Israel, West Bank, and Gaza
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law generally provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “anti-boycott” legislation. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.
In 2017 the Knesset passed an amendment barring entry to the country of visitors who called for boycotts, and in January 2018 the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry to Israel. The government also used this law to deport Human Rights Watch director of Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir (see section 5).
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender.
The maximum penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag is three years in prison and a fine of 58,400 shekels ($16,900).
In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.
A 2018 law “prohibit[s] individuals or organizations that are not part of the education system from engaging in activities within an educational institution when the nature of the activity undermines the goals of state education.” Both supporters and opponents of the bill said it targeted the NGO Breaking the Silence, which described its activities as collecting and publishing “the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories in order to generate public discourse on the reality of the occupation, with the aim of bringing it to an end.” Breaking the Silence criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression. As of year’s end, the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law.
Security officials prohibited groups affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or Palestinian Authority (PA) from meeting in Jerusalem based on a 1995 law banning the PA from engaging in political, diplomatic, security, or security-related activities in Israel, including Jerusalem.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions.
In October 2018 police issued a new regulation regarding the work of journalists in areas experiencing clashes, which authorities claimed balanced freedom of the press and security requirements. According to the Seventh Eye media watchdog group, the regulation grants police broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to public incidents involving violence (i.e., riots, demonstrations, protests) if there exists a concern that the entry of journalists would lead to “special circumstances,” such as injury or the loss of life, further violence, disrupting investigative procedures, serious violation of privacy, or violation of a closure order. According to the regulation, however, police must also consider alternatives to minimize the violation of press freedom, for instance by escorting journalists in and out of dangerous situations.
Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits, as well as Jerusalem-based Arab journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. According to a January 23 Foreign Press Association statement, “Arab journalists [are] needlessly hassled by Israeli security in what we believe is clear ethnic profiling.” This included reports of alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against Palestinian and Arab-Israeli journalists that prevented them from covering news stories. According to the Journalists Support Committee, 26 Palestinian journalists were detained in Israeli prisons as of August. In April the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement criticizing the government for holding Palestinian journalists in its jails, noting “Israel’s use of administrative detention to hold journalists without charge runs completely contrary to its professed values of democracy and rule of law.”
The Ministry of Interior sought to deport stateless photojournalist Mustafa al-Haruf from East Jerusalem to Jordan, after he was unable to obtain residency status in Jerusalem, and held him in administrative detention between January and October. In March the Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities to either clarify the reasons for al-Haruf’s detention and deportation order or release him immediately. After Jordan refused to accept al-Haruf, on October 24, a court reviewing border-control decisions released him, due to the Ministry of Interior’s inability to deport him. The court ordered al-Haruf to regularize his status by February 12, 2020. While the government classified the reasons for the denial of al-Haruf’s status for security reasons, in an appeal of his deportation a Supreme Court justice stated al-Haruf “crossed the line between his journalistic work and assisting terrorist organizations” but also mentioned “reports that are not sympathetic to the State of Israel,” according to +972 Magazine.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters criticized journalists, media channels, and media owners for reporting on investigations into a series of allegations (see section 4) involving the prime minister, for which the attorney general decided to indict him. In January the Likud Party published billboards with photographs of four journalists saying, “they will not decide,” according to media reports. Following attacks in media and social media by the prime minister and his son, Yair Netanyahu, against Channel 12 News legal correspondent Guy Peleg, who covered the Netanyahu investigations, Peleg received a series of threats on WhatsApp and social media, which led the channel to provide him with a private security guard on August 30. On August 31, Netanyahu criticized the heads of Channel 12 News for their coverage of his office, called for a boycott of the channel, and said they were carrying out a “terror attack against democracy,” while treating rival political parties more gently than Likud. Netanyahu argued that he was working to increase competition in the domestic television market.
On October 26, a group of ultra-Orthodox men physically attacked an Israel Hayom reporter near Haifa. The attackers severely assaulted the journalist, breaking his nose and resulting in a concussion. The attackers called him a “traitor” and a “leftist” after confirming he was a journalist. On October 31, police arrested a suspect in the attack, and the investigation of the case was pending as of December.
On September 2, the state attorney issued a directive instructing prosecutors to consider requesting increased sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment for violent offenses committed against journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.
News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the armed forces through a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2018 the censor intervened in 2,721 articles of 10,938 submitted to it and banned 363 articles.
While the government retained the authority to censor the printing of publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.
National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” In 2018 the Knesset amended the law to authorize restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.” The government issued 53 indictments and courts convicted 39 persons under the law during the year. On May 16, the Nazareth District Court partially accepted the appeal of Dareen Tatour, who was convicted by the local magistrate’s court due to poems, pictures, and other media content she posted online in 2015. The court reversed lower court verdicts on charges of “incitement to violence” and “support of a terrorist organization” related to her poetry, but it upheld convictions related to her other publications. The ruling stated that when examining freedom of expression, the fact that Tatour’s words were part of an artistic piece had to be taken into consideration.
The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes. The law authorizes district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The end-of-year report for 2018 by the state attorney’s Cyber Unit stated that requests to digital services companies to remove content based on its assessment that the content is illegal under the law led to the removal of 13,140 online postings, compared with 10,500 in 2017. According to the report, 80 percent of the requests were due to offenses related to a terror organization, and 19 percent were due to incitement offenses. On November 26, Adalah and ACRI petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the Ministry of Justice’s Cyber Unit process of requesting that digital services companies voluntarily remove contents prior to a formal legal review, arguing these requests infringe on the rights of freedom of expression and due process. The state prosecution argued the Cyber Unit approached companies only after investigative authorities identified the contents as violating the law. On August 19, a district court judge rejected a request by ACRI to review the 1,700 websites for transparency purposes, arguing that a publication of domains would contradict the reason for their removal.
The “Nakba Law” prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”
On July 25, the Supreme Court issued an injunction demanding that Science and Technology minister Ofir Akunis explain why he blocked the appointment of an Israeli professor to an official Israeli-German scientific committee. In 2018 Akunis had claimed he blocked the appointment because years earlier the professor had signed a petition by faculty members in universities, expressing “support and appreciation to the students and lecturers who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories.”
On November 7, following a demand from Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, the mayor of Ma’alot-Tarshiha decided not to show the documentary film Advocate, about attorney Lea Tsemel’s defense of Palestinian prisoners, in the city’s cultural center as a part of a DocAviv film festival. Following a letter from ACRI arguing the decision was illegal, the deputy attorney general informed the mayor he had no authority to cancel the showing of a film. In protest DocAviv presented the film in a nearby Kibbutz and outside the Ma’alot-Tarshiha cultural center. In June, after the film was selected as the winning film in the DocAviv Documentary Film Festival, Mifal Hapayis (the country’s state lottery), announced it would stop funding the award for the winning film in the festival but later retracted its announcement.
The government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, which had been the de facto PLO office. The government renewed a military closure order for these and other institutions on the grounds they violated the Oslo Accords by conducting political activities or otherwise operating on behalf of the PA in Jerusalem. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem due to PA participation or support. According to Haaretz, Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan approved 10 such orders during the year.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests by certain groups, including members of the ultra-Orthodox community, Arab citizens and residents, Israelis of Ethiopian origin, and persons with disabilities. For example, on May 23, military police officers reportedly forced to the floor an autistic boy at an ultra-Orthodox demonstration. According to police, the boy allegedly hit a police officer prior to the incident.
In June authorities implemented a new procedure granting police the ability to impose conditions on outdoor gatherings of 50 or more persons. NGOs expressed concern that this restriction was a violation of freedom of expression and assembly and criticized police for creating obstacles to free speech and assembly in cases where demonstration permits were not required. On August 14, police arrested seven activists who protested against the killing of an Ethiopian-Israeli by a police officer (see section 6), and on August 16, authorities arrested an additional nine anticorruption activists, arguing they violated the new conditions.
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or of the democratic character of the state.
The law requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a fine of 29,200 shekels ($8,400) for NGOs that violate these rules. As of October the government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law.
Local NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens.
In-country Movement: The security barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had a negative effect on residents who were patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. Authorities sometimes restricted movement within these neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.
Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, due to unpaid debts, or in cases in which a Jewish man refuses to grant his wife a Jewish legal writ of divorce. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.
The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter Area A in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some non-Israeli citizens in Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some non-Israeli citizens who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintain an “affinity to Israel” will not be revoked and that former residents who wish to return to Israel may receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.
Non-Israeli citizens possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad.
Exile: In 2018 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Entry Into Israel Law granting the minister of interior authority to revoke the permanent resident status of individuals who have committed acts that constitute “breach of trust” or terrorism. On August 22, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri revoked the residency of two East Jerusalemites who were convicted of being involved in terrorist attacks and sentenced to life in prison, based on the amendment. HaMoked appealed against the law and one of the revocations, and the case continued at year’s end.
Citizenship: The law allows revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) inspectors used violence against imprisoned migrants during their deportation during the year. According to Hotline, PIBA, unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.
As of September 30, there were 32,090 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 29,141 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA.
In October 2018 PIBA announced the government ended a policy that provided temporary protection for citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and requested those without a visa to depart the country by January 5. The Supreme Court issued an injunction in December 2018 temporarily halting the deportation following a petition by NGOs. On March 7, Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri halted the deportation based on a recommendation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs due to “recent developments in the DRC.” According to PIBA, there were 311 asylum seekers from the DRC in the country in 2018.
The government offered irregular migrants incentives to “depart” the country to an unspecified third country in Africa, sometimes including a $3,500 stipend (paid in U.S. dollars). The government claimed the third-country government provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 until September 30, 2,024 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,677 in 2018. NGO advocates for irregular migrants claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.
In February 2018 an administrative appeals tribunal ruled that an Eritrean asylum seeker had a well-founded fear of persecution after he fled military conscription in his home country and that PIBA should not have rejected his asylum application arbitrarily. The Ministry of Interior appealed the ruling to a district court and then requested to reexamine the individual’s request for asylum, but the judge refused. The case continued at year’s end.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it rarely did so. In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal. Only two Ministry of the Interior offices in the country, located in Bnei Brak and Eilat, renew such visas. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and informal access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that the policies and legislation adopted in 2011 were aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country and that these actions further curtailed the rights of this population and encouraged its departure.
Refugee status determination recognition rates remained extremely low. From 2009 to 2017, the government approved only 52 of 55,433 asylum requests, according to a 2018 report from the State Comptroller’s Office. Of these, 13 were for Eritrean citizens and one was for a Sudanese citizen. The government approved six asylum requests during the year. As of May there were 15,000 asylum applications awaiting examination, according to a government response to a Supreme Court petition.
Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship of countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. In 2018 at year’s end, there were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention.
On January 2, PIBA stopped examining asylum requests of Eritrean citizens following a request by the attorney general in order to reevaluate the criteria for approving asylum requests. In July the government announced it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously turned down, based on new criteria that require asylum seekers to prove they would be persecuted if returned home and they did not flee to avoid compulsory military service. On July 9, the government informed the Supreme Court that it stopped examining asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile due to the “dynamic political situation in Sudan.” On July 28, the Supreme Court overturned the revocation of residency permits of three asylum seekers.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel; however, many of them resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), but without authorization to work. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis.
The government did not accept initial asylum claims at its airports.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In 2017 PIBA announced a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants whose country of citizenship the Ministry of the Interior determined was safe for return and began applying it to Georgian and Ukrainian applicants.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the closed the Holot detention facility and Saharonim Prison from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak–cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers.
Employment: On July 9, the government informed the Supreme Court that it would remove text from the visas of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers stipulating “this is not a work visa,” a restriction that had not been enforced since 2011 due to a government commitment to the Supreme Court. The government also stated it would grant work permits to 300 asylum seekers from Sudan. According to NGOs, these steps did not change the asylum seekers’ ability to work. According to UNHCR, beginning in October asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers are included as “foreign workers,” a category prohibited by Finance Ministry regulations from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.
The law requires employers to deduct 20 percent of irregular migrants’ salaries for deposit in a special fund and adds another 16 percent from the employer’s funds. Some vulnerable populations, including individuals recognized as human trafficking victims, are eligible for a reduced rate of 6 percent, but many of them either still paid the full deduction or did not receive reimbursements for previously paying the full deduction, according to PHRI and UNHCR. On December 8, PIBA announced all recognized victims of trafficking would receive retroactive reimbursements and would pay a deposit of 6 percent without having to declare their status to their employers. Employees can access the funds only upon departure from the country, and the government may deduct a penalty for each day that the employee is in the country without a visa.
NGOs such as Kav LaOved and Hotline for Refugees and Migrants criticized the law for pushing vulnerable workers’ already low incomes below minimum wage, leading employers and employees to judge it to be more profitable to work on the black market, increasing migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking and prostitution. According to government officials and NGOs, some Eritrean women entered prostitution or survival sex arrangements in which a woman lives with several men and receives shelter in exchange for sex. The NGO Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) reported significant increases in homelessness, mental health concerns, and requests for food assistance following implementation of the law. In a June 26 response to a NGO coalition petition against the law to the Supreme Court, the government stated that only 68 asylum seekers received the full amount deducted from their salaries in their deposits, and no money was deposited for 45 percent of the migrants to which the law applied, despite deductions having been taken from their salaries, according to Haaretz. The petition was pending at year’s end.
The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits the amount they may take with them when they leave to the minimum wage for the number of months they resided in the country, and defines taking money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.
Access to Basic Services: The few legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers who were either unemployed or whose employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law had access only to emergency care, either in emergency rooms or in one refugee clinic in south Tel Aviv. The establishment of three additional refugee clinics throughout the country was postponed. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($35) per month, but in September 2018 it began excluding children of undocumented migrants from this program. The ministry stated an interministerial team was assessing this change in response to a Supreme Court petition. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to PHRI. Until September the Ministry of Health funded one provider of mental health services for approximately 700 irregular migrants that in the past year was unable to accept new patients due to budget and staffing shortages. On December 9, the Ministry of Welfare stated that local authorities must treat asylum seekers of three groups–women who suffered from domestic violence, persons with disabilities, and the homeless–pending the regularization of insurance issues with the Ministry of Health, which did not take place by year’s end. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees, or who may not qualify as refugees–primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants, as described above.
Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”
In 2017 media reported the Ministry of Interior had retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,600 Bedouin citizens, alleging that a “registration error” had mistakenly granted citizenship to their ancestors between 1948 and 1951. Cancellation of their citizenship left these individuals stateless.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides, “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion; and every Jordanian shall freely express his opinion by speech, writing, photography, and the other means of expression, provided that he does not go beyond the limits of the law.” Authorities applied regulations to limit freedom of speech and press in practice. Authorities applied articles of the counterterrorism law, cybercrimes law, press and publications law, and penal code to arrest local journalists.
Freedom of Expression: The law permits punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for insulting the king, slandering the government or foreign leaders, offending religious beliefs, or fomenting sectarian strife and sedition. During the year the government restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government by arresting a number of activists for political expression. Authorities used laws against slander of public officials, blackmail, and libel to restrict public discussion, as well as employed official gag orders issued by the public prosecutor.
During the year Human Rights Watch alleged that the government increasingly targeted activists on charges ranging from insulting the king to undermining the political regime to online slander, which they say violated activists’ right to free expression. On May 20, a group of activists called Jordan Hirak-Karameh (English translation: The Jordanian Movement for Dignity) started an online petition that gathered several hundred signatures protesting the detention of 19 activists who were arrested for their participation in protests and for chanting slogans critical of the king.
In December 2018 the attorney general ordered the detention of media personality Mohammad al-Wakeel, founder of al-Wakeel Media Group, along with an editor working at his website, for posting a caricature deemed offensive to Christians and Muslims. The two men were charged with sectarian incitement and causing religious strife under Article 15 of the Cybercrimes Law and Article 38 of the Press and Publications Law. Authorities released al-Wakeel and the editor after two days at the Juweideh detention center.
In November 2018 authorities arrested the secretary general of the organization Mouminoun (Believers) without Borders, Younis Qandil, and charged him with slander, sectarian incitement, and broadcasting false information for staging his own kidnapping. Earlier in the year, the Ministry of Interior cancelled an academic workshop organized by Qandil’s group, which some considered an attack and insult on Islam. Younis was sentenced to detention at the Juweideh correctional center. As of September he remained in detention. During the year the public prosecutor dropped charges in the 2017 case against local journalist Mohamma Qaddah for slander, incitement, and defamation for his posting of a video on Facebook that authorities described as “insulting” and “derogatory” to women in the country.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: All publications must obtain licenses from the government to operate. Multiple daily newspapers operated; observers considered several as independent of the government, including one regarded as close to the Islamic Action Front (the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s legally registered political party). Observers also judged several daily newpapers to be close to the government. The independent print and broadcast media largely operated with limited restrictions, and media observers reported government pressure, including the threat of large fines and prison sentences, to refrain from criticizing the royal family, discussing the GID, covering ongoing security operations, using language deemed offensive to Islam, or slandering government officials. The government influenced news reporting and commentary through political pressure on editors and control over important editorial positions in government-affiliated media. Journalists of government-affiliated and independent media reported that security officials used bribes, threats, and political pressure to force editors to place articles favorable to the government in online and print newspapers.
The law grants the head of the Media Commission authority to close any unlicensed theater, satellite channel, or radio channel. During the year the Media Commission granted broadcasting licenses to companies owned by citizens and foreigners. Those with licenses may not legally broadcast anything that would harm public order, social security, national security, or the country’s relations with a foreign country; incite hatred, terrorism, or violent sedition; or mislead or deceive the public. The cabinet, however, must justify the reasons for rejecting a license and allow the applicant to appeal the decision to the judiciary. There is a fine for broadcasting without a license.
During the year the government rejected broadcast licensing fee exemptions for community radio stations proposed by the Media Commission in February 2018 for financial reasons, according to the media commissioner.
The government has a majority of seats on the board for the leading semiofficial daily newspaper, al-Rai, and a share of board seats for ad-Dustour daily newspaper. According to press freedom advocates, the GID’s Media Department must approve editors in chief of progovernment newspapers.
Media observers noted that, when covering controversial subjects, the government-owned Jordan Television, Jordan News Agency, and Radio Jordan reported only the government’s position.
By law any book can be published and distributed freely. Nonetheless, if the Media Commission deems that passages violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are “insulting” to the king, it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book. During the year the Media Commission banned distribution of 55 books for insulting religion, displaying pornographic images, and promoting homosexuality. The commission approved the importation of approximately 800,000 books. The Media Commission continued to ban the distribution of selected books for religious and moral reasons.
The Media Commission licenses all public-opinion polls and survey research centers in accordance with the Press and Publication Law.
Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists to harassment and intimidation.
In its annual report, The Status of Media Freedoms in Jordan in 2018, the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) documented 68 specific cases of violations of freedoms against journalists and media organizations. The CDFJ reported a decline in media freedom violations from 2017 but attributed it primarily to self-censorship and the government’s denial of access to journalists in covering sit-ins and protests during the year.
Authorities arrested or temporarily detained some journalists, and government officials or private individuals threatened some journalists.
Al–Rai journalist Hussein al-Sharaa was sentenced in 2018 to six months of imprisonment (the highest sentence for such offense) following a complaint filed against him by the PSD for a post he wrote on Facebook, which the PSD considered offensive. The Jordan Press Association appealed the verdict for its issuance without the presence of the defendant’s lawyer. The appeals court released al-Sharaa on bail until completion of the judicial procedures, and the case remained pending.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government directly and indirectly censored the media. The CDFJ report noted continuing widespread self-censorship among journalists in 2018. Journalists claimed that the government used informants in newsrooms and exercised influence over reporting and that GID officials censored reporting. Editors reportedly received telephone calls from security officials instructing them how to cover events or to refrain from covering certain topics or events, especially criticism of political reform. Bribery of journalists took place and undermined independent reporting. Occasionally, government officials provided texts for journalists to publish under their bylines. An opinion poll conducted by the CDFJ found 92 percent of journalists self-censored their reporting in 2018. Journalists cited the declining financial conditions of media outlets, the threat of detention and imprisonment for defamation for a variety of offenses, and court-ordered compensation of as much as 150,000 Jordanian dinars (JD) ($210,000). At times editors in chief censored articles to prevent lawsuits. The government’s use of “soft containment” of journalists, including withholding financial support, scholarships for relatives, and special invitations, led to significant control of media content.
During the year the Media Commission did not circulate any official gag orders restricting discussion in all forms of media, including social media. For grand felony cases or cases of domestic violence, the public prosecutor may issue a gag order to protect the victims or witnesses involved.
Libel/Slander Laws: Article 11 of the Cybercrimes Law allows public prosecutors to detain individuals suspected of violating libel and slander laws. Government prosecutors relied on privately initiated libel, slander, and defamation lawsuits to suppress criticism of public figures and policies. Dozens of journalists, as well as members of parliament, faced libel and slander accusations filed by private citizens. Amendments to the law place the burden of proof for defamation on the complainant.
In January, Amman’s attorney general charged retired civil defense brigadier general Khaled al-Dabbas with slander and defamation, disclosure of secrets without a legitimate reason, and broadcasting false news, for a comment al-Dabbas published on Facebook. After riots broke out in the retired general’s hometown, police intervened to end the protests, and authorities released al-Dabbas the next day. The case was later dismissed for insufficient evidence.
Also in January the attorney general detained activist Mustafa Shoman on charges of slander after he posted a Facebook video implying criticism of the king and crown prince after they invited a municipal worker to join them in watching the national soccer team’s game, calling the interaction staged. Shoman was released from detention on bail in February, and the case continued.
National Security: The government used laws protecting national security to restrict criticism of government policies and officials.
The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content; there were credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law requires the licensing and registration of online news websites, holds editors responsible for readers’ comments on their websites, requires that website owners provide the government with the personal data of its users, and mandates that editors in chief be members of the Jordan Press Association. The law gives authorities explicit power to block and censor websites. The Press and Publications Law allows the media commissioner to ban websites without a court order.
A human rights organization reported that on May 6 a detained teacher and activist from Dhiban, 31-year-old Sabri al-Masha’leh, went on hunger strike. The NGO reported that al-Masha’leh’s family told them the Ministry of Interior’s Electronic Crimes Unit summoned him on March 28 for questioning related to Facebook posts he wrote in February, one of which referred to the king by name. According to the same report, authorities charged and convicted al-Masha’leh with insulting the king and sentenced him to two years in prison in April. The court later reduced his sentence to one year, which al-Masha’leh served in Sawaqa Prison.
In March, NGOs reported that authorities blocked access to a news website created by Jordanian expatriates to document political affairs and arrests of activists. Authorities continued to block the website of an online lifestyle magazine with an LGBTI target audience on the grounds that it was an unlicensed publication.
According to the Media Commission, there is no registration fee for a website. News websites must employ editors in chief with at least four years’ membership in the Jordan Press Association. The owner and editor in chief can be fined between 3,000 JD ($4,200) and 5,000 JD ($7,000), in addition to criminal penalties, for website content that “includes humiliation, defamation, or disparagement of individuals in a manner that violates their personal freedoms or spreads false rumors about them.”
According to journalists, security forces reportedly demanded that websites remove some posted articles. The government threatened websites and journalists that criticized the government, while it actively supported those that reported favorably on the government. The government monitored electronic correspondence and internet chat sites. Individuals believed they were unable to express their views fully or freely via the internet, including by personal email.
During the year, according to a local NGO, security forces blocked live-streamed videos of protests posted on Facebook.
The government placed some limits on academic freedom. Some members of the academic community claimed there was a continuing intelligence presence in academic institutions, including monitoring of academic conferences and lectures. The government monitored political meetings, speech on university campuses, and sermons in mosques and churches. Academics reported the GID must clear all university professors before their appointment. Academics also reported university administration must approve all research papers, forums, reading materials, movies, or seminars. Administrators clear potentially controversial material through the GID. Authorities edited commercial foreign films for objectionable content before screening in commercial theaters.
In July the Jordanian Artists Association encouraged nonparticipation in the American film Jaber, claiming the movie had a “Zionist agenda” for propagating Israelis’ rights over Petra and south Jordan, according to a press release. Jordanian director and actor Ali Alyan subsequently withdrew his participation in the film. Media reports indicated that the government forced a stop to production of the film following this controversy, and in August filmmakers announced the film’s cancellation.
In June the American media company Netflix released its first international original series from the Middle East, Jinn. Filmed in Jordan with Jordanian actors, the five-episode series sparked public controversy due to scenes depicting teenage drinking, smoking, romance, and vulgar language. Despite criticism from the public, members of parliament, and the Grand Mufti, the government did not take any adverse action towards Netflix, nor did it make efforts to censor the show.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, but the government sometimes limited this right. Security forces provided security at demonstrations granted permits by government or local authorities.
The law requires a 48-hour notification to the local governor for any meeting or event hosted by any local or international group. While not required by law, several local and international NGOs reported that hotels, allegedly at the request of security officials, required them to present letters of approval from the governor prior to holding trainings, private meetings, or public conferences. There were several reported cases of governor denials without explanation, according to the NCHR and international human rights NGOs. Without letters of approval from the government, hotels cancelled the events. In some cases NGOs relocated the events to private offices or residences, and the activities were held without interruption.
Protests regarding economic policies, corruption, and government ineffectiveness occurred across the country throughout the year. Activists, ranging from as few as two dozen to as many as 200, organized a weekly gathering in a parking lot near the prime minister’s office most Thursdays. In March hundreds of unemployed citizens walked to the royal court in Amman from locations throughout the country to demand job opportunities. Authorities authorized the parking lot location as an alternative to the protesters’ initial preference of a large traffic circle closer to the prime minister’s office. Occasionally these gatherings shrank to only a dozen or so participants.
Security services and protesters generally refrained from violence during demonstrations. Occasional scuffles occurred when protesters attempted to break through security cordons intended to limit demonstrations to particular locations. In such situations police occasionally used tear gas.
Security services detained political activists for shouting slogans critical of authorities during protests. Some were held without charge, others were charged with insulting the king, undermining the political regime, or slander. Most detentions lasted for days, but some lasted several months. Six detainees held a hunger strike from May through June to protest their arrest and detention. As of October more than 30 individuals remained in detention for reasons connected to freedom of expression, according to media reports and local NGOs.
The Jordan Open Source Association released a report documenting technical evidence that Facebook’s live-streaming function was sometimes deliberately blocked during large protests. The report did not identify where such interference might have originated.
In September the teachers’ syndicate went on strike to demand a 50 percent salary increase. On the first day of the strike, September 5, the syndicate organized demonstrations in several governorates to emphasize their demands, with the largest in Amman. More than 10,000 persons participated across the country. Authorities denied the syndicate permission to gather at a traffic circle near the prime minister’s office, a location usually preferred by antigovernment protesters, instead authorizing them to gather near the parliament. When teachers refused the alternate location and attempted to reach the traffic circle, police responded with tear gas.
On June 9, dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of the NCHR to demand the release of detained activists. Authorities arrested approximately 20 protesters and journalists for disrupting traffic along a major thoroughfare and participating in an unauthorized gathering and released them later that day. NCHR officials criticized the arrests, and on June 10, they held a press conference condemning attempts to prevent citizens from peacefully assembling in public.
In May protesters closed roads in the Hashimiyeh area of Zarqa Governorate, burned tires, and demanded the release of a detained activist. Gendarmerie forces fired tear gas at the protesters.
The constitution provides for the right of association, but the government limited this freedom. The law authorizes the Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Supply to approve or reject applications to register organizations and to prohibit organizations from receiving foreign funding for any reason. It prohibits the use of associations for the benefit of any political organization. The law also gives the ministry significant control over the internal management of associations, including the ability to dissolve associations, approve boards of directors, send government representatives to any board meeting, prevent associations from merging their operations, and appoint an auditor to examine an association’s finances for any reason. The law requires associations to inform the Ministry of Social Development of board meetings, submit all board decisions for approval, disclose members’ names, and obtain security clearances for board members from the Interior Ministry. The law includes penalties, including fines up to 10,000 JD ($14,000), for violations of the regulations. The Ministry of Social Development is legally empowered to intervene in NGO activities and issue warnings for violations of the law. Notified NGOs are given a two-month probationary period to address violations.
As of September 24, the ministry received 149 applications for foreign funding and approved 75. NGOs reported that unexplained, months-long delays in the decision process continued.
Citizens widely suspected that the government infiltrated civil society organizations, political parties, and human rights organizations and their internal meetings.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although there were some restrictions.
With the support of the humanitarian community, the government registered and facilitated access to civil documentation for Syrian refugees through the urban verification exercise for refugees, which concluded in March. Through this exercise, the Ministry of Interior issued 478,129 identification cards, allowing refugees to regularize their status living outside of camps, giving them freedom of movement and access to public services and assistance. Additionally, the government returned 205,072 confiscated-upon-arrival documents to Syrian refugees. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there was no backlog of registration for Syrian refugees, and it was possible for Syrians to register with UNHCR upon arrival in the country at centers in Amman and Irbid.
There were reports of forced relocations to Azraq refugee camp, including many to Azraq’s restricted Village 5, as an alternative to deportation for offenses by Syrian refugees; such offenses encompassed “irregular status” (expired registration documents or working without a work permit); criminal activities; and potential security risks, without the latter being clearly defined. As of September, Azraq camp hosted more than 39,900 individuals, including more than 10,000 adults and children in the fenced-off Village 5 area. In 2018 NGOs estimated that the government forcibly relocated more than 7,200 refugees to Azraq camp, including more than 4,000 to Village 5 for security reasons. The vast majority of these refugees were not informed of the reasons for their detention and did not receive legal assistance. Residents of Village 5 had access to basic humanitarian assistance inside the village but had limited access to the broader camp facilities, including the camp hospital, which required a security escort. Although several hundred refugees were screened out of Village 5 each month, the screening process allowing Village 5 residents to relocate to the larger camp remained irregular and slow. Reportedly, many Village 5 residents had remained in this location for more than three years.
A number of Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) and other refugees resided in King Abdullah Park (KAP), an unused fenced public space repurposed since 2016 to house PRS, mixed Syrian-PRS families, and some individuals of other nationalities who arrived from Syria. As of August, 479 individuals were held in KAP, of whom 330 were PRS, 135 Syrians, and 14 of other nationalities. Civil documents of PRS and other refugees were held by authorities during their stay in the camp, and residents were required to apply for leave in order to go outside the camp, severely limiting their freedom of movement. Many PRS who lacked legal status in Jordan limited their movements to avoid coming into contact with authorities. Access to basic civil services–including renewal of identity documents, the registration of marriages, deaths, and births–remained highly complex for this group. These vulnerabilities put undocumented refugees at additional risk of abuse by third parties such as employers and landlords.
For those PRS who held Jordanian citizenship, revocation of that citizenship remained a concern. The UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) was aware of at least 50 cases of citizenship revocation since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011. In most cases authorities provided no information regarding the reasons for the revocation.
Access to Asylum: The country’s laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government lacked a formal system of protecting refugees. A 1998 memorandum of understanding between the government and UNHCR, renewed in 2014, contains the definition of a refugee, confirms adherence to the principle of nonrefoulement, and allows recognized refugees a maximum stay of one year, during which period UNHCR must find them a durable solution. The time limit is renewable, and the government generally did not force refugees to return to their country of origin. As of 2014, authorities required all Syrians in the country to register with the Ministry of Interior and obtain a ministry-issued identification card.
Several of the country’s border crossings with Syria were closed to new refugee arrivals. The Nassib border crossing with Syria reopened in October 2018 after remaining closed to all traffic for three years, although the Rukban border crossing remained closed. The government determined it would not accept additional Syrian refugees after a 2016 suicide attack along the northeast border with Syria, declaring the surrounding area a “closed military zone.” The government restricted humanitarian access to the area on the Jordanian side of the border. The government’s 2013 announcement that it would not allow entry of PRS remained in effect.
In January the government halted all UNHCR registrations of new non-Syrian refugee asylum seekers. Citing misuse of medical, business, and other visas, the cabinet prohibited registration of non-Syrian refugees pending a government review of registration processes and procedures. As of September the halt in registrations affected more than 4,500 pending refugee cases, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, and Yemen.
Employment: Since 2016, the government had issued more than 153,000 work permits to Syrians, 21 percent of which were issued to refugees residing in refugee camps. More than 30,000 of these work permits remained active.
Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees continued to work in the informal economy. Very few non-Syrian refugees had access to the formal labor market, and due to the difficulty in obtaining documentation and work permits and expenses involved in seeking work authorization, many worked in the unofficial labor market.
During the year the Ministries of Interior and Labor, in coordination with the United Nations, permitted Syrian refugees living in the camps to apply for work permits. The agreement allows camp-based refugees to use their work permits as a 30-day leave pass to work outside the camp. Camp-based refugees receiving work permits must report to the camp at least one day per month.
Some residents of Jordan of Palestinian descent, such as those referred to as “Gazans” for short, do not have Jordanian citizenship. To accommodate this population, authorities issued Palestinian refugees originally from Gaza two-year temporary Jordanian passports without national identity numbers, which functioned as travel documents and provided these refugees with permanent residency in Jordan. Without a national identity number, however, Palestinian refugees from Gaza were unable to fully access national support programs and found themselves excluded from key aspects of health and social services support. Those refugees from Gaza who were not registered refugees with UNRWA also experienced restrictions and hindrances in accessing education, obtaining driving licenses, opening bank accounts, and purchasing property.
Access to Basic Services: The government allowed Syrian and other UNHCR-registered refugees to access public health and education facilities. In March the government reduced the fees for Syrian refugees to the same rate as uninsured Jordanians for access to primary and secondary medical care, and exempted them from paying fees for maternity and childhood care. Other non-Syrian refugees, however, continued to pay the foreigner’s rate for health care, a cost unaffordable to most refugees.
The government continued to provide free primary and secondary education to Syrian refugee children and to permit all school-age Syrian refugees access to education. As of the end of the 2018-19 academic year, authorities had not fully completed this objective, and an estimated 83,900 Syrians were still not receiving formal or informal education. Non-Syrian refugees must pay to attend government schools. Public schools, particularly in the north of the country, were overcrowded, and some schools operated on a double-shift schedule to accommodate Syrian students. The government increased the number of double-shift schools to allow additional Syrian refugee students to obtain formal education. Through September more than 134,000 refugee students were enrolled for the 2018-19 school year.
For those not eligible to access formal education because they have been out of school for three or more years, the Ministry of Education developed a catch-up program for refugee students between the ages of nine and 12. Children age 13 and older who were not eligible to enroll in formal education could also participate in nonformal education drop-out programs implemented by NGO partners, in close coordination with the Ministry of Education. A total of 17,575 children benefitted from certified nonformal education in 2018.
Some refugee children continued to face barriers to attending public schools, including lack of transportation, long distances to schools, bullying by fellow students and teachers, or child labor.
Palestinian refugees from Gaza and other non-West Bank areas who entered the country following the 1967 war were not entitled to services, including access to public assistance and higher education. Earlier refugees from Gaza, who came to Jordan between June 1946 and May 1948, were eligible to receive UNRWA services.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. The government tolerated the prolonged stay of many Iraqis and other refugees beyond the expiration of the visit permits under which they had entered the country. Iraqi and other non-Syrian refugees accrued fines for overstaying their visit permits. Refugees must pay or settle the fines and penalties prior to receiving an exit visa from Jordan and face a five-year ban from re-entry into Jordan.
Only fathers can transmit Jordanian citizenship. Women do not have the legal right to transmit Jordanian citizenship to their children. Children of female citizens married to noncitizens receive the nationality of the father. All children, regardless of nationality or status, can enroll in formal education, although in practice the lack of proper documentation sometimes led to delays or obstacles enrolling children in school. If children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers apply and meet certain criteria, they may gain access to certain services enjoyed by citizens, including subsidized health care; the ability to own property, invest, and obtain a Jordanian driver’s license; and employment priority over other foreigners. To access these services, children must obtain a special identification card through the Civil Status Bureau. Under the law children of Jordanian mothers and noncitizen fathers who apply for social services must reside in the country and prove the maternal relationship. By law the cabinet may approve citizenship for children of Jordanian mothers and foreign fathers under certain conditions, but this mechanism was not widely known, and approval rarely occurred.
Women may not petition for citizenship for noncitizen husbands, who may apply for citizenship only after fulfilling a requirement that they maintain continuous Jordanian residency for 15 years. Once a husband has obtained citizenship, he may apply to transmit citizenship to his children. Such an application could take years, and the government can deny the application.
Syrian refugees were sometimes unable to obtain birth certificates for children born in the country if they could not present an official marriage certificate or other nationality documents, which were sometimes lost or destroyed when they fled or confiscated by government authorities when they entered the country. A large number of Syrian marriages reportedly took place in Jordan without registration. The government opened a legal process for such cases to adjust and obtain registration documents. Refugee households headed by women faced difficulty in certifying nationality of offspring in absence of the father, which increased the risk of statelessness among this population. Civil registry departments and sharia courts in the Za’atri and Azraq camps helped refugees register births.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, although these rights were violated. The courts convicted more than one dozen individuals for expressing their opinions, particularly on social media. The law also imposes penalties on persons who create or send “immoral” messages and gives unspecified authorities the power to suspend communication services to individuals on national security grounds.
Freedom of Expression: The Press and Publications Law establishes topics that are off limits for publication and discussion, and builds on the precedent set by the penalty law. Topics banned for publication include insulting religion, in particular Islam; criticizing the amir; insulting members of the judiciary or displaying disdain for the constitution; compromising classified information; insulting an individual or his or her religion, sorcery, and publishing information that could lead to devaluing of the currency or creating false worries about the economy. The government generally restricted freedom of speech in instances purportedly related to national security, including the glorification of Saddam Hussein, and referring to the “Arabian Gulf” as the “Persian Gulf.”
Local activists reported they were regularly contacted by state security services and Ministry of Information officials after they published opinions deemed contrary to the government view. Activists also reported being contacted for the same reason by the Kuwaiti Embassy when they were residing abroad. In October the foreign minister stated he had directed “Kuwait’s diplomatic missions [abroad] to firmly pursue people offending Kuwait or its leaders.” As of November the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had received 52 such complaints from various embassies in Kuwait: 43 against bloggers and social media users, and the remainder against local newspapers and TV networks, according to press reports. The same reports indicated that Kuwaiti embassies overseas had reportedly filed 25 cases against bloggers and TV networks in host countries, accusing them of offending Kuwait, according to the ministry. Government authorities did not always take immediate action in the cases of social media posts to which they objected made by citizens while overseas, but under the law the government may take action once the author returns to the country. Under existing law there is broad latitude in the interpretation of what constitutes a crime when voicing dissent against the amir or the government, and activists can face up to seven years in prison for each count of the offense.
In May the Court of Appeals upheld a verdict sentencing 22 citizens, including media figures and political activists, to three years’ imprisonment for repeating the “anti-Amir” speech made by former opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak in 2012. The court also ordered each defendant to pay a bail of 3,000 KD ($10,000).
The courts continued to sentence political activists to harsh prison sentences for charges of speaking out against the amir, government, religion, or neighboring states. In one case a citizen was sentenced to 86 years in prison for voicing his antigovernment opinion on social media, and in another case a citizen received 75 years. Both citizens fled the country before the verdicts were handed down.
Political activist Sagar al-Hashash, who was out of the country in self-imposed exile, has been convicted multiple times (including twice during the year) on various charges that included defaming the amir, speaking out against the judiciary, or insulting neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Most recently, al-Hashash was sentenced to five additional years imprisonment for defaming the amir, bringing his total sentence to 92 years.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. All print media were privately owned, although the media’s independence was limited. The government did not permit non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The law allows for large fines and up to 10 years in prison for persons who use any means (including media) to subvert the state. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry may ban any media organization at the request of the Ministry of Information. Media organizations can challenge media bans in the administrative courts. Newspaper publishers must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Information. Broadcast media, made up of both government and privately owned stations, are subject to the same laws as print media. In November a governmental committee tasked to investigate allegations of missing public funds ordered that their investigation remain confidential and prohibited the publication of any news about the investigation in all print, audio, and video media.
In October a civil court ruled that the Ministry of Interior must pay 60,000 KD ($200,000) to a journalist as compensation for assault by police while covering protests in 2010.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information censored all imported books, commercial films, periodicals, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, and other materials per the guidelines enumerated for speech and media. In May statistics issued by the Ministry of Information showed 3,766 books were banned from being imported between 2016 until 2018. Media outlets exhibited a range of opinions on topics relating to social problems, but all apparently self-censored, avoiding critical discussion on topics such as the amir, foreign policy, and religion, to avoid criminal charges or fines or to keep their licenses. Discussions of certain sensitive topics, such as the role of women in society and sex, were also self-censored. Authorities censored most English-language educational materials that mentioned the Holocaust and required educational material either to refer to Israel as “Occupied Palestine” or to remove such references entirely, although authorities did not censor these topics in news media. Widely available satellite dishes and virtual private networks allowed unfiltered media access.
Throughout the year publishers reportedly received pressure from the Ministry of Information, resulting in the publishers often restricting which books were available in the country. One author appealed to lift the ban on his book; the appeal was pending at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs reviewed books of a religious nature.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law mandates jail terms for anyone who “defames religion,” and any Muslim citizen or resident may file criminal charges against a person the complainant believes has defamed Islam. Any citizen may file a complaint with the authorities against anyone the citizen believes defamed the ruling family or harmed public morals.
National Security: The law forbids publication or transmission of any information deemed subversive to the constitutional system on national security grounds. The government prosecuted online bloggers, political activists, and social media outlets under the Cybercrime Law, the Printing and Publishing Law, and the National Security Law. On January 2, security forces arrested journalist and writer Aisha al-Rasheed under the Cybercrime Law following online posts about corruption of government officials. On January 6, the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered her release on bail.
The cybercrime law criminalizes certain online activities, to include illegal access to information technology systems; unauthorized access to confidential information; blackmail; use of the internet for terrorist activity; money laundering; and utilizing the internet for human trafficking. As of December the Cybersecurity Department at the Ministry of Interior had received 4,000 complaints and the government had 288 pending cases under the cybercrime law.
The government’s E-Licensing program, processed under the government’s e-media law and not the aforementioned cybercrime law, requires bloggers and websites that provide news in the country to register with the Ministry of Information and apply for a license or face a fine. No such fines were issued during the year.
The government continued to monitor internet communications, such as blogs and discussion groups, for defamation and generalized security reasons. The Ministry of Communications blocked websites considered to “incite terrorism and instability” and required internet service providers to block websites that “violate [the country’s] customs and traditions.” The government prosecuted and punished individuals for the expression of political or religious views via the internet, including by email and social media, based on existing laws related to libel, national unity, and national security. The government prosecuted some online bloggers under the Printing and Publishing Law and the National Security Law. In March journalist Abdallah al-Hadlaq was sentenced to three years in prison for offending Shia and “fanning” sectarianism. In April the criminal court sentenced blogger Abdullah al-Saleh to five years in prison in absentia for insulting Saudi Arabia on social media and “spreading false news.”
The government filtered the internet primarily to block pornography and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) material, and sites critical of Islam. Kuwait’s Communication and Information Technology Regulatory Authority was reported to have blocked 342 websites during the year.
In August, Kuwait and Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding for the arrest and extradition of social media users who commit “cybercrimes” that affect Egyptian and Kuwaiti national security.
The law provides for the freedoms of opinion and research, but self-censorship limited academic freedom, and the law prohibits academics from criticizing the amir or Islam.
The Ministry of Interior reserved the right to approve or reject public events and those it considered politically or morally inappropriate. In March the Ministry of Interior summoned owners of three venues that were scheduled to host week-long Bidoon cultural events. Ministry officials required the venue owners to sign statements promising they would not host any Bidoon cultural week events. The events were subsequently canceled.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association for citizens, but noncitizens and Bidoon are prohibited from demonstrating.
In July the Ministry of Interior announced that police were permitted to shoot at protesters’ legs if their safety is threatened, or if a fugitive was running away from authorities (the order explicitly said police could not shoot to kill under these circumstances).
Bidoon activists have reported that if they try to assemble peacefully or organize campaigns to gain equal rights, authorities regularly harass them. Some Bidoon activists indicated they were detained for questioning by authorities each time they planned campaigns or protests. In July the KSS arrested 15 Bidoon activists for organizing a peaceful sit-in at al-Hurriya Square in al-Jahra town near Kuwait City.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government placed restrictions on this right. The law prohibits officially registered groups from engaging in political activities.
In July, Kuwait extradited eight Egyptian nationals at the request of the Egyptian government. Kuwaiti authorities announced the dissidents were being sought by the Egyptian government for their membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. NGO reports indicated that the eight Egyptians had been legally residing in Kuwait at the time of their extradition and did not commit any crimes in Kuwait. NGOs suggested the eight faced serious risks of torture and persecution in Egypt.
The government used its power to register associations as a means of political influence. The Ministry of Social Affairs can reject an NGO’s application if it deems the NGO does not provide a public service. Most charity closings resulted from improper reporting of fundraising activities, which included not getting permission from the ministry or failing to submit annual financial reports. Dozens of unlicensed civic groups, clubs, and unofficial NGOs had no legal status, and many of those chose not to register due to bureaucratic inconvenience, including inability to meet the minimum 50-member threshold. The Ministry of Social Affairs continued to reject some new license requests, contending established NGOs already provided services similar to those the petitioners proposed. Members of licensed NGOs must obtain permission from the ministry to attend international conferences as official representatives of their organization.
In May following the submission of a large number of applications from inactive NGOs to take part in activities abroad, the Ministry of Social Affairs’ NGOs Department set new regulations for NGO members to take part in conferences, lectures and seminars held outside the country, including limiting the maximum number of participants to two per NGO; ensuring the conference theme is part of the goals of the concerned organization’s establishment; and notifying the ministry at least one month in advance.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution generally provides for freedom of internal movement, but numerous laws constrain foreign travel.
Because there is no path to citizenship, all legal noncitizen workers are considered foreign residents rather than migrants.
Foreign Travel: Bidoon and foreign workers faced problems with, or restrictions on, foreign travel. The government restricted the ability of some Bidoon to travel abroad by not issuing travel documents, although it permitted some Bidoon to travel overseas for medical treatment and education, and to visit Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj. The Ministry of Interior has not issued “Article 17” passports (temporary travel documents that do not confer nationality) to Bidoon except on humanitarian grounds since 2014. In August the Ministry of Interior said it would indefinitely suspend the issuance of “Article 17” passports.
The law also permits travel bans on citizens and noncitizens accused or suspected of violating the law, including nonpayment of debts, and it allows other citizens to petition authorities to impose one. This provision was sometimes imposed arbitrarily and resulted in delays and difficulties for citizens and foreigners leaving the country. The Ministry of Justice announced in July that it would not impose travel bans on those who owed “small amounts” (defined as 300 KD or $1,000). In December the Ministry of Justice announced that 65,888 travel bans were placed on Kuwaitis and foreigners during the year.
Citizenship: By law the government is prohibited from revoking the citizenship of an individual who was born a citizen unless that individual has taken a second nationality. Additionally, the government can revoke the citizenship of naturalized citizens for cause and can subsequently deport them. The justifications for such revocations include: felony conviction for “honor-related and honesty-related crimes,” obtaining citizenship dishonestly, and threatening to “undermine the economic or social structure of the country.” In March the cabinet approved the regranting of citizenship to former opposition figure Saad al-Ajmi. Al-Ajmi’s citizenship had been revoked by the government under Article 11 of the 1959 Kuwaiti Nationality Law and was restored only after he renounced other nationalities and submitted a written apology to the amir. According to the government, 376 individuals were granted citizenship during the year, and 106 had their citizenship revoked.
In May 2018 the Court of Cassation affirmed that it is not permissible to withdraw citizenship from any citizen without a legitimate reason, stressing that a final court ruling must justify any withdrawal of citizenship. There were, however, cases in which natural born citizens had their citizenship revoked, even when courts found it illegal.
Persons who had their citizenship revoked, and any family members dependent on that individual for their citizenship status, became stateless individuals. Authorities can seize the passports and civil identification cards of persons who lose their citizenship and enter a “block” on their names in government databases. This “block” prevented former citizens from traveling or accessing free health care and other government services reserved for citizens.
The law prohibits the granting of citizenship to non-Muslims, but it allows non-Muslim male citizens to transmit citizenship to their descendants.
The government may deny a citizenship application by a Bidoon resident based on security or criminal violations committed by the individual’s family members. Additionally, if a person loses citizenship, all family members whose status was derived from that person also lose their citizenship and all associated rights.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to persons of concern.
Access to Basic Services: The government enacted policies making healthcare and education more expensive for foreign workers than for citizens. Human rights organizations reported the immediate effect of this policy was that many foreign workers and their families receiving medical treatment chose to be discharged from hospitals rather than receive treatment they could no longer afford.
According to the latest government figures, there were approximately 88,000 Bidoon in the country, while Human Rights Watch estimated the Bidoon population at more than 100,000. The law does not provide stateless persons, including the Bidoon, a clear path to acquire citizenship. According to the government, however, 813 Bidoon were granted citizenship between 2018 and 2019. The judicial system’s lack of authority to rule on the status of stateless persons further complicated the process for obtaining citizenship, leaving Bidoon with no access to the judiciary to present evidence and plead their case for citizenship.
In 2018 the Central Agency for Illegal Residents, tasked with overseeing Bidoon affairs, had tens of thousands of citizenship requests by Bidoon under review. Although Bidoon are by law entitled to government benefits including five-year renewable residency, free healthcare and education, and ration cards, community members have alleged it was often difficult for them to avail of those services due to bureaucratic red tape.
According to Bidoon advocates and government officials, many Bidoon were unable to provide documentation proving ties to the country sufficient to qualify for citizenship. The government alleged that the vast majority of Bidoon concealed their “true” nationalities and were not actually stateless. Agency officials have extended incentive benefits to Bidoon who disclose an alternate nationality, including priority employment after citizens, and the ability to obtain a driver’s license. As of March 2018 approximately 12,700 Bidoon had admitted having a claim on another nationality.
Bidoon leaders alleged that when some members of the Bidoon community attempted to obtain government services from the Central Agency, officials would routinely deceive them by promising to provide the necessary paperwork only if the Bidoon agreed to sign a blank piece of paper. Later, Bidoon reported, the agency would write a letter on the signed paper purportedly “confessing” the Bidoon’s “true” nationality, which rendered them ineligible for recognition or benefits as Bidoon.
According to contacts some Bidoon underwent DNA testing purportedly to “prove” their Kuwaiti nationality by virtue of blood relation to a Kuwaiti citizen. Bidoon are required to submit DNA samples confirming paternity to become naturalized, a practice critics said leaves them vulnerable to denial of citizenship based on DNA testing. Children of Bidoon fathers and Kuwaiti mothers are frequently rendered stateless, as the law does not allow women to transmit nationality.
Some Bidoon and international NGOs reported that the government did not uniformly grant some government services and benefits to Bidoon, including education, employment, medical care, and the issuance of civil documents, such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. Since the government treats them as illegal residents, Bidoon do not have property rights. In February press reports indicated that the Interior Ministry would not hire Bidoon in its uniform services until the National Assembly passed legislation on the Bidoon’s civil and social rights.
Bidoon advocates reported that many Bidoon families were unable to obtain birth certificates for their children due to extensive administrative requirements, which restricted the children’s ability to obtain government-issued identification cards, access adequate medical care, attend school, and be counted in official statistics. In April, Bidoon activists arranged a protest over tuition increases for all private schools in the town of al-Jahra, which is home to a large number of Bidoon residents. In June the Ministry of Education said it would refuse to pay the salaries of Bidoon teachers with expired civil identification documents (IDs) until they received new identification cards. Reports also indicated that the Central Agency for Illegal Residents asked some banks to close the accounts of Bidoon who did not provide the necessary documentation to renew their identification cards. In August the Ministry of Education suspended admission of Bidoon students, alleging lack of space in schools and advised Bidoon parents to consider enrolling their children in private school instead.
Many adult Bidoon lacked identification cards due to the many administrative hurdles they face, preventing them from engaging in legal employment or obtaining travel documents.
The restriction on identification cards also resulted in some Bidoon children not being able to register for public school and instead working as street vendors to help support their families. Since citizen children were given priority to attend public school, many Bidoon children whose families could afford it enrolled in substandard private schools.
The government previously amended the existing law on military service to allow the sons of soldiers who served in the military for 30 years and the sons of soldiers killed or missing in action to be eligible to join the military. According to the head of the Interior and Defense Parliamentary Committee, more than 27,000 Bidoons were awaiting enlistment.
Ayed Hamad Medath committed suicide on July 7, which human rights advocates pointed out occurred after the government denied him civil documentation needed to access employment, education, and other public services. During protests that occurred after Medath’s death, the State Security agency arrested at least 15 Bidoon activists between July 11 and 14. Those arrested included prominent human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli during a raid on his home in which authorities confiscated al-Fadhli’s and his family’s cellphones and computers. Authorities had arrested al-Fadhli several times in previous years for his peaceful activities advocating for the rights of the Bidoon community.
Some of the detained Bidoon activists engaged in a 12-day hunger strike beginning August 22 to protest the plight of their community. The hunger strike was called off because of deteriorating health of the activists. On September 10, the Criminal Court held its first hearing on the case against the Bidoon for organizing unlicensed protests and sit-ins. The court postponed the trial until September 17 and subsequently released five defendants on bail. Two additional public hearings were held on November 12 and November 26. On November 4, two separate Bidoon men committed suicide.
The detainees faced numerous charges, including joining a banned organization aimed at undermining basic systems and overthrowing the regime of the country; spreading false news; insulting friendly countries; misusing a phone; organizing and participating in gatherings and rallies without a license; and incitement to murder. All the defendants denied all charges.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the security forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The 1962 Publications Law regulates print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The law further contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. This law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content regarding the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke sectarian feuds.
There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. No specific laws regulate online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses, such as defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Accordingly, authorities are able to prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.
On March 11, the Military Court sentenced al-Jadeed TV correspondent Adam Chamseddine in absentia to three months in prison for criticizing the GDSS in a Facebook post. On April 12, a military judge ruled that, because Chamseddine is a journalist, the Military Court did not have jurisdiction over the case and returned the file to the military prosecutor who subsequently dropped all charges. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.
The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events, as well as any broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers to broadcast any type of political news or programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that harm the state or its relations with foreign countries or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically affiliated” areas to report without removing brandings and logos identifying the outlets. For example, MTV reporters have been known to remove their outlet’s logo when entering Hizballah-affiliated areas. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah were required to obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.
Authorities continued to prosecute online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law. NGOs and media watchdogs claimed such prosecutions were efforts to intimidate critics. Prosecutors sometimes referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion, but more often they referred such cases to the Publications Court. Publications Court cases typically remained open for a year or more and typically ended with fines or dismissal.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Authorities selectively applied elements of the law that permit censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship.
On September 18, the president of the Lebanese University, Fouad Ayoub, had the judiciary request on his behalf that at least 20 media outlets remove all news and media reports related to him from their websites in an apparent attempt to edit his appearance on search engines. Media outlets were still determining their responses as of December 19.
The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine. Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, including material considered a threat to national security, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. Publishing without prior approval a book that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.
Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request that the DGS ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to NGOs, as of September each of the 30 book-banning cases the government registered in the publications court in 2017–mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens–was in the process of being resolved. Authorities occasionally also referred such cases to criminal courts, a process not established in law.
Libel/Slander Laws: In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and political figures or their representatives filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. Human rights NGO ALEF (Association Libanaise pour l’Education et la Formation) reported that in several dozen cases this year, criminal defamation suits were filed against journalists, bloggers, political activists, and private citizens, including for posting their opinions in WhatsApp groups or on Facebook. While these cases rarely, if ever, resulted in prolonged detentions or jail sentences, interrogations by police and lengthy, expensive trials created a chilling effect on political speech.
Following publication of intentionally provocative articles on September 12 that criticized President Aoun and sarcastically suggested that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the true leader of Lebanon, editors of the newspaper Nidaa al-Watan were summoned to appear before the Office of the Prosecutor General for the State on charges of defamation of the president. On September 20, the case was referred to the Publications Court. On November 21, the editor was found not guilty.
Private citizens may file criminal complaints, which the law requires an investigating judge to consider, and many defamation cases were initiated via the allegations of private citizens. Politicians at times responded to allegations of wrongdoing leveled at them by filing criminal complaints alleging defamation. The military justice code also prohibits defamation of the army.
The ISF Cybercrimes Bureau reported that, as of May 15, they had received referrals of 432 defamation cases for investigation. The Cybercrimes Bureau reportedly investigated 1,451 defamation cases in 2018, an increase of 81 percent from 2017. In November Human Rights Watch reported a 325 percent increase in the number defamation cases investigated by authorities and noted prison sentences against at least three individuals in defamation cases between 2015 and 2019. On October 5, four lawyers filed a complaint against the Economist, accusing the magazine of damaging the country’s reputation and insulting the Lebanese flag in its article reporting on the country’s dollar shortage that was published the same day.
On May 13, the GDSS arrested social media activist Rasheed Jumblatt and detained him for four days over a Facebook video post that allegedly included provocative and sectarian comments and insults against Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. Jumblatt was subsequently released after charges were dropped.
Nongovernmental Impact: Political and religious figures sometimes sought to rally public outcry aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and the press, including through coercion and threats of violence. This included public statements by some political and religious figures calling for the cancellation of a concert by local indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila due to threats of violence or content of the band’s music they perceived as offensive (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
The law does not restrict access to the internet. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet. On May 24, the Ministry of Telecommunications requested that its internet service provider block Grindr, a networking app used primarily by LGBTI communities, based on a judicial order.
Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Human rights groups reported that political parties and their supporters intimidated individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures, such as in the Mashrou’ Leila case (see Academic Freedom and Cultural Events).
The ISF’s Cybercrime Bureau and other state security agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. On July 15, Riad el-Assaad was summoned by the ISF Cybercrime Bureau in response to a post on his Facebook page referencing suspicion of corruption within the Syndicate of Lebanese Contractors. El-Assaad removed the post under threat of detention.
NGOs noted the number of known summonses might not be accurate since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases.
There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.
The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.
On July 30, organizers of the Byblos International Festival canceled the performance of indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, citing the need “to avoid bloodshed” after the band faced criticism from some political and religious figures, as well as some private citizens, for a four-year-old post on Facebook of an image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary. According to Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, on July 24, security officers interrogated two band members for six hours. The band removed two songs from its playlist and the offending image from Facebook, and it issued a July 31 statement expressing regret that some had been offended. Despite these steps, the concert was canceled by organizers who cited threats of violence as the official reason for the cancellation.
On July 19, the DGS Censorship Bureau requested the ban of two films, Hard Paint (2018) and Damascus Cover (2017), on the premise that they promoted homosexuality and the Israeli intelligence service, respectively. As of September 5, the Ministry of Interior had not issued final judgement. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints among the public that the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and was influenced by the opinions of religious institutions and political groups.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these freedoms.
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration.
Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when protesters caused property damage or clashes broke out between opposing protesters. Security forces generally allowed demonstrators to protest peacefully during large, widespread protests that began October 17. Security forces predominantly demonstrated restraint and professionalism in interactions with protesters. The ISF occasionally used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who authorities alleged were engaging in violence or vandalism, and the LAF in some instances used nonlethal force to disperse protesters who resisted LAF efforts to clear key thoroughfares. Human Rights Watch reported security forces used excessive force against protesters as well as intimidating and, in some cases, beating those attempting to film abuses. On November 1, ISF officers arrested and allegedly beat Salim Ghadban, a protester who had objected to the officers arresting four protesters occupying the Banks Association building in downtown Beirut. Ghadban was taken into temporary custody overnight at el-Helou police station where he was reportedly unable to contact an attorney, his family, or a physician.
Amnesty International reported that on October 26 the LAF used live ammunition fired in the air to disperse protesters blocking a main road in the northern area of Beddawi, which resulted in the alleged wounding of two protesters. During the same incident, five officers were injured. As of November a military court was investigating the incident. Following Prime Minister Hariri’s October 29 resignation, security forces, under increasing pressure from political leaders and the public, began to clear main roads but otherwise allowed demonstrators to peacefully assemble. Some protesters were detained after altercations with security forces, and as of November 19, at least five protesters who had previously been involved in unrelated criminal activity were referred to the judiciary for investigation. On November 12, a LAF bodyguard opened fire from inside a military vehicle attempting to pass through protesters blocking a road in Khaldeh, killing one protester. The LAF arrested the shooter and an investigation into the incident continued as of December 19. Altercations between protesters and supporters of nonstate actor Hizballah occurred sporadically during the protests, and security forces attempted to separate the conflicting groups with varying levels of success. Confrontations escalated into violence the night of November 25, when Hizballah and Amal supporters on motorcycles threw rocks and intimidated protesters in Beirut and opened fire on protesters and destroyed tents in Tyre. Human Rights Watch reported on November 8 that more than three dozen protesters asserted they had seen or were victims of violent attacks, including in Beirut, Bint Jbeil, Nabatieh and Sour, and that security forces failed to intervene to protect them.
Protesters clashed with ISF riot police on the evenings of December 14 and 15 in Beirut, producing the largest numbers of protest-related injuries to both protesters and security forces recorded during the year. Amnesty International on December 19 reported the Lebanese Civil Defense said it had treated 72 individuals for injuries at the scene and that 20 ISF members were taken to the hospital on December 14. Amnesty International denounced the presence of masked men in civilian clothing who allegedly attacked protesters. A Lebanese lawyer filed a formal complaint with the UN Human Rights Council.
The constitution provides for freedom of association, with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.
No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior for it to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects “public order, public morals, and state security.” In some cases the ministry sent an NGO’s notification papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or seats on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so can result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.
The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).
In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of refugee populations and asylum seekers, most of whom were from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq (see section 2.f. Protection of Refugees).
In-country Movement: Armed nonstate actors hindered or prevented movement in areas they controlled. Armed Hizballah members controlled access to some areas under Hizballah’s control, and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine prevented access to a border area under its control, according to the security services. Armed supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt sought to block the motorcades of the foreign minister and of a rival Druze minister on June 30, the latter blockade resulting in a shootout and two deaths. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.
Citizenship: Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father. A citizen mother married to a noncitizen father cannot transmit Lebanese citizenship to her children (see section 2.g. Stateless Persons).
Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom some 27,000 were registered Palestinian refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) services were available. As of September approximately 75 percent of the displaced families had returned to newly reconstructed apartments in the camp.
As of October there were nearly 920,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived after that time. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 20 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, refugees often took loans to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt and leaving them food insecure.
In early 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees except for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the Ministry of Social Affairs approved a limited number of Syrian asylum cases, including unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.
In addition to nearly 14,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 4,200 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.
During the year the government launched campaigns which limited refugees’ ability to reside or work in the country. These included forced compliance with building codes limiting the use of concrete and hardened materials in refugee shelters, increased arrests for residency-related offenses, and stepped-up enforcement of labor laws that targeted businesses employing refugees–which affected more than 6,600 refugees.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In April the Higher Defense Council (HDC), a body chaired by the president that includes cabinet ministers and security service heads, issued guidance to the security services to increase enforcement of building codes. This resulted in the destruction of thousands of refugee shelters. Security services forced refugees to destroy and replace hardened walls and roofs; alternatively security services did so themselves or entirely demolished noncompliant shelters. Although authorities generally cited violations of building, environmental codes, or both, there was insufficient judicial review or opportunity to legally challenge eviction or demolition actions.
On June 5, residents of an informal refugee settlement in Deir El Ahmar in Northwest Baalbek claimed that a Civil Defense member, responding to a fire in the camp, recklessly drove into the camp putting children’s lives at risk, which resulted in an altercation between camp residents and the driver, who ended up in the hospital. Following the incident, a group of approximately 50 local men, who had previously posted threats against refugees on social media, purportedly to protect the local population, returned to the camp and verbally threatened residents. Later that night the same group entered the camp and set fire to multiple refugee shelters, prompting local authorities to evacuate all 88 refugee families for their safety.
Labor laws were also enforced more strictly to fine employers who employed Syrians or Palestinians and to close illegal refugee-run businesses. Environmental regulations were cited more frequently in the eviction of refugees and bulldozing of dwellings in some locations. Refugee arrests and detentions also increased, and some NGOs funded by international donors to provide water and sanitation services to refugee settlements were sued by the government and fined for allegedly contributing to the pollution of the Litani River.
Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters to relieve economic hardship. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia) tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, known as the kafala system, who faced physical, mental, and sexual abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes; victims sometimes refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to threats and fear of reprisals or deportation.
Refoulement: The government reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. Some political party representatives, however, employed antirefugee rhetoric, stating assistance to Syrian refugees in particular placed additional burden on the state already facing an economic crisis. The DGS coordinated with Syrian government officials to facilitate the voluntary return of approximately 16,000 refugees from 2017 to September 1, 2019. UNHCR did not organize these group returns but was present at departure points and found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced in the cases of those refugees whom they interviewed. Human rights groups including Amnesty International questioned government claims that refugee returns were entirely voluntary, calling the environment “coercive” and citing credible risk of persecution or other human rights abuses upon return to areas controlled by the Syrian regime.
An HDC decision in April required the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24. As of September the DGS reported it had deported 2,731 individuals under this order. UN officials considered the government’s new deportation policy as creating a high risk of refoulement given the lack of a formal review process to assess credible fear of persecution or torture. Specifically, the HDC decision requiring the deportation of anyone arrested and found to have entered the country illegally after April 24 elevated the risk of refoulement. Human rights groups and the international community all raised concerns about the risk of turning over refugees to Syrian authorities. There were several anecdotal reports of Syrian refugees who were subsequently abused in detention after being turned over to Syrian authorities by Lebanese officials. Government officials maintained their policy only applied to illegal migrants, not refugees, although it did not appear there was sufficient due process to make such a determination. UNHCR and international donors urged the government to provide for a judicial or independent administrative review before carrying out deportations. The government maintained that while the law requires a court hearing on all deportation cases, it did not have the bandwidth to process the existing caseload.
Non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country. During the year two Sudanese asylum seekers and four Iraqis (three refugees and one asylum seeker) were deported. In addition, one Iraqi refugee and her two children were not allowed re-entry into Lebanon after they briefly returned to Iraq to obtain an official document.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees, the vast majority of them Syrian. In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, since 2017 residency fees have been waived for refugees who had registered with UNHCR prior to 2015. This ruling excluded unregistered refugees or those who had renewed on the basis of Lebanese sponsorship. DGS implementation of the waiver continued to be inconsistent, and there was minimal improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 20 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of September.
Due to the slow pace of implementation of residency determinations, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them or confiscated their identification documents (IDs). Syrian refugees faced barriers to obtaining Syrian ID documentation required to renew their residency permits in Lebanon because of the hostility of the Syrian government to the refugee population and because Syrian government embassies and consulates charge exorbitant fees. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for refugees of other nationalities, particularly Iraqis, due to high renewal fees and sponsorship requirements. There is no official limitation of movement for Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS) in the country; however, PRS without legal status faced limitations on their freedom of movement, mainly due to the threat of arrest at checkpoints.
Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border only to PRS with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured visas to Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country had arrived after 2016.
In 2017 the DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delayed submission. This circular has been consistently used since its issuance and applies to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016. The circular also granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents such as an individual civil status card, instead of passports or national identity cards. Previously children were required to have an ID or valid travel document to be able to renew their residency. If they did not have one of these two documents, their legal status was revoked, and they became at risk of arrest and detention if they were stopped at any checkpoint. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings. Authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.
Since 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians. Since March 2018 the Ministry of Interior waived the costly court proceedings to obtain birth registration of PRS and Syrian refugee children older than one year who were born in Lebanon between January 2011 and February 2018. The proof of marriage requirement remained in effect during the year.
Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities typically enforced them for Syrian refugees, who mostly lack legal residency status and could face greater consequences if detained for a curfew violation. Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.
Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, and a few violent incidents against refugees occurred. UNHCR staff reported restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, whom authorities are less likely to stop yet who are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, to perform family errands.
Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning. In July the Ministry of Labor stepped up enforcement and fined employers who hired refugees outside these sectors.
The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retire or resign. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).
Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 33 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to excessive bureaucracy and societal stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.
Palestinian refugees were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association. A Ministry of Labor effort to restrict Syrian refugee access to employment led to closure of several businesses employing or owned by Palestinians, triggering three weeks of protests in July and August.
Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.
The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA provides health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country has changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which suffered heavy damage in past conflicts. By agreement with the government, Palestinian security committees provided security for refugees in the camps.
A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared Camp in eight stages began in 2008; the project continued at year’s end and was approximately 75 percent completed. Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, with a 99 billion LBP ($66 million) shortfall remaining. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return. Many moved into completed apartments this year, and the temporary settlements that housed them near Nahr el-Bared Camp were decommissioned. The government did not permit UNRWA to install individual electricity meters in apartments, preferring that UNRWA pay a single bill rather than collecting from thousands of households, which limited access to electricity for residents.
Palestinian refugees typically could not access public health and education services or own land. A 2001 amendment to the law was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs.
Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not considered citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to government-provided health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.
Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 200,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2018-19 academic year. Authorities estimated there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many nonprofit and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.
Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.
Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and increasingly Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.
Approximately 3,000-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These Palestinians began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize their legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures.
Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other countries where UNRWA operates such as Syria or Jordan, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of these were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.
The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. A March 2 decree issued by the Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country since 2011. In such cases authorities no longer required the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children more than one year old.
Approximately 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities continued to deny them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and administrative obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who had previously received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 under a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.
Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, or own or inherit property.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.
Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, have done little to lessen restrictions on freedom of speech. Civil society organizations practiced self-censorship because they believed armed groups would threaten or kill activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.
International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and opposed to the GNA.
Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech. Armed groups reportedly used social media to target political opponents, incite violence, and engage in hate speech. According to UNSMIL, various news publications and television stations published calls to violence, spread intentionally false news, and permitted ad hominem attacks.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Press freedoms were limited in all forms of media, creating an environment in which virtually no independent media existed. International news agencies reported difficulties obtaining journalist visas, encountered refusals to issue or recognize press cards, and were barred from reporting freely in certain areas, especially eastern cities. UNSMIL documented restrictions imposed by the Foreign Media Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which seriously affected the operations of journalists in Tripoli.
Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict. In the first half of the year, UNSMIL reviewed 23 cases of threats, intimidation, and violence against journalists; two cases of unlawful killing; and 10 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Journalists were targeted based on their media work or other factors, including tribal affiliation.
Impunity for attacks on members of media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks.
On January 19, Mohamed Ben Khalifa, an Associated Press photographer, was killed by an airstrike while covering clashes between rival nonstate armed groups south of Tripoli. In response to his death, protests condemning violence against journalists were held in Tripoli, Benghazi, Sebha, and Zuwara, according to the Libyan Center for Freedom of the Press. It is unclear what, if any, efforts authorities took to seek accountability for his death.
On May 2, two Libyan journalists for television broadcaster Libya Al-Ahrar, Mohamed al-Qurj and Mohamed al-Shibani, were abducted while covering the hostilities in Tripoli. Libya Al-Ahrar alleged that LNA-aligned nonstate armed groups were responsible. The journalists were released three weeks later.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.
Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.
National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.
Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists.
The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were no credible reports that the GNA restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year.
Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.
Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public.
A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, intimidation by armed groups, and the uncertain political situation.
There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
According to Freedom House, teachers and professors faced intimidation by students aligned with nonstate armed groups.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.
There were reports of several small public protests in Tripoli and other major Libyan cities, in which participants expressed frustration with civilian casualties and fatalities caused by the continuing conflict and poor service delivery by the national and municipal governments.
The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association.
In March the GNA Presidential Council issued a decree to regulate civil society organizations (CSOs). According to human rights organizations, if implemented, the decree would seriously limit space for civil society to operate independently and freely in the country. The decree regulates the work of local and foreign organizations in terms of their establishment, registration, and assembly in a restrictive manner and grants the executive authority broad powers to limit or suspend organizations.
CSOs are required to register with the GNA-affiliated “Civil Society Commission” in Tripoli if they have activities in the west and with an eastern, rival Civil Society Commission in Benghazi if they have activities in the east. In August the Civil Society Commission in Tripoli issued a circular banning members of Libyan organizations from participating in events outside the country without seeking the commission’s approval at least 15 days prior.
UNSMIL reported prolonged detention of, and denial of family visits to, civil society activists held in the Granada detention center in eastern Libya. Threats, including death threats, were made against numerous CSOs because of their human rights activities, and UNSMIL reported that at least three activists have sought sanctuary abroad.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”
In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in the west, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints in the east and south. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations, including a May 18 attack on an LNA checkpoint at the entrance to an oilfield in Zillah, which was claimed by ISIS-Libya.
There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted random checks on departing domestic and international travelers, since the country lacked a unified customs and immigration system.
Citizenship: The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities, but there is still no process for obtaining permission. Authorities may revoke citizenship if it was obtained based on false information, forged documents, or withheld relevant information concerning nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.
If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if a mother’s citizenship is also revoked in this case. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.
Non-Arab communities were marginalized under the Arab nationalist Qadhafi regime. Qadhafi revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including minorities such as the Tebu and Tuareg, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip along the Libya-Chad border to Chad in 1994. As a result there were many nomadic and settled stateless persons in the country.
Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.
Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.
As of November, UNHCR estimated there were 301,407 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country–approximately a 50 percent increase over 2018. Some 128,000 of these were displaced from the greater Tripoli area alone during the year.
In July the International Organization for Migration (IOM) assessed that most new displacements were due to the continued conflict in Tripoli, the escalation of violence in the southern city of Murzuq, and flooding in Ghat. More than two-thirds of IDPs sought shelter in western Libya, including safer neighborhoods in Tripoli, the Nafusa Mountains, and along the western coast. IDPs were reportedly living in rented accommodation, with host families, in schools or other public buildings, in informal camps, in other shelter facilities, or in abandoned buildings.
In October the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimated that 100,000 persons were displaced from Tripoli during a two-month period of intensive bombing and shelling in the summer.
In January HRW observed that most of the 48,000 former residents of the town of Tawergha, who were forcibly displaced after the 2011 revolution, remained displaced.
IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services, including to those with disabilities.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses by GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned and other nonstate groups, and criminal organizations (see section 1.d.).
Conditions in government and extralegal migrant detention facilities included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, lack of potable water, and spread of communicable diseases (see section 1.c.). Many press reports indicated refugees and migrants were summarily tortured in official and unofficial detention centers. According to numerous press reports, nonstate actors routinely held migrants for ransom payments.
UNSMIL reported migrant deaths in GNA detention centers at Tariq al-Sikkah, Qasr Bin Ghashir, Zawiyah, and Sebha.
On September 19, a Sudanese migrant who had been intercepted on a boat off the coast of Libya was shot and killed by Libyan Coast Guard personnel when he resisted being taken to a detention center, according to the IOM.
Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations involved in human smuggling activities targeted migrants. Numerous reports during the year suggested that various human smugglers and traffickers had caused the death of migrants. Hundreds of rescued migrants who were reported to have been sent to detention centers were later determined to be missing. In June OHCHR called on the GNA to launch an investigation to locate these missing persons. On July 25, up to 150 migrants who set sail from the Libyan coast, including women and children, drowned when a wooden boat piloted by smugglers capsized in the Mediterranean. There were no known arrests or prosecutions by the GNA during the year of Libyan nationals engaged in trafficking or human smuggling.
Women refugees and migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received many reports of rape and other sexual violence. The OHCHR concluded in a December 2018 report on interviews with 1,300 migrant women and girls that a majority of female migrants in the country were subject to systematic rape by their traffickers and prison guards or witnessed the rape of others. An al-Jazeera investigation concluded in September 2019 similarly documented systematic female and male rape in migrant detention facilities.
Migrants were exploited for forced labor at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and GNA-aligned armed groups (see section 7.b.).
Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA has not established a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities can detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits.
UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those in GNA detention centers. During the year, UNHCR, ICRC, and the IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers.
In December 2018 UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior began receiving refugees at a new Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli, intended to host vulnerable refugees while they awaited resettlement or voluntary repatriation. In July, following an airstrike on the Tajoura migrant detention center in Tripoli, nearly 500 individuals who survived the airstrike spontaneously appeared at the GDF. In September UNSMIL assessed that GDF conditions were overcrowded, contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. On October 2, UNHCR and the Ministry of Interior conducted the first relocation of 15 former Tajoura arrivals to a Community Day Center in Gurji. In November UNHCR reported the GDF hosted 1,200 individuals.
On September 10, the Rwandan government, UNHCR, and the African Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a transit mechanism for refugees and asylum seekers evacuated out of Libya. Under the MOU, Rwanda will receive some refugees and asylum seekers currently held in Libyan migrant detention facilities. The first group of 66 refugees was evacuated to Rwanda on September 26. As of November UNHCR had assisted 2,018 refugees and asylum seekers with leaving Libya, including 1,293 under evacuation programs and another 725 under resettlement programs.
Freedom of Movement: Migrants and refugees are generally considered to be illegally present in Libya and are subject to fines, detention, and expulsion. Migrants attempting sea crossings on the Mediterranean who were later intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard were considered to have violated Libyan law and were often sent to migrant detention facilities in western Libya.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners, but during the year the GNA did not provide refugees universal access to health care, education, or other services given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.
Libyan national mothers alone are generally unable to transmit citizenship to their children. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children only in certain exceptional circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, or of unknown nationality. In contrast the law provides for automatic transmission of nationality to children born of a Libyan national father, whether the child is born inside or outside of Libya and regardless of the nationality of the mother. There are naturalization provisions for noncitizens.
According to Mercy Corps, up to 30 percent of the population in southern Libya are of undetermined legal status, which fueled discrimination in employment and services, and contributed to ethnic and tribal tension. Noncitizens without national identification numbers cannot access basic services; register births, marriages, or deaths; hold certain jobs; receive state salaries; vote; or run for office.
Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no comprehensive data on the number of stateless persons.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism can result in prosecution under the penal code, with punishments ranging from fines to prison time, despite the freedom of expression provided for in the 2016 press code. The press code applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the penal code. According to the Freedom House 2019 Freedom in the World report, the press in Morocco enjoys a significant degree of freedom when reporting on economic and social policies, but authorities used an array of financial and legal mechanisms to punish critical journalists. International and domestic human rights groups criticized criminal prosecutions of journalists and publishers as well as libel suits, claiming that the government principally used these laws to restrict independent human rights groups, the press, and social media.
Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. The government sometimes prosecuted persons who expressed criticism on these topics. HRW reported during the year that the government demonstrated increasing intolerance of public dissent, particularly pf persons who were critical of the monarchy, state authorities, or Islam. According to government figures, 22 individuals were specifically charged for criminal speech, including defamation, slander, and insult (see Libel/Slander Laws and National Security).
On April 19, the al-Hoceima Court of Appeals increased the sentence for defense lawyer for Hirak protesters Abdessadek El Bouchtaoui from 20 to 24 months in prison and sustained a 500 dirhams ($50) fine for insulting officials and representatives of authority while on duty, undermining the authority of justice, incitement to commit crimes, public incitement via Facebook to participate in unauthorized protests and crimes, and participation in unauthorized protests. According to Amnesty International, the government’s charges were based on 114 posts on El Bouchtaoui’s Facebook account and comments he made on national media criticizing the security forces’ use of force against Hirak protesters. El Bouchtaoui fled Morocco prior to the Appeals Court sentence in February 2018, and after more than a year in exile on February 13, France issued political asylum to Bouchtaoui, his wife, and three children. In April the Tetouan Court of Appeals also suspended El Bouchtaoui’s legal license for two years.
On March 27, a court of first instance convicted four individuals to a six-month suspended prison sentence and fine of 10,000 dirhams ($1,000) for publishing information from a parliamentary committee under the new access to information law that came into force during the year. The individuals reported publishing the information because of concerns over corruption by elected officials.
On November 25, the Sale Court of First Instance sentenced Moroccan rapper Mohamed Mounir to one year in prison and a fine of 1,000 dirhams ($100) for insulting police via a live social media feed posted in late October. The rapper confessed to the crime, stating his post came after two police officers assaulted him during a stop in mid-October to check his identity papers. Although Mounir was convicted for those online comments, his defense team, AMDH, and Amnesty International attributed his arrest and prosecution instead to a controversial rap video, titled “Long Live the People,” released on YouTube three days prior to the arrest. The defense planned to appeal the sentence at year’s end.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media, as well as partisan media, were active and expressed a variety of views within the restrictions of the law. The press code limits punishments for accredited journalists to fines. As of July 30, no journalists were prosecuted under the press code during the year, compared with two in 2018. According to the Ministry of Justice, Hajar Raissouni, Taoufiq Bouachrine (see section 1.d.), and Hamid al-Mahdaoui (see section 1.c.) are accredited journalists who were in prison during the year for criminal acts the government claimed were outside of their role as journalists. According to authorities, 22 individuals faced charges during the year for defamation, slander, or blasphemy.
Journalists continued to denounce the cumbersome administrative procedures and the long wait times to receive accreditation under the press code. Some members of the press claimed that journalists from outlets close to the government and palace received their credentials sooner than journalists from independent outlets. They claimed journalists waiting for their credentials had to operate without a press card in an ambiguous legal status, as the protections of the press code are only available to accredited journalists.
The government also enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.
The trial for seven members of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, including Hicham Mansouri, Maati Monjib, and Hisham Almiraat, has been repeatedly postponed since 2015; the individuals had not been sentenced at year’s end. According to the Ministry of Justice, Mansouri, Monjib, and Almiraat were suspected of accepting foreign funds intended for acts threatening the internal security and territorial integrity of the country. The seven individuals were charged for posing a threat to the internal security of the country, fraud, managing an association exercising unauthorized acts, and accepting unauthorized foreign funds. The seven remained free but reported hardships due to the open case.
Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation, including attempts to discredit them through harmful rumors about their personal lives. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists, often putting them on trial for matters seemingly unrelated to journalism or political activities.
On September 30, the Rabat Court of First Instance sentenced journalist Hajar Raissouni to a 500 dirham ($50) fine and one year in prison for a presumed illegal abortion and premarital sex, charges the defense and Amnesty International denounced as lacking medical evidence. Police arrested Raissouni at a doctor’s clinic in Rabat, along with her fiance, gynecologist, anesthesiologist, and nurse. Raissouni claims that while she was held in custody, police forced her to undergo a physical examination against her will and questioned her about her family ties and journalism, particularly her writing on the Hirak movement. Raissouni told reporters she believes she was targeted because of her critical reporting and family connections to the Justice and Development Party. Reporters without Borders called the case an example of “profoundly unjust” persecution of a journalist. Raissouni and codefendants received a royal pardon on October 16 before the case moved to an appellate court.
According to media reports, authorities expelled multiple international journalists during the year because they lacked valid permits. The government stated that foreign media representatives who comply with local laws are allowed to perform their duties without interference and that allegations that authorities expelled foreign journalists were unsubstantiated.
In July and October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that several local journalists believed they were under surveillance. For example, some journalists stated at times their private conversations were publicized without their consent in an apparent attempt by the state to discredit their reporting. The CPJ also reported that some journalists jailed during the Rif protests in 2016 to 2017 reported authorities had referenced private WhatsApp messages while questioning them under detention.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Self-censorship and government restrictions on sensitive topics remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications that breach public order or criticize Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the government’s positions on territorial integrity. The press code lists threats to public order as one of the criteria for censorship. While the government rarely censored the domestic press, it exerted pressure through written and verbal warnings and by pursuing legal cases that resulted in heavy fines and suspended publication. Such cases encouraged editors and journalists to self-censor. The government denied restricting content on media outlets.
Libel/Slander Laws: The press code includes provisions that permit the government to impose financial penalties on accredited journalists and publishers who violate restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults. A court may impose a prison sentence if an accredited journalist is unable or unwilling to pay the fine.
Individuals who were not registered as journalists may be charged for defamation, libel, and slander under the criminal code, as can accredited journalists for their private actions.
National Security: The antiterrorism law provides for the arrest of individuals, including journalists, and filtering websites deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, terror, or violence.”
The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2019 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during the year. The same report indicated that there have been cases in Morocco where bloggers were arrested or imprisoned for content the government deemed politically sensitive. Social media and communication services, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and ongoing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector, not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.
Many contributors working for online news outlets and many online news outlets themselves were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.
The law permits the government to criminalize presentations or debate questioning the legitimacy of Islam, the legitimacy of the monarchy, state institutions, and the status of Western Sahara. The law restricts cultural events and academic activities, although the government generally provided more latitude to political and religious activism confined to university campuses. The Ministry of Interior approved appointments of university rectors.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally allowed authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. Under the law, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security.
Some NGOs complained that authorities did not apply the approval process consistently and used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. According to HRW’s World Report 2019, police allowed many protests demanding political reform and protesting government actions, but often forcibly dispersed peaceful protests, arrested protestors and protest leaders, or prevented demonstrations from occurring. According to the government, there were an average of 20,000 demonstrations per year. While most protests proceeded peacefully, on several occasions, violence erupted between protestors and police.
Security forces were generally present both in and out of uniform at protests, particularly if the protest was expected to address a sensitive issue. In general, officers were under orders to observe and not intervene, unless the demonstration became unruly, threatening to bystanders, or overflowed into public highways. In those cases, under standard operating procedures, officers were required to give the crowd three warnings that force would be used if they did not disperse. Security forces would then attempt to force protestors to leave the area, using riot shields to push standing protestors into a designated area or carrying seated protestors to the designated area. If such lower-level tactics failed, security forces may escalate to the use of batons, water cannons, or tear gas to clear the area and restore order.
Security force tactics did not differ significantly whether the protest was authorized or unauthorized, although the decision on whether to intervene sometimes depended on whether the protest was authorized. According to the government, if officers intervened in a protest, a police judiciary officer not involved in the intervention and under the supervision of the attorney general must produce a statement documenting the circumstances of the case, the number of victims, and the material damage due to the operation. The police judiciary officer must address the statement to the Attorney General’s Office with a copy to the governor of the territorial jurisdiction where the incident transpired. The government organized ongoing training on human rights-based methods to manage crowds throughout the year.
In 2017, after two brothers who had been mining illegally were found dead inside a coal pit in the northeast province of Jerada, it sparked more than 300 protests over social disparities, economic grievances, and unemployment. According to the government, 67 individuals arrested were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to five years for destruction of public goods, incitement to commit crimes, or involvement in unauthorized protests. According to authorities, on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr in June, the king pardoned all prisoners associated with the Jerada protests.
In April the Casablanca Court of Appeals sustained a court of first instance ruling against protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 41 other members of the Hirak protest movement in the Rif. Four detainees, including Zefzafi, were sentenced during the year to 20 years’ imprisonment on charges including threatening national security. At least one of the convicted individuals appealed the sentence to the Court of Cassation. Other sentences varied from 15 years’ imprisonment to suspended sentences and fines. According to the government, authorities implicated 578 persons in crimes related to the Hirak protests, of whom 39 were acquitted of all charges in 2018. With the exception of one remaining pretrial detainee, the rest were prosecuted and sentenced by the al-Hoceima’s Court of First Instance as of October. During the year the king pardoned 68 of the prisoners; Zefzafi was not included in the pardons.
Amnesty International reported public authorities interrupted a sit-in organized to take place on April 10 in Rabat. The NGO submitted the required notice of the event to authorities. Amnesty International reported the incident to the CNDH and the Ministry of Human Rights via written correspondence. According to an initial response from the ministry, Amnesty International’s complaint was forwarded to the Ministry of Interior on April 25. The NGO had not received a response from the Ministry of Interior by year’s end.
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, although the government sometimes restricted this freedom. The government prohibited or failed to recognize some political opposition groups by deeming them unqualified for NGO status. While the government does not restrict the source of funding for NGOs operating in the country, NGOs that receive funding from foreign sources are required to report the amount and its origins to the government within 30 days from the date of receipt. The government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered to be advocating against Islam as the state religion or questioning the legitimacy of the monarchy or the country’s territorial integrity. Authorities obstructed the registration of a number of associations perceived to be critical of the authorities by refusing to accept their registration applications or to deliver receipts confirming the filing of applications (see section 5).
The Ministry of Interior required NGOs to register before being recognized as legal entities, but there was no comprehensive national registry publicly available. A prospective organization must submit its objectives, bylaws, address, and photocopies of members’ identification cards to local officials of the ministry. The local officials of the ministry issue a receipt to the organization that signifies formal approval. Organizations without receipts are not formally registered. According to the law, however, any association not denied registration that did not receive a receipt within 60 days of submitting the required documentation has the right to engage in activities. There were several reports during the year that some organizations faced administrative issues because the ministry did not issue a registration receipt. These same organizations reported extended delays in receiving correspondence from the ministry on the receipt issue.
Unregistered organizations could not access government funds or legally accept contributions.
The National Federation of Amazigh Associations, an organization supporting the inclusion of the Amazigh (Berber) population in public life, reported that, as of October, the nine Amazigh organizations denied registration in 2017 continued to be denied registration during the year, including the federation itself (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
The Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), a Sunni Islamist movement that rejects the king’s spiritual authority, remained banned but largely tolerated, although authorities continued to monitor its activities. On February 6, media reported that authorities closed unlicensed mosques run out of homes of JCO members in Casablanca, Kenitra, and Inezgane.
On April 16, the Casablanca Court of Appeals sustained a court of first instance ruling to dissolve Racines, a cultural rights NGO. The courts determined the NGO engaged in activities beyond the scope of its bylaws as a cultural rights NGO by hosting an episode of the online show 1 Dinner, 2 Idiots, where guests of the show engaged in political discussions on freedom of association, corruption in the public sector, the monarchy, and the Rif Hirak protest movement. The leadership of the organization appealed to the Court of Cassation but ceased operations in June, as required by the court of appeals ruling.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, although it limited movement to areas experiencing widespread unrest. The government denied entry to individuals it believed threatened the stability of the country. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. The government also provided funding to humanitarian organizations to provide social services to migrants, including refugees.
There were several reports of government authorities denying local and international organizations and press access to the Rif and Eastern regions. In January, Amnesty International announced two of its researchers were denied entry to conduct a human rights investigation.
In February authorities expelled a Dutch journalist from the north for failing to present the appropriate accreditation. The journalist visited the region to cover a story on migration issues. He also reported that security forces followed him for several days before deporting him from the country.
The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis. There were a few reported cases, however, of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from Algeria and elsewhere if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara.
In-country Movement: Local and international media reported that authorities forcibly relocated more than 200 sub-Saharan migrants from Nador to the Atlas region. NGOs reported Moroccan authorities forcibly relocated dozens of destitute sub-Saharan migrants every few weeks from areas neighboring the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to Tiznit and Agadir in the south of the country.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as migrants, were particularly vulnerable to abuse. Europe-bound human smuggling and human trafficking decreased after January following a government of Morocco and EU agreement. Moroccan authorities cooperated with Spanish and EU authorities to thwart trafficking networks and arrest smugglers. Parliament passed legislation in 2016 to improve protections for victims. CNDH regional branches reported receiving several complaints regarding the rights of migrants. There were reports of government authorities arresting or detaining migrants, particularly around the Spanish enclave cities of Melilla and Ceuta, and forcibly relocating them to other parts of the country to deter attempts to cross illegally into Spanish territory.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of refugee status. The government has historically deferred to UNHCR as the sole agency in the country entitled to perform refugee status determinations and verify asylum cases. UNHCR referred cases that meet the criteria for refugee recognition to the government’s interministerial Commission in Charge of Hearings for Asylum Seekers within the Bureau of Refugees and Stateless Persons. The government recognizes asylum status for refugees designated according to the UNHCR statute. The government continued to grant status to UNHCR-recognized refugees and temporary status to registered Syrians. There were 802 refugees registered in the country. From December 2018 to July 2019, the commission held 33 hearings and granted legal status as refugees to 257 asylum seekers referred by UNHCR, of whom 80 percent were Syrian nationals.
Access to Basic Services: Recognized refugees and migrants were generally able to work and access health care and education services, including publicly funded professional and vocational training. Requests on behalf of women and children receive automatic approval, with immediate access to education and healthcare. Asylum seekers were, however, sometimes unable to access the national health care system and continued to have little access to the judicial system until recognized as refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government facilitated voluntary returns in cooperation with UNHCR and, when necessary, the resettlement of recognized refugees to third countries. Since 2004 the government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have cofunded the voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin. According to the government, it assisted with the voluntary return to the country of origin of an average of 2,000 to 3,000 migrants per year.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Syrians and Yemenis benefited from “exceptional regularization” outside of the more permanent migrant regularization program.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “provocative propaganda to undermine the prestige of the state,” electronic communication that “might prejudice the public order or religious values,” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen. Authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative. In January 2018 the government issued a new penal code that generally increased maximum penalties for crimes related to “undermining the state.” International human rights organizations expressed concern that the 2018 penal code contains vaguely defined articles that the security services could use to target activists and further restrict freedom of expression, including online.
In September the ROP arrested an expatriate for posting a video on social media in which he threw his Omani residency card on the ground and allegedly used “abusive language” about the police. In November human rights organizations reported that authorities arrested Musallam Al-Ma’ashani at the Sarfait border crossing upon his return to Oman from Yemen. These groups and social media users claimed authorities arrested Al-Ma’ashani for printing a book documenting tribal activities in Dhofar, which he intended to submit to the Ministry of Information for display at the 2020 Muscat International Book Fair. According to social media posts, authorities released Al-Ma’ashani on November 25 on bail after approximately two weeks in detention.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines; however, editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in traditional and social media (especially on Twitter), the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government.
In January human rights observers reported that police briefly detained two journalists from the Hala FM radio station while they covered a protest in Muscat over unemployment. The journalists were reportedly released the same day. Some social media users who photographed and recorded the same protest claimed the ROP forced them to delete their photos and videos.
According to human rights organizations, authorities arrested at least two individuals in February for criticizing on social media the government’s contacts with Israel.
In 2017 the Supreme Court upheld previous court rulings and permanently shut down al-Zaman, an independent newspaper. A journalist and an editor of the paper served prison sentences and were released in 2017. A second journalist was convicted and sentenced, but later acquitted. Human rights organizations claimed the closure of al-Zaman had a chilling effect upon freedom of expression in the country.
Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists were ineligible for a license.
Violence and Harassment: Some journalists reported harassment by high-level government officials for printing stories perceived as critical of their particular ministries.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products including books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. The OHRC reported that four publications violated the printing law and were therefore not permitted in the country. There is only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs before importing any religious materials.
Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 1,000 rials ($2,600).
National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “undermines the prestige of the state.”
The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. The law allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message sent via any medium that “violates public order and morals.” The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison and a minimum fine of 1,000 rials ($2,600). Authorities also applied the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan.
The government’s national telecommunications company and private service providers make internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Internet access is available via schools, workplaces, wireless networks at coffee shops, and other venues, especially in urban areas.
Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. The criteria for blocking access to internet sites were neither transparent nor consistent. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs as well as most VoIP technologies, such as Skype.
Website administrators or moderators monitored content and were reportedly quick to delete potentially offensive material in chat rooms, on social networking fora, and on blog postings. Some website administrators posted warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers.
The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity, and placed restrictions on performances in public venues. The law also forbids dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Human rights organizations expressed concern that overly broad provisions in the penal code could further restrict the work of human rights activists and limit freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The law provides for limited freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. Under the penal code, gatherings of 10 or more persons in a public place are unlawful if they “endangered the public security or order” or “influenced the function of authorities.”
In January human rights observers reported that police in Salalah detained as many as 20 individuals for protesting unemployment. Several social media users who claimed to know some of the protestors asserted that they remained in detention for at least two days.
Private sector employees in the energy and industrial manufacturing sectors threatened strikes in isolated cases; however, company leadership used incentives like promises of job security and other material benefits to persuade organizers to call off strikes (see section 7.a.).
The law provides for freedom of association for undefined “legitimate objectives and in a proper manner.” Examples of such associations include registered labor unions and social groups for foreign nationalities.
The government limited freedom of association in practice by prohibiting associations whose activities it deemed “inimical to the social order” or otherwise inappropriate. A royal decree stipulates citizens joining groups deemed harmful to national interests could be subject to revocation of citizenship.
Associations must register with their corresponding ministries, which approve all associations’ bylaws and determine whether a group serves the interest of the country. The time required to register an association ranged from two months to two years. Approval time varied based on the level of preparedness of the applying organization, the subject matter of the organization, its leadership, and the organization’s mission. The law limits formal registration of nationality-based associations to one association for each nationality and restricts activities of such associations. The government sometimes denied permission for associations to form.
The penal code forbids associations from conducting any kind of fundraising without government approval, including for charitable causes. Individuals convicted of accepting unlawful funding for an association may receive up to one year in jail and a fine of 2,000 rials ($5,200). Foreign diplomatic missions are required to request meetings with nongovernmental associations through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by diplomatic note. Associations may not meet with foreign diplomatic missions and foreign organizations without prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The government enforced this law, and all foreign-funded educational and public diplomacy programs required prior government review.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Citizens could generally travel freely outside the country, although that right is not codified. Citizens related to citizens living abroad who criticized the government reportedly were told not to leave the country. Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees personnel occasionally visited the country but did not maintain an office or personnel locally.
In-country Movement: There are no official government restrictions on internal travel for any citizen. The government must approve on a case-by-case basis official travel by foreign diplomats to the Dhofar and Musandam regions. There were reports many foreign domestic employees had their passports confiscated by employers, who sponsor the foreign workers, even though the law prohibited this practice. In February an Egyptian foreign worker posted a video online in which she alleged that her sponsor was holding her passport, rendering her unable to travel to Egypt to visit her dying mother.
Employers have a great amount of control over these workers, particularly domestic workers who are not covered by existing labor laws. The country’s visa-sponsorship system (kafala) ties migrant workers to their employers and prevents them from changing jobs without their sponsor’s consent. Migrant workers generally cannot work for a new employer in the country within a two-year period without the permission of their current employer, even if they complete their contract. Employers can have a worker’s visa canceled arbitrarily. Workers who leave their jobs without the consent of their employer can be punished with fines, deportation, or reentry bans.
Foreign Travel: Foreign workers must obtain exit permits from their employer to leave the country legally. Exit permits may be denied when there is a dispute over payment or work remaining, leaving the foreign citizen in country with recourse only through local courts. In theory, courts provided recourse to workers denied exit permits, but the process was opaque with domestic workers consistently alleging that existing dispute resolution mechanisms were inadequate to protect them. In the past, travel bans–through confiscation of passports–were imposed on citizens involved in political activism. No new cases were reported during the year.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The country has a large number of female migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and the Philippines, many of whom are employed as domestic workers. Nongovernmental organizations based outside the country and embassies of labor-sending countries alleged that domestic workers faced discrimination, to include physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. The country criminalizes slavery and trafficking, but enforcement was weak. Although forced labor is punished under the labor law, domestic workers are excluded from that law’s protections. In 2018 courts convicted 15 individuals for human trafficking crimes.
The government generally did not allow refugees to remain in the country. The most recently available UNHCR data from February 2018 indicated that there were 51,000 individuals in the country who had fled conflict, including an estimated 5,000 Yemenis. The status of these individuals was precarious, as Oman does not have a national framework regulating issues related to asylum.
Refoulement: The government did not provide comprehensive protection to refugees from involuntary returns to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, subjecting refugees to the possibility of refoulement. Tight control over the entry of foreigners effectively limited access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers.
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refuge for internally displaced persons, and the government has established a system for providing protection. The ROP’s system for granting asylum and resettlement is not transparent, and the law does not specify a timeframe in which the ROP must adjudicate an asylum application. It is current policy not to recognize refugees from conflict zones, such as Yemen, although the government provided temporary medical care to certain Yemeni citizens. In practice, there are no substantive legal protections for asylum seekers in the country.
Durable Solutions: When third-country nationals presented themselves on the Oman-Yemen border, the government worked with local embassies to facilitate a return to these individuals’ home countries. In cases where individuals could not return to their home country, like Syrians, the government would facilitate travel to a third country of their choice.
Temporary Protection: The government provided emergency medical care to certain Yemeni citizens who demonstrated they could not receive adequate care in Yemen. These Yemenis and one accompanying family member per patient were offered status in Oman during the treatment period.
Under the law citizenship is passed only through the father. Therefore, children born to foreign fathers and Omani citizen mothers in Oman risk statelessness.
West Bank and Gaza
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression but does not specifically provide for freedom of the press. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank, including through PASF harassment, intimidation, and arrest.
In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through arrests and interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led many journalists to self-censor. During the March Bidna Na’eesh (We Want to Live) protests, Hamas arrested 23 journalists, according to rights groups.
Israeli civil and military law provides limited protections of freedom of expression and press for Palestinian residents of the West Bank. NGOs and Palestinian journalists alleged that Israeli authorities restricted press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement, as well as through violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms. The Israeli government stated it allows journalists maximum freedom to work and investigates any allegations of mistreatment of journalists.
Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized or covered events that criticized the PA.
On February 24, the PASF detained photojournalist Mohammad Dweik while he filmed a protest against the National Social Insurance Law, according to media reports; he was later released after deleting the content from his camera.
The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “integrity of the Palestinian state.” The PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals, including sites affiliated with political parties and opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA. Websites blocked during 2018 continued to be blocked throughout the year.
According to HRW, the PA arrested 1,609 individuals between January 2018 and April 2019 for insulting “higher authorities” and creating “sectarian strife.” HRW stated these charges “criminalize peaceful dissent.” The PA arrested more than 750 persons during this period for social media posts, according to data provided to HRW.
In Gaza, Hamas authorities arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who publicly criticized them. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. In January, Hamas arrested the Palestinian comedian Ali Nassman after he released a song on YouTube mocking a Hamas policy, according to media. He was released later that day. In April, Hamas arrested Palestinian comedian Hussam Khalaf for mocking the same Hamas policy, and he was released the next day.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.
Hamas de facto authorities permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For example, the PA-supported Palestine TV continued to operate in Gaza.
On May 26, the Hamas de facto government Ministries of Interior and Information in Gaza prevented PA-owned newspaper Al Hayat Al Jadida from distributing its paper based on the claim that the outlet published provocative material that incited violence and disrupted the civil peace.
In March, Hamas security arrested Rafat al-Qedra, the general manager of Palestine TV in Gaza. According to media outlets, they confiscated his mobile telephone and personal laptop before releasing him.
In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials.
There were reports of Israeli forces detaining journalists in the West Bank, including the August 6 detention in Burqin of Muhammed Ateeq, who was held for 10 days, and the August 29 detention of photojournalist Hasan Dabbous in his village near Ramallah. According to Israeli authorities, Ateeq was arrested on suspicion of endangering the security of the area.
On June 10, an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian journalist Lama Khater, who was arrested alongside five other journalists in July 2018, for incitement to violence through her writing and sentenced her to 13 months in prison, including time already served, according to media reports. She was released on July 26. Khater claimed she was mistreated during interrogation, including being chained to a chair for 10 to 20 hours a day for more than a month, according to media reports. According to Israeli authorities, Khater admitted to membership in Hamas, an illegal organization, and was sentenced as part of a plea bargain.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PA harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year based on their reporting.
The PA occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.
The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.
In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured, sometimes violently, journalists critical of its policies. Hamas reportedly summoned and detained Palestinian journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement within Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings.
Throughout the year there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank and Gaza. These actions included alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence, arrest, or administrative detention. On August 2, ISF detained AP photojournalist Eyad Hamad for several hours while he was reporting on house demolitions in the Wadi al-Hummous area of East Jerusalem, according to rights groups and media reports. The government of Israel stated it could find no record of this incident.
On July 24, Reporters without Borders alleged the IDF was intentionally targeting the media after five Palestinian journalists were injured in the span of four days while covering events in the West Bank and Gaza. At least two of the injured journalists were wearing vests marked “press” when the IDF allegedly fired at them with live rounds, according to media reports. One of the journalists, Sami Misran of Al-Aqsa TV, allegedly lost the use of an eye, according to the Times of Israel. The IDF stated it does not target journalists. According to the government of Israel, allegations of misconduct regarding the Gaza protests were being examined by the Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism, which will be reviewed by the MAG to determine whether there are reasonable grounds for criminal investigations.
On May 4, the Israeli air force shelled and destroyed a Gazan building that included the offices of local and regional media agencies and institutes, including the Turkish Anadolu Agency, the Prisoners Media Center, the Hala Media Training Center, and the Abdullah Hourani Studies Center, according to media reports. The IDF stated it targeted the building because it housed other offices related to Hamas and that it did not intend to destroy the media offices.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and -controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank and Gaza reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.
According to media reports, the PASF confiscated equipment from journalist Thaer Fakhouri in Hebron and arrested him for posting “incitement information” on social media platforms. He was held for four days and obliged to pay a fine before being released.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.
The Israeli government raided and closed West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.
A case continued in Ramallah Magistrate’s Court in which London-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed disputed a 2016 closure order by the PA following an investigative report about torture in PA prisons.
HRW reported that Gazan authorities charged journalist Hajar Harb with slander for an investigative piece she wrote in 2016 accusing doctors in Gaza’s health ministry of writing false reports to allow healthy people to leave Gaza for treatment in return for payment. She was convicted in absentia in 2017. She returned to Gaza in 2018 and was granted a new trial. In March she was acquitted on appeal.
National Security: Human rights NGOs alleged that the PA restricted the activities of journalists on national security grounds.
Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Frequent power outages in Gaza interrupted accessibility.
The PA blocked access to at least 59 news sites sympathetic to Hamas or political factions critical of Abbas. The PA monitored social media actively, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were instances when the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media.
According to media reports, on January 6, the PASF arrested journalist Mahmoud Hreish at his house in Betunia city and detained him for 23 days. The PASF interrogated him about a Facebook post in which he criticized the PA’s insufficient response to Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians.
Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas de facto authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. On April 13, Hamas intelligence detained and interrogated journalist Hamza Hammad, according to media reports. He was reportedly released after 24 hours after signing a pledge to no longer post on Facebook about the political and economic situation in Gaza.
According to HRW, between January 2018 and March 2019, both the PA and Hamas arrested dozens of persons based on social media posts on charges of “harming revolutionary unity” and “misuse of technology.” The PA arrested and brought to trial Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro for a social media post critical of the PA’s arrest of a Palestinian journalist, according to media reports.
The PA did not restrict academic freedom in the West Bank, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported PA security elements were present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have contributed to self-censorship. HRW claimed that authorities closely monitored criticism of the PA by university students and professors.
Public schools as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, and university levels. Hamas reportedly interfered in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam, or “traditions,” as defined by Hamas. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no Hamas interference in the running of its Gaza schools.
Students and faculty from Gaza participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities. On February 19, Hamas’ General Intelligence Service arrested the head of the Birzeit University Center for Development Studies, Ghassan Abu Mata, for conducting a survey on “youth reality” in Gaza without a permit from the Hamas-led Ministry of the Interior, according to the PCHR and the al-Mezan Center for Human Rights.
Israeli restrictions on movement (see section 2.d.) adversely affected academic institutions and access to education and cultural activities for Palestinians.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Authorities in the West Bank and Gaza limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. It requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.
After a new social security law was passed and published in the official gazette, the United Movement against the Social Security Law called for a commercial strike in Hebron on January 15 in opposition to the law, according to the Human Rights and Democracy Media Center (SHAMS) and media reports. PA police arrested and investigated several of the protesters and held them overnight, according to SHAMS.
According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used arbitrary arrest to prevent some events from taking place, particularly the Bidna Na’eesh (We Want to Live) protest (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest) and political events affiliated with Fatah. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.
A 1967 Israeli military order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces, which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. Israeli military law prohibits insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro faced 16 charges in a trial underway in an Israeli military court that began in 2016. The charges include participation in a march without a permit, assaulting a soldier, and incitement, according to rights groups. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. The latest hearing in his case took place in September. Ha’aretz reported the IDF detained Amro at least 20 times at various checkpoints from May to July 2018. In August, IDF soldiers detained Amro at a checkpoint in Hebron and released him two hours later with no explanation, according to rights groups.
The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones” in which it prohibited Palestinian public assembly. It maintained the same designation on Fridays for areas adjacent to the security barrier in the Palestinian villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin during hours when Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists regularly demonstrated there. There were frequent skirmishes between protesters and ISF personnel.
PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs said a regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval prior to receiving grants impeded their independence and threatened the ability of both local and international nonprofits to operate freely in the West Bank.
In Gaza, Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating. These included some it accused of being Fatah-affiliated, as well as private businesses and NGOs that Hamas deemed to be in violation of its interpretation of Islamic social norms. The Hamas de facto Ministry of Interior claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and its representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
PA law provides for freedom of internal movement within the West Bank, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza based on the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on travel out of Gaza.
Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities often prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed temporary checkpoints for that purpose. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, and days worked per month. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. For example, Israeli authorities enacted a comprehensive closure for the West Bank and Gaza for eight days during Pesach from April 19-26, according to B’Tselem. B’Tselem reported 13 such days in total during the year.
The Israeli travel permit system restricts Palestinians’ ability to travel from Gaza to the West Bank, including travel to pursue higher education opportunities. Palestinian higher education contacts reported that permits for Gazans to attend West Bank universities were seldom granted.
Israel has declared access restricted areas (ARAs) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza, citing evidence that Hamas exploited these areas at times to conduct attacks or to smuggle weapons and goods into Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARAs created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who lived or worked either on the Mediterranean Coast or near the perimeter fence. No official signage indicating the line of demarcation exists, and official policy changed frequently. Likewise, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between zero and 15 nautical miles 19 times throughout the year, according to the Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement. Human rights NGOs asserted this confusion led to multiple instances of Israeli forces firing upon farmers and fishermen. According to the United Nations, regular electrical outages often made it necessary for Gazan farmers to work their fields after dark; in some instances, IDF soldiers shot at farmers near the ARA while they irrigated their fields at night.
On February 20, Israeli naval forces arrested five fishermen and confiscated three boats off the Gaza coast, according to the PCHR. The Israeli forces used live fire during the arrests, damaging one of the boats, and one of the fishermen was injured when an Israeli naval vessel hit him after he jumped off his boat when it was fired on. Also on February 20, Israeli naval forces allegedly shot Gaza fisherman Khader al-Saaidy with rubber-coated bullets in the face and chest at close range, and he lost sight in both eyes as a result. According to the government of Israel, the case was referred to the MAG to determine whether there were reasonable grounds for a criminal investigation.
A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. Israeli authorities constructed the barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas it divides Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At its widest points, the barrier extends 11 miles (18 kilometers) into the West Bank. B’Tselem estimated that 27,000 Palestinians resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza. Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused major disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) is closed, it cuts off one-third of the West Bank population living in the South, including Bethlehem and Hebron, from Ramallah and the North. Similarly, Za’tara checkpoint blocks traffic in and out of the entire northern part of the West Bank, including Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin, according to media reports. UNOCHA reported there were 705 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank, a 3 percent increase from their previous survey in 2016. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including attendance at weddings and funerals, access to places of worship, employment, access to agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. There were also reports of patients dying in traffic before reaching hospitals and ambulances en route to accidents or scenes of attacks being stopped by the IDF for hours at a time. In October the Israeli government denied a travel request for an Amnesty International employee from the West Bank to accompany his mother to a chemotherapy treatment in Jerusalem citing “security concerns,” according to Amnesty.
Israeli officials imposed restrictions on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security and economic concerns. Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied their local Gazan staff permits to exit Gaza into Israel, and UNOCHA reported that more than 130 local UN staff were under travel bans prohibiting them from exiting Gaza. The Israeli government stated all Gaza exit requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with security considerations arising from Hamas’s de facto control of Gaza.
PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.
UNRWA reported its West Bank Headquarters staff lost 79 workdays during the year, mostly due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
In-country Movement: Hamas authorities did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within Gaza, although there were some areas of Gaza to which Hamas prohibited access. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
The ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints, according to rights groups. UNOCHA and several NGOs working on freedom of movement issues noted that frequently changing protocols and unofficial, unwritten policies at checkpoints have resulted in the forfeiture of personal property including money, electronics, and clothing of those attempting to exit Gaza with valid travel permits.
Israeli authorities allegedly damaged Palestinian property in the West Bank while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits to homes and other buildings, and confiscated vehicles and boats. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.
Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach six hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), IDF soldiers at checkpoints at times harassed and delayed ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem, even in emergency cases. The PRCS and World Health Organization reported hundreds of such actions impeding humanitarian services during the year. Most included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or imposing delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. According to the Israeli government, security considerations and lack of advanced coordination on the part of Palestinian medical teams often caused delays.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 29 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 36 miles) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, according to B’Tselem. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel, including Jerusalem, allowing West Bank Palestinians to use Ben Gurion Airport, to visit family, and visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services. Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians in Gaza to visit Jerusalem.
Israeli authorities extended the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. In response to a freedom of information act request from HaMoked in 2018, the IDF reported that during the year it had denied 72 percent of permit requests by Palestinian farmers to access their land blocked by the security barrier, of which 1 percent of the denials were for security reasons. HaMoked asserted many of these refusals were due to arbitrary claims by Israeli authorities that the farmer’s land was too small to cultivate.
Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the security barrier. International organizations and local human rights groups claimed these security companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods or NGO representatives through the barrier.
Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.
Israeli restrictions allowed fishing only within three nautical miles of Gaza land during specific periods. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli and Egyptian naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA. Israeli armed forces confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. In August the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories returned 22 seized fishing boats to their owners; all the boats had holes in them and the fishermen were forced to pay the cost of moving the boats from government of Israel custody back to the docking area, according to the United Nations.
In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in downtown Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. The ISF continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in Hebron as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right but must be balanced with security and public order.
The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limiting access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays as well as continuing construction of Israel’s security barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet (300 meters) from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimates nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land is in these areas.
Foreign Travel: Hamas authorities in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Palestinians returning to Gaza were regularly subject to Hamas interrogations about their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.
Citing security concerns, Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Israel largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases and limited permits to businesspersons and day laborers working in Israel. These limitations prevented some Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews; to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge; and to the West Bank for work or education. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no new restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, but Gazans reported additional restrictions, including not being allowed to carry phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. Israel approved 40 percent of exit permit requests from Gaza to Jordan, 56 percent from Gaza to Israel and the West Bank, and 50 percent from the West Bank to Israel, according to the Israeli government.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the ban imposed in 2000 on students from Gaza attending West Bank universities. Students in Gaza generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits.
Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad, and for matriculation in foreign universities. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused other students to refuse to attend these interviews for fear of detention.
According to Gisha, Israel denied some exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative[s] [of] a Hamas operative.” UNOCHA reported that some of their staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza due to security blocks because UNOCHA coordinates with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel.
UNOCHA estimated that during the year 700 persons in Gaza were displaced by three instances of hostilities between armed Palestinian groups and Israel. Additional persons in Gaza remained displaced due to the destruction caused by the 2014 war.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in Gaza and the West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 11 Palestinian UNRWA beneficiary fatalities, three of whom were killed allegedly while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Israeli use of live ammunition caused most injuries. There were 62 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom live ammunition injured 17, including four UNRWA beneficiary minors.
The most recent fatality in Deheisha refugee camp south of Bethlehem was in July, when the ISF fatally shot 14-year-old Arkan Thaer Mizher. According to the Israeli government, the investigation has concluded and the MAG was reviewing the findings.
UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services to areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; however, the agency continued to experience funding shortfalls throughout the year. During the year Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations urged international donors to suspend funding to the agency amid a UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation into allegations of corruption and mismanagement by UNRWA’s senior management team. Several international and Israeli NGOs called for the UN to strengthen oversight of UNRWA and improve transparency to address the allegations.
Access to Basic Services: Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see section 1.d.).
All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk.
Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza but never recognized by Israel as residents; some fled Gaza during the 1967 war; and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in the Gaza Strip and never left, but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA administers the Palestinian Population Registry, although status changes in the registry require Israeli government approval. The Israeli government has not processed changes to the registry since 2000.
There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank. As a result many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, are without legal status in the region where they have spent most or all of their lives. In September a court granted 24-year-old Maen Abu Hafez a one-year visitor’s permit to stay in the West Bank. Abu Hafez reportedly lived in the Jenin refugee camp since he was three, when he moved there with his Palestinian father and Uruguayan mother. His family reunification request has been on hold for several years. In 2017 he was detained at a checkpoint and was held for more than two and one-half years in an Israeli prison for illegal aliens in Ramle. The Israeli government sought to deport him to Brazil, where he was born, although he has no ties there and does not speak Portuguese.