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Croatia

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were reports of isolated and sporadic cases of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

There were some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.

Physical Conditions: Several prisons remained overcrowded, such as Osijek Prison (159 percent). According to the February report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), there were still instances of living space below the minimum of 10-square-feet per inmate. Prisoner complaints generally concerned inadequate facilities, quality and accessibility of medical care, and mistreatment.

There were reports of isolated and sporadic cases of physical and verbal mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by correctional officers. Some prisoners and detainees alleged mistreatment consisting mainly of slaps, punches, and kicks inflicted at the time of arrest, during questioning at a police station, and later in prison. According to the CPT, in a few cases, medical evidence supported the allegations. The CPT report on its 2017 visit also included allegations of physical mistreatment and verbal abuse of patients at prison hospitals by custodial staff.

According to the CPT report, inter-prisoner violence was also a source of concern. The report noted several cases involving serious physical injuries inflicted on inmates by their cellmates, including a case of subdural hematoma (internal bleeding around the brain) and broken ribs.

Administration: The Ombudsperson for Human Rights investigated credible allegations of mistreatment, and issued recommendations to improve conditions for detained persons, reduce the use of coercion, and improve investigation of police brutality cases. The Office of the Ombudsperson conducted 26 visits between January and June but reported no significant major system improvements.

Independent Monitoring: The law provides for appointment of independent civil supervisors of police. No members of a supervisory group have been appointed, however, which government officials attributed to a lack of interested candidates. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported progress cooperating with civil society organizations on the implementation of the individual punishment and education programs aimed at reducing recidivism.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide 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 in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for the press. NGOs reported, however, that the government did not adequately investigate or prosecute cases in which journalists or bloggers received threats.

Freedom of Expression: The law sanctions individuals who act “with the goal of spreading racial, religious, sexual, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on the color of skin or sexual orientation or other characteristics.” The law provides for six months to five years imprisonment for conviction of such “hate speech.” Conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by six months to three years imprisonment. Although the law and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi- and Ustasha (the World War II regime)-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. Many private newspapers and magazines were published without government interference. Observers said, however, that information regarding actual ownership of some local radio and television channels was not always publicly available, raising concerns about bias, censorship, and the vulnerability of audiences in the country to malign influence.

On February 22, the Sisak city council prohibited Croatian Radio Television (HRT) journalist Igor Ahmetovic from entering an open city council session for reporting purposes. The Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) publicly demanded Sisak overturn that prohibition, stating the prohibition was a violation of the constitutional right to free reporting and access to information. A lawsuit filed by Ahmetovic against the city remained ongoing at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported that physical attacks and threats, especially online threats, against journalists had an increasingly chilling effect on media freedom and that the government was insufficiently addressing this problem.

For example, in July the Zadar district attorney indicted soccer player Jakov Surac on charges he committed battery and made death threats against journalist Hrvoje Bajlo. The indictment stated Surac committed the crime specifically because of Bajlo’s work as a journalist. The case was ongoing.

Additionally, in August the Split district attorney declined to press criminal charges against war veteran Stipe Perkovic Tabak for online statements that Index.hr journalists should be killed. The CJA condemned this decision, stating the court allowed Perkovic Tabak’s veteran status to give him immunity.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship for fear of receiving online harassment, upsetting politically connected individuals, or losing their jobs for covering certain topics.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 67 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups sometimes operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Domestic NGOs working on migrants’ rights issues, however, reported police pressure, and the ombudsperson’s 2017 report described pressure imposed on her office by senior Ministry of the Interior officials (see section 2.d.). Ministry of the Interior officials have denied pressure on NGOs. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The country has an ombudsperson for human rights who investigated complaints of human rights abuses, as well as three additional ombudspersons for gender equality, disabled persons, and children. The law stipulates that parliament cannot dismiss the ombudsperson for human rights because of dissatisfaction with his or her annual report. Parliament may dismiss the other three if it does not accept their annual reports. Ombudspersons admitted this limits the ability to do their jobs thoroughly and independently and imposes political influence over their work.

The law authorizes the ombudsperson to initiate shortened procedures in cases where there is sufficient evidence of the violation of constitutional and legal rights.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future