Togo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government restricted these rights. The law imposes penalties on journalists deemed to have committed “serious errors” as defined in the media code.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nevertheless, authorities attempted to influence the press through illicit means. For example, on February 2, the president of the High Authority of Audiovisuals and Communications (HAAC), Pitang Tchalla, confessed that in December 2016 he gave journalists envelopes containing cash as a “year-end gift from President Faure Gnassingbe to his relatives and friends” to encourage positive media coverage of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Local and international organizations reported violence against journalists. For example, on February 7, gendarmes arrested Kossi Robert Avotor, a reporter for the privately owned weekly newspaper L’Alternative while he was covering an antigovernment protest. He was beaten, handcuffed and held on the ground by gendarmes. Gendarmes erased his camera’s memory before returning it to him. Reporters without Borders and local media organizations condemned the attack.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: HAAC is a constitutionally mandated body charged with allocating frequencies to private television and radio stations and providing for press freedom and ethical standards of journalism. For violations of the press code, it has the power to impose penalties, including suspending publications for up to six months, withdrawing press cards, and seizing equipment from journalists.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, HAAC suspended monthly newspaper La Nouvelle for one month for violation of ethics rules for having published an article on political violence in the country that included photographs of victims and a list of perpetrators alleged to have committed political violence. HAAC stated that the content of the newspaper’s article included “defamation, threats to peace and social security, and violation of human dignity.”

Nongovernmental Impact: On August 21, a political opposition group threatened to lynch Joseph Gadahn, editor of the bimonthly newspaper Economie et Developpement, for remarks he made on a Radio Kanal FM talk show discussing opposition political claims. The group accused him of taking positions against opposition demands for constitutional reforms. Five local NGOs, including the Togolese Media Observatory, condemned the threats against the journalist.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On May 4, the government began enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Public Information and Documentation Act, passed in March 2016 by the National Assembly. The law provides for media and private citizens to obtain government information but excludes the disclosure of “public information and documents that pertain to security, national defense, and court decisions.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet but did not censor online content; there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. In August and September, the government shut down the internet and restricted telephone-messaging services on several occasions.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.3 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permission from the Ministry of Territorial Affairs, which may prescribe the route marchers may take. On October 10, the government banned demonstrations during the workweek. On October 31, the ban was ended, and the government announced that plainclothes security officers would no longer be deployed to demonstrations and that civil society groups could freely observe them.

Police practices in dealing with demonstrators during the August-October antigovernment demonstrations included the use of excessive and indiscriminate force. For example, police shot and killed some protesters and injured many more when demonstrations turned violent. Security forces and government-sponsored vigilantes attacked protesters trying to assemble for demonstrations and beat civilians in their houses in pro-opposition neighborhoods in the capital and other cities.

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

While the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights.

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

In-country Movement: Traffic police routinely stopped motorists on fabricated traffic law charges in order to obtain bribes.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Durable Solutions: The government cooperated with UNHCR to assist in the safe, voluntary repatriation of refugees to their home countries. The government assisted in the repatriation of 26 refugees.

Tonga

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

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

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, although some self-censorship occurred. The dismissal of two employees at government-owned Tonga Broadcasting Commission (TBC) raised concerns about the independence of the media in the country. In explaining the firings, the prime minister stated that broadcasters had improperly amplified opposition messages while downplaying government messages.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media outlets reported on political developments and high-profile court cases but exercised self-censorship regarding high-profile individuals. The board of the TBC directed that board-appointed censors review all TBC programming prior to broadcast.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Workplaces and internet cafes provided internet access, but most homes did not have such access. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 40 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concerns.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the formal granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The principal immigration officer has wide discretionary powers under immigration laws, however, and may allow noncitizens to remain in the country, including on humanitarian grounds.

Turkey

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression within certain limits, and the government restricted freedom of expression, including for the press, throughout the year. Multiple articles in the penal code directly restrict press freedom and free speech, for example, through provisions that prohibit praising a crime or criminals or inciting the population to enmity, hatred, or denigration, as well as provisions that protect public order and criminalize insult. The law provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for conviction of “hate speech” or injurious acts related to language, race, nationality, color, gender, disability, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, or sectarian differences. Human rights groups criticized the law for not including restrictions based on gender identity and noted that the law was sometimes used more to restrict freedom of speech than to protect minorities.

Many in media reported the government’s prosecution of journalists representing major independent newspapers and its jailing of scores of journalists during the preceding year hindered freedom of speech and that self-censorship was widespread amid fear that criticizing the government could prompt reprisals.

Hundreds of individuals, including journalists and minors, were indicted for insulting the president, prime minister, or state institutions. For example, on March 22, Ali Gul, an Istanbul law school student, was arrested and charged with insulting the president after he prepared a short video on social media regarding why Turks should vote “no” in the April constitutional referendum. He remained in jail for two months. In June the Ministry of Justice announced that in 2016 it had tried 3,658 persons on charges related to insulting the president. Comprehensive figures for the year were unavailable at year’s end.

Estimates of the number of journalists in jail varied. The Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that as of December 13, there were at least 81 journalists in prison. On December 6, the Journalists’ Union of Turkey claimed 149 journalists were in prison; Reporters without Borders reported that, as of October 24, there were more than 100 journalists in jail; the NGO Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) reported that, as of November 28, there were 153 journalists, editors, or media managers in jail, the vast majority for alleged ties to the PKK or the Gulen movement. As of May, an estimated additional 123 journalists were outside the country and did not return due to fear of arrest, according to the Journalists Association. Hundreds more remained out of work after the government closed media outlets allegedly affiliated with the PKK or the Gulen movement as part of the previous year’s government response to the attempted coup. On July 20, the Radio and Television Supreme Board revoked the licenses of five television stations for broadcasting inappropriate content. Another television station and 12 radio stations that previously had their licenses revoked under a July 2016 decree faced difficulty seeking redress and were unable to appeal to the Commission of Inquiry on Practices under the State of Emergency, which was established to review appeals by individuals and associations.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals in many cases could not criticize the state or government publicly without risk of civil or criminal suits or investigation, and the government restricted expression by individuals sympathetic to some religious, political, or cultural viewpoints. At times many who wrote or spoke on sensitive topics or in ways critical of the government risked investigation.

In July parliament amended its by-laws to prohibit the use of the word “Kurdistan” or other sensitive terms by members of parliament on the floor of parliament, providing for the possible issuance of fines to violators. On December 13, parliament suspended HDP spokesperson and Sanliurfa member of parliament Osman Baydemir for two General Assembly sessions after he referred to himself as a “representative of Kurdistan” during a discussion in parliament.

Human rights groups reported intensifying government pressure that, in certain cases, resulted in enhanced caution in their public reporting. On November 1, leading philanthropist and widely respected civil society figure leader Osman Kavala was arrested and subsequently charged with terrorism-related crimes. Observers widely viewed his detention as politically motivated. On July 5, police detained eight leading human rights activists, including Amnesty International Turkey director Idil Eser as well as two foreign trainers, during a workshop in Buyukada, near Istanbul, on terrorism grounds. On June 6, police detained Taner Kilic, the founder and chair of Amnesty International Turkey, in Izmir along with 22 others for alleged Gulen ties and in part for allegedly using the ByLock mobile application, a claim rejected by Amnesty International (see section 5). Critics alleged Kilic’s detention stemmed from government displeasure with Amnesty reporting critical of the government. In October a court released the “Buyukada 10” pending the outcome of their trial, which continued at year’s end. Kilic and Kavala remained in pretrial detention, with judicial proceedings against them continuing at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: Print media were privately owned and active. Conglomerates or holding companies, many of which had interests before the government on a range of business matters, owned an increasing share of media outlets. Only a fraction of these companies’ profits came from media revenue, and their other commercial interests impeded media independence, encouraged a climate of self-censorship, and limited the scope of public debate. Private newspapers were also published in numerous languages, including Armenian, Arabic, English, and Farsi, although most had low circulations. Nearly all private Kurdish-language newspapers, television channels, and radio stations remained closed on national security grounds under government decrees.

Government prosecution of independent journalists limited media freedom throughout the year. The pretrial detention since October 2016 of 20 prominent journalists, editors, and staffers of the country’s leading independent newspaper Cumhuriyet continued. Prosecutors alleged that material in the newspaper dating to 2014 aided a variety of terrorist organizations, including the PKK, the Gulen movement, and the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party or Front, and sought prison sentences ranging from seven and a one-half to 43 years. As of December 14, four employees remained in pretrial detention, some for more than 400 days.

As of December 14, a total of 18 journalists and editors who had worked for the now-closed, Gulen-linked Zaman newspaper and who were arrested in 2016, remained in detention on terrorism and coup-related charges. On December 8, an Istanbul court ruled for the continued imprisonment of 19 journalists and the release of three advertising and sales department staff members of the Zaman media group. Travel bans remained in place for those released. The journalists’ trial was in progress at year’s end.

On May 19, government authorities raided the offices of the left-leaning daily newspaper SozcuSozcu’s owner and three of its employees were detained, arrested, and charged with aiding the Gulen movement. Two were later released, while the other two remained jailed with judicial proceedings against all four continued at year’s end.

Other journalists said they were fired from their jobs or asked to censor their reporting if it appeared critical of the government. Some journalists working with foreign correspondents reported being pressured by their organization’s editors to avoid or stop working with those foreign journalists. These pressures contributed to an atmosphere of self-censorship in which media reporting became increasingly standardized along progovernment lines.

The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content, including online newspapers and journals (see Internet Freedom).

In several cases the government barred journalists from travelling outside the country. In August police confiscated the passport of Asli Erdogan, former board member and columnist for the closed pro-Kurdish daily Ozgur Gundem, as she was on her way to Germany to accept an award for her work. In September, after public pressure, authorities returned her passport. Some dual-national journalists entering the country were detained and many later deported. On February 14, German-Turkish national Deniz Yucel, a reporter for the German daily Die Welt, was detained; he remained in prison on terrorism-related charges as of year’s end.

On October 10, Wall Street Journal correspondent Ayla Albayrak was convicted of terrorist propaganda based on a story she wrote on government-PKK clashes, and was sentenced in absentia to two years and one month in prison. Her case remained under appeal at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: Government and political leaders and their supporters used a variety of means to intimidate and pressure journalists, including lawsuits, threats, and, in some cases, physical attack. President Erdogan and AKP members sometimes verbally attacked journalists by name in response to critical reporting.

Human rights groups noted that filing terrorism-related charges was a common tool the government used to target journalists reporting on sensitive issues, particularly PKK terrorism and the Gulen movement (also see National Security). According to center-left online news portal Bianet, between July 2016 and July, courts heard 301 cases against journalists. In these cases prosecutors requested aggravated life sentences 142 times and life sentences five times.

Journalists reported that media outlets fired some individuals for being too controversial or adversarial with the government due to fear of jeopardizing other business interests. For example, journalist and television presenter Irfan Degirmenci was allegedly dismissed from his job at Kanal D, owned by the Dogan Publishing Group, after he announced on social media that he would vote “no” in the April constitutional referendum on constitutional changes proposed by the ruling AKP.

Journalists affiliated or formerly with pro-Kurdish outlets faced significant government pressure. Thirty-eight of the 56 individuals who worked as “solidarity” or “duty” editors of the Ozgur Gundem in 2016 faced prosecution for alleged “terror propaganda” at year’s end. On March 6, the acting editor of Ozgur Gundem, Nadire Mater, was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment and fined 15,000 lira ($3,900). Her sentence was suspended. The trials of other high-profile duty editors, including the president of the HRFT, Sebnem Korur Fincanci, and Reporters without Borders Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu, continued at year’s end.

Government officials withheld press accreditation and denied entry to the country of several journalists from France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Syria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. International journalists reported government interference in their ability to report within the country. On May 8, French photographer Mathias Depardon, while on assignment for National Geographic magazine, was arrested while working in Hasankeyf District in southeastern Batman Province on terrorism-related charges. On June 9, he was released following engagement by French authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government and political leaders occasionally resorted to direct censorship of news media. On January 6, a state of emergency decree authorized the government to interfere with or stop broadcasts in the event of a terror incident. Lack of compliance could result in the media outlet being closed. The government declared media blackouts on terror attacks or other sensitive issues, although many media outlets disregarded these blackouts, which were not always enforced.

While the law does not prohibit particular books or publications, publishing houses were required to submit books and periodicals to prosecutors for screening at the time of publication.

The Turkish Publishers Association (TPA) reported that publishers often exercised self-censorship, avoiding works with controversial content (including government criticism, erotic content, or pro-Kurdish content) that might draw legal action. The TPA reported that publishers faced publication bans and heavy fines if they failed to comply in cases in which a court ordered the correction of offensive content. Publishers were also subject to book promotion restrictions. According to TPA’s Freedom to Publish Report for 2016-2017, the government closed 30 publishing houses. In some cases prosecutors considered the possession of some Kurdish-language, pro-Kurdish, or Gulenist books to be credible evidence of membership in a banned organization.

Some writers and publishers were subject to prosecution on grounds of defamation, denigration, obscenity, separatism, terrorism, subversion, fundamentalism, and insulting religious values. Authorities investigated or continued court cases against a myriad of publications and publishers on these grounds during the year. In January a court sentenced journalist Arzu Demir to six years in prison for spreading “terrorist organization propaganda” and “praising crime and criminality” for her two books, Women on the Mountains and Revolution in Rojava. Similarly, TPA reported that the government banned and confiscated Rojava: The Time for Kurds by Fehim Tastekin and History of Kurds by Aytekin Gezici.

On February 9, the government issued an emergency decree removing the Supreme Board of Election’s authority to fine or halt private radio and television broadcast outlets that violated the principle of equality, which required that broadcasters give equal access to the country’s major political parties. Critics charged that the move benefited the ruling AKP political party.

The Radio and Television Supreme Council continued the practice of fining broadcasters whose content it considered “contrary to the national and moral values of society.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Observers reported that government officials used defamation laws to stop political opponents, journalists, and ordinary citizens from voicing criticism. The law provides that persons who insult the president of the republic may face a prison term of up to four years. The sentence may be increased by one-sixth if committed publicly and by one-third if committed by media.

Authorities charged citizens, including children, with insulting Turkish leaders and denigrating “Turkishness.” In January authorities forcibly returned from northern Cyprus to Turkey prominent fashion designer Barbaros Sansal following a controversial social media post he made that criticized Turkish society. As he left his plane in Istanbul, a mob, some of whom appeared to be airport staff, beat him. He was arrested the next day, charged with insulting the Turkish nation, and sentenced to six-plus months in prison. As of December 31, his appeal continued. In May historian Suleyman Yesilyurt was indicted for “insulting” Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, while appearing on a television program. On June 1, after expressing remorse and apologizing in court, he was released.

Lawmakers, mostly from the pro-Kurdish HDP, were also targeted in a significant number of insult-related cases. At year’s end nine HDP lawmakers were in prison for a variety of charges related to terrorism and political speech.

While leaders and deputies from opposition political parties regularly faced multiple insult charges, free speech advocates pointed out that the law was not applied equally and that AKP members and government officials were rarely prosecuted under it.

National Security: Authorities regularly used the counterterrorism law and the penal code to limit free expression on grounds of national security. Organizations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Freedom House, reported that authorities used the counterterrorism law and criminal code to prosecute journalists, writers, editors, publishers, translators, rights activists, lawyers, elected officials, and students accused of supporting a terrorist organization–generally either the PKK or the Gulen movement. In December the HRA’s Adana branch reported that in 2016 and 2017, authorities opened approximately 100 criminal cases against 92 members of their association. The charges included violating meeting and demonstration laws, resisting government officers, spreading terrorist propaganda, insulting the state and praising crime and criminals. The HRA asserted the cases stemmed from an attempt to intimidate lawyers and undermine the organization’s operations.

In April a court in Sirnak Province banned the HDP’s constitutional referendum campaign song, resulting in a nationwide prohibition on the use of “Bejin ‘Na’” (“Say ‘No’”). A judge found the anthem’s lyrics to be a challenge to the indivisibility of the Turkish state. Prominent columnist Ahmet Altan and his brother, economist Mehmet Altan, both in prison on terror-related charges since September 2016 for allegedly sending coded messages to the 2016 coup plotters during a panel discussion on a television program, remained in detention at year’s end. Many observers viewed their prosecution as an effort to intimidate or silence prominent opposition voices.

Nongovernmental Impact: The PKK used a variety of pressure tactics that limited freedom of speech and other constitutional rights in the southeast. In the aftermath of curfews enacted in 2016 in response to PKK violence, some journalists, political party representatives, and residents of the southeast reported pressure, intimidation, and threats if they spoke out against the PKK or praised government security forces. In April PKK executive Cemil Bayik told media that if voters approved of AKP-proposed constitutional changes in the referendum that month, the PKK would attack Turkish security forces. PKK terrorists conducted or attempted targeted assassinations of a number of AKP and government officials in the southeast (see section 1.g.). In Van, an AKP provincial executive reported that her parents were threatened by the PKK because she worked for the AKP.

INTERNET FREEDOM

During the year internet freedom continued to worsen. The government restricted access to the internet and regularly blocked selected online content. The government at times blocked access to cloud-based services and permanently blocked access to many virtual private networks. There was evidence that the government monitored private online communications using nontransparent legal authority.

The Freedom House report Freedom on the Net 2017: Manipulating Social Media to Undermine Democracy highlighted increasing efforts by authorities to control use of virtual private networks and the use of government-employed “armies of ‘opinion shapers’” to spread progovernment views online.

The law allows the government to block a website or remove content if there is sufficient suspicion that the site is committing any number of crimes, including: insulting the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; encouraging suicide, the sexual abuse of children, or the use of drugs and stimulants; providing substances dangerous to health; engaging in obscenity or prostitution; providing means for gambling; and threatening life or property. Sites may also be blocked to protect national security and public order.

The government-operated Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) is empowered to demand that internet service providers (ISPs) remove content or block websites with four hours’ notice. The regulatory body must refer the matter to a judge within 24 hours, who must rule on the matter within 48 hours. If it is not technically possible to remove individual content within the specified time, the entire website may be blocked. ISP administrators may face a penalty of six months to two years in prison or fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 lira ($13,500 to $135,000) for conviction of failing to comply with a judicial order.

The law also allows persons who believe a website has violated their personal rights to ask the regulatory body to order the ISP to remove the offensive content. Government ministers may also order websites blocked, and the regulatory authority is legally compelled to comply within four hours, followed by a court order within 24 hours.

The state of emergency allowed the government expanded powers to restrict internet freedom with reduced parliamentary and judicial oversight. The law provides that government authorities may access internet user records to “protect national security, public order, health, and decency” or to prevent a crime. The law also establishes an ISP union of all internet providers that are responsible for implementing website takedown orders. The BTK is not obligated to inform content providers of ordered blocks or to explain why a block was imposed. Content providers, including Twitter and Facebook, were required to obtain an operating certificate for the country.

Government leaders, including the president, employed staff to monitor the internet and initiate charges against individuals accused of insulting them. According to the internet freedom NGO Engelliweb, as of October 1, the government blocked 16,089 websites during the year. Of those, 15,035 were blocked through a BTK decision and 722 by court order.

Internet access providers, including internet cafes, are required to use BTK-approved filtering tools. Additional internet restrictions operated in government and university buildings.

On April 29, the BTK banned Wikipedia from operating in the country due to two terrorism-related articles, pursuant to a law that allows filtering on national security grounds. The BTK also demanded the removal of “offensive content” and that Wikipedia open an office in the country. The organization appealed the decision, which the Supreme Court upheld on May 5. As of December, Wikipedia remained inaccessible in the country without the use of virtual private networks.

According to Twitter’s internal transparency report, the company received 2,710 court orders and other legal requests from authorities to remove content in the first half of the year. According to digital news source The Daily Dot, on July 23 and again on July 25, Twitter blocked at least 12 journalists’ and three media outlets’ accounts. As of the end of September, Twitter had blocked 26 media-related accounts in the country at the government’s request.

In July authorities detained leading human rights activists and two foreign trainers during a digital security workshop for local human rights defenders. President Erdogan subsequently claimed the workshop was a “continuation” of the 2016 failed coup attempt.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

During the year the government continued to limit academic freedom, restrict freedom of speech in academic institutions, and censor cultural events.

Hundreds of additional professors lost their jobs or faced charges due to political speech during the year. The Human Rights Joint Platform (HRJP) reported that, as of August 31, a total of 5,717 academics from 117 universities had been dismissed since the 2016 attempted coup under state of emergency decrees; 140 were reinstated. Those dismissed were prohibited from travelling abroad, as were spouses and children. As part of an emergency decree issued on April 29, rectors continued to require the permission of the chairman of the Higher Education Board to travel abroad. Other administrators and some professors were also required to seek permission from supervisors for foreign travel.

Some academics and event organizers stated their employers monitored their work and that they faced censure from their employers if they spoke or wrote on topics not acceptable to academic management or the government. Many reported practicing self-censorship. Human rights organizations and student groups criticized legal and Higher Education Board-imposed constraints that limited university autonomy in staffing, teaching, and research policies.

The state of emergency also affected arts and culture. On December 15, the Diyarbakir Governorate banned the ninth “Which Human Rights?” film festival in Diyarbakir, organized by the HRA and documentary filmmakers, without providing an explanation. On July 27, the Tunceli Governorate refused to allow the Munzur Culture and Nature Festival to take place, citing the state of emergency. In May the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality closed its arts and culture magazine, 1453 Istanbul Kultur ve Sanat, after printing a cover photo that read, “Erdo-GONE,” an apparent reference to President Erdogan. The municipality filed a criminal complaint for “disrespectful and provocative content” and canceled the contracts of editors, the editorial coordinator in charge of content, and the editor in chief. On May 16, authorities blocked the magazine’s website.

The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association under the state of emergency.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the law provides several grounds for the government to limit that right. The law stipulates penalties for protesters convicted of carrying items that might be construed as weapons, prohibits the use of symbols linked to illegal organizations (including chanting slogans), and criminalizes covering one’s face during a protest. The law permits police to use tinted water in water cannons, potentially to tag protesters for later identification and prosecution. The law also allows police to take persons into “protective custody” without a prosecutor’s authorization if there is reasonable suspicion that they are a threat to themselves or to public order. The state of emergency gave governorates enhanced authority to ban protests and public gatherings, a ban widely enacted during the year.

The government regarded many demonstrations as security threats to the state, deploying large numbers of riot police to control crowds, often using excessive force. At times the government used its authority to detain persons before protests were held on the premise that they might cause civil disruption.

Ahead of the April constitutional referendum, authorities regularly declined to permit rallies/events by the “no” camp, which opposed constitutional changes supported by President Erdogan and the ruling AKP. The Supreme Board of Elections denied opposition figure and former Nationalist Movement Party member of parliament Meral Aksener permission to hold a public rally in Isparta. In March some 100 campaigners were distributing “no” flyers in Istanbul’s Kadikoy District, when police sprayed them with tear gas and detained several of them. The campaigners claimed they were targeted for handing out “no” flyers. In March in Canakkale, authorities detained 35 persons affiliated with the “no” campaign prior to a visit by President Erdogan.

The government also selectively restricted meetings to designated sites or dates, particularly limiting access to Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Ankara’s Kizilay Square, and set up roadblocks to prevent protesters from gathering there. The government banned many demonstrations outright if they touched on sensitive subjects.

Security forces at times responded with excessive force to protests, resulting in dozens of injuries, detentions, and arrests. The government generally supported security forces’ actions. The Human Rights Association (HRA) reported that in the first 11 months of the year it received 1,855 complaints from individuals injured in clashes with authorities during demonstrations. Human rights NGOs asserted that the government’s failure to delineate clearly in the law the circumstances that justify the use of force contributed to disproportionate use of force during protests.

On January 9, police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets against protesters–including members of the Ankara Bar Association, opposition members of parliament, and members of civil society groups–who gathered outside parliament to oppose proposed changes to the constitution.

On April 24, during commemorations of the birth of the Prophet Mohammad in Adana, police fired tear gas and plastic bullets at some 200 members of the Furkan Foundation, a conservative religious group critical of the ruling AKP. Police detained 50 persons.

On May 1 (Labor Day), the government restricted rallies in parts of Istanbul and other cities. In Istanbul, 207 persons participating in the celebrations were detained while the governorate closed Taksim Square, the traditional venue for the celebrations.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrations of many kinds faced violent police responses throughout the year. On May 17, Diyarbakir police responded with force and detained 32 members of the Confederation of Union of Public Workers who were protesting the dismissals of public employees under the state of emergency.

Following protests against the arrest and detention of hunger-striking educators Nuriye Gulmen and Semih Ozakca, the Ankara Governorate in May banned demonstrations, press conferences, and meetings. On June 6, Ankara police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group, including several members of parliament, making a public statement in support of Gulmen and Ozakca.

In November local authorities issued indefinite bans on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) events in several parts of the country, including for film festivals and other public activities in Ankara and parts of Istanbul.

The HRA and HRFT jointly reported in December that, in the first 11 months of the year, police intervened in 350 demonstrations and gatherings, detaining nearly 2,000 persons.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government increasingly restricted this right during the year. Under the state of emergency, the government used its expanded powers to shut down associations and foundations for alleged threats to national security. The government declined to provide data on the number of nongovernmental institutions it closed during the year. According to the HRJP, between July 2016 and the end of August, the government closed nearly 1,600 nongovernmental associations or foundations for alleged threats to national security. Other NGOs reported different statistics, based on different data-collection methods. Observers widely reported that the appeals process for institutions seeking redress was opaque and ineffective (see section 1.e.).

By law, persons organizing an association do not need to notify authorities beforehand, but an association must provide notification before interacting with international organizations or receiving financial support from abroad and must provide detailed documents on such activities. Representatives of associations stated this requirement placed an undue burden on their operations. Human rights and civil society organizations, groups promoting LGBTI rights, and women’s groups in particular complained that the government used regular and detailed audits to create administrative burdens and to intimidate them through the threat of large fines. Bar association representatives reported that police sometimes attended civil society organizational meetings and recorded them, likely as a means of intimidation.

In July authorities detained eight leading human rights activists, including Amnesty International’s Turkey director, and two foreign trainers during a workshop on digital security and stress management that President Erdogan claimed was a “continuation” of the 2016 failed coup attempt. Most were charged with supporting a terrorist organization. All were released from pretrial detention in October, but legal proceedings continued at year’s end. In March a court appointed a trustee to conservative human rights NGO Mazlumder, removing and replacing its director and board of directors. The NGO’s new leadership later closed 16 of the group’s offices, mainly in predominantly Kurdish areas. The reasons for the takeover remained unclear as of year’s end. Critics asserted the move was an attempt by the government to silence the organization’s criticism of human rights violations in the southeast.

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 limited these rights. The government restricted foreign travel for tens of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed 2016 coup attempt. Freedom of movement was also restricted in the southeast as a result of counter-PKK operations and, in certain cases, curfews imposed by local authorities. The government also limited freedom of movement for the 3.3 million persons from Syria as well as for the approximately 300,000 persons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries who were present in the country.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers awaiting resettlement to third countries (termed “conditional refugees”), stateless persons, and temporary and international protection status holders.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Between January and November, authorities apprehended 361,000 individuals for crossing into the country from Syria, according to Turkish General Staff and Ministry of Interior data. Multiple sources reported that authorities denied entry to undocumented Iraqis and Syrians during the year. The country’s borders with Syria and Iraq have remained closed to all but extreme humanitarian cases since late 2015.

Incidents of societal violence directed against refugees and persons in refugee-like conditions increased during the year, and many refugees faced workplace exploitation. Early marriage and child labor also remained significant problems among refugees. Human rights groups alleged conditions in detention and removal centers sometimes limited migrants’ rights to communication with and access to family members, interpreters, and lawyers (also see Refoulement).

UNHCR conducted a number of visits to temporary reception centers in Duzici/Osmaniye and Kayseri, where migrants readmitted from Greece were referred on a temporary basis, but did not have regular, unfettered access. In most cases these migrants did not have access to legal counsel or interpretation, leaving them vulnerable to refoulement.

UNHCR reported more than 1,000 LGBTI asylum seekers and conditional refugees lived in the country, most from Iran. According to human rights groups, these refugees faced discrimination and hostility from both authorities and the local population due to their status as members of the LGBTI community. Commercial sexual exploitation also remained a significant problem in the LGBTI refugee community.

In-country Movement: The constitution provides that only a judge may limit citizens’ freedom to travel and only in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution. The state of emergency allowed the government to limit citizens’ internal movement without a court order.

Freedom of movement remained a problem in parts of the east and southeast, where continuing PKK activity led authorities to block roads and set up checkpoints, temporarily restricting movement at times. The government instituted special security zones, restricting the access of civilians, and established curfews in parts of several provinces in response to PKK terrorist attacks or activity (see section 1.g.).

Conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection also experienced restrictions on their freedom of movement (see Protection of Refugees).

Foreign Travel: The government placed restrictions on foreign travel for tens of thousands of citizens accused of links to the Gulen movement or the failed coup attempt. Travel restrictions were applied both to those accused directly of affiliation with the Gulen movement or other terrorist groups as well as to their extended family members. Authorities also restricted several foreign citizens with dual Turkish citizenship from leaving the country. The government maintained that these travel restrictions were necessary and justified under the state of emergency.

Syrians under temporary protection risked the loss of temporary protection status and a possible bar on re-entry into the country if they chose to travel to a third country. The government issued individual exit permissions for Syrians under temporary protection departing the country for family reunification, health treatment, or permanent resettlement, and required an individual exception for all other reasons. The government sometimes denied exit permission to Syrians under temporary protection for reasons that were unclear.

Non-Syrian conditional refugees accepted by a third country for resettlement through a UNHCR process also needed to obtain exit permission before leaving Turkey. UNHCR reported that, through the end of September, 11,487 Syrians under temporary protection received exit permission and an additional 2,299 non-Syrian conditional refugees received exit permission to resettle to a third country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The renewal of conflict between the government and PKK in the southeast in 2015 resulted in hundreds of thousands of IDPs. In some cases those displaced joined IDPs remaining from the conflict between security forces and the PKK between 1984 and the early 2000s. A reduction in urban clashes and government reconstruction efforts during the year permitted some IDPs to return to their homes. Overall numbers remained unclear at year’s end.

The law allows persons who suffered material losses due to terrorist acts, including those by the PKK or by security forces in response to terrorist acts, to apply to the government’s damage determination commissions for compensation. As of October, the government reported it had distributed 222.4 million lira ($60 million) to more than 10,000 victims of displacement due to past PKK terrorism.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

The government took steps during the year to increase services provided to the more than three million refugees in the country. A March 2016 agreement between the government and the EU continued to reduce arrivals in Europe of irregular migrants via the Aegean Sea. As of December 10, a total of 28,205 arrivals in Greece from Turkey by sea were reported: 85 percent fewer than in the same period of 2016. By August migrants began using a new, more dangerous route to Romania via the Black Sea.

Refoulement: As of September, UNHCR reported 68 cases of possible refoulement of persons of various nationalities, including Iraqis, Afghans, Iranians, and Syrians. Reports of deportation of larger numbers of individuals, including Syrians and Iraqis, were also received. In June and July, authorities deported several Syrian staff of one international NGO to Sudan. Authorities generally offered protection against refoulement to all non-European asylum seekers who met the definition of a refugee in the 1951 convention, although 68 unconfirmed cases of possible refoulement and hundreds of deportations may have taken place during the year.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for standard treatment of asylum seekers countrywide and establishes a system of protection, but it limits rights granted in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to refugees from Europe and establishes restrictions on movement for conditional refugees. While non-European asylum seekers were not considered refugees by law, the government granted temporary protection status to Syrians while maintaining conditional/subsidiary refugee status and providing international protection for other asylum seekers. Individuals recognized by the government for temporary protection (Syrians) or conditional/subsidiary refugee status (all other non-Europeans, for example, Iraqis, Iranians, and Somalis) were permitted to reside in the country temporarily.

The law provides regulatory guidelines for foreigners’ entry into, stay in, and exit from the country, and for protection of asylum seekers. The law does not impose a strict time limit to apply for asylum, requiring only that asylum seekers do so “within a reasonable time” after arrival. The law also does not require asylum seekers to present a valid identity document to apply for status.

UNHCR reported that approximately 325,000 persons of concern were registered with UNHCR Turkey as of September, including 137,077 (42 percent) who were Iraqi nationals, 141,247 (44 percent) Afghan nationals, 32,349 (10 percent) Iranian nationals, and 13,442 (4 percent) other nationalities. As of December 9, there were 3,381,005 Syrians registered for temporary protection; as of October 8, there were 231,252 Syrians and 6,853 Iraqis residing in government-run camps, according to Ministry of Interior Directorate General for Migration Management (DGMM) statistics.

UNHCR reported it had intermittent and unpredictable access to detention and removal centers where non-Syrians returned to the country from Greece were detained. UNHCR expressed doubts all readmitted persons had access to the asylum procedure and reported that the access of those readmitted to information, interpretation services, and legal assistance was problematic.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities assigned “conditional refugees” to one of 68 “satellite cities,” where they received services from local authorities under the responsibility of provincial governorates. These asylum seekers were required to check in with local authorities on either a weekly or biweekly basis and needed permission from local authorities to travel to cities other than their assigned city, including for meetings with UNHCR or resettlement-country representatives. Syrians under temporary protection were also restricted by a Ministry of Interior circular from traveling outside of provinces listed on their registration cards without permission. Certain provinces did not accept travel permission requests from Syrians under temporary protection. Syrians were eligible for medical and other services and could qualify for a work permit, although these benefits were limited to the province in which they were registered. Syrians and non-Syrians could request permission to travel or to transfer their registration through the DGMM. Indigent Syrians were at times rounded up and moved to government-run camps in the country’s south. Syrians living in such camps required permission from camp authorities to leave the camps.

Employment: The law allows both Syrians under temporary protection and non-Syrian conditional refugees the right to work, provided they have been registered in the province they wish to work in for six months. Applying for a work permit was the responsibility of the employer, and the procedure was so burdensome and expensive that relatively few employers pursued legally hiring refugees. As a consequence, the vast majority of both conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection remained without legal employment options. As a result many refugees remained vulnerable to exploitation, such as withholding of wages and exposure to unsafe work conditions.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided free access to the public medical system to Syrians registered for temporary protection and subsidized medical care to other conditional refugees. The government also expanded access to education for significant numbers of school-age Syrian children. Many encountered challenges overcoming the language barrier or meeting transportation, other costs, or both.

As of November 6, the Ministry of National Education reported that 63 percent of Syrian children in the country were in school, a significant increase from prior years. On November 6, the Ministry of National Education reported that 359,090 Syrian children were enrolled in regular public schools, while 253,513 were enrolled in temporary education centers, for a total of 612,603 school-age Syrian children in school. An estimated 37 percent remained out of school during the 2017-18 school year.

According to a June 8 statement by the Ministry of Family and Social Policies (MOFSP) minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, more than 56,000 refugee children had received approximately 3.8 million lira (one million dollars) cash assistance for education through a joint program with UNICEF that was funded by a foreign government and the EU.

Provincial governments, working with local NGOs, were responsible for meeting the basic needs of refugees and other asylum seekers assigned to satellite cities in their jurisdictions, as well as of the Syrians present in their districts. Basic services were dependent on local officials’ interpretation of the law and their resources. Governors had significant discretion in working with asylum seekers and NGOs, and the assistance provided by local officials to refugees and persons in refugee-like situations varied widely.

Durable Solutions: The law does not provide for durable solutions within the country for Syrians under temporary protection or for conditional refugees, but it allows them to stay until resettled to a foreign country or able to return to their country of origin. The government also granted citizenship to some Syrian refugees on a limited basis. As of September, authorities had granted approximately 50,000 Syrians citizenship between 2010 and 2017, according to the Interior Ministry’s General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs.

Temporary Protection: The government offered “temporary protection” to Syrian refugees who did not qualify as refugees due to the European-origin limitation in the law. Authorities required Syrian asylum seekers to register with the DGMM to legalize their temporary stay in the country. Syrians who registered with the government were able to receive an identification card, which qualified them for assistance provided through the governorates, including free health care. Residents of the camps received significantly more assistance, including shelter, education, and food support.

Syrians who officially entered the country with passports could receive one-year residence permits upon registration with the government. The government reported that 48,738 Syrians were issued residency permits in 2016. Figures for the year were not available as of December 31.

STATELESS PERSONS

The government identified 117 persons as stateless in 2016. Figures for the year were not available as of December 31. The government provided documentation for children born to conditional refugees and Syrians under temporary protection, although statelessness remained an increasing concern for these children, who could receive neither Turkish citizenship nor documentation from their parents’ home country. According to the MOFSP, as of September, there were more than 225,000 babies born to Syrian mothers in Turkey since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011.

In June the government identified 130 persons living abroad, including two former HDP lawmakers, who it claimed would lose their citizenship if they did not return within three months to face justice for alleged crimes in the country (primarily related to the 2016 coup attempt). At year’s end it remained unclear whether the government followed through with stripping any of them of their citizenship.

Turkmenistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The law requires political parties to allow representatives of the Central Election Committee and Ministry of Justice to monitor their meetings. The government also warned critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners about human rights problems.

During the year the government publicized new laws that stipulate civil servants must refrain from public statements on the activities of the government and its leaders if such statements are not part of their official duties. The laws also state that civil servants must refrain from making public statements regarding the value of goods, works, and services, including the government’s budget, borrowing, or debt.

In October 2016 state police services threatened to harm animal rights activist Galina Kucherenko for her online postings protesting a government campaign to destroy stray dogs and cats found on the city streets. Authorities continued their threats during the year, as Kucherenko continued to be harassed by state police services and was threatened with a 25-year prison sentence once the September 17-27 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) concluded. Unidentified men visited Kucherenko November 15, and demanded she sign a police summons allegedly related to a complaint filed against her by a fellow activist. On December 7, unidentified men and police broke Kucherenko’s door, entered her apartment, and detained her and her daughter, Valeria. Valeria was fined and released on the same day; Galina was released after 15 days of arbitrary detention. Kucherenko’s home internet and mobile phone were blocked by authorities.

Press and Media Freedom: The government financed and controlled the publication of books and almost all other print media and online newspapers/journals. Quasi-independent weekly newspaper Rysgal continued to operate, although its stories were largely reprints from state media outlets or reflected the views of the state news agency. The government maintained restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers except for the private, but government-sanctioned, Turkish newspaper Zaman Turkmenistan, which reflected the views of the official state newspapers, and Atavatan-Turkmenistan, a Turkish journal.

The government controlled radio and domestic television, but satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming were widespread throughout the country. International organizations and news outlets highlighted the forced removal of some satellite dishes by the government and replacement with telecommunications packages, such as cable, that limited access to certain channels and kinds of information. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite access.

The government continued its ban on subscriptions to foreign periodicals by nongovernmental entities, although copies of nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. The government maintained a subscription service to Russian-language outlets for government workers, although these publications were not available for public use.

There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities. The government limited the issuance of visas to journalists covering the AIMAG. Journalists from the BBC and The Guardian scheduled to cover the AIMAG reported that their accreditations were issued and then revoked.

In August the government stated that 22 foreign journalists were accredited in the country. Six of them conducted reporting from foreign countries.

Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists critical of its official policy to surveillance and harassment. There were reports law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, including by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. RFE/RL stringer Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev was arrested, charged, and convicted for possession of narcotics and sentenced to three years’ incarceration in August 2015. He remained imprisoned at year’s end. Human Rights Watch disputed the legal basis of the charge, stating it was politically motivated. Visiting foreign journalists reported harassment and denial of freedom of movement when they attempted to report from the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits censorship and provides for freedom to gather and disseminate information, but authorities did not implement the law. The government continued to censor newspapers and prohibit reporting of opposition political views or any criticism of the president. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents often engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses, printing, and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction. The government must approve the importation, publishing, and dissemination of religious literature.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to monitor citizens’ email and internet activity. Reports indicated the Ministry of National Security controlled the main internet access gateway and that several servers belonging to internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) conversations, turn on computer cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. The authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions and international businesses, and severely restricted internet access to other websites. Skype, an encrypted VOIP service, was blocked throughout the year.

In 2016 the government reported that 12 percent of the population used the internet. The percentage of the population that accessed the internet via cell phones reportedly was much higher, although official estimates were not available. Much of the population received its news from Russian- and Turkish-language cable and satellite television feeds.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles, and curtailed research in areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, and theology. In 2015 a presidential decree established procedures for the government to certify foreign diplomas. To have foreign diplomas formally recognized, graduates must complete an application, submit information on their family history for three generations, and pass regular Turkmen university graduation exams related to their majors. Due to this extensive process, many graduates of foreign universities reported they were unable to certify their diplomas with authorities at the Ministry of Education, making them ineligible for employment at state agencies. Some graduates reported ministry officials demanded bribes to allow certification of their diplomas. The government strictly controlled the production of plays and performances in state theaters, and these were severely limited. Authorities also strictly controlled film screenings and limited viewings to approved films dubbed or subtitled in Turkmen and Russian, unless sponsored by a foreign embassy.

The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. During the year authorities neither granted the required permits for public meetings and demonstrations nor allowed unregistered organizations to hold demonstrations. According to Forum 18, in some instances the police raided homes where members of religious groups were meeting and detained participants.

Unregistered religious groups were not allowed to meet, according to the country’s religion law adopted in April 2016. In October Forum 18 reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups continued to face harassment, torture, raids, fines, seizure of literature, and house searches.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government restricted this right. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice and all foreign assistance to be coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and sets out a schedule of fines for religious activity conducted by unregistered groups.

Of the estimated 119 registered NGOs, international organizations recognized only a few as independent. NGOs reported the government presented a number of administrative obstacles to NGOs that attempted to register. Authorities reportedly rejected some applications repeatedly on technical grounds. Some organizations awaiting registration found alternate ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups, but others temporarily suspended or limited their activities. Although the law states there is a process for registering foreign assistance, NGOs had difficulty registering bilateral foreign assistance in practice due to the 2013 decree requiring such registration.

Sources noted a number of barriers to the formation and functioning of civil society. These included regulations that permitted the Ministry of Justice to send representatives to association events and meetings, and requirements that associations notify the government about their planned activities.

In February the official government newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published the changes and new amendments to the Law on Public Associations. Specifically, the law does not exempt religious organizations, nonprofit associations, and political parties; founders of public associations have to be Turkmen citizens; the law denies public associations the right to represent and protect the rights of other citizens, including the right to participate in elections; and public associations can only be sponsored by legal entities, including foreign nonprofit organizations.

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 do not provide for full freedom of movement.

In-Country Movement: The law requires internal passports and residency permits. Persons residing or working without residency permits face forcible removal to their place of registration. A requirement for a border permit remained in effect for all foreigners wishing to travel to border areas.

The law does not permit dual citizenship. In 2015 all dual citizens were obliged to renounce one of their citizenships if they wanted to travel outside the country. The process of renouncing Turkmen citizenship is not transparent and can take up to a year.

RFE/RL posted an article about additional restrictions taken by Ashgabat city authorities, which significantly reduced the number of cars in the capital. According to RFE/RL, all drivers without Ashgabat license plates approaching the city were required to bypass the city if they were traveling further or to park their cars and continue the journey to the city on taxi or public transport.

Foreign Travel: The government continued to bar certain citizens from departing under its Law on Migration. The law states that citizens of Turkmenistan may be denied exit from Turkmenistan “if their exit contravenes the interests of national security of Turkmenistan.” “Prove They Are Alive!” reported that any of the country’s law enforcement bodies can initiate a travel ban on a citizen and that travelers in various categories may be denied departure, including: young men obliged to military service; persons facing criminal and civil charges or under probationary sentence; relatives of persons reportedly convicted and imprisoned for the 2002 alleged assassination attempt; as well as journalists, civil society activists, and their family members. Although the government denied maintaining a “black list” of local persons not permitted to travel abroad, ANT reported that such a list existed and contained approximately 17,000 names. According to various sources, in most cases, travelers who were stopped were not given an explanation for denial of departure and were only informed of the ban upon attempting foreign travel from the airport. Some individuals were able to obtain documentation from the State Migration Service (SMS) later stating they were not allowed to depart the country, but without justification for the ban. In some cases, authorities initially denied travelers departure from the country, but after several days, or in some cases weeks, the travelers were allowed to depart without explanation for the delay.

The government routinely prevented citizens from travelling abroad for programs sponsored by foreign governments, unless the program was specifically approved in advance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Migration officials often stopped “nonapproved” travelers at the airport and prevented them from leaving. In some cases, however, those traveling for approved programs were also not allowed to depart or were delayed.

The Law on Migration provides for restrictions on travel by citizens who had access to state secrets, presented falsified personal information, committed a serious crime, were under surveillance, might become victims of trafficking, previously violated the law of the destination country, or whose travel contradicts the interests of national security. In some cases, the law provides for time limits on the travel ban as well as fines for its infraction. Former public-sector employees who had access to state secrets were prevented from traveling abroad for five years after terminating their employment with the government. The law allows authorities to forbid recipients of presidential amnesties from traveling abroad for a period of up to two years. The law also allows the government to impose limitations on obtaining education in specific professions and specialties.

RFE/RL reported that in March, authorities questioned citizens returning from Turkey and Ukraine. Citizens returning from these countries were forced to sign a written statement abstaining from visiting “dangerous countries.” RFE/RL claimed that authorities considered Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Ukraine as dangerous countries. In March the SMS reduced the validity of passports from 10 years to five years. According to local observers, the move forced citizens abroad to “check-in” with the SMS every five years, and enabled the SMS to monitor and control the movement of citizens who stayed abroad.

In its 2016-2017 annual report, AI stated that arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel abroad remained in practice. According to AI, the government targeted, among others, relatives of those accused of involvement in the alleged attempt to assassinate President Niyazov in 2002, relatives of opposition figures residing abroad, civil society activists, students, journalists, and former migrant workers.

Exile: The law provides for internal exile, requiring persons to reside in a certain area for a fixed term of two to five years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

While formally there is a system for granting refugee status, it was inactive. In 2009 the government assumed responsibility from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for making refugee status determinations but has not granted refugee status since. UNHCR had observer status at government-run refugee-status determination hearings. Persons determined by the government not to be refugees obtained mandate refugee status from UNHCR. Mandate refugees were required to renew UNHCR certificates with the government annually. In 2015 UNHCR reported that 27 UNHCR mandate refugees resided in the country, but it provided no updates for 2016 or 2017. The country did not grant citizenship to any UNHCR mandate refugees during the year.

In 2014 the government amended the Law on Migration to permit refugees to receive, at no charge, biometric identification and travel documents compliant with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In June the government published an updated law on refugees. The law includes the creation of temporary accommodation facilities located along the border of mass refugee inflow. The law also provides for the temporary protection of refugees arriving in an emergency. The previous law stated that the SMS review refugee status applications within three months. The new law states that the SMS can extend its review up to a year.

Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not granted asylum since 2005.

STATELESS PERSONS

The country had a significant population of former Soviet Union citizens who became stateless due to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 2015 UNHCR estimated there were 7,111 stateless persons or persons of underdetermined nationality in the country. The number of stateless persons who were also refugees was not available. Citizenship is derived primarily from one’s parents. The requirement that applicants for citizenship prove they are not citizens of another country impeded efforts to establish the nationality of undocumented persons. According to UNHCR, however, in the past 10 years, the government granted citizenship to an estimated 18,000 stateless persons. In 2016 the government granted citizenship to 1,381 stateless persons residing in the country. During the year the government did not grant any stateless person citizenship. The Law on Migration allows stateless persons to reside in the country legally and travel internationally with government-issued identification and travel documents.

Undocumented stateless persons did not have access to public benefits, education, or employment opportunities.

Uganda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the government often restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted the ability of some individuals to criticize it or to discuss matters of general public interest. It restricted some political buttons and symbols, music lyrics, and theatrical performances.

Local media reported that in response to public opposition to the government’s efforts to rescind Article 102 (b) of the constitution, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued several veiled warnings aimed at intimidating the public and media organizations from using social media to oppose the change. The UCC’s September 14 statement said, “Social and electronic communication platform users, account managers, and administrators should refrain themselves and group members against authoring, posting, receiving and sharing or forwarding any forms of electronic communications containing and or referring to illegal and/or offensive content to avoid the risk of being investigated and/or prosecuted.”

On October 7, the UPF banned football fans from wearing red ribbons, which had become a symbol for opposition to the government’s plan to rescind Article 102 (b) of the constitution. On October 17, the UPF banned member of parliament (MP) and musician Robert Kyagulanyi from performing concerts pending the police’s investigation into allegations that Kyagulanyi used “words that incite the public” at an October 15 concert. On October 18, a UPF official warned musicians not to politicize their art, saying, “Music is not supposed to be partisan.” On October 19, Kyagulanyi sued the government for 300 million shillings ($82,500) in damages for infringing on his right to employment, freedom of speech, expression, association, and conscience. The case was pending at year’s end.

On April 7, plain-clothed UPF officers arrested Makerere University professor Stella Nyanzi on charges of cyber harassment related to a series of Facebook (FB) posts in which she criticized the government’s failure to fulfill the president’s 2016 campaign pledge to provide sanitary pads for school girls and called the president “a pair of buttocks” (see section 1.e.). According to local media, the UPF interrogated Nyanzi about her posts for six hours on March 7 and told her she had offended the president. On March 18, airport immigration officers prevented Nyanzi from traveling to the Netherlands for an academic conference. Further, the state-controlled Makerere University suspended Nyanzi on March 31 for “continually insulting the first lady.” On April 10, the state charged Nyanzi with cyber harassment and offensive communication. A court released Nyanzi on bail on May 10, and the case continued at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: The country had an active media environment with numerous privately owned newspapers and television and radio stations. These media outlets regularly covered stories and often provided commentary critical of the government and officials. The UPF’s Media Crimes Unit, however, closely monitored all radio, television, and print media, and security forces subjected numerous journalists to harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Government officials and ruling party members owned many of the private rural radio stations and imposed reporting restrictions. Media practitioners said government and security agents occasionally called editors and instructed them not to publish stories that negatively portrayed the government. On September 14, local media reported that the president had warned FM radio stations that his government would not tolerate any that hosted opposition politicians who campaigned against government legislation.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces often harassed journalists. According to local media, on April 7, unidentified individuals kidnapped a local television journalist and held her for eight hours for posting messages on FB that supported Nyanzi’s criticism of the government’s failure to fulfill the president’s campaign promise to distribute sanitary pads to poor girls. The kidnappers interrogated her about her connections with Nyanzi, beat her, cut off her hair, threatened to kill her and her family, and forced her to delete the FB posts. By year’s end there was no known update on the investigation into the reporter’s kidnapping.

On April 1, unidentified individuals broke into the office of local newspaper The Observer, taking at least 20 computers, the computer server, one camera, and a television, as well as the security camera footage covering the burglary. This marked the second time in six months that unidentified individuals had broken into The Observer’s offices (the first break-in occurred in October 2016). The Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), whose premises were also broken into in 2013 and 2015, criticized police for not taking these break-ins seriously; the HRNJ stated that as of September 19, the police investigation had not made progress on any of the break-ins. On September 19, The Observer stated that police had asked for money to facilitate the investigation and added there had been no updates from the police. According to The Observer and the HRNJ, investigations remained pending as of year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly restricted media coverage and content. On September 26, the UCC prohibited local television stations from live broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings after MPs brawled in the House, claiming that such broadcasts incited public violence and hatred. On October 5, the UCC lifted the ban.

On September 30, Kyagulanyi reported that the UCC had warned radio stations that they could be shut down if they allowed him to participate on their talk shows. The UCC, however, denied making this statement. Local media reported that the UCC also ordered some radio stations to dismiss employees who had criticized government’s plan to rescind Article 102 (b) of the constitution and suspended the broadcasting licenses of those that refused to comply with the directive.

On April 21, after the IGP learned that four media outlets had been publishing leaked internal UPF information concerning Kaweesi’s killing (see sections 1.a. and 1.c.) and the ensuing investigation, the IGP successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court to prohibit these outlets from reporting on these subjects, claiming the publications were “injurious” to the investigation.

Many print and broadcast journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when reporting on the president and his inner circle.

Libel/Slander Laws: Authorities used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of government officials. On June 20, the UPF detained, questioned, and later released Ben Byarabaha, editor of local newspaper Red Pepper, whom it accused of offensive communication, following the newspaper’s report the IGP was ill. The UPF said the report was false.

National Security: Local media reported that a UPF disciplinary tribunal charged two officers with breach of confidence for recording and then sharing images from the November 2016 UPDF and UPF raid on the Rwenzururu Kingdom’s palace. This case was pending at year’s end.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were allegations that government security agents censored online content by harassing and threatening authors of online statements that criticized the government or government officials. Although the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet during the year, it established the legal authority to do so in the future. An amendment to the Uganda Communications Act, passed by parliament on April 6, authorizes the minister of information to regulate communications, including blocking access to the internet, without parliament’s approval. The amendment also affords parliament the ability to block any communication regulation issued by the minister within 30 days of issuance.

On June 28, local media reported that the government had created the Government Citizen Interaction Center, which would “scrutinize FB profiles and follow up on people who are angry with government, so it could give them solutions.” Several journalists reported that security agents monitored them and threatened to attack them if they continued to criticize the government on social media. Two bloggers reported in April they received threatening messages on FB demanding they stop posting messages in support of Nyanzi.

Citing the Antiterrorism Act, the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, and the Computer Misuse Act, the government monitored social media. According to local media, the minister for information told a crowd gathered to mark World Communications Day on May 28 that the government was filtering social media content because internet users “have taken advantage of such platforms to terrorize the country.”

According to the International Communication Union, approximately 22 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government occasionally restricted academic freedom and cultural events. On May 16, media reported that the Uganda Media Council prohibited the embassy of the Netherlands from screening The Dinner Club during the European Film Festival because the film “depicted and glorified homosexuality, which is a criminal offense in Uganda.” In a public statement, the Netherlands embassy stated it “deplores” the government’s decision and would withdraw from the film festival.

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government did not respect this right. The government used the 2013 Public Order Management Act to limit the right to assemble and disrupted opposition and civil society-led public meetings and rallies. The act also placed a significant bureaucratic burden on those wishing to organize or host gatherings and afforded the UPF wide discretion to prevent an event by refusing to approve it, or, more commonly, by not responding to the permission request, which then created a legal justification for disrupting almost any gathering.

According to local media, between September 12 and November 9, the UPF dispersed at least 30 rallies protesting the government’s plan to rescind Article 102 (b) of the constitution and arrested at least 170 protesters. On October 19, the UPF shot and killed three persons in Rukungiri District who were protesting against the government’s plan to rescind the article. On July 19, local media reported that the UPF arrested more than 60 persons, at various venues in Kampala, who were protesting against the proposed constitutional amendment. The UPF claimed the assemblies were unlawful and detained participants at FSU headquarters for three days before releasing them without charge. Such arrests of persons peacefully protesting efforts to amend the constitution occurred throughout the fall.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government did not always respect this right and restricted the operations of local NGOs, especially those that work on civil and political rights (see section 5). On May 5, the government published implementing regulations for the 2015 NGO Act. The regulations require NGOs to disclose sources of funding and personal information about their employees and impose onerous registration and reporting requirements. The regulations enables the NGO Bureau and its local level structures to deny registration to any organization focused on issues deemed to be “undesirable” or “prejudicial” to the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” The regulations also provide the NGO Bureau broad powers to inspect NGO offices and records and to suspend their activities without due process. The regulations increase registration and annual permit renewal fees for local NGOs from 20,000 shillings ($5.50) to 100,000 ($27.50), and from 20,000 shilling ($5.50) to 60,000 shillings ($16.50), respectively. They also introduce new fees, including for the NGO Bureau to review permit applications (60,000 shillings, or$16.50) and for NGOs to file annual reports (50,000 shillings, or$13.80).

The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) said police concluded the investigation into the 2016 break-in into HRAPF offices, which included the killing of a guard, and that they found it was a normal burglary with no correlation to the organization’s work. The HRAPF stated that police did not provide any evidence to support this conclusion.

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (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. The government continued to uphold its enabling asylum policies and practices towards refugees and asylum seekers from various countries, mainly from South Sudan, the DRC, Burundi, and Somalia. Most refugees enjoyed unhindered access to asylum, freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to registration and documentation, and access to justice, education, health care, and employment

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Some South Sudanese refugees reported that customs officials at border points confiscated their motorbikes and vehicles. Customs officials said they would release these items when the owners could present documentation establishing their ownership. Some of the affected refugees stated that they were unable to provide such documentation because they had fled their homes due to the conflict in South Sudan, and they asserted that the customs officials were requiring documents as a ploy to steal their possessions. UNHCR and government authorities continued to investigate these incidents at year’s end.

According to UNHCR, the UPF was unable to protect fully refugees in several of the large refugee settlements because of insufficient equipment, transportation, and personnel. As of year’s end, Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, one of 21 refugee settlements in the country, hosted more refugees than any other settlement in the world. UNHCR received reports that South Sudanese armed groups had infiltrated some refugee settlements near the border with South Sudan and abducted South Sudanese men to force them to fight in the country’s civil war. UNHCR reported the government deployed additional troops to improve its border surveillance and was investigating the alleged abductions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. While individuals fleeing South Sudan have prima facie refugee status (status without determination of individual refugee status), the Refugee Eligibility Committee determines whether individuals fleeing from the DRC, Somalia, and Burundi are eligible for refugee status. The committee was functional, but administrative issues and the continued influx of asylum seekers from the DRC and Burundi created a case backlog.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country does not have a policy of presumptive denials of asylum to applicants. There were reports, however, that police officers at the asylum registration office in Kampala turned away two lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals who sought asylum due to discrimination in their home countries (Kenya and Afghanistan), in violation of the country’s asylum policy.

Durable Solutions: The government did not accept third-country refugees for resettlement, but it assisted in the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes and supported the resettlement of third-country refugees to other countries by providing birth certificates and travel documents. Following a 2015 constitutional court ruling that confirmed the right to naturalization for certain long-term refugees, however, the government in May 2016 committed to begin processing naturalization cases for an estimated 15,000 refugees who had resided in the country for approximately 20 years. By year’s end there were no known cases of a refugee having naturalized.

United Arab Emirates

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest; the government restricted freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional turmoil in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In February a court sentenced poet Saqr al-Shehhi to three months in jail and a 250,000 AED ($68,000) fine for violating the cybercrime law, public order, and morality by posting a socially controversial poem on social media. An appeals court additionally banned him from social media for two years.

In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was considered personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

On June 7, after the government severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, the General Prosecutor declared that showing any sympathy with Qatar or objecting to the government’s position against Qatar in written, visual, or verbal form, was punishable by three to 15 years in prison or a minimum fine of 500,000 AED ($136,000). Activists alleged authorities detained citizen Ghanem Abdullah Matar after he posted a series of videos on social media in June that expressed sympathy with Qatar.

Press and Media Freedom: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free trade zones, the government owned most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. All media conformed to unpublished government reporting guidelines. The government also influenced privately owned media, through the National Media Council (NMC), which directly oversaw all media content. Satellite-receiving dishes were widespread and provided access to uncensored international broadcasts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Statements that “threaten social stability;” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions were criminalized. The law also criminalizes as blasphemy acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet. In August the government issued new regulations that require government and private institutions to obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content or face penalties. The order applied to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters, that issues any type of publication.

After severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, the government blocked Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and broadcasting channels. Authorities also blocked Qatari-financed broadcaster beIN Sports for six weeks. Media sources reported authorities harassed beIN production crews in and around stadiums, including forcing them to remove company logos from microphones and subjecting them to police questioning.

Government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly as most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology. In March an Indian national was convicted for defaming a prominent jewelry company on social media. He was fined 250,000 AED ($68,000), deported, and ordered to delete the related photos and close his Facebook profile for a year.

Those who commit libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrimes laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech. In February, Abu Dhabi police arrested 25 social media users under the cybercrime law for circulating misleading and fabricated information on crimes and alleged perpetrators before police investigations had been completed.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government restricted access to some websites and monitored social media, instant messaging services, and blogs. Authorities stated they could imprison individuals for misusing the internet. Self-censorship was apparent on social media, and there were reports the Ministry of Interior monitored internet use. The International Telecommunication Union estimated more than 90 percent of the population had access to the internet.

The country’s two internet service providers, both linked to the government, used a proxy server to block materials deemed inconsistent with the country’s values, as defined by the Ministry of Interior. Blocked material included pornographic websites and a wide variety of other sites deemed indecent, such as those dealing with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) issues; Judaism and atheism; negative critiques of Islam; testimonies of former Muslims who converted to Christianity; gambling; promotion of illegal drug use; and postings that explained how to circumvent the proxy servers. International media sites, accessed using the country’s internet providers, contained filtered content. The government also blocked some sites containing content critical of ruling families in the UAE and other states in the region. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority was responsible for creating lists of blocked sites. Service providers did not have the authority to remove sites from blocked lists without government approval. The government also blocked most voice-over-internet-protocol applications.

In March the government established the Federal Public Prosecution for Information Technology Crimes in Abu Dhabi to investigate criminal cases involving use of information technology, including the use of the internet with the intent to damage public morals, the promotion of sinful behavior, insults to Islam and God, illegal collections of donations, trafficking in persons, calling for or abetting the breach of laws, and the organization of demonstrations.

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In July an Arab man was prosecuted under the cybercrime law after his wife reported him for insulting her on WhatsApp. He was fined 5,000 AED ($1,360) and deported.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and include jail terms that reach life sentences and fines between 50,000 AED ($13,600) and three million AED ($81,600) depending on severity and seriousness of the crime. These laws added to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom, including speech both inside and outside the classroom by educators, and censored academic materials for schools. The government required official permission for conferences and submission of detailed information on proposed speakers and topics of discussion. This was also required at private schools for events on campus. Some organizations found it difficult to secure meeting space for public events that dealt with contentious issues.

Cultural institutions avoided displaying artwork or programming that criticized the government or religion. Self-censorship among cultural and other institutions, especially for content presented to the public, was pervasive and generally directed at preventing the appearance of illegal works, including those deemed as promoting blasphemy or addressing controversial political issues.

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law provides limited freedom of assembly and the government imposed restrictions.

The law requires a government-issued permit for organized public gatherings. Authorities dispersed impromptu protests such as labor strikes and at times arrested participants. While there was no uniform standard for the number of persons who could gather without a permit, civil society representatives in the past have reported authorities could ask groups of four or more to disperse if they did not have a permit. The government did not interfere routinely with informal, nonpolitical gatherings held without a government permit in public places unless there were complaints. The government generally permitted political gatherings that supported its policies. Hotels, citing government regulations, sometimes denied permission for groups such as unregistered religious organizations to rent space for meetings or religious services.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides limited freedom of association. The government imposed some restrictions.

Political organizations, political parties, and trade unions are illegal. All associations and NGOs are required to register with the Ministry of Community Development (formerly Social Affairs), and many that did received government subsidies. Domestic NGOs registered with the ministry were mostly citizens’ associations for economic, religious, social, cultural, athletic, and other purposes. Registration rules require that all voting organizational members, as well as boards of directors, must be local citizens. This requirement excluded almost 90 percent of the population from fully participating in such organizations.

Associations must follow the government’s censorship guidelines and receive prior government approval before publishing any material. In Abu Dhabi, exhibitions, conferences, and meetings require a permit from the Tourism and Culture Authority. To obtain a permit, the event organizer must submit identification documents for speakers along with speaker topics. The government denied permits if it did not approve of the topic or speaker. If the event or speaker continued without an approved permit, the government imposed fines.

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 generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. While the government generally respected these rights, the government imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally. The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication, and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an airport.

At the sole discretion of emirate-level prosecutors, foreign nationals had their passports taken or travel restricted during criminal and civil investigations. Some individuals were also banned from foreign travel. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors, who in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases, family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay off the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. According to media reports, rulers of various emirates pardoned 1,907 prisoners during Eid al-Adha and the president pledged to settle financial obligations of released prisoners.

Travel bans were placed on citizens. For example, citizens of interest for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in de facto travel bans.

Authorities did not lift travel bans until the completion of a case in the judicial system. In complex cases, particularly in the investigation of financial crimes, travel bans remained in place for three years or more.

On June 5, the government and several other regional countries severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and enacted a blockade on air, sea, and land traffic to and from Qatar. Qatari citizens were given until June 19 to leave the UAE and were banned from traveling to and transiting the UAE. Emirati citizens were banned from visiting or transiting through Qatar. The UAE Ministry of Interior established a hotline to assist blended Qatari-Emirati families, allowing them to remain in the UAE on a case-by-case basis.

Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, and adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.

Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or politically provocative actions.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government did not formally grant refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection, but it allowed some refugees to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education for children. There were no reports the government sent individuals who expressed a fear of return, back to their country of origin against their will.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government had not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases, authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country.

Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.

Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result, some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to healthcare or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance, but required full payment up front.

STATELESS PERSONS

Estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not have the preferred tribal affiliation used to determine citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, the movement of Bidoon was restricted, both within the country and internationally. In recent years, the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comoran citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the UAE.

The government has a naturalization process, and individuals may apply for citizenship. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens do not acquire citizenship automatically at birth, but their mothers may obtain citizenship for the children after submitting an application, which a government committee reviews and generally accepts, once the child is 18 years old. A foreign woman may receive citizenship after 10 years of marriage to a citizen. Anyone may receive a passport by presidential fiat.

The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were no reports, however, of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.

Uzbekistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.

Freedom of Expression: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media does not operate freely because the state exercises broad control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country.

Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.

Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies.

The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials. A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations began broadcasting and publishing a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms and policies enacted under former president Karimov. In July the government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcast current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English. Most of the programming was prerecorded for later broadcast, especially programming with political content or government officials.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. In August police detained Samarkand-based journalist Toshpulat Rahmatullayev for taking photos at the Samarkand Extension Center of the Tashkent University for a story on university enrollment and admissions testing. Police interrogated Rahmatullayev and deleted the journalist’s photos from his camera before releasing him without charges. Uzbek Security Services arrested journalist Hayot Nasreddinov on October 20. Nasreddinov was a journalist and contributed as a blogger to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, according to Shukhrat Babadjanov, a reporter with the broadcaster. In 2012-13, he worked as a freelancer for Moscow-based ferghana.ru, which published dozens of his articles. Nasreddinov was charged with attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz have published critical stories on issues such as electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market.

Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers and broadcasters to propagate stories that discredited individuals and human rights activists. In April online news site UzMetronom, known as a placement site for deliberate government leaks, including from the security ministries, distributed reports intended to discredit human rights activist Elena Urlaeva.

There was often little distinction between the editorial content of a government and a privately owned newspaper. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

In April a presidential decree established an “International Press Club” and directed ministers to begin engaging with the press. Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov held a press conference July 5, during which he took questions and spoke on a range of issues for nearly two hours. Access to the press club is severely limited to predominantly state media representatives.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. In February businessman Olim Sulaymanov created a Facebook video that accused a Prosecutor General’s Office official of freezing his business assets after he refused to pay what he said was a protection racket fee. Sulaymanov later appeared on a talk show to discuss the case. Following the talk show appearance, the Prosecutor’s Office filed a court motion against Sulaymanov, accusing him of libel. In April a Tashkent court sentenced Sulaymanov to three years in jail.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, routinely blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Fergananews.comOzodlik.org, and Asiaterra.info. The government blocked several domestic and international news websites and those operated by opposition political parties.

The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Websites were not required to submit hard copies of publications to the government.

According to government statistics, approximately 39 percent of individuals in the country used the internet. Unofficial estimates, especially of internet access through mobile communications devices, were higher. Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the Law on Information Technologies require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.

A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities occasionally required department head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.

Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects. Some school and university administrations, however, continued to pressure teachers and students to refrain from participating in conferences sponsored by diplomatic missions.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, and abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private corporate functions.

In February police in Bukhara initially detained 20 Shia men on charges of disorderly conduct but released 18 of the men either immediately or within 15 days. Authorities charged two individuals, Zhahangir Kulizhanov and Shavkat Azimov, with illegal public association related to establishment of a religious organization. Kulizhanov and Azimov were both sentenced to pay a fine of eight million soms ($1,000), but Kulizhanov was further investigated by the NSS. On October 24, Bukhara Regional Criminal Court sentenced Kulizhanov to five years in prison term for dissemination of materials that threaten the public order.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government sought to control NGO activity and expressed concerns regarding internationally funded NGOs and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported continuing government control and harassment.

In August police in Karakalpakstan raided a private home where 25 members of an unregistered Protestant church gathered for dinner. All members of the church were taken into custody. One Uzbek-language bible was confiscated. According to a local NGO, diners claimed to have gathered for a private affair, while police claimed the group belonged to the same underground, unregistered church and were discussing religious matters. Karakalpakstan has only one registered non-Muslim faith church. The government reportedly has not registered a new Christian church location in eight years; the last time was the registering of an Armenian Apostolic Church in Tashkent.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event materials to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.

There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that all organizations be registered formally with the government. Authorities used registration requirements to bar foreign NGOs from the country. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.

NGOs intending to address sensitive issues, such as HIV/AIDS or refugee problems, often faced increased difficulties in obtaining registration. The government allowed nonpolitical associations and social organizations to register, but complex rules and a cumbersome bureaucracy further complicated the process and created opportunities for government obstruction.

The government compelled most local NGOs to join a government-controlled NGO association that allowed the government considerable oversight over their funding and activities. The government required NGOs to coordinate their training sessions or seminars with government authorities. NGO managers believed this stipulation created a way for the government to require prior official permission for all NGO program activities. The government claimed these regulations were intended to simplify registration requirements and lower registration fees, but independent civil society groups reported these requirements had not simplified registration procedures.

The degree to which NGOs were able to operate varied by region because some local officials were more tolerant of NGO activities, particularly when coordinated with government agencies. Civil society groups reported that authorities imposed restrictions after groups had registered, such as requiring advance permission from the Justice Ministry for many public activities.

The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs”; the law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.

The government continued to enforce the 2004 banking decree, ostensibly designed to combat money laundering, which complicated efforts by registered and unregistered NGOs to receive outside funding. The Finance Ministry required humanitarian aid and technical assistance recipients to submit information about their bank transactions. The Ministry of Justice required NGOs to submit detailed reports every six months on any grant funding received, events conducted, and events planned for the next six months. NGO leaders may be fined for conducting events without explicit permission from the ministry, and the fine was several times higher than for some criminal offenses.

Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”

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 laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights, in particular through the continued requirement for citizens to receive an exit visa for travel outside the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In-country Movement: Citizens were required to have a domicile registration stamp in their passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country, and the government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Permission from local authorities was required to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region from other parts of the country. During the year authorities eased requirements for securing Tashkent residency permits by allowing any Uzbek citizen to obtain residency with the purchase of real estate in excess of 720 million soms ($90,000). Those living and working without Tashkent City or Tashkent Region registration were unable to receive city services and could not legally work, send their children to school, or receive routine medical care.

The government required hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. Foreigners staying in private homes were required to register their location within three days of arrival. Government officials closely monitored foreigners in border areas, but foreigners generally could move within the country without restriction.

Foreign Travel: The government occasionally closed borders around national holidays due to security concerns. The government generally granted the requisite exit visas for citizens and foreign permanent residents to travel or emigrate outside the CIS. Exit visa procedures, however, allow authorities to deny travel based on “information demonstrating the inexpedience of the travel.” According to civil society activists, these provisions were poorly defined and denials could not be appealed. Authorities sometimes interfered in foreign travel if the purpose of the trip was expressly religious in nature.

The government requires male relatives of women between the ages of 18 and 35 to submit a statement pledging that the women would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution, while abroad, a regulation the government stated is aimed at combating trafficking in persons. Observers noted, however, that the majority of Uzbek trafficking victims abroad were male victims of labor trafficking.

Although the law requires authorities to reach a decision on issuing exit visas within 15 days, the government reportedly delayed exit visas for human rights activists and former political prisoners, such as Murod Juraev and Mukhammad Bekjanov. Murad Juraev applied for an exit visa in April and was approved to travel abroad at the end of October. Violating rules for exiting or entering the country is punishable by imprisonment of five to 10 years.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

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

In the absence of a resident Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Program (UNDP) continued to assist with monitoring and resettlement processing of 18 pending (predominantly Afghan) refugee cases involving 27 individuals; such cases predated the closure of the local UNHCR office in 2006. During the year UNDP and temporary duty UNHCR staff processed five cases involving seven persons. Because the UNDP does not process new claims or make refugee status determinations, it referred potential applicants to UNHCR offices in neighboring countries.

The government did not accept UNHCR mandate certificates as a basis for extended legal residence; persons carrying such certificates must apply for either tourist visas or residence permits or face possible deportation. Residence permits were difficult to obtain. The government considered UNHCR mandate refugees from Afghanistan and Tajikistan to be economic migrants, and officials occasionally subjected them to harassment and demands for bribes. Most refugees from Tajikistan were ethnic Uzbeks. Unlike refugees from Afghanistan, those from Tajikistan were able to integrate into the local communities, and the local population supported them.

STATELESS PERSONS

Some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajik or Uzbek passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbek citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.

Although official data on the number of stateless persons was not available, authoritative human rights activists estimated there were 3,000 stateless persons in Khorezm Province, Bukhara Province, and the autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Most of these individuals reportedly were women who had married and lived in neighboring Turkmenistan prior to the country’s independence in 1991. There also were reports of stateless populations in Sirdaryo and Qashkadaryo Provinces. There were reports of authorities revoking citizenship for ethnic Tajiks on allegations of fraud, even in cases where Uzbek passports had been issued more than a decade ago, rendering such persons stateless.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future