liaoning Province and Jilin Province who were in danger of imminent refoulement.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of refugee or asylee status. The government did not have a system for providing protection to refugees but generally recognized UNHCR-registered refugees and asylum seekers. The government did not officially recognize these individuals as refugees; they remained in the country as illegal immigrants unable to work, with no access to education, and subject to deportation at any time.

North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, particularly young women living on the margins of Chinese society, were vulnerable to trafficking and forced marriages as a result of their unrecognized status. Authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees and asylum seekers forcibly, including trafficking victims, generally treating them as illegal economic migrants. The government detained and deported them to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment or death, including in North Korean forced-labor camps. The government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation.

Numerous NGOs reported the government continued to deny UNHCR access to North Korean refugees and asylum seekers. Authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings.

Access to Basic Services: North Korean asylum seekers in the country seeking economic opportunities generally did not have access to health care, public education, or other social services due to lack of legal status.

Durable Solutions: The government largely cooperated with UNHCR when dealing with the local settlement in China of Han Chinese or ethnic minorities from Vietnam and Laos living in the country since the Vietnam War era. The government and UNHCR continued discussions concerning the granting of citizenship to these long-term resid