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Afghanistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provided for freedom of speech, including for the press, but the pre-August 15 government sometimes restricted this right. Following August 15, the Taliban used force against protesters and journalists and suppressed political discussion and dissent. Journalists reported a chilling effect on free speech and press in the country as a result of the Taliban’s policies, particularly following media reports of torture of two local journalists covering women’s protests after the Taliban takeover. The Taliban announced restrictive media regulations in September and additional guidelines in November, in line with the Taliban’s strict interpretation of sharia.

Freedom of Expression: The constitution provided for freedom of speech under the pre-August 15 government. There were reports that the pre-August 15 government officials at times used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics. Criticism of the pre-August 15 government was regular and generally free from restrictions, but criticism of provincial governments was more constrained, where local officials and power brokers exerted significant influence and authority to intimidate or threaten their critics, both private citizens and journalists.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Implementation of a law that provides for public access to government information remained inconsistent, and media reported consistent failure by the pre-August administration to meet the requirements of the law. Pre-August 15 government officials often restricted media access to official government information or simply ignored requests for information. UNAMA, HRW, and Reporters without Borders reported the government did not fully implement the law, and therefore journalists often did not receive access to information they sought. Furthermore, journalists stated pre-August 15 government sources shared information with only a few media outlets.

On September 16, Reporters Without Borders said that 103 journalists signed a joint statement asking the international community to take urgent action to help protect press freedom in the country. The journalists pled for international action to guarantee the protection of female journalists who sought to continue their work, resources for local media outlets to remain open, and material assistance for those who have fled abroad.

Reporters Without Borders and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association reported that approximately 200 media outlets have shut down, leaving almost 60 percent of journalists unemployed. Various factors, including financial constraints, fear, and departure of staff, also contributed to closures.

Violence and Harassment: Pre-August 15 government officials and private citizens used threats and violence to intimidate independent and opposition journalists, particularly those who spoke out against impunity, crimes, and corruption by powerful local figures. The Taliban insurgency continued to threaten, attack, and kill journalists and media organizations. The Taliban warned media would be targeted unless they stopped broadcasting what it called “anti-Taliban statements.” Increased levels of insecurity until August 15 created a dangerous environment for journalists, even when they were not the specific targets of violence. Media advocacy groups reported that many female journalists worked under pseudonyms in both print and social media to avoid recognition, harassment, and retaliation, especially after the Taliban takeover in August.

Many media workers fled to safe havens starting in January after the Taliban launched a campaign of violence against journalists in late 2020, as reported by UNAMA and independent media. Taliban violence continued to escalate against journalists throughout the year, and frequent reports of attacks continued after their occupation of the country in August. According to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, seven journalists were killed between January 1 and August 8, including four women.

On January 1, gunmen in Ghor Province opened fire on the car of journalist Bismillah Adil, killing him in an attack for which no one has claimed credit. On February 25, gunmen stormed Adil’s family home and killed three of his family members and wounded five children.

On June 3, unidentified assailants in Kabul detonated an explosive device attached to a van in which Ariana News TV Kabul anchor Mina Khairi was a passenger, killing her and two family members. An Ariana News TV manager said other station employees had received threats.

In response to increased concern regarding the targeting of journalists following the Taliban’s takeover in August, the UN Human Rights Council held an emergency session, and a group of UN human rights experts convened to issue a statement through the OHCHR. On September 3, the statement called on all member states to provide urgent protection to Afghan journalists and media workers who fear for their lives and are seeking safety abroad. Many of those journalists who remained in the country ceased their work and reported living in hiding to avoid targeted attacks. According to an al-Jazeera report in October, more than 30 instances of violence and threats of violence were reported by the Afghanistan National Journalists Union. Many journalists fled the provinces to Kabul and others departed the country.

Journalists faced the threat of harassment and attack by ISIS-K, the Taliban, and pre-August 15 government-linked figures attempting to influence how they were covered in the news. With the Taliban takeover of the country, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) in September reported numerous instances of Taliban physical violence against and detention of journalists, warning that an entire generation of reporters was at risk in the country.

On September 7, Taliban fighters detained a freelance photographer after he covered a protest in the western city of Herat, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the end of the year, he had not been released.

On September 8, according to the CPJ, the Taliban detained and later released at least 14 journalists covering protests in Kabul. According to media sources, at least nine of the journalists were subjected to violence during their arrests or detention.

On September 18, an unidentified man shot journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi after accusing him of working for an “American radio station.” Ahmadi, a reporter and editor with national radio broadcaster Salam Watandar in Kabul, was shot twice in the leg and hospitalized.

CPJ reported in October that Taliban fighters assaulted at least three journalists covering a women’s protest in Kabul for demanding “work, bread, and education.” The fighters also attacked a photographer working with a French news agency, who captured some of the violence on camera.

According to UNAMA, two journalists were killed after August 15 – one by the ISIS-K and another by unknown actors.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media observers claimed journalists reporting on administrative corruption, land embezzlement, and local officials’ involvement in narcotics trafficking engaged in self-censorship due to fear of violent retribution by provincial police officials and powerful families. Most requests for information from journalists who lacked influential connections inside the pre-August 15 government or international media credentials were disregarded, and government officials often refused to release information, claiming it was classified.

On September 19, the Taliban issued a set of 11 media directives including a requirement that media outlets prepare detailed reports in coordination with the new “governmental regulatory body.” The directives prohibit media from publishing reports that are “contrary to Islam,” “insult national figures,” or “distort news content.” The directives also included prohibitions on “matters that could have a negative impact on the public’s attitude or affect morale should be handled carefully when being broadcast or published.” Journalists in Kabul reported being turned away from covering events of interest and being told to obtain individual permits from local police stations with jurisdiction over the area of reporting activity.

Tolo TV, a commercial television station broadcasting programming through major cities across the country, scaled back programming in September in an act of self-censorship with the Tolo TV CEO, saying, “we had to sacrifice music for survival,” with the process of self-censorship entailing the elimination of Turkish soap operas, adding programming featuring women scarved, and replacing musical programming with religious chants.

Journalists called the restriction and censorship of information by the Taliban the primary obstacle to reporting and said many media organizations stopped their activities in an act of self-censorship after the collapse of the pre-August 15 government.

The Taliban’s Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice announced eight restrictive “religious guidelines” on November 21, including one recommending that women should not appear in television dramas or entertainment programs and another indicating that female journalists should wear head coverings. As of December the guidelines were not being enforced consistently.

Libel/Slander Laws: The pre-August 15 government’s laws prescribed prison sentences and fines for defamation. Pre-August 15 authorities sometimes used defamation as a pretext to suppress criticism of government officials.

National Security: Journalists complained pre-August 15 government officials frequently invoked the national interest exception in the relevant law to avoid disclosing information.

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

Women in some areas of the country said their freedom of expression in choice of attire was limited by conservative social mores and sometimes enforced by the Taliban in insurgent-controlled areas as well as by religious leaders.

Internet Freedom

The pre-August 15 government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Media outlets and activists routinely used social media to discuss political developments, and Facebook was widely used in urban areas. The Taliban used the internet and social media to spread its messages.

There were many reports of Taliban attempts to restrict access to information.

During its offensive on Panjshir in August and September, the Taliban shut down the internet in the province to restrict the transmission of information regarding fighting and communication between residents and the outside world. Reports indicated that, with limited exceptions in the days before the Taliban seized control in Kabul, access to the internet remained available throughout the country, including access to social media and messaging apps such as Twitter and WhatsApp. On September 9, the Taliban reportedly turned off internet service in parts of Kabul following a series of large anti-Taliban and anti-Pakistan street demonstrations.

Human rights groups encouraged human rights defenders to delete or modify their online presence to minimize the risk that the Taliban would link them to the former regime or NATO forces.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Academic freedom was largely exercised under the pre-August 15 government. In addition to public schooling, there was growth in private education, with new universities enjoying full autonomy from the government. Both government security forces and the Taliban took over schools to use as military posts.

The expansion of Taliban control in rural areas before the group’s takeover left an increasing number of public schools outside of pre-August 15 government control. The Taliban operated an “education commission” in parallel to the pre-August 15 Ministry of Education. Although their practices varied among areas, some schools under Taliban control reportedly allowed teachers to continue teaching but banned certain subjects and replaced them with Islamic studies; others provided only religious education, and only for male students.

In September the Taliban announced it would review subjects to be taught to ensure compliance with the Taliban interpretation of sharia, while also committing in October and November not to change the curriculum to a madrassa-style education. Public universities did not open for the academic year starting in September and remained closed as of December.

Albania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government usually respected these rights, although defamation is a criminal offense. There were reports that the government, businesses, and criminal groups sought to influence media in inappropriate ways.

Algeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

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

Authorities have summoned, arrested, and prosecuted journalist Mustapha Bendjama in at least six different cases for charges such as “offense to public bodies” and “undermining national unity.” On June 27, the court in Annaba convicted Bendjama, and the judge sentenced him to two months in prison and 2,500 dinars ($19) fine.

Police arrested former parliamentarian Nordine Ait-Hamouda on June 26 in Bejaia for making “inappropriate statements towards various important national figures.” On August 29, authorities released Ait-Hamouda from El-Harrach prison after two months of incarceration. The Court of Ruisseau in Algiers granted Ait-Hamouda’s provisional release, pending the completion of the investigation and determination of the trial date.

On June 30, security personnel arrested Fethi Ghares, national coordinator of the opposition party Democratic and Social Movement and searched his home. His wife, Messaouda Cheballah, posted a live video of her husband’s arrest and denounced the police’s “indiscreet search of her belongings.”

NGOs reported in 2020 that they stopped holding events outside private locations due to longstanding government suppression and pressure on owners of public gathering spaces.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The National Agency for Publishing and Advertising (ANEP) controlled public advertising for print media, and most daily newspapers depended on ANEP-authorized advertising to finance their operations. Press outlets reported taking extra caution before publishing articles critical of the government or government officials due to fear of losing revenue from ANEP. According to the NGO Reporters without Borders, private advertising existed but frequently came from businesses with close links to the ruling political party. ANEP stated its support for a pluralistic press and freedom of information and noted that it funded opposition newspapers.

In April 2020 parliament adopted amendments to the penal code that criminalize spreading “false news” that harms national unity. Penalties for convictions under the bill, which does not distinguish among news reports, social media, and other media, include prison terms of two to five years and fines. Civil society groups reported that the amendments gave authorities excessive power to prosecute activists and human rights defenders.

On May 10, authorities found journalist Khellaf Benhedda guilty in absentia and fined him 100,000 dinars ($750) for an “offense to the President.”

On May 14, police arrested Maghreb Emergent journalist Kenza Khatto during a Hirak march in Algiers on charges of “incitement to unarmed gathering,” “contempt of police,” and “noncompliance with the instruction of the wali (governor) of Algiers on the ban of marches.”

On May 18, authorities placed journalist El Kadi Ihsane, director of Radio M and Maghreb Emergent websites, on probation. The judge issued a travel ban and confiscated Ihsane’s passport. According to Radio M, authorities charged Ihsane with “undermining national security and territorial unity” and “sharing publications undermining national interest.” The CNLD said the charges emanated from a complaint filed by the Minister of Communication Ammar Belhimer.

On September 6, authorities arrested Hassan Bourras at his home in El Bayadh and charged him with “belonging to a terrorist organization,” “conspiracy against the security of the State to change the system of governance,” and “use of technical and media tools to enlist individuals against the authority of the State.” Bourras is a well known human rights’ activist with the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH). According to the CNLD, authorities transferred Bourras on September 12 to a court in Algiers, which ordered him into pretrial detention.

On September 12, police arrested Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for Liberte, and raided his home. On September 14, the Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers placed Mouloudj in custody and charged him with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group. The court placed him in pretrial detention which was ongoing at year end.

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

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

The ministry’s Media Directorate is responsible for issuing and renewing accreditations to foreign media outlets operating in the country. Although this accreditation is required to operate legally, the ministry did not accredit most foreign media. Regulations require the shareholders and managers of any radio or television channel to be citizens and prohibit them from broadcasting content that offends “values anchored in Algerian society.”

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

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected some journalists to harassment and intimidation. Journalists reported that selective prosecutions served as a mechanism for intimidation. According to Reporters without Borders, the government intimidated activists and journalists. The government’s actions included harassment of some critics, arbitrary enforcement of vaguely worded laws, and informal pressure on publishers, editors, advertisers, and journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some major news outlets faced direct and indirect retaliation from the Audiovisual Regulatory Authority (ARAV) for criticism of the government. According to state-run Algerie Presse Service (APS), in March, Algerian authorities warned France 24 to tone down its “biased Hirak coverage.”

On June 13, Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer cancelled France 24’s accreditation for its “clear and repeated hostility towards our country and its institutions.” Upon the withdrawal of France 24’s accreditation, several foreign news outlets said all journalists in Algeria – both foreign and local – faced bureaucratic hurdles and must navigate murky procedural processes to operate.

In June the ARAV suspended El Hayet TV for one week after it broadcast an interview with Nordine Ait Hamouda, the founding member of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy and son of independence war hero Colonel Amirouche Ait Hamouda. During the interview, Nordine Ait Hamouda called several Algerian historical figures “traitors.” The interview prompted the Ministry of Communication to summon El Hayet TV director Habet Hannachi to the ARAV headquarters to explain his decision to broadcast the controversial interview. On June 26, authorities arrested Ait Hamouda and placed him in pretrial detention, although authorities granted his provisional release on August 29 pending trial on charges of “attacking symbols of the nation and the revolution.”

On July 31, the ARAV withdrew the accreditation of Saudi-funded al-Arabiya TV for “propagating misinformation.” In a statement the Ministry of Communication stated al-Arabiya failed to “respect the rules of professional ethics and practiced media misinformation and manipulation.”

On August 16, the Ministry of Communication announced “the immediate and final closure” of the private television channel Lina TV at the request of the ARAV. Communication Minister Ammar Belhimer stated the ARAV had previously warned Lina TV for its “noncompliance with ethical principles.” Belhimer characterized the channel as a “danger to national unity.” The Ministry added that Lina TV did not have the required accreditation to operate.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication suspended the private progovernment television channel El Bilad TV for one week. The ARAV based its decision on “noncompliance with the requirements of public order” and due to legal proceedings against Ayoub Aissiou, a station shareholder who also owns El Djazairia One. The government accused Aissiou of violating the law on broadcast activity, which forbids holding shares in more than one television station.

On August 23, the Ministry of Communication shut down the private television channel El Djazairia One, after the ARAV recommended its immediate closure. On August 24, officials at the ARAV said El Djazairia One’s owners violated the law on audiovisual activity by purchasing shares in more than one television channel. The station’s owners, brothers Ayoub and Tayeb Aissiou, were close associates of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Bouteflika-era prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

On August 24, the ARAV censured state-run EPTV after one of its reporters said the suspects arrested for lynching Djamel Bensmail were charged with belonging to a “terrorist region” instead of a “terrorist organization.” The ARAV stated this was “an unforgivable breach,” prompting EPTV to apologize and discipline the reporter.

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

The law criminalizes statements denigrating Islam or insulting the Prophet Muhammed or “messengers of God.”

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

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

There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. When the Hirak protests resumed in February, parts of the country experienced internet outages during the demonstrations.

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

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

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

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

A 2017 decree covering religious texts other than the Quran stated, “The content of religious books for import, regardless of format, must not undermine the religious unity of society, the national religious and public order, good morals, fundamental rights and liberties, or the law.” The importer must submit the text and other information, and the ministry must respond within 30 days. A nonresponse after this period is considered a rejection. Religious texts distributed without authorization may be seized and destroyed.

On April 23, authorities sentenced Sufi Muslim academic Said Djabelkheir to three years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dinars ($375) for “offense to the precepts of Islam,” based on his personal Facebook account publications regarding Islamic rituals and theology. Djabelkheir wrote that the sacrifice of sheep predates Islam and denounced child marriage. He said authorities did not inform him or his lawyers ahead of the court proceedings. Djabelkheir appealed the conviction and was free on bail pending the appeal.

Andorra

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the government temporarily canceled cultural events or limited number of attendees to protect public health in accordance with the law.

Angola

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. State media continued to be the primary source for news and generally reflected a progovernment view. Individuals were increasingly able to use private media and social media platforms to openly criticize government policies and practices. Reporting on corruption was the primary reason for attacks against journalists, which occurred with impunity.

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

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: In May the government ordered three television stations to cease broadcasting all content and accused the stations of failing to register properly. This further solidified government control of the country’s television stations, as several other private media outlets returned to state control in 2020 following a state corruption investigation conclusion that the outlets had been illegally funded with public funds through individuals with ties to former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Journalists and opposition parties said the seizure of the media outlets would limit independent journalism leading up to national elections in 2022. The government argued that the seized companies were in poor economic shape and needed to be restructured before offering them for sale to investors under the government’s privatization program.

Transmission licenses are granted by the minister of telecommunication, technology, and media. Journalists criticized the cost of licenses and said high costs impeded media pluralism and the emergence of new players. The base license to operate a television station was $1.4 million, while a radio license cost $136,000. Journalists also criticized the opacity of the process used by the government to grant transmission licenses.

Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials.

The president appoints the leadership of all major state-owned media outlets, and state control of these outlets often led to one-sided reporting. State news outlets, including Angolan Public Television (TPA), Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party but increased their coverage of opposition political parties’ perspectives, as well as of social problems reflecting poor governance. TPA broadcast plenary sessions of the National Assembly live, including interventions by opposition parties. TPA also invited opposition politicians and civil society members to comment live on stories featured on nightly newscasts, but private stations were prohibited from filming parliament. Opposition parties received less overall coverage on state media than the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party, and it was often difficult to distinguish between communications of the government and those of the ruling party.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported more incidents of violence or harassment compared with the previous year.

In March an editor of a weekly newspaper was held for questioning and a criminal case was opened against him after he published an article critical of President Lourenco. In April a reporter for Radio Despertar, an opposition-run media outlet, was arrested for covering antieviction protests. He was held for five days, and his equipment was retained by authorities.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA) is a body composed of 11 counselors designated by political parties represented in the parliament, the government, and journalists. ERCA’s responsibility is to safeguard press freedom and lawful media activity and to issue regulations and decisions on those issues. Journalists and opposition political parties criticized ERCA for being controlled by the ruling MPLA and for issuing regulations that favored the government.

The Ethics and Credentialing Commission (ECC) is a body exclusively composed of journalists that is authorized to license and delicense journalists. In July the Ministry of Telecommunications, Technology, and Social Communication opened an office to support ECC operations. As of October any media outlets allowing a journalist to work without the credential faced a fine of approximately 23,100 kwanza ($42 dollars), which was approximately a journalist’s monthly salary. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship for political and financial reasons.

The minister of social communication, the spokesperson of the presidency, and the national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies. Coverage critical of the previous government of Jose Eduardo dos Santos and of senior-level officials who had been dismissed on allegations of corruption increased significantly during the year.

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

Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices, while the government assessed that some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories regarding government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused with the right of reply.

In April defamation charges were brought against an editor and founder of a privately owned newspaper in Benguela. During the year criminal defamation charges were also brought against editors of several news outlets that had published articles on government corruption. In July government officials filed charges of defamation against two journalists after they reported on government corruption. An editor of an online news outlet was convicted of criminal defamation after he published articles on land appropriation and government corruption.

Antigua and Barbuda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media, on a somewhat limited basis.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: There were no privately owned print media. There were claims that the government was hostile to independent broadcast media outlets and did not provide them equal access to government officials. Observers claimed that the government and the prime minister in particular owned media outlets that were used exclusively to disseminate government information. Prime Minister Browne stated that although he was the founder of Pointe FM radio, he was no longer a shareholder; however, he did not reveal the ownership. Senior government officials routinely refused to grant interviews to media outlets that were critical of the ruling party and instead used government media exclusively.

Area Administered by Turkish Cypriots

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The “law” provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and authorities generally respected this right. Libel and blasphemy are criminalized, but these “laws” are rarely enforced by “courts.” While individuals were sometimes able to criticize authorities publicly without reprisal, human rights defenders, NGOs, and press reported a marked increase in harassment and threats against critics of the “TRNC government,” of Turkish interference into Turkish Cypriot affairs, and of Turkish President Erdogan.

Freedom of Expression: It is a criminal offense to insult the “government,” the Turkish government, or “government” officials. This often led journalists and others to self-censor. According to NGOs, journalists, and human rights defenders, authorities advised some journalists not to criticize the Turkish government. An NGO reported that due to perceived pressure and potential reaction from Turkey, some journalists did not express their critical opinions and preferred to remain silent. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Migration, Identity, and Rights Studies, 63 percent of respondents said freedom of speech had declined in the past year.

According to media reports and human rights defenders, police prevented opposition political parties, NGOs, and unions from assembling in front of the Turkish “embassy” on March 12 and March 21 to demonstrate against the arrest of Leftist Movement member Abdullah Korkmazhan. Following complaints from the Turkish Justice and Reform Party youth branch, authorities arrested Korkmazhan and three others on March 12 on suspicion of vandalizing “Love Erdogan” billboards. Korkmazhan was charged with “conspiracy to create a secret alliance” and released, only to be detained again on March 19 after making remarks critical of “president” Tatar during a subsequent protest. Korkmazhan said that police confiscated his cell phone and charged him with insulting the “TRNC president.” The “president” formally asked the court to sentence Korkmazhan to five years in prison. The court released him on bail for 25,000 Turkish lira ($2,717 as of mid-October) and ordered him to report in-person to a police station weekly. As of November Turkish Cypriot police still had Korkmazhan’s cell phone in their possession. In March Tatar filed another defamation and slander lawsuit against Korkmazhan, seeking compensation of 100,000 Turkish lira ($10,870 as of mid-October) for the speech he delivered at the protest against Tatar. The charges against Korkmazhan were pending at year’s end, and he reportedly continued to appear at a police station every week.

This Country is Ours Platform, an umbrella organization for more than 25 trade unions and political parties that supports a federal solution to the Cyprus problem, released a statement criticizing Turkey’s suppression of freedom of expression in the area administrated by Turkish Cypriots. The Cyprus Press Council, a bicommunal umbrella organization for left-wing, pro-solution parties, issued a statement criticizing Korkmazhan’s arrest as an attempt to “muzzle” critics in northern Cyprus. In March several unions and left-wing political parties issued a joint statement expressing concern that increased suppression of freedom of expression in Turkey was having a spillover effect in the “TRNC.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While authorities usually respected press and media freedom, at times they harassed, intimidated, or arrested journalists or otherwise obstructed their reporting.

In March the Turkish Cypriot Journalists Association and the Press Workers Union held a demonstration with approximately 200 participants in support of press freedom and freedom of expression. In their joint statement to the press, the association and the union stated there has been an increase of insults, pressure, mobbing, and violence against journalists in northern Cyprus, and that freedom of expression and freedom of the press was under threat.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports that defendants in some “court” cases allegedly threatened journalists, who also faced pressure to report favorably on companies that advertised in their publications.

A journalist association reported some journalists were verbally and physically attacked at “court” hearings by detainees or their families or friends. Other journalists reported being similarly assaulted while reporting at hospitals and police stations by individuals associated with detainees.

In October the Turkish Cypriot Journalist’s Association condemned the beating of journalist Suna Erden for attempting to photograph right-wing National Democratic Party leader Buray Buskuvutcu as he was entering the Kyrenia District “Court.” The association reported Erden was blocked by 15 individuals known to be Buskuvutcu’s security guards and physically attacked outside the “court.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists cannot interview or report on persons under control of the armed forces.

Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid losing their jobs. Journalists reported some press representatives censored themselves when reporting on Turkey’s role in Cyprus and on Turkish leadership. A labor union leader reported a journalist was dismissed from his job for reading and talking about an anti-Erdogan article on a local television channel operated by “president” Tatar’s wife.

Libel/Slander Laws: The “law” criminalizes libel and blasphemy, although “courts” often declined to convict defendants on those charges, citing free speech legal precedent.

Internet Freedom

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

In July 2020 a cybercrime “law” was passed in “parliament” and approved by the “presidency.” According to the “law,” any verbal or physical attacks made with deliberate intent to harm individuals, institutions, or organizations over the internet is considered a crime. Human rights defenders expressed concern the new “law” could be used to suppress free speech. Penalties range from six to 200 times the minimum monthly wage and from one to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of “government” restrictions on cultural events. There were no reports of blocked visits during the year; although, for much of the year, foreign tourists were not permitted to enter due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

Argentina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, Argentine Media Corporations Association (ADEPA), and Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA) denounced President Fernandez’s March remarks before congress, in which he argued that there was “a perverse system in which judges, prosecutors, supposed spies, and journalists intermingle in order to illegally pursue detained persons and to mount judicial extortion.” Both organizations asserted that Fernandez’s comments were meant to intimidate and stigmatize the press and to discredit journalistic investigations.

In August a federal judge dismissed charges of illicit association and illegal espionage against journalist Daniel Santoro of the Clarin newspaper, citing lack of evidence. The allegations originated in 2019 following disclosure of Santoro’s connections with Marcelo D’Alessio, whom authorities charged with extortion after he allegedly posed as a lawyer and threatened individuals with negative media coverage. Santoro asserted that D’Alessio was a journalistic source. ADEPA and FOPEA repeatedly denounced the accusations against Santoro.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of physical attacks, threats, and harassment against journalists.

In March a group of persons identified with a labor union attacked the offices of the newspaper Rio Negro in the city of General Roca. The attackers assaulted a photographer and receptionist, threatened staff, and damaged equipment after the newspaper published an article on its investigation into sexual abuse accusations against one of the union members.

In April Neuquen provincial police handcuffed and arrested journalist Agustin Aguilar while he was reporting live on radio regarding a violent incident incited by members from a local union inside the headquarters of his media organization, Grupo Prima.

FOPEA reported eight alleged physical attacks against journalists in 2020, compared with 27 in 2019. Six cases involved physical assaults on journalists covering demonstrations in the city of Buenos Aires and in the provinces of Corrientes, Mendoza, Cordoba, Santa Fe, and Rio Negro.

Armenia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. While the government generally respected this right, parliament enacted several restrictions during the year, amending the law to dramatically raise the maximum civil penalties for insult and defamation in March, criminalize grave insults and obscene or foul language in July, and significantly restrict accredited journalists covering of parliament in August.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government without fear of reprisal. On July 29, however, authorities indicted Yezidi human rights activist Sashik Sultanyan under Article 226 of the criminal code, which prohibits “actions aimed at the incitement of national, racial, or religious hatred or humiliation of national dignity” for expressing his view that the government was not doing enough to protect the country’s Yezidi minority from discrimination. If convicted, he faced three to six years in prison. A group of NGOs warned the case would “hinder any public discussion of problems related to discrimination or human rights of minorities…” Human Rights Watch called the prosecution malicious and the criminal indictment spurious. On August 6, the ombudsperson stated his office shared these concerns, noting that even if some of Sultanyan’s criticisms were inaccurate, he should not be held criminally liable.

On July 30, parliament adopted legislation that makes it a crime to voice a “grave insult” or offend a person’s dignity in an “extremely indecent manner” (see details under Libel/Slander Laws, below).

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On August 18, citing security concerns, the National Assembly’s leadership adopted changes in procedures for accrediting journalists working in parliament, restricting them to certain areas of parliament and no longer allowing them to interview lawmakers coming out of parliament chambers or approaching their offices. Even before the official changes were adopted, parliament’s administrators applied the restrictions to journalists. On August 5, for example, Panorama.am photojournalist Lilian Galstyan was banned from entering the National Assembly and subsequently lost her National Assembly accreditation as a result of her photo-reportage from the security checkpoint of parliament. Local media watchdogs condemned the ban and actions of parliament’s leadership, noting that such initiatives were regressive and unsubstantiated, and they undermined efforts to establish civilized relations between authorities and the media. Galstyan’s accreditation was reinstated on August 17.

On August 11, during a scuffle between parliamentarians of the ruling party and the opposition, Speaker Alen Simonyan ordered the termination of the session’s live-stream broadcast. Security officers forbade accredited journalists and videographers from filming the incident from their allocated location in parliament. Media watchdogs condemned the speaker’s move, asserting he had exceeded his authority and that citizens had the right to be informed of what was happening in parliament.

During a scuffle between parliamentarians during an August 24 parliamentary session, security officers forcibly removed media representatives from the press booth, not allowing them to continue filming. The officers threatened to deprive News.am news website cameraman Hayk Tonoyan of his parliament accreditation if he continued to film and, according to Tonoyan, they deleted the video of the fight. A similar incident occurred on August 25 during another fight in parliament. In a statement released on August 25, media watchdogs condemned what they described as the continuous harassment of media representatives in parliament. The statement described the restrictions as illegal actions against freedom of speech and the right of the public to be informed.

Media outlets were politically polarized. Private individuals or groups, most of whom were reportedly tied to former authorities or parliamentary opposition parties, owned most broadcast media and newspapers, which tended to reflect the political leanings and financial interests of their proprietors. The number of government-linked outlets started to grow during the year with government officials or individuals tied to them reportedly acquiring new media outlets. These outlets similarly tended to reflect the viewpoints of those tied to them.

Broadcast media, particularly public television, remained one of the primary sources of news and information for the majority of the population. According to some media watchdogs, public television continued to present news and political debates from a progovernment standpoint, although it continued to remain accessible to opposition voices. Cases of bias on public television were especially obvious during the pre-election period. Media monitoring conducted by Yerevan Press Club on the eve of the June 20 parliamentary elections indicated that the public broadcaster paid the least attention to the main opposition force (Armenia bloc) in terms of the volume of allocated airtime. The report also underlined that public television made serious inroads in introducing the culture of pre-election debates.

Social media users freely expressed opinions concerning the government and former authorities on various social media platforms. Use of false social media accounts and attempts to manipulate media, however, continued to increase during the pre-election period but went down slightly following the elections. According to media watchdogs, individuals used manipulation technologies systematically, including hybrid websites, controversial bloggers, “troll factories,” anonymous Telegram channels, and fictional Facebook groups and stories, to attack the government. There were some reports of individuals linked with the government using fake accounts as well, although not as systematically. There was a particular spike in misinformation on COVID-19 and vaccination-related topics, which led to stronger fact-checking efforts by local watchdog organizations.

The country’s few independent media outlets, mostly online, were not self-sustainable and survived only through international donations and support, with limited revenues from advertising and subscription fees.

Media company ownership was mostly nontransparent. The country’s Fourth Action Plan of Open-Government Partnership Initiative of the Republic of Armenia (2018-2020) included commitments to improve ownership disclosure. On June 3, parliament adopted a series of laws on beneficial ownership disclosure that came into force on June 28. They require all limited liability companies to disclose their beneficial owners by January 2022, with media outlets having to comply by November 1.

Violence and Harassment: The local NGO Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression reported 18 cases of violence against journalists during the year, of which six were committed by government officials. The committee reported that 20 journalists and operators were injured. In one case a group of approximately 20 protesters harassed and assaulted RFE/RL reporter Artak Ghulyan and videographer Karen Chilingaryan in Yerevan on February 23. The journalists were broadcasting live from a rally demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan when a group of protesters started yelling insults and curse words at them, saying that RFE/RL “will soon be closed down,” according to Ghulyan. When Chilingaryan asked protesters not to interfere with their work, the group punched and kicked Ghulyan and Chilingaryan in full view of police; this continued for five to 10 minutes before police intervened and broke up the scuffle. The journalists were bruised but not seriously injured. The attackers damaged their equipment, breaking a camera, according to reports. The Prosecutor General’s Office was investigating the incident.

Cases of officials using force against journalists or attempting to do so increased during the second half of the year. In most cases law enforcement authorities did not open criminal cases, claiming a lack of legal grounds. For example on March 18, Hakob Arshakyan, who was then minister of high-technology industry, was caught on camera punching Irakanum.am reporter Paylak Fahradyan in the face after the latter noticed him in a cafe and asked him what he was doing there during working hours. Arshakyan resigned following the incident but was later elected deputy speaker of parliament. The SIS did not open a criminal investigation of the incident, alleging lack of criminal grounds.

The SIS decided not to prosecute progovernment parliamentarian Hayk Sargsyan for taking the smartphone of Anush Dashtents, a reporter for opposition daily Hraparak, as she tried to interview him. Sargsyan took the smartphone, attempted to delete the video, and later left with it in his possession. The lawmaker defended his actions and accused Dashtents of violating his privacy. Leading local media NGOs demanded that the Office of the Prosecutor General overturn the SIS decision and order criminal proceedings against Sargsyan. “We maintain that the incident constituted an obstruction of legitimate professional activities,” they said in a joint statement. “But even if the investigators did not characterize [Sargsyan’s actions] in that way, illegally taking away a journalist’s property, breaching the secrecy of their personal data, and coercing them not to disseminate information are sufficient grounds for holding Hayk Sargsyan accountable.”

Libel/Slander Laws: In March the National Assembly amended the civil code to dramatically raise the maximum fines for insult and defamation offenses. Freedom House and local media watchdogs criticized the bill, saying it would “stifle media freedom and freedom of expression.” The amendments came into force on October 23 after the Constitutional Court ruled them constitutional on October 5.

On July 30, the outgoing parliament passed legislation making it a crime to utter a “grave insult” or offend a person’s dignity in an “extremely indecent manner.” Under the amendments, which entered into force August 30, penalties include fines up to 500,000 drams ($1,000) for a single offense of grave insult, up to one million drams ($2,000) for spreading a grave insult publicly or gravely insulting a person in connection with public activity, and if repeated, higher fines and up to three months in prison. The law is stricter for officials, who may also be deprived of the right to hold office. The My Step ruling faction held two readings of the draft and adopted it the same day. As of December 12, law enforcement bodies had opened 166 criminal investigations into alleged violations of the new law. On September 23, media reported that police launched the first criminal case under the new law, for writing an insulting comment under Prime Minister Pashinyan’s photograph on Facebook. In another early case, opposition figure Narek Samsonyan was arrested on December 14 for a social media post he made concerning Yerevan City Council member Davit Khazhakyan of Bright Armenia.

Nongovernmental Impact: According to Emergency 2020: Report on Human Rights Violations by the Police, published by HCAV on April 28, several new antidemocratic initiatives and movements that arose together with increased civil society activity after the 2018 revolution had a chilling effect on civil society. While they positioned themselves as civil society institutes, these organizations’ agendas focused on combating the promotion of human rights and democratic values and provoking hatred through violence and physical threats. Law enforcement bodies opened several investigations into the groups and some of their activities but did not prosecute any of their members.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, and the government expressly supported academic freedom.

There were several media reports that school principals were forced to resign during the year, which some media outlets asserted was linked to their political views. According to observers, newly appointed school principals all appeared to have links with or supported the government. On August 3, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional provisions of a new law on higher education that, according to education experts, would have handed management of universities over to the government.

Australia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press and other media, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a limited right to freedom of political expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for media.

National Security: In May a Senate Inquiry into Press Freedom released a report that tabled 17 recommendations, including on improving the freedom of information laws and amending the criminal code to reverse the onus on journalists to prove their stories are in the public interest. This followed the 2019 federal police raid on the home of a News Corp reporter seeking information about the publication of classified material, and a subsequent raid on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters over reporting of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan that sparked a national discussion on press freedom. A coalition of media organizations led the debate and calling for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but human rights groups reported that recent legal developments – including the Online Safety Act, laws increasing surveillance, and judicial decisions expanding defamation standards threatened freedom of expression online. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens. There was less access to internet in rural and remote areas, however, particularly those with high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications. The International Civil Liberties and Technology Coalition, an NGO, however, raised concerns about amendments to telecommunications law that allow the government to access encrypted information from non-Australian companies.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Austria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement, insult, or contempt against a group because of its members’ race, nationality, religion, or ethnicity if the statement violates human dignity, and imposes criminal penalties for violations. The law prohibits public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity in print media, broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers or journals, and provides criminal penalties for violations. The law also prohibits disparagement of religious teachings in public. The government strictly enforced these laws (see the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and denouncement of religious teachings (blasphemy) are criminal offenses and are enforced. NGOs reported that strict libel and slander laws created conditions that discouraged reporting of governmental abuse. For example, many observers believed the ability and willingness of police to sue for libel or slander discouraged individuals from reporting police abuses.

Internet Freedom

With limited exceptions, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities continued to restrict access to websites that violate the law, such as neo-Nazi sites. The law barring neo-Nazi activity provides for one- to 10-year prison sentences for public denial, belittlement, approval, or justification of National Socialist crimes. The criminal code provision on incitement provides for prison sentences of up to five years for violations. Authorities restricted access to prohibited websites by trying to shut them down and by forbidding the country’s internet service providers from carrying them.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Azerbaijan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

While the law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media and specifically prohibits press censorship, the government habitually violated these rights. The government limited freedom of expression and media independence. Journalists, editors, and independent bloggers faced intimidation and at times were beaten and imprisoned. In addition, there were suspicious acts of violence outside the country (see section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country). During the year authorities continued to pressure media outlets, journalists, bloggers, and activists in the country and in exile, including their relatives, to refrain from criticizing the government.

Freedom of Expression: Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, the government continued to repress or attempt to intimidate persons it considered political opponents or critics. The incarceration of such persons raised concerns regarding authorities’ abuse of the judicial system to punish dissent. As of December 10, human rights defenders considered five incarcerated journalists and bloggers to be political prisoners or detainees. A number of incarcerations were widely seen as connected to the exercise of freedom of expression.

Examples of attempts by authorities to intimidate individuals they considered to be government critics included repeated harassing text messages and images on the smart phones of selected activists, including Bakhtiyar Hajiyev. In Hajiyev’s case, the messages included threats to his life. Activists targeted for such harassment considered government authorities responsible based on the software platforms utilized for harassment and the significant financial requirements to carry out such harassment. Another indicator that authorities were involved in this harassment was the visible reluctance of law enforcement bodies to investigate these cases. The constitution prohibits hate speech, defined as “propaganda provoking racial, national, religious, and social discord and animosity” as well as “hostility and other criteria.” Propaganda, slander, and hate speech, however, were used against opposition leaders, bloggers, independent journalists, and dissidents with impunity.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Throughout the year government-owned and progovernment outlets continued to dominate broadcast and print media. A limited number of independent and semi-independent online media outlets expressed a wide variety of views on government policies, but authorities pressured them in various ways for doing so. The International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) 2021 Vibrant Information Barometer noted that in 2020, media in the country stagnated or deteriorated due to COVID-19-related restrictions and the intensive fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. According to the report, “During the 44 days of active fighting, internet speeds were regulated for security reasons, limiting access to news; media critical of the government were selectively blocked. Social media platforms remain the only space where freedom of expression can be observed; however, there is a high degree of self-censorship to avoid punishment on sensitive topics. Low media literacy, hate speech, and/or extreme nationalism clashing with the handful of progressive/liberal views still exist.” Journalists needed accreditation to work during the pandemic, but some independent news outlets said they had difficulty obtaining the necessary paperwork, according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Authorities continued exerting pressure on major media rights organizations and independent media outlets outside the country, as well as on individuals in the country associated with those outlets. Foreign media outlets, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), were banned in 2009 and remained prohibited from broadcasting on FM radio frequencies. The Russian service Sputnik, which was also originally prohibited from broadcasting, was later allowed to freely broadcast news. Censorship of press websites, restricted visas, and outright bans for those journalists critical of the country’s human rights record continued for foreign outlets and foreign journalists.

In late December the National Assembly rushed approval of a new media law, ignoring the input of civil society, independent journalists, and the international community. The law was awaiting President Aliyev’s signature at year’s end.

Violence and Harassment: During the year police occasionally used force and other methods against journalists and bloggers to prevent their professional activities and limit press freedom. Local observers reported that journalists from independent media outlets were subjected to harassment and cyberattacks. The harassment mainly targeted journalists from Radio Liberty, Azadliq and other opposition and semi-independent newspapers, as well as Meydan TV, Obyektiv Television, and Mikroskop Media. For example, journalists Nargiz Absalamova and Ulviyya Ali reported that on August 6, police punched and insulted them and broke their equipment while the two were covering a peaceful protest. Civil society activists continued to call on the government to conduct effective investigations of the high-profile killings of journalists Rasim Aliyev in 2015, Rafiq Tagi in 2011, and Elmar Huseynov in 2005.

Most local media outlets relied on the patronage of individuals close to the government or the Media Development Agency for income. Those not benefitting from such support experienced financial difficulties, such as problems paying wages, taxes, and periodic court fines.

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. The law provides for substantial fines and up to three years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of libel or slander. Conviction of insulting the president is punishable by up to two years’ corrective labor or up to three years’ imprisonment. Libel and slander laws were routinely used to silence government critics, including accredited journalists and bloggers. For example, on March 2, the Sheki Court of Appeal sentenced bloggers Elchin Hasanzade and Ibrahim Salamov Turksoy to eight months in prison. In November 2020 both bloggers were found guilty of alleged “slander” and “insult” and sentenced to six months of correctional labor by the Mingachevir City Court. Human rights activists attributed the bloggers’ arrests as retribution for having publicized alleged corruption by Mingachevir authorities.

National Security: On February 15, the Baku Court of Appeals upheld the November 2020 conviction of Polad Aslanov, the editor in chief of the Xeberman.com and Press-az.com news websites for alleged espionage on behalf of Iran. Aslanov was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Human rights defenders asserted the case was a reprisal for Aslanov’s public assertion that the State Security Service demanded bribes from Azerbaijani pilgrims seeking to travel to Iran.

Bahamas

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

New press guidelines released by the Prime Minister’s Office in October drew criticism from local journalists, who called them “unnecessary” and “inappropriate.” According to the guidelines, journalists “should” wear business attire and use specific titles when addressing ministers. The guidelines limited simultaneous accreditation to two journalists and two videographers per media house and required that journalists who requested “specific responses to issues” communicate with the press secretary by 6 p.m. the night before the briefing. The government stated the guidelines were intended to ensure timely responses to journalists’ questions, expand access to new voices in journalism, and facilitate the observance of COVID-19 health protocols.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes both negligent and intentional libel, with a penalty of six months’ imprisonment for the former and two years’ imprisonment for the latter. The government did not apply the criminal libel law during the year.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Bahrain

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and for members of the press and other media, “provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord and sectarianism are not aroused.” This constitutional provision, however, does not extend protection to social media. The government limited freedom of expression and press freedom through prosecutions of individuals under libel, slander, and national security laws that targeted both professional and citizen journalists.

Freedom of Expression: The law forbids any speech that infringes on public order or morals. Speech was curtailed in both traditional media and social media. While individuals openly expressed critical opinions regarding domestic political and social issues in private settings, those who expressed such opinions publicly often faced repercussions. During the year the government took steps against what it considered acts of civil disobedience, which included critical speech. The penal code allows penalties of no less than one year and no more than seven years of imprisonment, plus a fine, for anyone who “offends the monarch of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the flag, or the national emblem.”

On January 21, authorities released Shia preacher Sheikh Abdul Mohsin Mulla Atiyya al-Jamri after a one-year prison sentence. Al-Jamri was convicted of delivering a sermon “disdaining a figure that is revered by a religious group,” according to the PPO.

On July 8, retired military officer and social media activist Mohamed al-Zayani was sentenced to a two-year noncustodial sentence after posting a video criticizing the PPO and the judiciary. Al-Zayani was an outspoken critic on sensitive topics, such as political prisoners and corruption.

International and local NGOs reported that police summoned three clerics in August during the days leading up to, and following, the Ashura religious rites. Authorities reportedly summoned and interrogated them for the content of their sermons, and specifically for “inciting sectarian hatred.” Police held two of them overnight; the third cleric remained in police custody as of year’s end.

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

The government owned and operated all domestic radio and television stations. Audiences generally received radio and television broadcasts in Arabic and English from stations based outside the country, including by satellite. The Ministry of Information Affairs reviewed all books and publications prior to issuing printing licenses. The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs, and Endowments also reviewed those books that discussed religion.

Violence and Harassment: According to local journalists and human rights groups, authorities sometimes harassed, arrested, or threatened journalists, photographers, and “citizen journalists” active on social media due to their reporting. Authorities claimed, however, that some individuals who identified themselves as journalists and photographers were associated with violent opposition groups and produced propaganda and recruiting videos for these groups. International media representatives reported difficulty in obtaining visas to work as journalists.

In June authorities detained a Sunni former member of parliament, Osama al-Tamimi, who had been critical on social media and in parliament of the ruling family and the treatment of prisoners. He was in the hospital for medical treatment at the time of his arrest. On June 27, he posted a message from prison, accusing authorities of penalizing his family by laying off his siblings from their government jobs, expelling his children from school, conducting multiple raids on his house, and vandalizing his property. Al-Tamimi also accused authorities of seizing his assets, freezing his local bank accounts, and injecting him with toxic substances. He remained in prison without charges at year’s end.

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

The press and publications law prohibits anti-Islamic content in media and mandates imprisonment for “exposing the state’s official religion to offense and criticism.” The law states, “Any publication that prejudices the ruling system of the country and its official religion may be banned from publication by a ministerial order.” In November, after a movie studio refused to edit out certain scenes, the Ministry of Information banned the screening of a film due to its portrayal of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) character and a same-sex relationship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government enforced libel and national security-related laws restricting freedom of the press. The penal code prohibits libel, slander, and “divulging secrets,” and it stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of no more than two years or a fine. Application of the slander law was selective.

National Security: National security laws provide for substantial fines and prison sentences of at least six months for criticizing the king or inciting actions that undermine state security, as well as fines for 14 related offenses. Punishable activities include publicizing statements issued by a foreign state or organization without prior government approval, publishing reports that adversely affect the value of the dinar (BHD), the local currency, saying anything offensive against a head of state that maintains diplomatic relations with the country, and publishing offensive remarks concerning accredited representatives of foreign countries.

Bangladesh

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression including for members of the press and other media, but the government frequently contravened this right. There were significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline. Members of media and bloggers self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Barbados

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable with imprisonment. The local media association raised concerns about intimidation of media by government ministers due to the media’s reliance on income from government advertising. There were no reports of any defamation or libel cases initiated by any government officials against media personnel.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Belarus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The government did not respect these rights and selectively enforced numerous laws to control and censor the public and media. Authorities forced the closure of virtually all independent media outlets and labelled journalist and opposition voices “extremist,” giving authorities a legal pretext to detain and prosecute individuals for expressing opposition to the regime. The government passed laws to make it illegal to report or stream video from unauthorized mass events and eased authorities’ ability to close media outlets. The state press propagated views supportive of the president and official policies without giving room for critical voices and actively disparaged the regime’s opponents.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could not criticize government officials or the government publicly or discuss matters of general public interest without fear of reprisal, including prosecution or forced exile. Authorities also prohibited displaying certain historical flags and symbols, including the historic white-red-white-striped flag adopted by the opposition, and displaying placards bearing messages deemed threatening to the government or public order.

Since May 2020 authorities undertook significant steps to suppress freedom of expression, regularly harassing opposition bloggers and social media users and detaining some of them on short-term jail sentences. Others received longer sentences or remained in pretrial detention through December. For example on April 14, a Brest court sentenced Syarhey Pyatrukhin and Alyaksandr Kabanau, two popular video bloggers on YouTube, to three years in prison on charges of “participating in activities in clear disobedience to the legitimate requirements of the authorities.” Both men were known for their political commentary critical of authorities and had been in detention since June 2020.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty consultant Ihar Losik spent exactly one year in pretrial detention between his arrest in June 2020 and the start of his trial on June 24. He was arrested for publicly supporting the opposition and criticizing the government. As of the end of November, his trial had continued for six months and was closed to the public. Family members and independent media representatives were denied access, but state-affiliated media outlets were allowed into the trial room and publicly broadcast images and content from the trial on television and social media afterwards. On December 14, Losik was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Authorities dismissed hundreds of state employees who expressed political dissent or participated in protests after the presidential election, including those employed as television hosts, radio and other media personnel, teachers, civil servants, law enforcement officers, athletes, university administrators, hospital administrators, and diplomats. On May 4, Lukashenka signed a decree depriving 87 former military and law enforcement officers of their ranks and compensation due to their actions in support of the political opposition. Among those targeted by the decree were the founders of BYPOL, an organization created by former members of the security services who quit their service in protest of the regime’s postelection violence in 2020, had fled the country, and were documenting abuses committed by their former colleagues. Diplomats and law enforcement officers who resigned in protest of the government’s crackdown or spoke out and were fired, were stripped of their ranks, regalia, and pensions. For example on August 20, police in Iuye detained a pro-opposition former lieutenant colonel who served in the police force for 20 years, apparently for expressing his antiregime political opinions and exercising his freedom of expression. In May authorities stripped him and more than 80 former officers of their ranks for expressing political dissent. Another of these officers, former investigator Yauhen Yushkevich, was detained on April 19 on charges of terrorism and participating in mass riots, reportedly in retaliation for his support of the political opposition. As of November 18, he remained in pretrial detention.

Authorities fired athletes from national teams for expressing political dissent or apolitical criticism against government officials, as in the case of Olympic athlete Krystina Tsimanouskaya (see section 1.e.).

The law also limits free speech by criminalizing actions such as giving information that authorities deem false or derogatory to a foreigner concerning the political, economic, social, military, or international situation of the country. No individuals were identified as having been charged under this law, however.

The government prohibits calls to participate in “unsanctioned demonstrations” (see section 2.b., Freedom of Peaceful Assembly). On December 14, video blogger Uladzimir Tsyhanovich was convicted on charges of inciting social hatred and organizing mass riots and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Authorities also prohibited “extremist” information, which they defined as “information materials including printed, audio, visual, videos, placards, posters, banners and other visuals intended for public usage or distribution that seek the violent change of the constitutional order or the territorial integrity of the country; unconstitutional takeover of state powers; establishment of an illegal armed force; terrorist activities; inciting racial, ethnic, religious or other societal hatred; organizing mass riots; hooliganism and vandalism based on racial, ethnic, religious, or other societal hatred or discord; political and ideological hatred; promotion of supremacy of a group of residents based on their language, social, racial, ethnic, or religious background; and justification of Nazism, including the promotion, production, distribution, and displays of Nazi symbols.”

During the year the regime amended the law on “countering extremism,” which entered into force on June 14 and broadens the definition of “extremist activity” to include the distribution of information that authorities deemed “false,” organizing and holding events (i.e., assembling freely), and perceived insolence or attempts to discredit state institutions or officials. Among the activities authorities deemed “extremist” were regular independent journalism as well as efforts by the opposition, activists, and protesters to express their opinions or assemble peacefully. Authorities introduced individual liability for “extremist activities” and expanded the list of potential “extremist” organizations to include trade unions, NGOs, and media organizations. Law enforcement officials were also granted permission to use firearms at their discretion when “countering extremism” – viewed by independent observers as an open threat against journalists, protesters, activists, and the regime’s political opponents.

As of September the Ministry of Internal Affairs declared that more than 200 Telegram channels and online chat groups had been recognized as “extremist organizations” by the courts and warned that subscribing, storing materials, and reposting information from these channels would be punishable under the law.

On October 29, the Ministry of Internal Affairs declared the Telegram internet messenger channel NEXTA-Live, a platform used by opposition supporters to organize protests, to be an “extremist organization.” According to observers, as a result, under the amended extremism law, all of NEXTA’s nearly one million subscribers could be charged with “extremism,” which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison. This “extremist” designation followed an October 2020 court decision declaring that the NEXTA logo was an “extremist” symbol and that the channel distributed “extremist materials.” On May 23, former NEXTA editor Raman Pratasevich was forcibly returned after the regime diverted his flight and forced it to land in the country (see section 1.e.).

On September 6, a Minsk court sentenced Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak on charges of creating an “extremist organization,” causing harm to national security, and conspiring to unconstitutionally seize power. Kalesnikava and Znak were both detained in 2020 (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees). The law does not provide penalties for displaying or keeping unregistered symbols, including opposition red and white flags, but it allows only registered symbols at authorized mass events. Although the “Pahonia” emblem is on a registry of the government’s historic and cultural symbols, the government expressed hostility toward protesters who carried red and white flags or the Pahonia symbol, and security forces detained demonstrators for doing so, as these symbols were generally identified with the opposition.

The regime introduced a new law on “preventing the rehabilitation of Nazism,” which entered into force on June 14 and expands the list of prohibited “Nazi symbols and attributes” to include symbols used to denote support for the opposition.

On March 10, prosecutors opened a criminal case against representatives of a Brest-based group of local Polish initiatives and Polish schools on charges of inciting social and ethnic hatred for allegedly “glorifying Nazism and justifying the genocide of the Belarusian nation.” The charges were in relation to an annual historical commemoration event for Polish soldiers who had fought against both Nazi and Soviet forces. After the event, police searched the premises of Polish organizations in Hrodna, Brest, Vaukavysk, and Lida and detained Hanna Panishava in Brest on March 12, Andzelika Borys in Hrodna on March 23, Andrzej Poczobut in Hrodna on March 25, Irena Biarnatskaya in Lida on March 25, and Maria Tsishkouskaya in Vaukavysk on March 29. On May 25, Biarnatskaya, Tsishkouskaya, and Panishava were released on their own recognizance and moved to Poland, while at year’s end Borys and Poczobut remained in pretrial detention. The annual event has been commemorated in Poland since 2011, and authorities had not previously opposed the event in the country.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Authorities limited access to information. State-controlled media did not provide balanced coverage and overwhelmingly presented the authorities’ version of events, including falsehoods and disinformation released by the Lukashenka regime. Appearances by opposition politicians on state media in 2020 were limited to those required by law during the 2020 presidential election campaign period, and state media minimized this coverage and maximized coverage of Lukashenka and his regime. During the year state media actively and routinely propagated the Lukashenka regime’s efforts to portray opposition politicians as enemies of the state or criminals. Authorities warned, fined, detained, interrogated, and stripped accreditation from members of the independent domestic media. Some state media journalists who quit were later detained, such as journalist Ksenia Lutskina, who remained in pretrial detention as of November after criticizing authorities in December 2020 (see section 1.e.).

State-owned media dominated the information field and maintained the highest circulation through generous subsidies and preferences. There was no countrywide private television, and broadcast media space was dominated by state-owned and Russian stations. Since August 2020 Russian state-media organizations largely controlled and managed Belarusian state-run channels, ensuring pro-Lukashenka and pro-Russian viewpoints continued to dominate the press.

Since October 2020 authorities allowed only nationals of the country where a media outlet is based to be accredited as correspondents. All Belarusian stringers for major Western outlets were stripped of accreditation in 2020 and were not reaccredited when they applied during the year. Some subsequently left the country.

The law prohibits media from disseminating information on behalf of unregistered political parties, trade unions, and NGOs. By August authorities had eliminated independent media outlets in the country through several rounds of targeted reprisals, closures, website blockages, or other efforts to incapacitate the organizations. On May 18, authorities raided the offices of Tut.by (the largest independent media outlet in the country), blocked its website, and arrested its journalists. Tut.by was originally stripped of its media license in December 2020. Other independent media outlets were subsequently closed in May and August, including reform.by, Nasha Niva, and Belapan. Authorities also closed regional and local media outlets, such as the September 16 decision to block Hrodna Life, which authorities claimed distributed “extremist” materials. Some media operations that were closed or blocked re-established and continued their operations from outside the country.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities continued to harass and detain local and foreign journalists routinely, particularly those operating as freelancers or working for foreign outlets without accreditation. Security forces continually hampered efforts of independent domestic and foreign journalists to cover demonstrations and protests in Minsk and across the country, used violence against journalists, brought false allegations against them, and sentenced them to jail terms for doing their jobs. As of November the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists reported it had recorded at least 220 cases of violence and harassment against local and foreign journalists since the start of the year, which included detentions, beatings, attacks, fines, and jail sentences.

On July 8, security officers detained and beat the chief editor of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, Yahor Martsinovich. According to his spouse, Martsinovich suffered a head injury during detention, which was confirmed when doctors examined him in the investigators’ office. As of November Martsinovich remained in pretrial detention. During the year authorities targeted independent media outlets, individual editors and journalists, and NGOs that provided media development and training for harassment, intimidation, and arrest. The regime harassed members of the analytical community that regularly contributed articles or commentary to independent media on political and economic issues. As of November an estimated 29 media representatives remained in jail under various politically motivated charges, varying from calls to violate public order to tax evasion to coordinating protest activities.

On February 18, a Minsk court sentenced journalists from Poland-based independent media outlet Belsat to two years in prison. Darya Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreyeva were charged with “organizing actions that grossly violated public order” for livestreaming a violent police crackdown on a peaceful protest in Minsk in November 2020.

On May 18, security officers raided the central and regional offices of Tut.by, the country’s most popular independent online resource, and detained several staff and management personnel, including Yuliya Charnyauskaya, the widow of Tut.by’s deceased founder. Authorities stated the raid was connected to alleged large-scale tax fraud by the outlet’s management, although harassment of the outlet and its journalists had been persistent since before the 2020 presidential election. As of December approximately 14 Tut.by employees or employees of affiliates, including chief editor Maryna Zolatava, remained in detention or under house arrest.

On July 16, law enforcement officers raided the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty office in Minsk, smashing the doors and searching the apartments of several staff. On the same day police raided the Minsk and regional offices of Belsat and confiscated all storage media and other property.

On August 19, authorities released the head of the professional journalist development and media literacy group Press Club Belarus, Yuliya Slutskaya, who was detained in December 2020 with three other colleagues on charges of tax evasion. Slutskaya and three colleagues sought a pardon in which they were required to admit their guilt and pay damages. In an interview Slutskaya said she had needed to pay twice the amount of the alleged “damages” in order to secure her release, which required her to sell a property she owned in Minsk.

On August 27, the regime deregistered the Belarusian Association of Journalists based on a ruling by the Supreme Court after continued harassment of the organization that included raids of its office by security officials in February and July, seizure of documents without inventory or attendance by a representative from the NGO, and the forced closure of its office. Since authorities decided to hold the trial at the Supreme Court, the NGO was left without the ability to appeal the deregistration. The NGO continued its work from exile.

In the wake of the crackdown against the organizations, some outlets decided to withdraw their operations from the country due to concern about harassment and intimidation and continued working from abroad.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By year’s end the government had succeeded in shutting down all major independent media in the country. By law the government may close a publication – printed or online – after two warnings in one year for violating a range of restrictions on the press. Regulations also give authorities arbitrary power to prohibit or censor reporting. The Ministry of Information may suspend periodicals or newspapers for three months without a court ruling.

The threat of government retaliation led independent media outlets still operating within the country to exercise self-censorship and avoid reporting on certain topics or criticizing the government. The government tightly and directly controlled the content of state-owned broadcast and print media. Television channels are required to broadcast at least 30 percent local content. Local independent television stations operated in some areas and were under government pressure to forgo reporting on national and sensitive topics or risk censorship. Authorities extensively censored the internet (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom).

The government penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines. Some private retail chains also refused to continue selling copies of independent newspapers due to government pressure, and state-run and private printing houses refused to print them, forcing editors to procure printing services abroad. This opportunity was also closed, however, after printers in Russia began refusing to print Belarusian independent newspapers during the year.

The independent Baranavichy-based Intex Press newspaper was inspected and fined three consecutive times by different authorities for having published an interview with Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya in April, including a fine of approximately 4,000 rubles ($1,560) on May 5. The outlet’s chief editor was questioned for nearly five hours by police and given two administrative charges for allegedly violating the law on distributing “banned” information via media and the internet. He was also threatened with criminal charges for allegedly violating national security. In April, after the article was published, the Ministry of Information included the interview in its list of “extremist materials.” In May the government-controlled Belarusian Printing House unilaterally canceled its printing contract with the newspaper, ending its ability to publish and sell paper copies of its newspaper for the first time in 26 years. The outlet announced it would move its operation online.

Independent media outlets, including newspapers and internet news websites, faced discriminatory publishing and distribution policies, including limited access to government officials and press briefings and bans on printing paper copies, forcing some newspapers, such as the independent Narodnaya Volya, to switch to portable document format versions with paid subscriptions.

Authorities warned businesses not to advertise in newspapers that criticized the government. Private vendors, such as retail stores, conscious of tax inspections and other forms of economic pressure refused to sell independent newspapers. Advertisers continued to be pressured not to give their advertising dollars to out-of-favor, nonstate newspapers.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are criminal offenses. The law provides large fines and prison sentences of up to four years for defaming or insulting the president. Penalties for defamation of character make no distinction between private and public persons. A public figure who is criticized for poor performance while in office may sue both the journalist and the media outlet that disseminated the critical report for defamation. Following a September 29 incident in which a KGB officer and an information technology worker were shot during a KGB raid, the KGB detained 200 persons for making comments critical of the KGB’s actions in the raid, and criminal cases were opened under the legal provision that prohibits insulting an official. After the Russian branch of Komsomolskaya Pravda released an article that included a comment from a friend of the technology worker offering a positive description of his character, Belarusian authorities blocked online access to its website and arrested Hienadz Mazheyka, the Belarusian author of the article. The Russian government criticized the action as a violation of media freedom, and the outlet decided to close its Belarus office and relocate staff to Russia.

National Security: Authorities frequently cited national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. National security charges were used to punish political prisoners, including in court sentences against Kalesnikava and Znak in September (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).

Internet Freedom

Authorities monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority, and the regime’s total control of the country’s legislature, law enforcement, and judicial systems allowed authorities to monitor internet traffic without accountability or independent review. According to Freedom House’s 2021 Freedom on the Net Report, all telecommunications operators are required to install surveillance equipment, making it possible for the government to monitor traffic in real time and obtain related metadata and data, such as users’ browsing histories, including domain names and internet protocol addresses visited, without independent judicial oversight. All internet service providers are required to retain information about their customers’ browsing histories for one year. Companies are also required to preserve identifying data regarding their customers’ devices and internet activities for at least five years and to turn over this information at the government’s request.

The government monitored email and social media. While individuals, groups, and publications were generally able to engage in the expression of views via the internet, including by email, all who did so risked possible legal and personal repercussions and often were believed to practice self-censorship. Opposition activists claimed their emails and other web-based communications were likely monitored.

Registered news websites and any internet information sources were subject to the same regulations as print media. Websites may apply to register as news outlets, but registration requires the site to have an office located in nonresidential premises and a chief editor who is a citizen with at least five years of experience in managerial media positions. Websites that choose not to apply for registration may continue to operate but without the status of a media outlet. Their correspondents may not receive accreditation from state agencies, and they may not cover mass events or have the journalistic right to protect sources of information.

Authorities filtered and blocked internet traffic. Telecommunications companies reported that authorities ordered them to restrict mobile internet data severely on the days when large-scale demonstrations were expected or occurred.

Authorities restricted content online. Online news providers must remove content and publish corrections if ordered to do so by authorities and must adhere to a range of government prohibitions on free speech (see also section 2.a., Freedom of Expression). Authorities may block access to sites that fail to obey government orders, including because of a single violation of distributing prohibited information, without a prosecutor or court’s mandate. If blocked, a network publication loses its media registration. Owners of a website or a network publication have one month to appeal government decisions to limit access to their sites or to deny restoring access to them in court. As of year’s end the Ministry of Information had blocked access to more than 100 websites and their mirror pages.

There were also efforts to restrict or block social media outlets online (see section 2.a., Censorship or Content Restrictions). Authorities punished individuals for expressing their political views online (see section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest or Detention). For example, authorities targeted Telegram users and group chat administrators throughout the year, prosecuting them for allegedly organizing and coordinating protest activity. On June 4, a Minsk district court convicted Dzianis Hutsin, Viktorya Kulsha, Hanna Vishnyak, and Tatsiana Shkrobat for purportedly administering the Telegram channel “Drivers 97” and sentenced them to two and one-half years in prison. All were charged with conspiring to organize mass riots, blocking roads, and violating public order.

Owners of internet sites may also be held liable for user comments that carry any prohibited information, and these sites may be blocked. The law also mandates the creation of a database of news websites and identification of all commentators by personal data and cell phone numbers. If a news website receives two or more formal warnings from authorities, it may be removed from the database and lose its right to distribute information. There were reports that media outlets removed comment sections from their websites to avoid the risk of reprisals.

By law the telecommunications monopoly Beltelecom and other organizations authorized by the government have the exclusive right to maintain internet domains.

Authorities attempted to restrict online anonymity. A presidential edict required registration of service providers and internet websites and required the collection of information on those who used public internet. It required service providers to store data on individuals’ internet use for a year and provide data to law enforcement agencies upon request. Conviction for violation of the edict was punishable by a prison sentence, although no such violations were prosecuted. These potential government prosecution efforts, however, spurred the use of encrypted messenger programs, such as Telegram, that circumvented restrictions.

There were reports of politically motivated cyberattacks. Government webpages and databases were reportedly hacked.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.

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

The minister of education has the right to appoint and dismiss the heads of private educational institutions.

During the year the government restricted artistic presentations or other cultural activities. For example on February 13, riot police dispersed a rock concert in a village in the vicinity of Minsk. At least 68 persons were detained, the majority of whom were later arrested or fined. On February 14, the Ministry of Internal Affairs claimed the participants had held an unauthorized mass event and alleged “activists of destructive Telegram channels” gathered under the guise of a rock concert.

On April 1, fire and sanitary inspection officers arrived at a photograph exhibit organized by an independent NGO and ordered it to close. The exhibit had opened the day before and featured photographs of doctors performing operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The officers alleged the premises did not comply with fire safety regulations. The organizers asserted authorities were closing the exhibit on politically motivated pretenses to bar further public criticism of the government’s inadequate response to the pandemic.

Belgium

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the members of the press and other media, 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 media.

Freedom of Expression: Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, and attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred are criminal offenses, punishable by a minimum of eight days (for Holocaust denial) or one month (incitement to hatred and sexist remarks or attitudes) and up to one year in prison and fines, plus a possible revocation of the right to vote or run for public office. If the incitement to hatred was based on racism or xenophobia, the case is tried in the regular courts. If, however, the incitement stemmed from other motives, including homophobia or religious bias, a longer and more costly trial by jury generally is required. The government prosecuted and courts convicted persons under these laws.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The prohibition of Holocaust denial, defamation, sexist remarks, attitudes that target a specific individual, and incitement to hatred also applies to print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals.

Belize

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

The press was largely independent of government influence, although most radio stations, television stations, and newspapers had strong editorial ties to either the United Democratic Party or the People’s United Party. The press was often critical of government officials, with few signs of repercussions.

Violence and Harassment: In May police assaulted and falsely charged Vejea Alvarez, a reporter with Love FM radio, as he covered a protest by nurses at the Northern Regional Hospital. The protesting nurses invited the reporter and his cameraman to cover the event. At the hospital compound, a hospital security officer stopped them, stating they were not allowed to be there. When the reporter insisted on covering the event, police were called. Police sergeant Evaristo Cobb threatened to beat the reporter if he did not leave and punched him in the chest. The incident was captured on video. Alvarez continued to cover the protest from outside the compound. Cobb arrested Alvarez for assault and detained him at the police station. When Alvarez complained about the incident, he was ignored and then threatened by the officer in charge of the station. After reviewing the video, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams disciplined Cobb for lying about the incident and falsely accusing the reporter. The Professional Standards Branch investigation of the incident also led to internal disciplinary charges of “act to the prejudice of good order and discipline” against Corporal Gaspar Tuz and Constable Walter Leonardo.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Narda Garcia, the chief executive officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, threatened well known painter Alex Sanker with a civil lawsuit in April for featuring Garcia in a painting. The artwork depicted Garcia at the Social Security Board during a period when funds were mismanaged. Garcia was subsequently investigated.

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Media were not fully independent, however. There were reports the government inhibited freedom of the press through restrictions on and sanctioning of media members. Many public and private media outlets refrained from openly criticizing government policy.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government regulated the press and online media. The High Authority for Audiovisual and Communication (HAAC) is a quasigovernmental commission with members appointed by the president, private media, and the legislature. HAAC has a dual role of providing for press freedom while protecting the country against “inflammatory, irresponsible, or destabilizing” media reporting.

On February 9, the Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced journalist and blogger Jean Kpoton to 12 months in prison and a fine following his conviction of “harassment by electronic means” under the Digital Code. On April 7, police arrested journalist and blogger Nadine Okoumassoun. The CRIET charged Okoumassoun with terrorism and inciting violence. As of September 13, Okoumassoun had yet to be tried and awaits trial in prison.

On July 27, the Supreme Court upheld Benin Web TV journalist Ignace Sossou’s conviction. In 2019 a court convicted him of “harassment through electronic means” after posting to his person social media accounts quotes of the Cotonou prosecutor’s comments that were recorded during “anti-fake news” training organized by the French Media Development Agency. The Cotonou Court of First Instance sentenced Sossou to 18 months’ imprisonment and a substantial monetary fine. In May 2020 the Court of Appeals reduced his sentence to six months’ imprisonment, and in June 2020 he was released.

On August 4, the HAAC complied with a 2019 Court of Appeals ruling rescinding suspension of La Nouvelle Tribune. As of September, the newspaper had not resumed print publication. The HAAC had barred the newspaper from print in 2018. The HAAC continued its suspensions of Sikka TV and Soleil FM, outlets belonging to Sebastien Ajavon. On November 3, the HAAC reassigned Radio Soleil FM’s airwave to another radio station.

As of October 4, Casimir Kpedjo of the newspaper Nouvelle Economie had yet to be tried. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2019 police arrested Kpedjo for “spreading false information about the Beninese economy” and held him for five days. He was then charged by CRIET with publishing “false information,” and released.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Public and private media refrained from openly criticizing government policy. Some journalists practiced self-censorship because they were indebted to government officials who granted them service contracts. Other journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear the government would suspend their media outlets. HAAC held public hearings on alleged misconduct by media outlets during the year.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law journalists may be prosecuted for libel and slander. Journalists may also be prosecuted for incitement of violence and property destruction, compromising national security through the press, or a combination of the two. Penalties for conviction include incarceration and fines. By law anyone convicted of “relaying false information against a person using electronic means” may be sentenced to between one and six months in prison and receive a substantial fine.

Bhutan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system contributed to freedom of expression, including for members of media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a variety of views. The law does not provide specific protections for journalists or stipulate freedom of information, although there were no official restrictions on media. The law also prohibits media outlets from affiliating with political parties and prohibits outlets from endorsing candidates during the election period.

Libel/Slander Laws: Conviction of defamation may carry criminal penalties. The Freedom in the World 2021 report noted, “powerful individuals can use defamation laws to retaliate against critics.”

Internet Freedom

The government generally 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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events besides countrywide restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bolivia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the government retaliated against media outlets that expressed dissenting opinions. Some media outlets reported the government pressured and intimidated them to report favorably regarding government policies by withholding government advertising and imposing steep taxes.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: On July 14, the National Association of Journalists of Bolivia and the Association of Journalists of La Paz issued a statement denouncing the Public Ministry’s “harassment” of the director of Radio Yungas, Eliana Ayaviri, and the director of Radio FM Bolivia, Galo Hubner, who covered clashes in the Yungas coca-growing sector. The statement claimed that prosecutor Odalis Leonor Penaranda violated rules governing press freedoms by ordering Ayaviri and Hubner to hand over lists of interviewees and copies of press reports they published on July 3-6. The statement further alleged the prosecutor’s demand expressed “a clear attitude of intimidation and pressure.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists faced threats. According to open sources, on September 28, police arrested Carlos Quisbert, a journalist for the daily newspaper Pagina Siete, after a police officer ran over him with his motorcycle while Quisbert was covering a coca growers protest in the vicinity of the Minasa Terminal in La Paz. At the same event cameraman Santiago Limachi and his son Sergio claimed they were injured when police shot teargas canisters at them. In response to these reports, on September 29, the special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the IACHR issued a statement urging the government to allow journalists to perform their work unhindered.

One journalist accused authorities of being complicit in the burning of a radio station in a rural area in the department of Cochabamba, but no further information was available.

Examples of government harassment included sending hostile letters to journalists who published unfavorable stories and parking government vehicles outside their homes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to fear of prosecution and harassment, journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship due to fear of losing their jobs or losing access to government sources.

According to the law, the government should provide goods and services to all media outlets in a nondiscriminatory manner, but sometimes the government did not purchase advertisements in certain media outlets because those media were considered opposed to the government’s policy positions.

Media outlets alleged the government pressured news organizations to report favorably on government policies. Media outlets also alleged the government retaliated against news organizations that did not comply with that pressure. The National Press Association of Bolivia and several journalists alleged the government’s retaliatory tactics included withdrawing advertisements and conducting excessive tax audits, which forced companies to spend significant time and resources to defend themselves.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but governmental respect for this right remained poor during the year. Violence, intimidation, harassment, and threats, including death threats, against journalists and media outlets continued during the year. BH Journalists, a professional association, noted that passive attitudes of institutions, primarily the judiciary and the prosecutor’s offices, left room for threats and pressure to continue and increase. Numerous restrictive measures introduced to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic continued to limit access to information. A considerable amount of media coverage was dominated by nationalist rhetoric and ethnic and political bias, often encouraging intolerance and sometimes hatred. The absence of transparency in media ownership remained a problem. Ownership of online media remained opaque in many instances. For many broadcast and print outlets, only information about nominal ownership was available.

Botswana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press.

Freedom of Expression: The law restricts the speech of some government officials and fines persons found guilty of insulting public officials or national symbols. The law states, “Any person in a public place or at a public gathering (who) uses abusive, obscene, or insulting language in relation to the president, any other member of the National Assembly, or any public officer” is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine. The law also states that any person who insults the country’s coat of arms, flag, presidential standard, or national anthem is guilty of an offense and may receive a substantial monetary fine under the sedition clause. The Constitutional Court has not considered the constitutionality of the sedition clause.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government dominated domestic broadcasting. The government owned and operated the Botswana Press Agency, which dominated the print media through its free, nationally distributed newspaper, Daily News, and two state-operated FM radio stations. State-owned media generally featured reporting favorable to the government and, according to some observers, were susceptible to political interference. Opposition political parties claimed state media coverage heavily favored the ruling party.

Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views, which frequently included strong criticism of the government; however, media members complained they were sometimes subject to government pressure to portray the government and country in a positive light. Private media organizations had more difficulty than government-owned media obtaining access to government-held information and access to official media events.

A 2008 law mandates registration of media outlets and journalists with the National Press Council and has been criticized by human rights and press freedom NGOs, although it has never been implemented.

Violence and Harassment: On January 28, the BPS in Phitshane arrested Tshepo Sethibe and Michelle Teise, two journalists employed by the news site Moeladilotlhoko News Boiler, along with three other persons. Police seized their phones and charged them with criminal trespass for entering two houses while investigating the disappearance of a local man, Obakeng Badubi. Authorities dropped the charges on April 15.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some members of civil society organizations stated the government occasionally censored stories it deemed undesirable in government-run media. Government journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were no arrests or convictions under these laws (see the above subsection on Freedom of Expression) during the year, although Minister for Presidential Affairs Kabo Morwaeng told parliament in July that the law could be used against those “disrespecting” President Masisi regarding growing dissatisfaction with his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Brazil

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right.

The press maintained a confrontational relationship with the Bolsonaro administration. The press regularly published highly critical reporting on the government’s actions, and President Bolsonaro and members of his administration frequently criticized the press. According to Reporters Without Borders, President Bolsonaro criticized the press 87 times in the first half of the year, verbally or via social media – a 74 percent increase compared with the second half of 2020. Reporters Without Borders included the president in its 37-member “predators of the press freedom” gallery. The organization described the president’s tactics as “predatory methods” that used insults, humiliation, and vulgar threats against primarily women journalists, political analysts, and media networks. Despite these concerns, in general the press continued to operate freely.

In March media reported that police had subpoenaed more than 200 persons to provide depositions and, in some cases, arrested individuals after criticizing the president (including some who called for his assassination) using the 1983 National Security Law that was enacted during the military dictatorship. In February, STF minister Alexandre de Moraes used the same law to order the arrest of Federal Deputy Daniel Silveira for a video Silveira released defending the closing of the STF and expressing support for Institutional Act Number 5, the harshest instrument of repression during the military dictatorship, which removed mandates of antimilitary parliamentarians and suspended constitutional guarantees that eventually resulted in the institutionalization of torture. In September the president approved with five line-item vetoes a bill revoking the National Security Law and adding a series of crimes against democracy to the penal code – criminalizing attacks on national sovereignty, executing a coup d’etat, and spreading fake news during elections.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes killed or subjected to harassment, physical attacks, and threats as a result of their reporting.

On April 4, a man riding a motorcycle fatally shot radio broadcaster Weverton Rabelo Froes in the Fazenda Guaribagion region of Planaltino, Bahia. On April 9, an unknown individual fatally shot television producer Jose Bonfim Pitangueiras in the Engenho Velho da Federacao district in Salvador, Bahia. As of October the Civil Police were investigating both crimes but had not identified a motive or suspect in either killing.

In August a journalist and a blogger were attacked in separate incidents less than one month apart in the municipality of Mage in Rio de Janeiro’s metropolitan area. In early August unidentified men set fire to blogger Eduardo César’s vehicle. Separately, on August 17, unidentified men opened fire on journalist Vinicius Lourenco’s vehicle. Neither victim was injured. Both were known for having previously exposed problems within the administration of Mage mayor Renato Cozolino.

In October the Public Ministry of Roraima State denounced state deputy Jalser Renier for eight crimes in the kidnapping of journalist Romano dos Anjos in October 2020. Renier, who was president of the Roraima state legislative assembly at the time, was charged as the mastermind of the kidnapping, for attempting to hinder the investigation, and for using his position to threaten the Roraima state governor. Eight additional military police officers and a former employee of the political party were also charged.

In instances of violence perpetrated by protesters or provocateurs during mass demonstrations, at times security forces injured journalists during crowd-control operations.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: National laws prohibit politically motivated judicial censorship, but there were reports of judicial censorship. In 2019, drawing on previous court precedent and in coordination with the National Police, the STF began using a law against defaming institutions to investigate cases of individuals or press criticizing the court’s members. These investigations expanded to numerous cases of investigating “fake news,” and on August 4, the STF added President Jair Bolsonaro to its investigation for spreading false statements related to the electoral process and the security of electronic voting machines.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental criminal elements at times subjected journalists to violence due to their professional activities.

Brunei

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: There is no provision for freedom of speech in the constitution or laws. Members of the Legislative Council may “speak their opinions freely” on behalf of citizens, but they are prohibited from using language or exhibiting behavior deemed “irresponsible, derogatory, scandalous, or injurious.” Under the law it is an offense to challenge the royal family’s authority. The law also makes it an offense to challenge “the standing or prominence of the national philosophy, the Malay Islamic Monarchy concept.” This philosophy identifies Islam as the state religion and monarchical rule as the sole form of government to uphold the rights and privileges of the Brunei Malay race. The law also criminalizes any act, matter, or word intended to promote “feelings of ill will or hostility” between classes of persons or to “wound religious feelings.”

The SPC includes provisions barring contempt for or insult of the sultan, administration of sharia, or any law related to Islam. SPC sections provide, in certain circumstances, for death sentences for apostasy from Islam, deriding Islamic scriptures, and declaring oneself as God, among other offenses. There were no known cases of persons charged under these sections, but online criticism of the law was largely self-censored, and online newspapers did not permit comments or stories on these subjects.

The government interpreted the SPC to prohibit public celebration of religions other than Islam, including publicly displaying Christmas decorations. Some establishments, however, openly sold Christmas decorations or advertised Christmas-themed events. Christmas remained an official national holiday.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law allows the government to close a newspaper without giving prior notice or showing cause. The law requires local newspapers to obtain operating licenses and prior government approval for hiring foreign editorial staff, journalists, and printers. The law also gives the government the right to bar distribution of foreign publications and requires distributors of foreign publications to obtain a government permit. Foreign newspapers generally were available. Internet versions of local and foreign media were generally available without censorship or blocking.

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

In an unusual nod to transparency the government held regular COVID-19 press conferences on the situation in the country and allowed media to publicly question the health minister and other officials.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for prosecution of newspaper publishers, proprietors, or editors who publish anything the government deems as having seditious intent. Punishments include suspension of publication for a maximum of one year; a prohibition on publishers, printers, or editors from publishing, writing for, or editing any other newspaper; and the seizure of printing equipment. Persons convicted under the law also face a significant fine and a maximum prison term of three years. Journalists deemed to have published or written “false and malicious” reports may be subject to fines or prison sentences.

Observers reported prohibitions against covering a variety of topics, such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and reporting on topics such as crime until the relevant government agency issued an official press release on the topic.

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

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

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits bringing into hatred or contempt, or exciting disaffection against, the sultan or the government. Persons convicted under the law face a significant fine, a maximum of three years in prison, or both. There were no reports of such cases.

Bulgaria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Concerns persisted, however, that corporate and political pressure, an ineffective and corrupt judiciary, and nontransparent government regulation of resources meant to support media (including EU funds), gravely damaged media pluralism. In April Amnesty International stated in its Report on the State of the Worlds Human Rights that “[m]edia freedom continued to deteriorate, with journalists who investigated organized crime and corruption facing intense political and prosecutorial pressure in the form of threats and intimidation.” In September Reporters without Borders (known by its French abbreviation, RSF) stated that the media environment was marked by “physical attacks and smear campaigns against journalists; impunity for crimes of violence against reporters and judicial harassment; public media bias, especially in the run-up to elections; corruption, disinformation, and lack of transparency about media ownership; media pluralism threatened by ownership concentration; and bias and opaqueness in the distribution of state aid to the media, to the detriment of independent media outlets.”

In July the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom issued a report that identified significant risks to media pluralism. The report also listed serious problems with independence and sustainability for the local and regional media and problematic access to media for minorities, women, and persons with disabilities.

According to the BHC, freedom of expression “further deteriorated,” marked by “record low levels of independent funding and trust in media,” which has turned independent media into “easy prey for owners who have either political or economic connections with the government” and who can determine and steer the public discourse.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally criticized the government without official reprisal. The law provides for one to four years’ imprisonment for use of and incitement to “hate speech,” defined as instigation of hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, social status, or disability.

According to RSF, “[t]he few outspoken journalists are constantly subjected not only to smear campaigns and harassment by the state, but also to intimidation and violence.” In its 2020 annual report presented in May, the BHC expressed “alarm” at “attempts by the state to conceal facts through repression as well as its blatant refusal to investigate and punish attacks on journalists.” In June investigative journalist Venelina Popova complained publicly that police had questioned her on how she devised topics for her political commentaries and collected information. Popova had been called to an interview as a witness in a vote-buying investigation, following up on her investigative report on the subject matter published in Dnevnik in April. Instead, police expressed interest in her March publication in Toest concerning businessman and newly re-elected National Assembly member Delyan Peevski. Popova noted she had written about Peevski before and alleged that the police interview was an attempt to intimidate her because she had dared to “write about those that are untouchable by justice and possess huge power and financial resources.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Laws restricting “hate speech” also applied to print media. According to the Center for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom, there were “no regulatory or self-regulatory safeguards against commercial influence over decisions regarding appointments and dismissals of editors-in-chief” and despite “some legal and self-regulatory provisions against … interference in the production of media content, in practice commercial pressure over many news outlets persists, while journalistic and advertising contents are often intertwined.” Domestic and international organizations criticized both print and electronic media for editorial bias, lack of transparency in their financing and ownership, and susceptibility to political influence and economic incentives. Despite the legal requirement for media ownership disclosure, many outlets did not comply, and media ownership information was not entirely publicly available.

Independent media outlets were subject to open attacks from politicians at all levels and from administrative and judicial pressure. In May the former director of publicly funded Bulgarian National Radio, Andon Baltakov, said in a print interview the law favored political interference in the management of the media through controlled funding and accused the former government of harassment through deliberate budget cuts. RSF stated in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index that “politicians and oligarchs maintain relations marked by corruption and conflicts of interest in the progovernment media. Delyan Peevski, the oligarch who was the most notorious embodiment of this aberrant state of affairs, has sold his media outlets but his influence over the media continues to be problematic.”

Violence and Harassment: The BHC reported in May that “inconvenient” journalists suffered offenses, restrictions, and physical attacks by the authorities. According to RSF, “[j]ournalists are often summoned and questioned by police about their work” and “no one is interested in investigating or condemning violence against journalists.”

In February the specialized criminal court began trial proceedings against brothers Georgi and Nikola Asenov and Biser Mitrev for attacking and severely beating prominent investigative journalist and chief editor of the 168 Chasa weekly, Slavi Angelov, in March 2020. As of December the trial was ongoing, and the three defendants were out on bail.

In February district prosecutors in Silistra dropped the investigation against local activist and freelance journalist Dimitar Petsov, charged with possession and distribution of illegal drugs, acknowledging that the drugs had been planted in his car. In May 2020 police stopped Petsov, who had then recently investigated donations to the police and made him drive with them to the police precinct where they searched his car and claimed to have found drugs.

In May the private national broadcaster bTV issued a declaration expressing strong concern over the media environment in the country because “officials from every government keep having no problems attacking publicly journalists … with unfounded allegations.” This was in response to caretaker interior minister Boyko Rashkov’s statement on Bulgarian National Radio on May 17 concerning an interview he gave earlier on bTV, that if he were the owner, he would “remove” journalists Bilyana Gavazova and Zlatimir Yovchev who had interviewed him.

In September the caretaker Ministry of Interior sent a letter to the Association of European Journalists and the Anticorruption Fund which admitted that a repeat internal investigation found that police had applied undue violence, used handcuffs, and illegally arrested journalist Dimitar Kenarov while he was covering an antigovernment protest in September 2020. The letter also noted that the ministry referred the case to the regional prosecution service in Sofia. In January a Sofia city prosecutor refused to open a formal investigation based on a Sofia police internal investigation that had found no evidence of illegal use of force against Kenarov, despite his visible wounds and multiple witness statements.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists reported editorial prohibitions on covering specific persons and topics and the imposition of political points of view by corporate leaders with the implied support of the government.

The final report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to observe the April 4 National Assembly elections concluded that “judicial pressure and intimidation of investigative journalists” and “lack of full investigation of attacks against journalists” contributed to an “atmosphere of fear and impunity” and “widespread self-censorship.” The report also concluded that “public television mostly refrained from covering the contestants in the news and offered significant and extensive coverage of government officials. The limited editorial and news coverage, and the absence of investigative or analytical reporting, combined with paid-for political advertising portrayed as news, detracted from the ability of voters to make an informed choice.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is illegal and punishable by a fine and public censure. According to a survey by the Association of European Journalists in October 2020, 49 percent of journalists viewed slander accusations and lawsuits against their publications as a major source of harassment against their work.

In May the Association of European Journalists stated that investigative journalist Nikolay Stoyanov had been subjected to “judicial harassment” in connection with three lawsuits filed against him for his articles on the former director of the Bulgarian Development Bank, Stoyan Mavrodiev. The association alleged the lawsuits were a “coordinated attack that will cost Stoyanov resources to defend himself and hinder his work.”

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were reports, however, that the government exceeded its legal authority in monitoring private online communications, and that security services routinely questioned individuals about their social media behavior.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Burkina Faso

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government did not always respect this right. In 2019 the National Assembly voted to amend the penal code banning journalists from reporting any security-related news to preserve national security and prevent the demoralization of the military “by any means.” Attempts to “demoralize” members of the military had previously been a crime.

A 2015 law decriminalized press offenses and replaced prison sentences with substantial monetary fines. Some editors complained that few newspapers or media outlets could afford such fines. Despite the reform, journalists occasionally faced criminal prosecution for libel and other forms of harassment and intimidation.

Freedom of Expression: The 2019 revision of the penal code criminalizes communicating the position or movements of defense forces, or sites of national interest or of a strategic nature, and the publication of any terrorist crime scene without authorization. The amendment significantly increases penalties for the crime of publicly insulting another person if electronic communications are used to publish the insult; the law had previously prohibited persons from insulting the head of state or using derogatory language with respect to the office. Local and international associations of journalists called for the rejection of the amendment as an unacceptable attempt to stifle freedom of speech.

On August 9, police detained and questioned activist Zakaria Sana regarding a Facebook post he had written that appeared to encourage a coup d’etat. Sana was released and received a six-month suspended jail sentence.

On the morning of August 13, judicial police arrested Pascal Zaida, a civil society activist, accusing him of “attempting to compromise state security, inciting a rebellion, and making subversive statements.” The arrest followed an August 12 press conference in which Zaida claimed “all the conditions are in place to bring down the government.” Members of the media condemned his arrest as an example of government restrictions on freedom of expression. The police dropped the charges and released Zaida on August 17.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, albeit with some restrictions. Foreign radio stations broadcast without government interference.

All media are under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Communications, which is responsible for developing and implementing government policy on information and communication. The Conseil Superieur de la Communication monitored the content of local radio and television programs, newspapers, and internet websites to enforce compliance with standards of professional ethics and government policy. The council may summon journalists and issue warnings for subsequent violations. Hearings may concern alleged libel, disturbing the peace, inciting violence, or violations of state security.

Violence and Harassment: On March 15, investigative journalist Yacouba Ladji Bama was fined two million CFA francs ($3,500) after he lost a defamation suit brought against him by the ruling party. The defamation case against Bama, former editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Courrier Confidentiel, originated from a December 2020 incident in which he claimed an attempt had been made on his life by the ruling party, allegedly in retaliation for Bama’s public assertions that the party had violated the electoral code when it distributed branded items at a campaign event in the period preceding the November 2020 presidential elections.

In March, four media organizations released a declaration expressing concern that six cases of violent attacks or other acts of intimidation against journalists in 2020 remained pending before the courts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In addition to prohibitions on publishing security-related information and insulting the head of state, the law prohibits the publication of shocking images or material that demonstrates lack of respect for the deceased. Journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing that publishing blatant criticism of the government could result in arrest or closure of their newspaper. Journalists were denied access to sites housing internally displaced persons during the year.

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the Conseil Superieur de la Communication and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations. Claiming national security interests, the government disabled the mobile data network providing access to the internet via mobile devices on several occasions, including in November for a period of one week.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Extremist groups threatened civilians with beatings or death for listening to music.

Burma

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The 2008 Constitution provides that “every citizen shall be at liberty in the exercise of expressing and publishing freely their convictions and opinions,” but it contains the broad and ambiguous caveat that exercise of these rights must “not be contrary to the laws enacted for national security, prevalence of law and order, community peace and tranquility, or public order and morality.” The postcoup regime led a full-scale crackdown on freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was severely limited. Those who spoke openly against the regime or in favor of the NLD, NUG, or democracy more broadly risked abuse and punishment by authorities. On September 4, poet and activist Maung Saungkha was convicted under Section 19 of this law after he placed a banner over a highway during a protest marking the one-year anniversary of restrictions on mobile internet communications in parts of Rakhine and Chin States. Maung Saungkha chose to pay a fine of 30,000 kyat ($22.50) rather than serve a 15-day prison sentence.

The regime used the Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of the Citizens to allow authorities to review content on individuals’ cell phones at checkpoints and during neighborhood raids. The regime reportedly employed violence and targeted killings to silence critics in civil society. Violence against persons engaged in speech deemed antiregime was allegedly used by proregime ultranationalist Buddhist groups as well as security forces and included maiming, kidnapping, and torture. The regime intimidated many prodemocracy voices among the public who previously spoke openly about politically sensitive topics. (See also “Internet Freedom,” below.)

A prodemocracy activist in Rangoon said during a media interview that regime security forces beat him as authorities transported him to a local interrogation center in February. The next morning, he was unable to eat due to injuries he had sustained during his first night in detention. He reported being tortured for days and only released after signing a statement denying the use of torture by the regime.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the coup, independent media outlets were active and able to operate despite many official and unofficial restrictions, economic hardship, and an uncertain business environment. After the coup, analysts reported the closure of 71 media outlets, ranging from well-known national, regional, and ethnic media to small Facebook pages. Regime crackdowns on media resulted in the arrest, detention, loss of work, and forced exile of more than 1,000 journalists, editors, and media staff – approximately 50 percent of pre-coup total. For example, two Kamayut Media journalists were arrested in March, one was released on June 15 and the other remained in detention at year’s end. In Mandalay the regime arrested and subsequently released freelance journalists. Eleven media and the Voice Daily self-censored and avoided criticism of the regime. The Myanmar Times and Union Daily have ceased publication, and Irrawaddy, Frontier, and Myanmar Now operated mostly in exile from outside the country.

In May the regime banned satellite dishes to restrict access to international news. The regime offered three public television channels – two controlled by the Ministry of Information and one controlled by the military. Two private companies that had strong links to the previous military regime continued to broadcast six free-to-air television channels. The regime and regime-linked businesspersons controlled eight FM radio stations. In August the NUG launched Radio NUG, a clandestine service that provided two 30-minute reports daily with prodemocracy content.

Violence and Harassment: The regime subjected journalists and other media workers to violence, harassment, detention, and intimidation for their reporting. According to AAPP, at least 95 journalists were unjustly arrested after February, and more than half of those remained in detention as of November. Among journalists detained by the regime were reporters from the Associated Press, the Ayeyarwady Times News, and many more outlets. In April the New York Times reported that many journalists stopped wearing helmets or vests marked with the word “PRESS,” did not publish under their own names, and avoided sleeping at home. On December 14, local media reported that freelance photojournalist and graphic designer Soe Naing died in regime custody after his arrest on December 10 while covering the “Silent Strike.” Soe Naing reportedly died after a violent interrogation, marking the first known death of a journalist while in regime custody since the coup.

Authorities arrested Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga on March 11 in Shan State and deported him after he was held in detention for 13 days.

In April authorities detained Yuki Kitazumi, a Japanese freelance journalist, and accused him of supporting prodemocracy protests. Authorities released and deported Kitazumi in May.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the coup, the regime banned independent media outlets that did not self-censor reporting on the prodemocracy movement. The regime also banned using certain terminology in reporting, such as “junta,” “coup d’etat,” and “military council.” The Myanmar Times suspended publication on February 21 after many of its staff quit to protest the leadership’s decision to follow the regime order not to describe the military takeover as a “coup.” On March 8, the regime banned broadcast, online, and print media Mizzima, Democratic Voice Burma, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now, and 7Day News from broadcasting or reporting on any platform. Each of these media organizations had extensively covered the protests, including on their social media pages. The regime later revoked the licenses of three ethnic-minority-run outlets: Myitkyina News Journal from Kachin State, Tachileik News Agency from Shan State, and 74 other media outlets suspended their operations in response.

Libel/Slander Laws: Even before the coup, the military could and did use various legal provisions, such as a criminal defamation clause in the telecommunications law, to restrict freedom of expression. After the coup, the regime primarily relied on Section 505 of the penal code to prosecute journalists. Following his arrest on March 3 in Bago Region, a reporter covering prodemocracy protests from the radio and television company Democratic Voice Burma was the first after the coup to be charged under this section of the law. According to media reports, he was brutally beaten and seriously injured during his arrest. On May 3, he was sentenced to three years in prison. In June two other journalists were sentenced to two years in prison. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 24 journalists were facing charges under the broadened Section 505A that includes penalties for spreading “false news.”

National Security: Although the regime prosecuted some media critics using laws related to national security, in general the regime used other methods to pursue its critics. The regime designated the NUG and related prodemocracy groups as terrorist organizations but as of November had not arrested or tried any members of these on terrorist charges.

Burundi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press but ban “defamatory” speech regarding the president and other senior officials, material deemed to endanger national security, and racial or ethnic hate speech. Additional restrictions imposed in 2015 continued and were applied to all press outlets.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits racially or ethnically motivated hate speech. It is illegal for anyone to display drawings, posters, photographs, or other items that may “disturb the public peace.” Penalties for violations range from two months’ to three years’ imprisonment and fines.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While the government took some measures to loosen restrictions on members of the press and other media, the COI reported that the government continued to surveil and vilify critical journalists while others chose to self-censor.

The government owned and operated daily newspapers and a radio and television station. The CNDD-FDD operated a government-aligned radio station. Independent media existed but often self-censored and some were restricted. Radio Isanganiro was the country’s largest independent radio station. Iwacu, an independent newspaper that was generally critical of the government and its policies, continued to publish articles in French and English, although it faced harassment from the government.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists and outspoken critics reported harassment and intimidation by security services and government officials to prevent them from doing their work independently or covering sensitive topics. Some journalists were required to obtain permission from authorities prior to conducting domestic, and in some cases international, travel. Forces allied to the CNDD-FDD repressed media perceived as sympathetic to the opposition, including print and radio journalists, through harassment, intimidation, and violence. Most independent journalists fled the country during and after the political crisis and crackdown in 2015, and some remained in exile as of the end of the year. The government detained or summoned for questioning local journalists investigating subjects such as human rights abuses, corruption, or security incidents.

In January 2020 four Iwacu journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for “a failed attempt of complicity in undermining the security of the state.” Human Rights Watch described their arrest as an “attempt to intimidate and threaten other journalists from doing their work.” On December 24, 2020, President Ndayishimiye pardoned the journalists; they were released the same day.

In February the Supreme Court made public the conviction in absentia of seven journalists in exile who were sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the attempted coup of May 2015 (see section 1.e, Trial Procedures).

On August 31, President Ndayishimiye criticized Esdras Ndikumana, a reporter for French public radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale (RFI), accusing Ndikumana of inflating the number of COVID-19 cases and using RFI’s platform to harm the country by focusing on poverty. Along with Ndikumana, Ndayishimiye referred to Iwacu director Antoine Kaburahe as one of two journalists destroying the country and tarnishing its image.

On September 24, police and military officers arrested Aime-Richard Niyonkuru, journalist of Radio Bonesha, while he was investigating a grenade attack in the Kamenge neighborhood of Bujumbura. According to media reports, Niyonkuru was tortured, harassed, and accused of collaboration with enemies of the country, but released 24 hours later.

On December 28, the director of Kanyosha Health Center in Bujumbura detained two journalists from Radio Isanganiro who were investigating the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and medical center capacity. The director ordered the release of the journalists a few hours later, after they agreed to delete all pictures they took of the center.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government censored media content through restrictive press laws established by the National Communications Council (CNC), an organization nominally independent but subject to political control and widely regarded as a tool of the executive branch. CNC decrees require all journalists to register annually with the body, limit the access granted to international journalists, and establish content restrictions on the products disseminated by outlets. The CNC continued to monitor the press closely. Broadly interpreted laws against libel, hate speech, endangering state security, and treason also fostered self-censorship, including by journalists working for the national broadcaster. The BHRI reported that most journalists working in the country exercised a degree of self-censorship. Self-censorship was especially pronounced on sensitive topics including high-level corruption, human rights abuses by government security forces or Imbonerakure, and other subjects that were seen as critical of the government. The CNC regulates both print and broadcast media, controls the accreditation of journalists, and enforces compliance with media laws. The president appoints all 15 CNC members, who were mainly government representatives and journalists from the state broadcaster.

Several journalists stated they were generally freer in their reporting online than on radio and other media more closely controlled by the government, particularly when posting in French or English rather than in local languages. Two radio stations that were closed in 2015 continued to broadcast radio segments abroad and publish articles online.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law protects public servants and the president against “words, gestures, threats, or writing of any kind” that is “abusive or defamatory” or would “impair the dignity of or respect for their office.”  The law prohibits the public distribution of information that exposes a person to “public contempt” and provides penalties of imprisonment and fines for violations.  The penalty for conviction of insulting the head of state is six months to five years in prison and a token monetary fine.  Some journalists and leaders of political parties and civil society stated the government used the law to intimidate and harass them.

Conviction of treason, which includes knowingly demoralizing the military or the country in a manner that endangers national defense during a time of war, carries a penalty of life imprisonment. It is a crime for anyone knowingly to disseminate or publicize rumors likely to alarm or excite the public against the government or to promote civil war.

National Security: The law requires journalists to reveal sources in some circumstances and prohibits the publication of articles deemed to undermine national security. Harassment in past years under national security provisions caused some journalists to self-censor during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Many members of the Imbonerakure collaborated with government security forces to inhibit freedom of expression. In some cases they were official members of mixed security councils, which consisted of police, local administration officials, and civilians.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: On January 28, President Ndayishimiye committed to allowing a “free and responsible press to contribute to the development of the country” and requested the CNC to find solutions that would allow sanctioned media outlets to resume operations. Reporters Without Borders highlighted the country for “encouraging signs” in freedom of expression for members of media due to actions taken by President Ndayishimiye.

On February 11, the CNC reversed its 2018 decision that closed the comments section of Iwacu press group’s online newspaper, and on February 21, the CNC allowed Radio Bonesha, shuttered following the 2015 coup attempt, to reopen and dropped all sanctions against the station.

On June 16, the CNC lifted sanctions against online media outlet Ikiriho, which was suspended in 2018 after a private lawsuit was filed against the outlet for defamation. On the same day, the CNC invited BBC’s radio program, suspended since 2019, to reapply for an operating license.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, except for the website of media outlet Iwacu, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Direct access to Iwacu’s website from within the country remained blocked; readers were able to access the website from abroad or by using a virtual private network.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were allegations, including by Freedom House, that hiring practices, student leadership elections, and grading at the University of Burundi were subject to political interference in favor of CNDD-FDD members.

Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced limited self-censorship, partly due to family and social connections that made investigative journalism difficult.

Cambodia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The April 2020 state of emergency law, which the prime minister claimed was necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows the government to ban or limit freedoms of travel, assembly, and information distribution and the ability to leave one’s home during a declared emergency. NGOs and UN experts condemned the law, arguing that it lacked an effective oversight mechanism and could be used to infringe on the rights of the people. As of November the government had not declared a state of emergency under this law.

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. In 2017, however, the government began carrying out a sustained campaign to eliminate independent news media and dissenting voices in the country and increasingly restrict free expression; many individuals and institutions reported widespread self-censorship.

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government often restricted this right, explicitly or implicitly. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: Government officials penalized individuals or organizations that criticized or expressed views at odds with government policy. Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately frequently faced reprisals. On several occasions the government invoked laws requiring permits or government notification of public protests to stifle discourse.

On January 20, during a meeting held at the governor’s office with traditional rulers of the West Region in Bafoussam, Minister of Territorial Administration Paul Atanga Nji criticized the traditional rulers because of a statement some of them issued in November 2020 concerning the sociopolitical situation in the country. In the statement the traditional rulers remarked that the military option to curb the Anglophone crisis had shown its limitations and suggested that a different avenue for peace was needed. Relaying the minister’s message, state-funded CRTV declared that “traditional rulers must not engage or allow their people to engage in the political struggle but should rather stimulate development through the decentralization process.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, including Online Media: Private media were active and expressed a wide spectrum of viewpoints. The media landscape faced constraints on editorial independence, in part due to fear of reprisal from state and nonstate armed actors, including separatists connected to the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. Journalists reported practicing self-censorship to avoid repercussions, including extortion for criticizing or contradicting the government.

Violence and Harassment: Police, gendarmes, and other government agents arrested, detained, physically attacked, and intimidated journalists. The state’s failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on journalists created de facto restrictions.

The private daily newspaper Le Jour reported that on April 29, Yaounde V municipal police members assaulted two reporters of Canal 2 International while they were covering a protest by commercial bike riders. According to media reports, the Yaounde V police severely beat Canal 2 cameraman Bertrand Tchasse, seized and destroyed his working equipment, and threatened to kill him. Other team members, including a driver and a reporter, were threatened. A government spokesperson said Tchasse’s work equipment was seized because the journalists were encouraging motorbike riders to be disorderly in order to record additional footage for their report.

On April 14, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that six armed men in plainclothes arrested Mbombog Mbog Matip, director of the privately owned Climat Social newspaper, who also posts political commentary on social media, in August 2020. CPJ’s release indicated that Mbombog Mbog was held at the SED until September 2020, when a military court judge charged him with “propagation of false news,” and placed him on pretrial detention until March 7. Following the court hearing, the journalist was transferred to Kondengui Central Prison in Yaounde. CPJ stated that Mbombog Mbog remained in custody until March 7 without receiving any update regarding his case. CPJ reported that in the months before he was arrested, Mbombog Mbog was investigating an alleged coup attempt involving Colonel Joel Emile Bamkoui, the commander of the Department of Military Security. While Mbombog Mbog was detained at SED, Bamkoui reportedly beat and threatened him, according to CamerounWeb. CPJ further reported that the country had eight journalists in prison as of April, many of whom were arrested for being perceived as antigovernment.

On April 19, progovernment private television channel Vision 4 produced a report on J. Remy Ngono, a Cameroonian journalist who lived in France and participated in the Radio Foot International program on Radio France International. In the report Raoul Christophe Bia questioned Remy Ngono’s sexual orientation. Using photoshopped pictures as evidence, Christophe Bia explicitly compared Ngono to an animal. On September 16, Vision 4 television channel again featured the derogatory imagery in another report. Some observers believed the questioning of Ngono’s sexual orientation and the photoshopped images were in response to Ngono’s criticism of the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the Ministry of Communication requires editors to submit two signed copies of their newspapers within two hours after publication. Journalists and media outlets reported practicing self-censorship, especially if the National Communication Council had suspended them previously.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, defamation, and blasphemy are treated as criminal offenses. The law authorizes the government to initiate a criminal suit when the president or other senior government officials are the alleged victims. These laws place the burden of proof on the defendant, and crimes are punishable by prison terms and substantial fines. While the government may initiate criminal suits when the president or other senior government official are alleged victims, ordinary citizens may also file libel or slander suits, but the law is often applied selectively and privileges senior government officials and well connected individuals.

On June 17, the Court of First Instance in Mbanga, Littoral Region, sentenced Clement Ytembe Bonda, Andre Boris Wameni, and Flavy Kamou Wouwe to one year of imprisonment and a fine after declaring them guilty of joint contempt of the president of the republic, contempt of the civil authorities, and propagating fake news on social media. The three individuals were workers at the Plantations de Haut Penja (PHP) agricultural complex. They were arrested on June 11 after a video that was widely circulated on social network showed them lambasting the poor working conditions at PHP. In the video Bonda, the main speaker, used critical language to describe President Paul Biya and his government. He could be heard saying that they worked at the banana plantation from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., under the rain and sun for a monthly salary of approximately 30,000 CFA francs ($55) while government ministers in Yaounde loitered and stole hundreds of billions from public coffers.

After more than two years in pretrial detention as the result of a defamation complaint filed by French Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala, Paul Chouta, who worked as a reporter for the privately owned Cameroon Web news website, was released on May 20, two days after his sentencing by the Mfoundi Court of First Instance to 23 months’ imprisonment. The court issued a post facto sentence to cover the time he was imprisoned without charge.

At a meeting in Yaounde on July 5 for its 28th Extraordinary Session, the National Communication Council sanctioned three journalists for what they deemed to be unprofessional conduct. The sanctions ranged from suspensions for one to six months and a warning. Stive Jocelyn Ngo, a DBS TV journalist, received a 30-day suspension for publishing unsubstantiated and “offensive” information concerning the president of France on April 21 during the program DBS Martin. Sismondi Barkev Bidjocka, publisher of Ris Radio, received a one-month suspension for “insufficient investigation” leading to the broadcast of unsubstantiated and “offensive” information against parliamentarian Cabral Libii. The publisher insinuated that Cabral was engaged in some malfeasance involving the procurement of public contracts for private gain related to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Nynanssi Nkouya, publisher of Confidence Magazine, received a six-month suspension for publishing a flyer containing “offensive” information concerning Senator Sylvester Nghouchinghe.

National Security: Authorities often cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to threaten critics of the government.

Nongovernmental Impact: There were no reported cases of armed separatist groups in the Southwest and Northwest Regions explicitly inhibiting freedom of expression, including for the press. Restrictions on movements by armed separatists, however, contributed to limiting freedom of the press. Also, some political and opinion leaders sought to inhibit freedom of expression by criticizing those who expressed views that were at odds with government policies.

Internet Freedom

Anecdotal reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Although there were no legal restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events, some school authorities reportedly sanctioned academic personnel for teaching politically sensitive topics, and administrative officials often deterred teachers from criticizing the government.

Anecdotal reporting suggested scientists and academics were subjected to threats, intimidation, and restriction on freedom of expression. In its March report on human rights, the NGO consortium Stand Up for Cameroon reported professor Pascal Charlemagne Messanga Nyamding, a former lecturer at the Institute of International Relations of Cameroon, feared for his life after a March 9 interrogation at SED.

Governor of the East Region Gregoire Mvondo ordered the inclusion of exam questions on the content of President Biya’s February 10 message to the youth.

Canada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Freedom of Expression: According to Supreme Court rulings, the government may limit speech to counter discrimination, foster social harmony, or promote gender equality. The court ruled that the benefits of limiting hate speech and promoting equality are sufficient to outweigh the freedom of speech clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the country’s constitutional bill of rights.

The criminal code prohibits public incitement and willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group in any medium. Inciting hatred (in certain cases) or genocide is a criminal offense, but the Supreme Court sets a high threshold for such cases, specifying that these acts must be proven to be willful and public. Provincial-level film censorship, broadcast-licensing procedures, broadcasters’ voluntary codes curbing graphic violence, and laws against hate literature and pornography impose some restrictions on media.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamatory libel with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, but courts seldom imposed such a punishment.

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression and the press, the government did not always respect these rights. The law allows criminal prosecutions for defamation of public officials (see Libel/Slander Laws below).

Freedom of Expression: Public discussion and political debates were generally free from state authorities’ influence. Public political debates known as patara were broadcast on private radio stations in Bangui and in most provincial capitals. In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression, however, was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some restrictions. All print media in the country were privately owned. Radio was the most widespread medium of mass communication. There were alternatives to state-owned radio stations. Independent radio stations operated freely and broadcast organized debates and call-in talk shows that were critical of the government, the election process, ex-Seleka and Anti-balaka militias, the CPC, and Wagner Group elements. International media broadcast within the country. The High Commission for Communication is the regulatory body in charge of controlling the content of information broadcast or published in media. Opposition political candidates alleged that state-owned media favored the administration during the presidential election campaign. The government monopolized domestic television and national radio station broadcasting, with coverage typically favorable to government opinion.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: After the January 21 decree establishing the state of emergency, on February 16, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications blocked access to two online newspapers, corbeaunews-centrafrique.com and letsunami.net. Both were accused of disseminating hate speech, disinformation, and fake news on social media. According to Reporters Without Borders, although the ministry did not cite specific reporting in its ban, both Corbeau News publisher Alain Nzilo and Le Tsunami publisher Edouard Yamalet claimed that their online publications were banned because of their coverage of abuses by Russian Wagner Group elements.

Libel/Slander Laws: On May 25, the Court of Justice of Bangui sentenced Jean Serge Wafio in absentia to four years’ imprisonment on allegations of defamation, outrage, and public insults against then prime minister Firmin Ngrebada. In addition, the Court ordered Wafio to pay five million CFA francs ($9,090) in damages to Ngrebada and 300,000 CFA francs ($545) in court costs. Wafio is president of the Central African Democratic Party and resided in France. In an April 9 statement on social media, Wafio accused then prime minister Ngrebada of attempting to kill political opponents, including Simplice Mathieu Sarandji of the United Hearts Movement (MCU), by poisoning. Sarandji was former prime minister Ngrebada’s predecessor. According to Maitre Zoumalde, Ngrebada’s lawyer, the court also issued an arrest warrant against Wafio, prohibiting him from exercising his civil and political rights, including eligibility to serve in public office for the next 10 years. Wafio is subject to enforcement of this warrant at any point he reenters the country. Many observers considered the ruling politically motivated. In another case journalist Landry Ulrich Nguema Ngokpele was arrested in June, pursuant to a complaint filed by local NGO president Harouna Douamba. The complaint cites a 2018 article by Ngokpele’s publication, Le Quotidien de Bangui, alleging that Douamba had swindled government authorities. Ngokpele was released in June after an outcry from civil society but later arrested again on national security charges for alleged connections to the CPC armed group.

Nongovernmental Impact: In areas controlled by armed groups, freedom of expression was inhibited due to the risk of retaliation.

Internet Freedom

In one case the government restricted online content (see above Censorship and Content Restrictions). There were no credible reports that the government otherwise monitored or restricted private online communications.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports that the government restricted academic freedom or cultural events.

Foreign Travel: Between March and May, the Bangui prosecutor issued travel bans on opposition leaders, Anicet-Georges Dologuele, Martin Ziguele, Karim Meckassoua, and Aurelien Simplice Zingas. Border police executed the decision, preventing three from boarding flights at Bangui International Airport between March and June. Zingas challenged the decision before the Bangui Administrative Court. On May 25, in its ruling at first instance, the court ordered the lifting of the measures and restitution of his travel documents.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government severely restricted this right. According to Freedom House, authorities used threats and prosecutions to curb freedom of expression for members of the press and other media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits “inciting racial, ethnic, or religious hatred,” which is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines. Space for open and free private discussion existed but tended to be self-censored due to fear of reprisal from the state.

During an October search of the opposition Les Transformateurs party headquarters, security forces seized a Chadian national flag flying within the premises, despite no law prohibiting flying of the flag.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and attempted to express a variety of views; however, authorities placed severe restrictions on them. The government subsidized Le Progres – the only daily newspaper – and owned the biweekly newspaper L’Info. Government and opposition newspapers had limited readership outside the capital due to low literacy rates and lack of distribution in rural areas.

Radio remained a critical source of information throughout the country. The government owned the Chadian National Radio station. Private stations faced high licensing fees. The number of community radio stations that operated outside of government control continued to grow, and radio call-in programs broadcast views of callers that included criticism of the government.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities reportedly harassed, threatened, arrested, and assaulted journalists for critical reporting regarding the government. Local media reported that journalists regularly faced arrest after publication of such reporting. Most were released quickly, but others were held in detention for weeks or months, and some severely mistreated, particularly when articles alleged government officials acted with impunity or criticized former president Deby or his associates. Journalists, as well as human rights defenders, reported being the victims of threats, harassment, and intimidation by anonymous individuals.

Local print and online news reported that on October 6, the governor of Tibesti Province physically assaulted a news cameraman, alleging that the cameraman lacked appropriate documentation required for access to Tibesti. The status of any investigation or accountability measures remained unclear.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government penalized those who published reports counter to government guidelines, sometimes by closing media outlets. According to Freedom House, private radio stations faced threat of closure for coverage critical of the government. Some journalists and publishers practiced self-censorship due to concerns regarding intimidation and arrest.

A member of the Union of Chadian Journalists said several newspapers suspended in 2020 were reauthorized in mid-January, but details regarding the number and names of these newspapers could not be obtained.

In February 2020 as it typically does in each election, the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting released a decree suspending all political programming on public and private networks until the April 2021 election. As rationale, officials cited a desire to maintain stability, noting networks lacked the technical and human resources to assure equitable network coverage for all political parties during a “sensitive” electoral period. Nevertheless, throughout the electoral period, state-owned radio and television outlets continued regularly broadcasting content in support of the ruling Patriotic Salvation Movement (MPS) party.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander are misdemeanors punishable by fines. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports of authorities having arrested or detained persons on charges of defamation. During the year there were no reports of government or individual public figures using libel or slander laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet in many ways. It directly censored online content, such as Facebook; occasionally blocked sites and popular messaging applications, such as WhatsApp; and arrested activists for postings on social media. There was widespread speculation that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government cut internet service on both national mobile providers, Airtel and Moov (formerly Tigo), on a few occasions during the year. Service was restored after a brief suspension following the raid on presidential candidate Yaya Dillo’s home in February (see section 1.f.). In contrast to previous years, the government did not restrict network access during the electoral period.

Breaking from previous practices, the government did not restrict social media and internet access during demonstrations occurring in August and September but did restrict access during two demonstrations in early October.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

While no government restrictions on academic freedom are known to exist, self-censorship frequently curtailed genuine expression in academic environments. The government banned large gatherings, including cultural events, during a COVID-19 curfew, which was in effect from May 2020 to January.

Chile

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Violence and Harassment: On July 7, PDI agents allegedly targeted journalists Vicente Rojas Lopez and Felipe Garcia with rubber bullets during a disturbance while Lopez and Garcia were covering the funeral procession of activist Luisa Toledo Sepulveda that passed in front of PDI headquarters in Santiago. No formal investigation was opened.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution states citizens “enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Authorities limited and did not respect these rights, however, especially when their exercise conflicted with CCP interests. Authorities continued to impose ever-tighter control of all print, broadcast, electronic, and social media and regularly used them to propagate government views and CCP ideology. Authorities censored and manipulated the press, social media, and the internet, particularly around sensitive anniversaries and topics such as public health.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens could discuss specific policies but often avoided discussing broader political issues, leaders, or “sensitive” topics for fear of official punishment. Authorities routinely took harsh action against citizens who questioned the legitimacy of the CCP or criticized President Xi’s leadership. Some independent think tanks, study groups, and seminars reported pressure to cancel sessions on sensitive topics. Many others confirmed authorities regularly warned them against meeting with foreign reporters or diplomats, and to avoid participating in diplomatic receptions or public programs organized by foreign entities.

Those who made politically sensitive comments in public speeches, academic discussions, or remarks to media, or who posted sensitive comments online, remained subject to punitive measures, as did members of their family. In addition an increase in electronic surveillance in public spaces, coupled with the movement of many citizens’ routine interactions to the digital space, signified the government was monitoring an increasing percentage of daily life. Conversations in groups or peer-to-peer on social media platforms and via messaging applications were subject to censorship, monitoring, and action from authorities. An increasing threat of peer-to-peer observation and possible referral to authorities further eroded freedom of speech.

The popular communication app WeChat remained heavily censored. Posts regarding sensitive topics such as PRC politics disappeared when sent to or from a China-registered account. Authorities continued to use the app to monitor political dissidents and other critics, some of whom were detained by police or sentenced to prison for their communications. Chinese citizens moving abroad who continued to use an account created in China were still subject to censorship.

On June 5, Gao Heng, a Christian, was detained by authorities for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” after taking a picture of himself on the Guangzhou Metro holding a small sign that read “June 4th: Pray for the Country.”

On July 6, multiple WeChat accounts run by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) societies at several universities were closed, with past posts scrubbed and replaced with a notice stating “All content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” for violations of unspecified social media regulations.

On July 23, veteran petitioner Li Yufeng went on trial at the Jiaozuo City Central Station People’s Court on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Li was detained in 2019 after she accompanied a friend to Beijing to file a petition at the Supreme People’s Court.

Prominent poet Wang Zang and his wife Wang Li remained in detention on the charge of “inciting subversion of state power.” Wang Zang, taken from his home in May 2020, and Wang Liqin, detained in June 2020, were indicted by the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture People’s Procuratorate in September 2020. Police “evidence” against Wang Zang included his poetry, performance art, and views expressed on social media.

In October veteran journalist Luo Changping and a social media user identified by the surname Zuo were detained for making critical comments online regarding The Battle of Changjin Lake, a state-sponsored film set during the Korean War. Since the new code took effect in March, reports indicated that the law has been used at least 15 times to punish those who questioned the party’s version of history.

Authorities arrested or detained countless citizens for “spreading fake news,” “illegal information dissemination,” or “spreading rumors online.” These claims ranged from sharing political views or promoting religious extremism to sharing factual reports on public health concerns, including COVID-19.

This trend was especially stark in Xinjiang, where the government ran a multifaceted system of physical and cyber controls to stop individuals from expressing themselves or practicing their religion or traditional beliefs. Beyond the region’s expansive system of internment camps, the government and the CCP operated a system to limit in-person and online speech. In Xinjiang police regularly stopped Muslims and members of non-Han ethnic minorities and demanded to review their cell phones for any evidence of communication deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government extensively used mobile phone apps, cameras, and other electronics to monitor all speech and movement. Authorities in Xinjiang employed a comprehensive database that tracked the movements, mobile app usage, and even electricity and gasoline consumption of inhabitants in the region.

The government also sought to limit criticism of their Xinjiang policies even outside the country, disrupting academic discussions and intimidating human rights advocates across the world. Government officials in Xinjiang detained the relatives of several overseas activists. In February the government blocked Clubhouse, a foreign software platform designed to promote open conversations, after only a few days of operation. Before Clubhouse was blocked, Chinese citizens had participated in discussions concerning topics the PRC considers sensitive, including Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Numerous ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs living overseas were intimidated into silence by threats from government officials against members of their family who lived in China, threats sometimes delivered in China to the relatives, and sometimes delivered by Chinese government officials in the foreign country. (See section 1.e., Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country.)

The government restricted the expression of views it found objectionable, even when those expressions occurred abroad. Online, the government expanded attempts to control the global dissemination of information while also exporting its methods of electronic information control to other nations’ governments. During the year there was a rise in reports of journalists in foreign countries and ethnic Chinese living abroad experiencing harassment by Chinese government agents due to their criticisms of PRC politics. This included criticisms posted on platforms such as Twitter that were blocked within China.

The government sought to limit freedom of expression in online gaming platforms. The popular Chinese-made online game Genshin Impact continued to censor the words “Taiwan” and “Hong Kong” among others in its in-game chat program. Users noted the program’s censorship covered all users, regardless of the country of citizenship or where the game was being played.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The CCP and government continued to maintain ultimate authority over all published, online, and broadcast material. Officially, only state-run media outlets have government approval to cover CCP leaders or other topics deemed “sensitive.” While it did not dictate all content to be published or broadcast, the CCP and the government had unchecked authority to mandate if, when, and how particular issues were reported or to order they not be reported at all. The government’s propaganda department issued daily guidance on what topics should be promoted in all media outlets and how those topics should be covered. Chinese reporters working for private media companies confirmed increased pressure to conform to government requirements on story selection and content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) directly manages internet content, including online news media, and promotes CCP propaganda. A CCP propaganda department deputy minister ran the organization’s day-to-day operations. It enjoyed broad authority in regulating online media practices and played a large role in regulating and shaping information dissemination online.

The CCP continued to monitor and control the use of non-Mandarin languages in all media within the country. Since January 1, Mongolian-language content, previously broadcast on state media, was replaced with Chinese cultural programs that promote a “strong sense of Chinese nationality common identity.”

All books and magazines continued to require state-issued publication numbers, which were expensive and often difficult to obtain. Nearly all print and broadcast media as well as book publishers were affiliated with the CCP or the government. There were a small number of print publications with some private ownership interest but no privately owned television or radio stations. The CCP directed the domestic media to refrain from reporting on certain subjects, and traditional broadcast programming required government approval.

Journalists operated in an environment tightly controlled by the government. Only journalists with official government accreditation were allowed to publish news in print or online. The CCP constantly monitored all forms of journalist output, including printed news, television reporting, and online news, including livestreaming. Journalists and editors self-censored to stay within the lines dictated by the CCP, and they faced increasingly serious penalties for crossing those lines, which could be opaque. While the country’s increasingly internet-literate population demanded interesting stories told with the latest technologies, government authorities asserted control over technologies such as livestreaming and continued to pressure digital outlets and social media platforms.

Because the CCP did not consider internet news companies “official” media, they were subject to debilitating regulations and barred from reporting on potentially “sensitive” stories.

Violence and Harassment: The government frequently impeded the work of the press, including citizen journalists. Journalists reported being subjected to physical attack, harassment, monitoring, and intimidation when reporting on sensitive topics. Government officials used criminal prosecution, civil lawsuits, and other punishment, including violence, detention, and other forms of harassment, to intimidate authors and journalists and to prevent the dissemination of unsanctioned information on a wide range of topics.

Family members of journalists based overseas also faced harassment, and in some cases detention, as retaliation for the reporting of their relatives abroad. Dozens of Uyghur relatives of overseas-based journalists working for Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service remained disappeared or detained in Xinjiang. In March, RFA reported that authorities had detained two brothers of Uyghur Service editor Eset Sulaiman since 2018.

Restrictions on domestic and foreign journalists by central and local CCP propaganda departments increased significantly.

Journalists faced the threat of demotion or dismissal for publishing views that challenged the government. In many cases potential sources refused to meet with journalists due to actual or feared government pressure. The scope of censorship was vast, with several Chinese journalists noting “an atmosphere of debilitating paranoia.” For example long-standing journalist contacts continued to decline off-the-record conversations, even concerning nonsensitive topics. So-called taboo topics included not only Tibet, Taiwan, and corruption, but also natural disasters and the #MeToo movement.

During the year authorities imprisoned numerous journalists working in traditional and new media. The government also silenced numerous independent journalists by quarantining them under the guise of pandemic response. Reporters Without Borders, in a report released on December 7, tallied at least 127 journalists (professional and nonprofessional) detained in the country. Of these, 71 – or more than one-half the journalists imprisoned – were Uyghur.

On January 7, investigative journalist Li Xinde, who founded and ran the China Public Watchdog Network anticorruption website, was convicted of “illegal business activity” and received a five-year prison sentence. He was initially detained in 2019 after publishing on his website a report that a court in Tianjin had wrongfully convicted a businessman.

On January 8, former journalist Zhang Jialong was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment by the Nanming District Court in Guiyang City on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang, while a journalist with Tencent, met with then secretary of state John Kerry in 2014 and asked him to “tear down this great firewall that blocks the Internet.”

On May 11, citizen journalists Chen Mei and Cai Wei were put on trial at Beijing’s Chaoyang District Court, after more than a year in detention, on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” The two volunteered for a website archive, Terminus 2049, that documented censored COVID-19 outbreak information, among other topics. On August 13, Chen and Cai were convicted on the “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” charge but were then released on August 15 for time served.

A CCP organization in Henan Province issued a call on social media to confront a BBC journalist covering flooding in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China cited the incident as an example of the “growing hostility against foreign media in China,” thanks to rising Chinese nationalism sometimes “directly encouraged by Chinese officials and official entities.”

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China’s annual report on media freedoms, released in March, found that authorities and the CCP used “all arms of state power” – including surveillance systems introduced to curb COVID-19 – to harass and intimidate journalists, their Chinese colleagues, and those whom the foreign press sought to interview. For the third consecutive year, not a single correspondent said that working conditions improved.

The survey reported 88 percent of correspondents had requests for interviews declined because subjects needed prior permission to speak to a foreign journalist or because they were not permitted to speak to foreign journalists at all, an increase from 76 percent in 2019. Nearly 40 percent of correspondents said they were aware of sources being harassed, detained, called in, or questioned for interacting with a foreign journalist, an increase from 25 percent in 2019. Nearly one-half the correspondents said the fear of digital or in-person surveillance regularly affected their ability to adequately interview and communicate with sources or carry out their reporting. Almost 60 percent said their Chinese colleagues were subject to intimidation, compared with 44 percent in 2019.

Authorities used the visa renewal process to challenge journalists and force additional foreign reporters out of the country.  A Reporters Without Borders report released December 7 tallied 18 foreign reporters who were forced to leave the country in 2020 due to surveillance and visa blackmail.

In March, BBC journalist John Sudworth left the country following threats of legal action, obstruction, and intimidation. A state-sponsored propaganda campaign targeted the BBC and Sudworth to discredit them and push back against international criticism regarding issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the government’s targeting of the BBC began after the BBC published a report detailing allegations of systematic rape in internment camps where Muslims were detained in Xinjiang.

Local employees working for foreign press outlets reported increased harassment and intimidation, in addition to authorities’ continued tight enforcement of restrictions on these employees. Foreign news bureaus are prohibited by law from directly hiring Chinese citizens as employees and must rely on personnel hired by the Personnel Service Corporation, a subordinate unit of the Diplomatic Service Bureau affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The code of conduct threatens dismissal and loss of accreditation for those citizen employees who engage in independent reporting. It instructs them to provide their employers with information that projects “a good image of the country.” Multiple foreign outlets reported a continuing inability to hire the number of local staff members that they wished, saying authorities continued to impose an unofficial cap of one local researcher per foreign correspondent from media outlets out of favor with authorities. Some outlets even reported trouble getting the Diplomatic Service Bureau’s permission to hire a single local researcher per correspondent. New staff were wary of taking on responsibilities that might be considered politically sensitive, limiting their portfolios and contributions.

Government harassment of foreign journalists was particularly aggressive in Xinjiang. According to the 2020 Foreign Correspondents’ Club report, all foreign reporters who traveled to Xinjiang were openly followed, denied access to public places, and were asked or forced to delete photographs and other data from devices. Reporters documented cases of staged traffic accidents, road blockages, hotel closures, and cyberattacks. They reported constant surveillance while they worked in Xinjiang, with government agents stepping in to block access to some areas, intimidating local inhabitants from talking to the journalists, and stopping the journalists – sometimes many times per day – to seize their cameras and force them to erase pictures. Reporters noted local contacts warned them any resident seen talking to foreigners would almost certainly be detained, interrogated, or sent to a “re-education camp.”

Government officials also sought to suppress journalism outside their borders.  While in past years these efforts largely focused on Chinese-language media, during the year additional reports emerged of attempts to suppress media critical of China regardless of language or location.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Regulations grant broad authority to the government at all levels to restrict publications based on content, including mandating if, when, and how particular issues are reported.

According to Freedom House, on February 5, the China Association of Performing Arts (an industry association under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism) released new restrictions that required performances to promote the “party line,” not “undermine national unity,” nor “endanger national security.” Performers who violated the rules would face suspensions or a permanent ban from the industry.

Official guidelines for domestic journalists were often vague, subject to change at the discretion of propaganda officials, and enforced retroactively. Propaganda authorities forced newspapers and online media providers to fire editors and journalists responsible for articles deemed inconsistent with official policy and suspend or close publications. Self-censorship was prevalent among journalists, authors, and editors, particularly with post facto government reviews carrying penalties.

The CCP Central Propaganda Department ordered media outlets to adhere strictly to the information provided by official departments. Directives warned against reporting on issues related to COVID-19 outbreaks, the official response, and international inquiries, as well as party and official reputation, health and safety in general, and foreign affairs.

The government sought to exercise complete control over public and private commentary regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, undermining local and international efforts to report on the virus’s spread. COVID-19 information on Chinese social media was closely guarded from the outbreak’s earliest manifestation. Popular livestreaming and messaging platforms WeChat and YY continued censorship protocols, including on words related to the virus causing COVID-19, SARS, and potential disease vectors.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the CCP’s founding on July 1, the government sought to tighten control over how citizens discuss history on the country’s heavily censored internet, releasing legal amendments stipulating that persons who “insult, slander or infringe upon” the memory of the country’s national heroes and martyrs faced jail time of up to three years.

In April the CAC vowed to crack down on “historical nihilists” and launched a hotline for internet users to report “illegal” comments that “distorted” the CCP’s historical achievements and attacked the country’s leadership. The tip line allowed individuals to report fellow citizens who “distort” the party’s history, attack its leadership and policies, defame national heroes, and “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture” online.

Also in April authorities in Jiangsu Province detained a 19-year-old man after he made “insulting” comments online regarding Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanjing.

In early May a regulatory official reported authorities had dealt with a large number of accounts deemed to be propagating “historical nihilism” and that they directed online platforms to clean up more than two million posts the CAC deemed illegal.

Some private companies censored content without explicit orders from authorities. In late March streaming platforms in the country began to censor the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that adorn items worn by contestants performing dance, singing, and standup-comedy routines, following a feud between the government and international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in Xinjiang. Although government officials may not have ordered the shows to obscure the brands, the video streaming sites apparently felt pressured or obliged to publicly distance themselves from Western brands involved in the feud.

In May, Chinese video platforms censored a Friends reunion television special, removing appearances by music stars Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and the K-pop group BTS, all of whom had previously engaged in activity that reportedly angered the Chinese government.

The government increased efforts to screen out unsanctioned information and align online content with the state’s agenda. In August the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department, along with the state-backed bodies for state-approved artists and authors, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and State Administration of Radio and Television, as well as the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, issued policy guidelines urging better “culture and art reviews,” partly by limiting the role of algorithms in content distribution. Under the guidelines, all domestic content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism, and pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content.”

Citizen journalists faced an increasingly difficult climate, with the CAC and other authorities seeking to strengthen control over content published through social media, including “self-media” accounts. Also known as “we-media,” these accounts are typically blogs operated independently on social media without official backing from established outlets. Self-media had become one of the biggest emerging trends, with a report by the State Information Center noting that in 2020 online media accounted for 80 percent of the country’s media market. The tightened restrictions online had the effect of further clamping down on self-employed reporters, who also could not be accredited by the National Press and Publication Administration, which administers tests and grants the licenses required for citizens to work in the profession. Unaccredited reporters can face legal fallout or even criminal charges. The campaign to clean up self-media accounts also targeted social media trending charts, push notifications, and short-video platforms. The CAC was also exploring measures to control the distribution of information across all internet platforms to end “disruption to the order of internet broadcasts.”

In January the National Press and Publication Administration announced that it had made it a priority to stop reporters from running their own self­media accounts, as part of its annual review of journalists’ accreditation.

In February the CAC implemented new rules on managing public internet accounts, the first change since 2017. The rules specified the type of content platforms should ban, including those deemed to be engaged in fabricating information, inciting extreme emotions, plagiarism, cyberbullying, blackmailing, and artificially inflating the number of clicks. This represented a fresh crackdown on “fake news” and other online activities perceived to be harmful. The new rules to “protect the security of content and maintain a healthy cyberspace” aimed to curb independent reporting and reposting of information considered illegal while promoting government-sanctioned stories.

The new rules also broadened the definition of harmful online information. In addition to information that authorities considered to endanger national security, leak state secrets, or subvert state power, the new rules banned online information that “disrupts financial market order.” False information regarding disasters, epidemics, emergencies, and food and drug safety was also banned. On top of possible criminal charges and other punishments, websites spreading such information could be shut down, and individuals working for such sites could be held liable and subject to heavy fines.

In July the government launched a campaign to crack down on “fake news” and clean up online content. The CCP’s Central Propaganda Department announced the campaign would target “illegal news activities” by news organizations and staff, internet platforms and public accounts, as well as unaccredited social organizations and individuals.

Control over public depictions of President Xi was severe, with censors aggressively shutting down any depiction that varied from official media storylines. Censors continued to block images of the Winnie the Pooh cartoon character on social media because internet users used it to represent Xi. Social media posts did not allow comments related to Xi Jinping and other prominent Chinese leaders.

Domestic films were subject to government censorship. The CCP continued to call for films to highlight Chinese culture and values and promote the country’s successful growth. On October 9, former news editor and journalist Luo Chang Ping was detained in Hainan for a post on Weibo critical of a film’s depiction of the country’s role in the Korean War on suspicion of “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

Foreign movies shown in the country were also subject to censorship. The scheduled PRC release of Nomadland, a foreign movie directed by China-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, was postponed following a controversy concerning comments Zhao made in 2013 regarding censorship in China; many online mentions of Nomadland were censored by authorities.

In October, Chinese broadcaster Tencent blocked Boston Celtics (National Basketball Association) games from its platform after a member of the team, Enes Kanter, posted social media posts critical of the PRC’s policies in Tibet.

Newscasts from overseas news outlets, largely restricted to hotels and foreign residence compounds, were subject to censorship. Individual issues of foreign newspapers and magazines were occasionally banned when they contained articles deemed too sensitive. Articles on sensitive topics were removed from international magazines. Television newscasts were often blacked out during segments on sensitive subjects. For example in February, authorities banned the BBC World News television channel in apparent retaliation after the United Kingdom revoked the license of the state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN.

Government regulations restrict and limit public access to foreign television shows, which are banned during primetime, and local streamers had to limit the foreign portion of their program libraries to less than 30 percent.

Authorities continued to ban books with content they deemed inconsistent with officially sanctioned views. The law permits only government-approved publishing houses to print books. Newspapers, periodicals, books, audio and video recordings, or electronic publications may not be printed or distributed without the approval of central authorities and relevant provincial publishing authorities. Individuals who attempted to publish without government approval faced imprisonment, fines, confiscation of their books, and other punishment. The CCP also exerted control over the publishing industry by preemptively classifying certain topics as state secrets.

Government rules ban the sale of foreign publications without an import permit. This includes sales on online shopping platforms, which are banned from offering “overseas publications,” including books, movies, and games that do not already have government approval.  The ban also applies to services related to publications.

New rules from the Ministry of Education went into effect April 1, banning from libraries books that favored the “West” at the expense of China. Nikkei Asia reported that the order would impact 240 million primary and secondary school students and also require students to begin studying “Xi Jinping Thought.” According to Nikkei Asia, books that conveyed political, economic, and cultural ideas from democratic nations could be banned.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law defamation can be punished by up to three years’ imprisonment; truth is not a defense.

In February police in the Shapingba District of Chongqing issued a criminal detention warrant for a 19-year-old Chinese citizen living overseas in connection for his posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging platform. Police claimed the blogger posted a comment defaming People’s Liberation Army (PLA) martyrs that had a “severe negative social impact.” Official state media reported that at least six other Chinese domestic internet users had been under criminal or administrative detention for “stirring up trouble” by publishing defamatory comments concerning PLA martyrs on social media platforms.

In May at least seven citizens were detained for “defaming” Yuan Longping, revered as the “Father of Hybrid Rice” in China, who died on May 22. Media reports noted that local police had responded to complaints of insulting remarks regarding Yuan on social media and determined the posts had caused a “seriously bad” impact on the society. Five of the detained faced criminal investigations; two were detained under administrative procedures. Sina Weibo announced on May 24 that it would permanently close the accounts of 64 users who were found to have spread insults and attacks on Yuan.

In October a woman identified in court only by her last name, Xu, was sentenced to seven months in prison for violating a newly amended criminal code that makes “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs” a crime. Xu had mocked online some internet users who had imagined themselves as Dong Cunrui, a war hero who died during China’s civil war in 1949.

National Security: Authorities often justified restrictions on expression on national security protection grounds. Government leaders cited the threat of terrorism to justify restricting freedom of expression by Muslims and other religious minorities. These justifications were a baseline rationale for restrictions on press movements, publications, and other forms of repression of expression.

Colombia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. NGOs and journalists alleged increased harassment and threats from state officials, including police officers, during coverage of the nationwide protests. Violence and harassment, as well as the criminalization of libel, inhibited freedom of the press, and the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: According to the domestic NGO Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), through September 6, there were 99 threats against journalists, some involving more than one target, for a total of 117 journalists affected by threats. FLIP reported 129 incidents of violence or harassment, affecting 158 journalists. According to multiple NGOs, including Amnesty International, journalists Jose Alberto Tejada and Jhonatan Buitrago began receiving death threats, and Tejada was the subject of a plot to kill him. NGOs alleged the threats against both journalists, which began with the onset of national protests in April, were connected to their coverage of the demonstrations. FLIP also reported that between January and August, 17 journalists were illegally detained. The Attorney General’s Office reported that from January through July, it had obtained no convictions in cases of homicides of journalists but had 21 open investigations involving alleged threats against journalists.

As of June 30, the NPU provided protection services to 187 journalists. Some NGOs raised concerns about perceived shortcomings in the NPU, such as delays in granting protection and the appropriateness of measures for addressing specific threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: FLIP alleged some journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of being sued under libel laws or of being physically attacked, mostly by nongovernment actors. FLIP asserted the high degree of impunity for those who committed aggressions against journalists was also a factor.

Libel/Slander Laws: By law slander and libel are crimes. The government did not use prosecution to prevent media outlets from criticizing government policies or public officials. Political candidates, businesspersons, and others, however, publicly threatened to sue journalists for expressing their opinions, alleging defamation or libel. FLIP reported that through September 6, there were five cases of judicial harassment affecting journalists.

Nongovernmental Impact: Members of armed groups inhibited freedom of expression by intimidating, threatening, kidnapping, and killing journalists. National and international NGOs reported local media representatives regularly practiced self-censorship because of threats of violence from these groups.

Internet Freedom

The government reported it did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, including during the national protests. Civil society organizations reported interruption of internet and cell service during protests, which government officials attributed to acts of vandalism during the protests. Due to the general climate of impunity and violence in some areas, self-censorship occurred both online and offline, particularly within rural communities.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Comoros

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for the press although not explicitly for other media. Authorities imposed restrictions.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals may not criticize the government or raise matters of public interest without constraint. Authorities reportedly detained individuals for making public statements, including online statements, critical of the president.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a variety of views, but with a growing level of restriction and self-censorship due to government reprisal.

Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to violence or harassment by government authorities due to their reporting.

The former president of the Comoros’ Union of Journalists, Ali Abdou, was found dead in his home in Moroni in December 2020. The Moroni government prosecutor concluded Ali died a natural death. On February 27, the local website nationalmagazineweb.com claimed Ali’s body was found in his home covered with blood and signs of physical assault. The family stated the local authorities would not turn over the doctor’s death report and other materials. On March 15, the family filed a complaint with the court of Moroni claiming Ali was killed, but due to the prosecutor’s ruling of death by natural causes, the court rejected the complaint.

On January 7, authorities arrested Oubeid Mchangama, a journalist with the Facebook-based news service FCBK FM, and accused him of participating in an antigovernment demonstration he was covering in Moroni. On January 9, authorities arrested on similar charges his colleague Ali Akbou Mkouboi, who was covering another demonstration. Authorities released both after two days’ detention.

On September 3, gendarmes attacked and arrested journalists Hachim Mohamed and Oubeid Mchangama during a demonstration led by the French-based diaspora group Mabedja. Authorities released them 24 hours later.

On September 7, authorities denied two French journalists entry at the airport in Moroni and put them on the return flight of the same plane on which they arrived. Authorities believed the journalists had come to cover the Mabedja group demonstrations. The minister of interior claimed at a press conference the two journalists did not have the proper administrative documents needed to enter the country.

On September 21, the minister of finance threatened any journalist critical of him, declaring he would use “my militias” to turn the journalists “into pieces.” On September 23, a local radio station journalist received a telephone call from someone claiming he was paid by the minister of finance to “eliminate” him. Also in September men claiming to be politically connected threatened to destroy a local radio station if it did not close down.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some journalists practiced self-censorship due to violence and harassment, and other journalists, fearing retribution, self-censored discussions of political matters.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel. Authorities did not enforce the law. The law also prohibits blasphemy, or the propagation of non-Islamic beliefs to Muslims. It was not enforced.

Costa Rica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In July the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court partially ruled in favor of a daily newspaper that accused the government in 2020 of denying access to information during the daily coronavirus pandemic press briefings. On June 30, during the presentation of her annual report to the National Assembly, the ombudswoman expressed concerns that the president was declining interview requests to independent media outlets and not holding more press conferences. The minister of communications explained that weekly press briefings were exclusively for answering questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Media: An appeals judge urged the Attorney General’s Office to investigate a leakage to the press of evidence that judicial authorities obtained through wiretapping for a high-profile corruption scandal. The judge did not censor media outlets for publishing information of public interest but indicated that those responsible for maintaining confidentiality of court files should be held accountable.

Cote d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government restricted this right.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits incitement to violence, ethnic hatred, and rebellion, as well as insulting the head of state or other senior members of the government. Sometimes the government took steps to remove such content from social media. Other times the application of this law raised questions of political influence.

In December 2020, during a concert in Abidjan, two popular singers questioned the impartiality of the public prosecutor’s investigation into violence committed during the presidential election period. Authorities detained the singers, and a court convicted them the next day of propagating false information, contempt of court, and discrediting the judicial system. Both were given a one-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay a substantial fine.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The law bans “detention of journalists in police custody, preventive detention, and imprisonment of journalists for offenses committed by means of press or by other means of publication.” The law, however, provides for substantial fines for anyone found guilty of committing offenses by means of press or by other means of publication.

Virtually all press outlets were government-affiliated or were owned by politicians or other wealthy individuals. Government-affiliated media frequently reflected the political views of the government. Newspapers aligned politically with the opposition frequently published editorials condemning the government. Journalistic standards were flouted by regime- and opposition-aligned media outlets, sometimes leading to allegations of defamation and subsequent claims that opposition media were more likely to be charged with that offense.

The High Audiovisual Communications Authority oversees the regulation and operation of radio and television stations and is generally viewed as supportive of the government and more likely to impose sanctions on media close to the opposition. Opposition groups and civil society criticized the government’s control over the main state-owned television station, claiming it gave far more coverage to the ruling party’s political activities. There were numerous local and national independent radio stations. The law prohibits transmission of political commentary by community radio stations, or smaller, local-level radio stations that are independently run. The regulatory authority, however, allowed community radio stations to run political programs if they employed professional journalists. These stations could also rebroadcast political content reported by other media outlets during official campaigning periods. The owners of these stations reported they often self-censored and avoided broadcasting political content, such as political debates and interviews with political leaders, because they feared being sanctioned or shut down by the communications authority.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were sometimes subjected to violence, harassment, or intimidation by authorities due to their reporting.

In March while covering the funeral of the recently deceased prime minister in Seguela, journalist Jonas Baikeh attended a meeting at the ruling party’s headquarters. Baikeh witnessed the head of a state-owned company fall ill and nearly collapse. Baikeh reported the event on his newspaper’s website shortly after it occurred, which angered some ruling party supporters present. The supporters threatened to kill Baikeh if he did not leave the town by 6 p.m. that evening. Baikeh left the scene and hid before returning to Abidjan. Authorities took no action against the persons who threatened Baikeh.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government influenced news coverage and program content on television channels and public and private radio stations. Both independent journalists and journalists affiliated with the state-owned media stated they regularly exercised self-censorship to avoid sanctions or reprisals from government officials. The National Press Authority, the government’s print media regulatory body, briefly suspended or reprimanded newspapers and journalists for statements it contended were false, libelous, or perceived to incite xenophobia and hate. Human rights organizations reported legal intimidation had a chilling effect on media coverage of certain topics, and media often only published stories critical of the government after the same reporting had appeared in international publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation deemed to threaten the national interest is punishable by criminal prosecution. In addition to government prosecution, individuals can bring criminal defamation cases against other individuals.

In July authorities arrested Alerte Zatte, a cyberactivist, for publishing a video on social media critical of Simone Gbagbo, the wife of former president Laurent Gbagbo. In the video, Zatte accused Simone Gbagbo of hoping for Laurent Gbagbo’s death and ordering allies to insult him on social media. Authorities detained Zatte at the airport while she was waiting to board a flight to France, where she resided. A court sentenced Zatte to six months in prison and levied a substantial fine for defamation.

Nongovernmental Impact: In June the minister of national reconciliation visited the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Cote d’Ivoire, one of the country’s main opposition parties, as part of a series of meetings to encourage political dialogue. In response, four to five members of the party’s youth wing knocked over microphones set up for a postmeeting press conference and demanded that journalists covering the event leave. According to media reports, the youth-wing members were protesting the party’s normalization of relations with the government while several of the party’s members remained in prison. When the journalists refused to leave, the youth-wing members attacked the journalists, injuring several and destroying some of their equipment. After the incident the party issued a statement apologizing to the journalists and the minister of national reconciliation.

Crimea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

Occupation authorities significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of expression and subjected dissenting voices, including the press and other media, to harassment and prosecution. Occupation authorities’ reported failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Freedom of Expression: The HRMMU noted occupation authorities placed “excessive limitations on the freedoms of opinion and expression.” In July 2020 occupation authorities began enforcing a law that prohibits the unauthorized dissemination of information damaging to the FSB’s reputation without the FSB’s approval. Enforcement of this law in Crimea further deprived residents of the ability to exercise freedom of expression, by preventing them from publicly criticizing and disseminating information concerning reportedly unlawful actions of FSB officers and alleged violations or abuses of human rights.

Individuals could not publicly criticize the Russian occupation without fear of reprisal. Human rights groups reported the FSB engaged in widespread surveillance of social media, telephones, and electronic communication and routinely summoned individuals for “discussions” for speaking or posting opposition to the occupation. These unlawfully obtained recordings were often used against those who were arbitrarily arrested in closed trials.

Occupation authorities often deemed expressions of dissent “extremism” and prosecuted individuals for them. For example, according to press reports, on March 22, the Russia-controlled prosecutor’s office for the Nizhnegorsk district in Crimea formally warned Crimean Tatar Akhmadzhon Kadyrov that his recent public statements could constitute “extremism.” The written warning referenced a video posted to social media on March 7 in which Kadyrov denied that Crimean Tatars were terrorists and spoke about the suffering and injustices Crimean Tatars experienced under Russia’s occupation. The “prosecutor’s” warning claimed Kadyrov’s criticisms of Russia’s judicial proceedings and calls of support for Crimean Tatar political prisoners indicated a “negative attitude towards law enforcement and judicial officials.”

Occupation authorities continued to ban the display of Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar symbols as “extremist.” Human rights groups claimed violations of this law were rare during the year because of fewer residents displaying such symbols than in previous years, reportedly to avoid prosecution.

Occupation authorities deemed expressions of support for Ukrainian sovereignty over the peninsula to be equivalent to undermining Russian territorial integrity. For example on June 1, the Russia-controlled “supreme court” in occupied Crimea found Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov guilty of publicly calling for the violation of Russia’s territorial integrity and organizing “mass riots.” The court sentenced him in absentia to six years in prison. The charges were linked to Chubarov’s role in organizing a 2014 peaceful demonstration in front of the Crimean parliament in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

There were multiple reports that occupation authorities detained and prosecuted individuals seeking to film raids on homes or court proceedings. For example, according to press reports, on October 25, Russian occupation authorities arrested 21 men, including two Crimean Solidarity journalists, who had gathered outside of a court in Simferopol to observe a hearing for three Crimean Tatar political prisoners. Crimean Solidarity journalists Ruslan Paralamov and Dlyaver Ibragimov, who were reporting on and filming the gathering, were charged with administrative offenses related to the violation of public order.

During the year occupation authorities prosecuted individuals for the content of social media posts. For example on July 22, occupation authorities arrested 27-year-old Crimean Tatar Abdulla Ibrahimov after conducting a search of his father’s home and the family’s store in Evpatoria. Occupation authorities reportedly filed administrative charges against Abdulla for publicly displaying the symbols of “extremist” organizations, in connection to his alleged posting of a symbol for Hizb ut-Tahrir on social media in 2013 (before Russia’s occupation of Crimea). Abdulla was released on July 25.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent print and broadcast media could not operate freely. Most independent media outlets were forced to close in 2015 after occupation authorities refused to register them. According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, after the occupation began, many local journalists left Crimea or abandoned their profession. With no independent media outlets left in Crimea and professional journalists facing serious risks for reporting from the peninsula, civic activists were a major source of information on developments in Crimea.

On April 20, occupation authorities fined Bekir Mamutov, the editor in chief of Crimean Tatar newspaper Qirim and member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, for his newspaper’s publishing of the 2020 UN secretary-general’s report on the human rights situation in Crimea, according to the HRMMU. Occupation authorities reportedly claimed the newspaper violated a Russian law that prohibits the press from publishing information regarding the Mejlis without noting that its activities are prohibited in Russia. Mamutov paid a fine of 4,000 rubles ($55).

Violence and Harassment: There were numerous cases of security forces or police harassing activists and detaining journalists in connection with their civic or professional activities. For example on May 19, the FSB searched the home of Crimean Solidarity journalist Zydan Adzhykelyamov. According to Adzhykelyamov, police inspected his Quran and notes from recent trials he had covered. Police reportedly also searched the adjacent home of his parents. Adzhykelyamov claimed police asked him to sign an administrative document related to the search, but he refused to do so without a lawyer present. Adzhykelyamov claimed police conducted the search in retaliation for his reporting on the May 11 killing of Nabi Rakhimov, who was fatally shot by FSB officers during a raid of his home (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Following Russia’s occupation of Crimea, journalists resorted to self-censorship to continue reporting and broadcasting.

There were reports occupation authorities sought to restrict access to or remove internet content concerning Crimea they disliked. As of August 12, occupation authorities had blocked 27 Ukrainian websites in Crimea, including the websites of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Ministry of Integration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine, and several independent Ukrainian news outlets, among others. Censorship of independent internet sites was widespread (see Internet Freedom).

Occupation authorities banned most Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar-language broadcasts, replacing the content with Russian programming. The Crimean Human Rights Group reported that occupation authorities continued to block Ukrainian FM radio stations in northern Crimea by broadcasting their stations on the same wavelength. The signal of Ukrainian FM radio stations was heard in only eight of the area’s 19 settlements.

Human rights groups reported occupation authorities continued to forbid songs by Ukrainian singers from playing on Crimean radio stations.

National Security: Occupation authorities cited laws protecting national security to justify retaliation against opponents of Russia’s occupation.

The Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service included prominent critics of the occupation on its list of extremists and terrorists. Inclusion on the list prevented individuals from holding bank accounts, using notary services, and conducting other financial transactions.

Authorities frequently used the threat of “extremism,” “terrorism,” or other purported national security grounds to justify harassment or prosecution of individuals in retaliation for expressing opposition to the occupation. For example, in 2019 occupation authorities arrested Ukrainian citizen Oleh Prykhodko on charges of terrorism and possession of explosives after they purportedly found explosives in his garage, which human rights defenders maintained were planted there. Human rights groups claimed the charges were retaliation for Prykhodko’s displaying of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags on his car, for which he was fined in 2019. On March 3, a Russian court sentenced the 62-year-old Prykhoko to five years’ imprisonment in a maximum-security penal colony.

Croatia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media and a functioning democratic political system combined in most cases to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media, but judicial ineffectiveness at times delayed resolution of cases.

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.” A conviction for internet hate speech is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law provides for six months’ to five years’ imprisonment for those who organize or lead a group of three or more persons to incite violence or hate via print media, radio, television, computer system or networks, during public gatherings or in other way against certain categories or groups. Under the law, libel and insult also represent criminal acts and are punishable by a fine. Insults shall not be criminally prosecuted if committed in the conduct of journalism, in a public interest, or for other justifiable reasons. Although the laws and recent Constitutional Court decisions technically impose restrictions on symbolic speech considered “hate speech,” including the use of Nazi and (the World War II [fascist, pro-Nazi] regime) Ustasha-era symbols and slogans, NGOs and advocacy groups complained that enforcement of those provisions remained inadequate, and that courts’ jurisprudence remained inconsistent.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Restrictions on material deemed hate speech apply to print and broadcast media. On October 1, parliament amended the Electronic Media Law to make providers of electronic publications responsible for the entire content published including user-generated content only if providers fail to register a user or fail to warn users in a clear and visible way concerning the rules regarding online comments. The amendments regulate the rights, obligations, and responsibilities of legal and natural persons that provide audio or audiovisual media services and services related to electronic publications and video platforms, transposing several EU directives into national legislation. The amendments also define mechanisms to determine jurisdiction over various providers of media services and increases transparency in the publication of information outlining the ownership structure of media service providers. The law was amended in cooperation with the Croatian Journalists’ Association (CJA) and the Association of Newspaper Publishers of the Croatian Employers’ Association.

The law bans inciting violence or hatred against groups or a member of a group on grounds of race, gender, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, property status, trade union membership, education, social status, marital or family status, age, health, disability, genetic inheritance, gender identity, expression or sexual orientation, and anti-Semitism and xenophobia, ideas of fascist, Nazi, communist and other totalitarian regimes.

Violence and Harassment: NGOs reported intimidation and threats, especially online threats, against journalists. Organizations including the CJA, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the Union of Croatian Journalists (SNH), and the Croatian Political Science Association condemned verbal attacks on the country’s media and called for more government engagement to address the issue. In May the EFJ joined their affiliates in the country, including the SNH and the CJA, in condemning President Milanovic’s calling journalists who work for public broadcaster Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) “tricksters,” “mercenaries,” and “an embarrassment to the country.” The EFJ also condemned remarks regarding media by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Members of the press reported practicing self-censorship due to fear of online harassment, lawsuits, upsetting politically connected individuals, or possible adverse employment effects for covering certain topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel, but no criminal penalties were imposed. The country has both criminal and civil laws against libel. According to results of an annual survey conducted by the CJA, at least 924 lawsuits were filed against journalists and media, with claimed damages of almost 79 million kuna ($13 million). Of the 924 lawsuits, 892 were for civil alleged violations of honor and reputation against publishers, editors, and journalists, while 32 were criminal lawsuits. The CJA was defending itself against three active lawsuits. The HRT had active lawsuits against 36 of its own journalists, including the president of the CJA, Hrvoje Zovko, and the president of the CJA branch at the HRT, Sanja Mikleusevic Pavic.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Cuba

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, on the condition that the expression “conforms to the aims of socialist society.” The law bans criticism of government leaders and distribution of antigovernment propaganda, with penalties ranging from three months to 15 years in prison. On August 17, the government imposed a new law restricting online speech and dissent. Decree 35, enacted in response to the widespread July 11 antigovernment protests, penalizes categories of internet activity determined to be critical of the government and provides criminal penalties for violations. Network providers were obligated to report any such activity to the new Office of Security for Computer Networks. According to the NGO Proyecto Inventario, the government utilized another decree that prohibits the online publication of information contrary to the “social interest, morals, [and] good manners,” to target, temporarily detain, fine, and sometimes confiscate the telephones of 14 citizens, journalists, and activists. In addition to restricting access to the internet, authorities prohibited access to specific social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and Telegram.

Freedom of Expression: The government did not tolerate public criticism of government officials or programs, and it limited public debate of topics considered politically sensitive. Several laws criminalize aspects of freedom of expression, such as Decree 349, which empowers the Ministry of Culture to regulate all artistic and cultural activity. Rather than enforce these laws, police typically used other pretexts to harass and arrest persons exercising freedom of expression.

On January 28, security officials violently arrested more than 20 activists from the 27N movement, a collection of artists advocating for freedom of expression. Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas had invited three 27N members, including artist Camila Lobon, to a private meeting that day under the guise of discussing artistic freedom. Prior to the meeting, the government arrested several other 27N activists on their way to a separate gathering. When Lobon and others gathered in protest in front of the Ministry of Culture, Rojas confronted the group, punching independent journalist Mauricio Mendoza, after which Ministry of Culture bureaucrats began attacking the protesters. Security officials violently arrested the protesters, breaking activist Alfredo Martinez’s finger. On a bus in transit to the police station, three security officials assaulted Lobon when she refused to surrender her cell phone. Another security official punched artist Celia Gonzalez for verbally protesting her detention. The activists were released within 24 hours, but their phones were returned with all data erased. The next day state media released a half-hour news program on the incident, attempting to defame the activists and independent journalists by alleging they went to the Ministry of Culture with the intention of provoking government employees. Among the individuals who protested these restrictive laws was Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, an internationally recognized artist and leader of the San Isidro Movement, an organization promoting greater respect for civil rights and freedoms, especially for freedom of expression, as well as artistic rights. Otero Alcantara, who appeared in the video for the Latin Grammy Award-winning song “Patria y Vida” that became an anthem of the July 11 protests, had been arrested dozens of times previously and either detained or placed under house arrest.

On May 2, state security forces detained Otero Alcantara at his home, where he was on a hunger strike, and held him for more than four weeks before releasing him on May 31, under permanent surveillance. Police arrested him again during the July 11 protests and held him in the maximum-security prison in Guanajay, where he remained at year’s end. He went on a hunger strike again from September 27 to October 14 and then contracted COVID-19.

On May 18, state security forces arbitrarily detained rapper, fellow San Isidro activist, and “Patria y Vida” performer Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo. As of December, he remained in pretrial detention in Pinar del Rio, where he undertook a hunger and thirst strike and was kept in isolation. When Castillo publicly dedicated his Grammy to the Cuban people, prison officials responded by restricting his telephone calls for 30 days. They increased the restriction to 90 days after Castillo signed “Patria y Vida” under his name on the disciplinary measure, a document that prisoners are obliged to sign acknowledging they were punished.

State security regularly harassed the organizers of independent debates on cultural, political, economic, and social topics to force them to stop discussing matters deemed controversial. The organizers reported assaults by state security, video surveillance installed outside of venues, and detention of panelists and guests on the days they were expected to appear.

Government workers reported being fired, demoted, or censured for expressing dissenting opinions or for affiliating with independent organizations.

Alexander Jesus Figueredo Izaguirre was detained with others during the July 11 protests in Bayamo, Granma. A physician of 15 years, he was fired in May 2020 and no longer permitted to practice medicine for his social media postings calling for medicine and personnel, rather than restrictive measures alone, to combat COVID-19. Gremio Medico Cubano Libre, an organization dedicated to fighting for doctors’ rights to practice medicine without interference of politics or doctrine, reported that he was one of 11 doctors the regime punished.

Religious groups reported increased restrictions on expressing their opinions during sermons and at religious gatherings, with authorities sometimes using COVID-19 restrictions to prevent persons from worshipping. Most members of the clergy exercised self-censorship. Religious leaders in some cases criticized the government, its policies, and the country’s leadership without reprisals. Other religious groups, particularly those not officially state sanctioned, reported harassment and destruction of houses of worship. The Communist Party’s (PCC) Office of Religious Affairs directed government policies against religious groups.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government or the PCC directly owned all print and broadcast media outlets and virtually all widely available sources of information. News and information programming were generally uniform across all government-controlled outlets. The government controlled all printing presses and nearly all publications. The party censored public screenings and performances. The government limited the importation of printed materials.

Foreign correspondents had limited access to and often were denied interviews with government officials. Foreign correspondents struggled to gather facts and reliable data for stories. The government harassed and denied access to correspondents who reported stories deemed critical of the government. On November 14, the day before the opposition had prepared to stage announced protests, the government revoked the media credentials of five journalists affiliated with the Spanish media agency EFE. Following engagement from the Spanish government, two of the journalists had their credentials reinstated the same day. As a result of self-censorship and lack of access, many foreign journalists rarely published stories on human rights violations while inside the country. Despite meeting government vetting requirements, journalists belonging to state media institutions who reported on sensitive subjects did so at personal risk, and the government barred them from working for unofficial media outlets in addition to their official duties. The government harassed and threatened any independent citizen journalists who reported on human rights violations.

On April 30, plainclothes security forces arrested Esteban Lazaro Rodriguez Lopez, an independent citizen journalist, and others during a peaceful demonstration in Havana. Rodriguez attempted to visit Otero Alcantara at his home, where the artist had gone on a hunger and thirst strike for several days, when military forces blocked access. Rodriguez reportedly sat on the ground and linked arms with other demonstrators in a nearby park, and agents arrested them by force. Habeas corpus appeals failed, and Rodriguez Lopez remained in detention as of November.

Security forces repeatedly threatened, detained, and harassed 22-year-old YouTuber Ruhama Fernandez for criticizing the government in online discussions of social and political issues. On October 24, when she traveled to Florida to visit her parents, security forces escorted Fernandez to her plane; she stated upon arrival in Florida that the government forced her to leave the country.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not recognize independent journalism, and independent journalists frequently faced government harassment, including detention and physical abuse. Most detentions were of independent journalists who filmed arrests and harassment of activists or otherwise attempted to cover politically sensitive topics. Community members and journalists for the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and of the Press reported increased repression after President Diaz-Canel took office. Independent reporters experienced harassment, violence, intimidation, aggression, and censorship, and several were confined to their homes or prevented from traveling abroad. On July 11, police beat Associated Press reporter Ramon Espinosa while he was covering the protests in Havana. Photographs documented the journalist bleeding from his face. Security forces prevented dozens of independent journalists from leaving their homes on November 15 to keep them from covering planned civic marches called for that day. Many reported the state telecom provider cut off service to their cell phones.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits distribution of printed materials considered “counterrevolutionary” or critical of the government. Foreign newspapers and magazines were generally unavailable outside of tourist areas. Distribution of material with political content – interpreted broadly to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, foreign newspapers, and independent information on public health – was not allowed, and possession of these materials sometimes resulted in harassment and detention. Government officials also confiscated or destroyed cameras and cell phones of individuals to prevent them from distributing photographs and videos deemed objectionable.

The government sometimes barred independent libraries from receiving materials from abroad and seized materials donated by foreign governments, religious organizations, and individuals.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used defamation of character law to arrest or detain individuals critical of the country’s leadership. Authorities frequently arrested and charged persons with the vague crime of “contempt of authority.”

Cyprus

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, 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 media.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes incitement to hatred and violence based on race, color, religion, genealogical origin, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 10,000 euros ($11,500), or both.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

The law penalizes the use of geographical names and toponyms in the country other than those included in the gazetteer the government presented at the 1987 Fifth UN Conference on the Standardization of Geographical Names. According to the law, anyone who publishes, imports, distributes, or sells maps, books, or any other documents in print or digital form that contain geographical names and toponyms on the island other than those permitted, commits an offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 50,000 euros ($57,500), or both.

Czech Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, 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 media. The law provides for some limitations to this freedom, including in cases of hate speech, Holocaust denial, and denial of Communist-era crimes.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits speech that incites hatred based on race, religion, class, nationality, or other group affiliation. It also limits the denial of the Holocaust and Communist-era crimes. Individuals who are found guilty can serve up to three years in prison. The law is also applied to online, print, and broadcast media.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. President Zeman, his spokesperson, and political parties on the far right and left publicly alleged bias in both public and private media outlets. The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party, the Communist Party, and to a lesser degree the governing ANO party openly sought to appoint politically polarizing figures to public media supervisory boards, raising concerns they were attempting to violate the political neutrality of these institutions. Observers raised concerns over the impartiality of some of the new members based on their public remarks skeptical of the need for independent media. In September parliament dismissed a member of the public media supervisory board due to her active involvement and candidacy for a political movement in the October elections.

The law prohibits elected officials from controlling media properties while in office. Prime Minister Babis, whose company Agrofert owned two prominent newspapers and other media outlets, placed control of these assets into trust funds in 2017. Observers maintained that this measure did not insulate media from the influence of the government. In September the municipal government with jurisdiction over Prime Minister Babis due to his place of residence found him in breach of the media ownership law and fined him 250,000 crowns ($11,300). The ruling was the result of the second administrative complaint filed by Transparency International in January, which alleged that Babis controlled media assets despite their placement into trusts. The regional government office, which in 2019 overturned a similar ruling based on Transparency International’s first complaint in 2018, annulled the decision of the municipal office on the grounds that the issue was addressed two years previously.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. The press frequently and openly criticized public officials and public policy decisions. Individuals generally could criticize the government, its officials, and other citizens in private without being subject to official reprisals. Public criticism, however, of government officials and corruption sometimes resulted in intimidation, threats, or arrest. Provincial-level governments also prevented journalists from filming or covering certain protests.

The UNJHRO reported that journalists and human rights defenders were regularly targeted by arbitrary arrests. Members of the FARDC were also responsible for 18 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and four violations of the right to peaceful assembly, according to the UNJHRO. The UNJHRO also reported that the PNC committed 19 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, 15 violations of the right to freedom of assembly, and one violation of the right to freedom of association from January through June.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits insulting the head of state, malicious and public slander, and language presumed to threaten national security. Authorities sometimes intimidated, harassed, and detained journalists, activists, and politicians when they publicly criticized the government, president, or the SSF.

In January, Daniel Ngoy Mulunda, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), was arrested in Lubumbashi for antagonizing tribal tensions.

According to the UNJHRO, ANR agents arrested a journalist and facilitator of the program Bosolo Na Politik in April for criticizing politicians and the COVID-19-related curfew during a broadcast. The public prosecutor of the Gombe Court of First Instance released the journalist after he paid a fine.

According to local media reports, on December 17, a military court sentenced two musicians to prison time for songs calling government officials “crooks” and allegedly inciting violence against the FARDC and their families. The musicians were charged with four offenses, including offending the president, contempt against national deputies, creating false rumors, and failing to present their songs to the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission; they received sentences of two to 10 years in prison. At year’s end the musicians remained in detention and their lawyers were preparing appeals.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law mandates the High Council for the Audiovisual and Communications to provide for freedom of the press and equal access to communications media and information for political parties, associations, and citizens. A large and active private press functioned in Kinshasa and in other major cities, and the government licensed many daily newspapers. Radio remained the principal medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio and three television stations, and the former president’s family owned two additional television stations. Government officials, politicians, and some church leaders, owned or operated most media outlets.

The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Broadcast media were subject to a Directorate for Administrative and Land Revenue advertisement tax. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little or no set salary, could not access government information, and exercised self-censorship due to concerns of harassment, intimidation, or arrest.

In February the National Union of the Congolese Press (UNPC) condemned the arrest of Radio Liberte Bikoro journalist Christophe Yoka Nkumu in Bikoro, Equateur Province. Reporters Without Borders reported in July that supporters of the Union for Democracy and Social Progress party physically attacked Canal Kin Television presenter Dosta Lutula in the street as he attempted to interview members of the public about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of persons allowed to travel in public buses or taxis in Kinshasa.

In mid-September Reporters Without Borders and Journaliste en Danger (JED) denounced the police for engaging in physical violence against Actu 24 CD journalist Louange Vangu and seizing his press card. According to the same report, police fired tear gas at the headquarters of RTVS1, a media outlet owned by Adophe Muzito, an opponent of the government and one of the protest organizers.

In late September the human rights organization Voice of the Voiceless issued a statement criticizing the governor of Kinshasa for banning protests on the road from Ndjili Airport to the area known as Pont Matete and in central Kinshasa, characterizing the ban as a violation of the constitution and a return to past practices of banning peaceful demonstrations. Also in late September, the chairman of the New Generation for Congo’s Emergence party, Constant Mutamba, was arrested in Kinshasa shortly after attempting to assemble with several party members to demonstrate against the government’s alleged efforts to hijack the electoral process, according to independent outlet Election-net.com.

In September RFI and local press reported the detention of journalist Sosthene Kambidi, in connection with the 2017 killings of UN experts Zaida Catalan and Michael Sharp in the Kasais. FARDC auditor general prosecutors stated that Kambidi was detained for questioning as a witness in the case of Catalan and Sharp’s deaths and was also being questioned as a suspect in the parallel investigation of the disappearance of the four Congolese nationals accompanying Catalan and Sharp. Kambidi was initially questioned in the presence of his attorney by both FARDC military prosecutors and legal personnel from the United Nations’ Follow-On Mechanism for inconsistencies in his account of how and when he obtained the video of the experts’ murders. On October 12, Kambidi was granted provisional release, and military prosecutors dropped the conspiracy, rebellion, and terrorism investigations but continued to investigate Kambidi for “culpable abstention.” Attorneys for the remaining detained witnesses began a trial boycott on October 12, demanding the release of fellow attorney and witness Prosper Kamalu as a condition of their return. Kamalu was released on October 29. The trial proceedings resumed on November 2.

Violence and Harassment: Local journalists were vulnerable to SSF intimidation and violence. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), one journalist, Joel Musavuli, was killed in the country during the year (see section 2.a, Nongovernmental Impact).

The UNJHRO reported that in January in Kasai-Central Province, five PNC agents kicked and slapped a journalist from a local television station as he was trying to cover a demonstration organized by LUCHA. Although the journalist was wearing a T-shirt of his media employer, the PNC confiscated two cell phones and a recorder while he was showing his business card. Following the intervention of a UNPC member, his equipment was returned, although PNC agents had deleted all images and videos taken during the march. The commander in charge of intelligence at the PNC station indicated an investigation was opened, but the UNJHRO reported in November that it had noted no progress in the investigation.

On February 13, Radio Liberte Lisala journalist Erick Ngunde was arrested in the station’s studio, reportedly at the behest of the interim governor of Mongala Province, Clementine Sole, according to local press. Before his arrest the reporter had hosted a program in which a close aide to the former governor of Mongala urged the population to remain “vigilant” regarding Sole’s actions.

In February JED condemned the arrest and subsequent conviction of six journalists working for a community radio station in Bumba, Mongala Province. The reporters were sentenced to three years in jail for denouncing the sexual harassment faced by some of their female colleagues and mismanagement practices at the station. They were not granted access to lawyers of their choosing.

The CPJ reported in June that at least 10 armed men, some of whom wore military uniforms, entered the home of a freelance journalist in Goma in response to his reporting on the government’s inadequate response to the Nyiragongo Volcano eruption. The armed men reportedly assaulted the journalist’s wife and aggressively questioned her regarding his whereabouts, threatened to kill him, and took a bag of his reporting equipment.

In July local press reported that JED condemned the intrusion of police officers into the facilities of Radio Sarah, in Mbandaka, Equateur Province. The police reportedly broke into the station’s studio during the broadcast of a debate on the possible removal of the governor of the province by the local parliament. Law enforcement officers reportedly destroyed the station’s generator and stole broadcasting equipment.

On September 17, PNC officers assaulted RFI correspondent Patient Ligodi while he was covering an unauthorized demonstration organized by the Lamuka coalition of political parties in Kinshasa. Ligodi was hospitalized and subsequently released. On the same day, the PNC announced the arrest of an officer for the assault.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: While the High Council for Audiovisual and Communications is the only institution with legal authority to restrict broadcasts, the government, including the SSF and provincial officials, also exercised this power. The National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission, an independent body under the umbrella of the Ministry of Justice and composed of 11 members appointed by the minister, reviews content to ensure it does not “disturb public order or good morals” and does not contain racial slurs, tribal slurs, insults, slanderous language, or pornographic content. According to Article 13 of the commission’s rules, each artist must pay a tax of 630,000 to 1.2 million Congolese francs ($330 to $600) before their work can be released to the public.

On November 5, Congolese rap group Musique Populaire de la Revolution (MPR) released a new music video on their YouTube channel with lyrics and a video that referred to the hopelessness of many Congolese youth. Citing MPR’s failure to submit the song for review in advance, the National Song and Entertainment Censorship Commission banned the broadcast of the song. Two days later Minister of Justice Rose Mutombo declared the ban illegal and asked the commission to explain its decision, accusing it of acting without following its own rules to convene a quorum of its members.

Media representatives reported they were pressured by provincial government authorities not to cover events organized by the opposition or report news concerning opposition leaders. There were also reports the commission took longer to approve songs perceived as critical of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law does not consider the veracity of reported facts in the case of a defamation complaint. Instead, the judge is to consider only the damage to the accused from revelations in a journalist’s work.

The national and provincial governments used defamation laws to intimidate and punish critics. On July 6, LUCHA activist Parfait Muhani was arrested on charges of “criminal association” for allegedly “having formed an association with the aim of discrediting persons and properties” and criminal defamation for posting a tweet denouncing allegations of misappropriated funds by the foundation of First Lady Tshisekedi. According to HRW, he faced the death penalty because of the charges. Although the death penalty had not been carried out in two decades, Muhani could still receive a life sentence. Muhani was provisionally released on November 6 after four months in detention.

National Security: The national government used a law that prohibits anyone from making general defamatory accusations against the military to restrict free speech.

The CPJ reported in April that the SSF threatened staff at two radio stations in Ituri Province after they broadcast a local human rights activist’s accusations that a senior military officer had overseen the detention and torture of adults and children.

The CPJ also reported in May that two uniformed men entered the home of a community broadcaster in Ituri Province, robbed him, and threatened to kill him for reporting allegations that military personnel had looted properties. One of the men also reportedly threatened to kill the journalist’s mother as she was witnessing the attack.

Nongovernmental Impact: IAGs and their political wings regularly restricted press freedom in the areas where they operated.

In July JED reported that Thomson Undji Batangalwa, a correspondent for the South African radio station Channel Africa and a reporter for the Tanganyika radio station Espoir des opprimes based in Fizi, received a series of death threats from unknown persons claiming to belong to the Banyamulenge tribe. He reportedly broadcast a story on Channel Africa about an attack by Ngumino and Twirwaneo rebels from the Banyamulenge communities on the FARDC base near Minembwe, South Kivu. Following the broadcast, the journalist received several threatening telephone calls, including one that accused him of being a “spokesperson for the FARDC.”

On August 13, days after Joel Musavuli broadcast a radio program in which he referred to human rights violations committed by different factions under the state of siege, unidentified intruders in Mambasa Territory in the northeastern province of Ituri broke into Musavuli’s home and stabbed him to death.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but there were some reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Denmark

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits any public speech or the dissemination of statements or other pronouncements that threaten, deride, or degrade a group because of gender, race, skin color, national or ethnic background, religion, or sexual orientation. Authorities may fine offenders or imprison them for up to two years.

In January police detained three individuals who allegedly made threatening remarks as an effigy of the prime minister was burned by antilockdown protesters. The protest was one of a series organized by Men in Black, a self-proclaimed “freedom” group that protested the government’s winter lockdown to hinder the spread of COVID-19. According to police, the group had strong ties to the hooligan soccer community. On March 12, the Copenhagen city court sentenced a woman associated with Men in Black to two years’ unconditional imprisonment for having called for violence during a demonstration on January 9. The court doubled her punishment due to a special section in the law allowing for the doubling of punishments for several crimes if the offense was connected to COVID-19 restrictions. Amnesty International Denmark expressed concern that the law was too vaguely worded regarding the connection between the crime and COVID-19. In June a higher-level court reduced the sentence to 60 days. Approximately 15 demonstrators from the same event also received the double sentence, and in two instances, after appeals, the High Court reversed the sentence.

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 online communications without appropriate legal authority.

In January the DIHR published a report on technology companies’ impacts on human rights. The report concluded that human rights considerations be incorporated throughout “tech giants” boards, strategic and policy planning, risk management procedures, and beyond.

On November 18, the government hosted its Tech for Democracy conference to discuss how digital technology can strengthen democracy and support human rights.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals.

On January 13, eight young men published a video online expressing their dissatisfaction with their political representatives, and, by extension, the president’s plans to run for a fifth term. They were arrested and detained for one week, then freed with a warning.

On June 9, authorities detained Walid Hassan, a blogger, for eight days in an undisclosed location before sentencing him to jail for defamation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned or independent newspapers were distributed on an irregular basis. Printing facilities for mass media were government-owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to criticize the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on authorized print media.

The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.

The National Communication Commission, a branch of the Ministry of Communication, started issuing licenses to political parties and private citizens aligned with the government, allowing them to operate social media accounts. The commission also issued identification cards to progovernment journalists. Political parties, journalists, and private citizens critical of the government were not issued licenses and identifications cards, which limited their ability to express themselves freely online. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and al-Jazeera, were not required to obtain a domestic license. They registered directly with the Ministry of Communication.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists. Several citizen journalists were arrested for posting pictures of protests or comments against the government.

On August 2, police arrested BBC stringer Mahamoud Osman Boulhan in Ali-Sabieh. Police detained him for three days, allegedly for his reports on civil unrest, and released him without bringing him before a judge or filing charges.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander to restrict public discussion and retaliate against political opponents.

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government. The government required that independent news and entertainment platforms receive a special license from the Ministry of Communication. This procedure discouraged freedom of expression on social media. The country’s law does not give the government legal authority to monitor social media.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), and independent streaming platform Voice of Djibouti, which criticized the government.

In August civil unrest involving confrontations between the Afar and Somali Issa ethnic groups broke out in the capital city spurred by events in Ethiopia. The government reportedly blocked access to Facebook via cellular data. As of December the block was still in place.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of government restrictions on academic and cultural events.

Dominica

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment or fines. There were no active defamation suits against local journalists. Media representatives reported that public and private threats of lawsuits were made against media outlets and individual reporters, leading to some self-censorship.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Dominican Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Media expressed a wide variety of views, but the government frequently influenced the press, in part through its large advertising budgets. The concentration of media ownership, weaknesses in the judiciary, and political influence also limited media’s independence.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals and groups were generally able to criticize the government publicly and privately without retaliation, although there were incidents in which authorities intimidated members of the press.

In March amid a public debate over proposed legislation to allow abortion in specific circumstances, the Public Ministry, on behalf of the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI), notified Katherine Motyka, the founder and director of Jompeame (a crowdfunding foundation), that she must remove all images involving children and adolescents from her social media platforms or she would face legal charges. This was despite Motyka’s claim that all images were posted with full parental consent and that most of the children’s identities were not revealed in the posts. The Public Ministry made the request after Jompeame published the case of a 12-year-old girl who was sexually abused and became pregnant as a result of the rape. Civil society groups claimed political desires to influence the public debate and limit abortion in all cases motivated the directive. Later that month CONANI reported that Jompeame complied with the request of the Public Ministry and removed from its platform a video that, according to a Public Ministry press release, “violated the right to image and integrity” of a young girl who was the victim of a serious crime.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly when coverage could adversely affect the economic or political interests of media owners. Observers suggested the government influenced the press through advertising contracts. In July 2020 the government’s communications directorate published advertising expense reports that totaled more than 1.05 billion pesos ($18.5 million) over eight years.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes defamation and insult, with harsher punishment for offenses committed against public or state figures than for offenses against private individuals. The law penalizes libel for statements concerning the private lives of certain public figures, including government officials and foreign heads of state.

On February 10, ruling party legislator Sergio “Gory” Moya filed a lawsuit against the private investigator Angel Martinez, based in Miami, for alleged defamation and insult. In August a judge issued an arrest order against Martinez based on allegations that Martinez violated the high-technology crimes law. Moya requested that the court sentence Martinez to one year in prison and require him to pay 10 million pesos ($177,000) for damages.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. In contrast with 2020, there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Ecuador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but laws restrict this right. Experts cautioned that restrictive provisions to journalistic work found in a 2013 communication law, reformed in 2019, technically remained in effect, although on May 24, President Lasso ordered the implementing regulations of that law no longer be applied.

On January 26, the National Assembly reformed the communication law, reversing provisions that previously characterized media and communications as a public service, not a right, and required all journalists to hold university degrees. Some other restrictive provisions found in other laws, such as punishing opinions as slander, which carries a prison term of six months to two years, remained in force but were not applied in practice. Journalists and NGOs said the media environment under the new administration seemed less restrictive than in the past, although replacement legislation was necessary to repeal the previous, more restrictive framework and institutionalize reforms to facilitate greater freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits citizens from using “discrediting expressions,” treated as a misdemeanor with a 15- to 30-day prison term. There were no reports the government invoked this law to restrict freedom of expression during the year.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law limits media’s ability to provide election coverage during the official campaign period, with no coverage allowed in the 48 hours preceding a national election. A constitutional court ruling affirmed the right of the press to conduct interviews and file special reports on candidates and issues during the campaign period, but the ruling left in place restrictions on “direct or indirect” promotion of candidates or specific political views.

A presidential decree in May in effect eliminates the offense of inciting “financial panic,” which previously carried a penalty of imprisonment from five to seven years. It also eliminates mandates on time allocated for television and radio broadcast of messages and reports by the president and his cabinet, as well as provisions for the planned redistribution of broadcast frequencies between community media and private and public media. Indigenous political and community leaders were concerned that any future redistribution of broadcast frequencies, potentially in the open market, would reduce or eliminate access to free, public radio (in various native languages especially) in isolated areas inhabited by diverse indigenous populations.

The Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (ARCOTEL) completed its competitive public tender to allocate 3,096 FM radio frequencies in November 2020. Media reported that between December 2020 and February, qualifying titles valid for 15 years were awarded to 340 participants. Fundamedios and other civil society groups continued to criticize the bidding process as lacking transparency and allowing two particular bidders to accumulate a disproportionate number of frequencies. These groups noted the potential agglomeration of radio frequencies under one domain threatened freedom of expression by inducing self-censorship among media outlets.

On January 12, ARCOTEL announced the start of separate public tenders for the concession of 2,347 additional FM radio and 3,016 broadcast television frequencies. On March 23, Fundamedios called on the government to further delay the bidding process, considering the proximity to the second round of presidential elections scheduled for April 11. The formal bidding process was pending as of October 27.

Violence and Harassment: On January 27, gunmen shot and killed popular television presenter Efrain Ruales Rios, allegedly for a string of social media posts critical of drug gangs reportedly linked to influential political families, especially that of former president Bucaram. Victor Gonzalez, the lead prosecutor investigating the Ruales killing, stated he started receiving death threats on July 6 after giving an interview in which he speculated on those allegedly responsible for Ruales’s death. Gonzalez added he had since received police protection. On November 26, a trial started against six persons accused in a conspiracy to murder Ruales.

Also on January 27, former president Bucaram, in an interview regarding the Ruales killing and in response to accusations about his family, issued death threats to several individuals, including national television journalist Dayanna Monroy, whose reporting he had criticized since October 2020. On February 3, then presidential spokesperson Caridad Vela stated the government rejected intimidation attempts against Monroy and other journalists and would offer police protection to Monroy.

On April 25, Blanca Moncada, a writer for the newspaper Diario Expreso, published an investigation critical of Guayaquil mayor Cynthia Viteri for perceived exorbitant city street cleaning expenditures. On April 28, a graphic circulated on digital platforms with Moncada’s photograph, describing her as an “Enemy of Guayaquil” and accusing her of being funded by “mafias” opposed to the local government. Moncada claimed to Fundamedios that a troll center from the Guayaquil mayor’s office was responsible for the graphic. On May 12, Moncada, writing for the same outlet, said Viteri justified supposed high salaries for public employees in the municipal government, with many of the highest-paying positions going to relatives of individuals also working in the municipality. Viteri responded to the claim of nepotism by stating she had never in public or private said such things and that Diario Expreso held a “political bias” against her administration.

Fundamedios condemned the National Police’s use of canines for crowd control during an August 11 incident in which independent photojournalist Juan Diego Montenegro was bit by a police dog while covering public protests in Quito. Montenegro claimed a police officer slackened the working dog’s leash to get within range to bite Montenegro.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were reports government officials tried to penalize those who published items critical of the government. Fundamedios reported eight potential censorship cases involving government officials as of September 9.

On January 12, the Pichincha Provincial Electoral Delegation ordered the immediate suspension of a political advertisement exclusively featuring former president Correa asking voters to support the Union for Hope (UNES) coalition linked to him. Under the constitution and in accordance with the terms of an April 2020 corruption conviction against him (see section 4), Correa had lost his political rights, so his likeness was prohibited from campaign materials for any political candidate or party. UNES presidential candidate Andres Arauz denounced the decision and alerted international observers to supposed censorship and arbitrary application of the law. The suspension was subsequently upheld, and election monitoring NGOs said Correa and the party flouted the restriction throughout the campaign period.

On September 2, unidentified individuals claiming to be agents from the Attorney General’s Office deleted photographs from La Posta digital outlet reporter Domenica Vivanco’s mobile telephone as she covered a story about a raid on offices tied to a construction company allegedly linked to favorable contracts with Quito mayor Jorge Yunda.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel is a criminal offense under the law, with penalties of up to three years in prison, plus fines. The law assigns responsibility to media owners, who are liable for opinion pieces or statements by reporters or others, including readers, using their media platforms. Monitoring organizations reported the government did not use libel laws against journalists during the year.

The Law Against Digital Violence, approved by the National Assembly on July 9, expands the prohibition on expressions meant to “discredit or dishonor” another person to acts committed over digital mediums.

Nongovernmental Impact: Unknown persons conducted attacks against journalists throughout the year. Domestic and international media rights groups reported on a January 19 incident in which a gunman shot and wounded Sucumbios Province radio show host Marilu Capa in a Lago Agrio restaurant. Media reported an August 26 incident in which an individual on a bicycle threw and then remotely detonated an explosive object on the balcony of digital journalist Mario Pinto’s Machala home in El Oro Province, although nobody was injured. A previous, similar attempt on his home in December 2020 also resulted in no injuries. Pinto reported on crime in the city. Police were investigating both incidents, but no further developments were available as of December 1.

Stigmatization and hateful speech against journalists and media surged during the election campaign. According to journalists, phrases such as “corrupt press” and “sold-out press” were frequently replicated across broad sectors and on social media starting in January, particularly after former president Correa posted in response to damaging news stories about the Arauz presidential campaign or after publication of investigations into opaque public projects developed under the Correa administration. Investigations of corrupt practices by others (including former president Bucaram) also led to online insults and threats to journalists from the implicated individuals and their allies. NGOs and journalists reported the volume of threatening posts and overall feeling of stigmatization decreased significantly after the April 11 election of President Lasso.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for Members of the Online Media: The National Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a joint government-civil society committee formed in 2019, met periodically in response to prominent instances of attacks against journalists. Groups including Fundamedios criticized the committee, saying it lacked strategic vision and planning and often did not follow up on cases in an integrated manner. The groups expressed concern that the haphazard and reactionary government approach to attacks on journalists gave the impression they could be threatened and attacked with relative impunity.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but includes a clause stating, “It may be subject to limited censorship in times of war or public mobilization.” The government frequently did not respect this right. Human rights defenders, journalists, activists, and others regularly faced criminal prosecution on charges that observers assessed were brought in response to criticism of the government. Government failure to investigate or prosecute attacks on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters led to de facto restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. According to the law, newspapers are required to print their issues at licensed printing houses registered with the Supreme Council for Media Regulation; news websites must host their servers in the country; newspapers must submit 20 copies of each printed issue to the council; and news websites and television outlets must keep copies of all published or broadcast material online for one year and submit a copy of their published or broadcast material to the council every month. The law also prohibits any recording, filming, or interviews in public places with the intention of broadcasting them on a media outlet without a permit issued by the council.

Freedom of Expression: Citizens expressed their views on a wide range of political and social topics. The government initiated investigations and prosecutions based on allegations of incitement of violence, insults to religion, insults to public figures and institutions such as the judiciary and the military, or abuse of public morals.

The law provides a broad definition of terrorism, to include “any act harming national unity or social peace.” Human rights observers noted that authorities regularly used the ambiguous definition to stifle nonviolent speech and nonviolent opposition activity.

On January 6, the General Authority for Health Insurance banned photography inside hospitals and banned mobile phones from intensive care units. The decision reportedly came after citizens published videos from hospitals showing deaths and suffering of COVID-19 patients due to alleged shortages in the oxygen supplies. The government denied oxygen shortages had contributed to COVID-19-related deaths.

Housing rights researcher Ibrahim Ezzedine remained in pretrial detention since 2019, more than the two years permitted by law. According to a local human rights organization, he was detained after criticizing the government’s urban slums policies and appeared in 2019 before the State Security Prosecution, where he was accused of joining a banned group and spreading false news.

Between January and June, a local organization that tracks freedom of association and speech recorded 65 abuses of the freedoms of media and artistic and digital expression. For example, in 2019 several political figures, including former member of parliament Ziyad el-Aleimy and journalists Hossam Moanes and Hisham Fouad, were arrested on criminal charges of joining a banned group and spreading false news after they met to form the Alliance of Hope political group to run in parliamentary elections. On July 14, they were referred to trial before a misdemeanor emergency court. On November 17, the emergency court sentenced el-Aleimy to five years in prison and a fine, and Moanes and Fouad to four years in prison and a fine, all for spreading false news inside and outside the country. On November 24, the prime minister, as President Sisi’s delegate, ratified the sentences. The defense team told local press that “many legal violations took place in this case” and claimed they were not given access to more than 1,000 prosecution documents. Local human rights lawyers said the sentences issued by the emergency court could not be appealed and that only the president or his delegate could choose to annul, amend, or not implement the sentences. At year’s end the three remained imprisoned. On July 14, the Court of Cassation upheld an April 2020 ruling to include 13 Alliance of Hope defendants on the terrorism list, including el-Aleimy and activist Ramy Shaath, for alleged collaboration with the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

According to media reports, on February 22, the State Security Prosecution transferred Hazem Hosni, spokesperson for Sami Anan’s 2018 presidential campaign and Cairo University political science professor, to house arrest pending further investigations. On June 27, a human rights lawyer announced the criminal court reduced Hosni’s house arrest from seven to three days per week. Hosni had been held in pretrial detention since his 2019 arrest.

Sinai activists Ashraf al-Hefni and Ashraf Ayoub were released on May 27, according to local media. Al-Hefni, who advocated for human rights and the rights of residents of Sinai but publicly rejected “normalization” with Israel, was detained in 2019. Ayoub had been detained since August 2020.

After a criminal court ordered human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan’s release on June 13, Ramadan appeared on June 15, still detained, before the State Security Prosecution in a new case on allegations of joining a banned group and spreading false news. Ramadan had been arrested in 2018 for “inciting social unrest” after he posted a photograph of himself wearing a yellow vest akin to those worn by political protesters in France. As of year’s end, he remained in pretrial detention.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media expressed a variety of views but with significant restrictions. The constitution, penal code, and the media and publications law govern media topics. The government regulated the licensing of newspapers and controlled the printing and distribution of most newspapers, including private newspapers. The law does not impose restrictions on newspaper ownership.

More than 20 state-owned media outlets broadly supported official state policy. The National Press Authority held the power to appoint and dismiss editorial leadership of state-owned print outlets. The governmental Egyptian Radio and Television Union appointed the heads of state-owned radio and television channels. Both state-owned and private media (including television and online journalism) occasionally broadcast and published mild criticism of government policies, but dominant media narratives supported the president and his policy initiatives.

Police arrested several journalists during the year for covering politically sensitive topics, some of whom were released, while others remained in detention. Photojournalist Hamdy al-Zaeem was arrested on January 4, one day after he covered worker protests at a chemical plant. Al-Zaeem appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 16, where he was detained pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to local media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Journalist Hamdy Atef Hashem Abdel Fattah was arrested on January 4, after publishing a video showing lack of oxygen for COVID-19 patients at a hospital in Gharbia Governorate. He appeared before the State Security Prosecution on January 11 and was subsequently detained on charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news on social media, according to media. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

According to a local NGO, cartoonist Ashraf Hamdy was released between August and September pending trial on allegations of misusing social media and spreading false information. He was arrested on January 25 after posting a video on the 10th anniversary of the January 25 revolution.

Business News company owner Mustafa Saqr was released on March 8. He had been held in pretrial detention on allegations of colluding with a terrorist organization, spreading false news, and misusing social media since his April 2020 arrest after publishing an article that discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the economy. On March 8, Islam al-Kalhy, a journalist affiliated with Daarb news website, who was arrested while covering a demonstration in Monieb, Giza, in September 2020, and freelance journalist Hassan al-Qabbani, who was arrested in 2019, were also released.

On April 13, the State Security Prosecution released journalist and former al-Dostour Party leader Khaled Dawoud pending investigation of charges of colluding with a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media. Dawoud had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest in 2019.

According to the organization, a plainclothes security officer arrested laborer Ahmed al-Araby on May 12 in Banha based on political social media posts he made. The organization added that during the 19 days after his arrest, al-Araby was subjected to beating and electric shocks, interrogated as to whether he had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and forced to confess involvement in street demonstrations, which he later recanted. He remained in pretrial detention pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media.

As of December the Committee to Protect Journalists reported 25 journalists were imprisoned in the country.

Violence and Harassment: According to media reports and local and international human rights groups, state actors arrested, imprisoned, harassed, and intimidated journalists. The family of detained journalist Mohamed Salah said on social media that Salah had been subjected to severe physical assault and abuse in pretrial detention on January 9. Human rights organizations added that the abuse included stripping Salah and his cell mates of their clothes, hanging them in a hallway, and beating them with metal objects. Amnesty International reported in May that Salah was arrested in 2019, beaten at a police station in December 2020, ordered released, and rearrested in a new case without release. At year’s end he remained in pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Official censorship occurred. The emergency law allows the president to censor information during a state of emergency.

On January 25, an administrative court ordered the Media Regulating Authority to ban YouTube channels that broadcast a film produced in 2013 regarding the Prophet Mohammed that was found to be offensive. On June 30, authorities asked al-Maraya Publishing House to not display and sell a book by imprisoned political activist Ahmed Douma at the Cairo International Book Fair, according to local media.

Media rights organizations said the government blocked thousands of websites, including 127 news websites, including Mada Masr, alManassa, and Daarb.

The law considers websites and social media accounts with at least 5,000 subscribers to be media outlets, requires them to pay a licensing fee, and grants the Supreme Council for Media Regulation broad discretion to block their content. On August 23, the council announced that it blocked some websites it said failed to apply for such a license.

The number of arrests for social media posts reportedly had a chilling effect on online speech. Some activists and many journalists reported privately they self-censored criticism of the government or comments that could be perceived as sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, due to the government designating the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and the progovernment media environment. Publishers were also wary of publishing books that criticized religious institutions, such as al-Azhar, or challenged Islamic doctrine. Online journalists were also reluctant to discuss sensitive topics.

Libel/Slander Laws: Blasphemy is a criminal offense. Local and international rights groups reported cases of authorities charging and convicting individuals with denigrating religion under the so-called blasphemy law, targeting primarily Christians but also Muslims.

National Security: The law allows government censors to block the publication of information related to intelligence and national security.

The law imposes a fine on any person who “intentionally publishes…or spreads false news.” The fine is many times the average annual salary of most local journalists. The government maintained hotlines for members of the public to call or leave text messages reporting fake news in either traditional or social media that endangers state security.

On May 29, former ambassador to Venezuela Yehia Negm was arrested on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after he posted a tweet criticizing the government’s management of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam topic.

Atef Hasballah, editor in chief of Alkarar Press website, was released during the year on precautionary measures pending trial, according to a local NGO. Hasballah was arrested in March 2020 following a post on his Facebook page questioning official statistics on the spread of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Judges may issue restraining orders to prevent media from covering court cases considered sensitive on national security grounds. Rights groups stated authorities misused the orders to shield government, police, or military officials from public scrutiny. Citing safety and security measures, the government and military restricted media access to many parts of North Sinai.

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the telecommunication regulation law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period for this surveillance.

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.”

On January 12, the Cairo Economic Appeals Court annulled the two-year sentences of TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three other defendants. The court also annulled Hossam’s fine but upheld the same fine for the other defendants. Charges included violating family values, inciting “debauchery,” publishing content deemed inappropriate, and recruiting others to commit similar crimes. On June 20, in a separate case, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Hossam in absentia to 10 years in prison and a fine, and Eladhm and three others to six years in prison and fines. All five were convicted on charges of human trafficking, running social media accounts with the aim of recruiting young women for video sharing online, and publishing video content deemed inappropriate by authorities. The objectionable content included dancing and lip-syncing, which are common on the platform. After being sentenced in absentia, Hossam posted a video on June 22 in which she asked President Sisi to order a retrial and was subsequently arrested in Cairo. On November 4, a court ordered a retrial in her case, which was scheduled for January 18, 2022. In August 2020 a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

TikTok influencer Manar Samy remained imprisoned serving her September 2020 sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. On July 4, the Benha Criminal Court acquitted members of Samy’s family, who had been arrested in 2020 for resisting authorities. On June 13, the Economic Misdemeanor Court of Appeals upheld the Economic Misdemeanor Court’s September 30 convictions of TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter Zumoroda for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution, based on photographs posted to social media. The court of appeals reduced their sentences from six years in prison to five years and fined each of them.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

As part of investigations, security forces may apply for warrants from the prosecutor general to access mobile phone company databases to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On May 3, a local media rights organization reported that the state had blocked hundreds of websites, including 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review remained pending without resolution at year’s end. According to a local human rights organization, in April the Media Regulating Authority issued licenses for 40 private news websites, including Cairo 24, while not acting on the license requests of 110 other websites. This was part of a legal requirement to regulate the status of electronic press websites in the country.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The removal of references to the country’s 2011 and 2013 revolutions from high school history class curricula continued after a 2017 decree from the Ministry of Education and Technical Education. According to media and local rights groups, a degree of self-censorship, similar to that reported by nonacademic commentators, existed when academics publicly commented on sensitive political and socioeconomic matters. University faculty members and Ministry of Education employees (including teachers) needed security agency approval to travel abroad for academic or professional purposes. Faculty and officials at public universities and research centers also had to obtain Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ permission to travel abroad for any reason. Some public universities restricted campus visits of foreign speakers or delegations or required a faculty chaperone for delegations of university students traveling to the United States.

In May the prosecutor general renewed University of Washington doctoral student Walid Salem’s travel ban, according to a statement by local and international human rights organizations. Their statement added that Salem was also prevented from traveling in May 2020 when authorities at Cairo International Airport confiscated his passport. Salem had been on probation since 2018 pending trial on charges of spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group.

On July 12, authorities released Alia Mossallam, a postdoctoral fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, on bail pending trial on allegations of joining a terrorist group, spreading false news, and misusing social media after they arrested her at the Cairo International Airport on July 11 upon her arrival from Berlin, according to a human rights lawyer. Mosallam was researching the history of the country’s social and political movements through popular memory, according to local media.

On November 17, authorities reportedly released Ayman Mansour Nada pending trial on allegations of insulting the president of Cairo University and several university officials and using social media to commit the crime. Nada, a Cairo University media professor, was arrested in September after he criticized the government-appointed president of Cairo University and government-aligned media professionals.

There was censorship of cultural events. A prime ministerial decree declares it unlawful to hold a special event or festival without “prior license from the Ministry of Culture and liaising with relevant state entities.” This requirement adds to existing regulations, under which organizations must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Culture’s Censorship Board, as well as permits from the Interior Ministry and the relevant artists’ union for concerts, performances, and other cultural events. The Ministry of Culture must approve all scripts and final productions of plays and films. The ministry censored foreign films to be shown in theaters but did not censor the same films sold as DVDs.

On June 27, the Musicians Syndicate banned five singers of Mahraganat music, a popular street-music genre, from performing in the country because they did not obtain a permit to work or belong to the syndicate. The syndicate banned nine others on November 17 for the same reasons.

On July 25, the Administrative Court ordered the Central Administration for Censorship of Audio and Audiovisual Works to grant the film The Last Days of the City, which deals with the January 25 revolution, a license to be shown inside the country. According to local media, the ruling was final and had to be implemented. The film, which was produced in 2016 and won several international film festival awards, was first denied presentation in the country at the 2016 Cairo International Film Festival.

El Salvador

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, although the government at times did not respect this right. The law permits the executive branch to use the emergency broadcasting service to take control of all broadcast and cable networks temporarily to televise political programming.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Journalists from several digital and print media outlets publicly accused President Bukele, his administration, and his supporters of a pattern of harassment designed to constrain media. In public statements and in testimony to the Legislative Assembly, journalists claimed the president and his cabinet officials bullied them on Twitter, threatened them with physical harm, launched unwarranted financial investigations into their taxes and funding sources, denied them access to press conferences, and surveilled them. Senior officials, such as legal advisor Javier Argueta, called for actions against journalists who criticized the government. The increased villainization of the role of media inspired supporters of the president to threaten journalists as well. The president denied threatening journalists and dismissed accusations he was stifling freedom of the press.

On September 29, the jury of the Maria Moors Cabot award from Columbia University, the Governing Council of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation, Reporters without Borders, and the Inter American Press Association issued statements in which they demanded that President Bukele cease attacks against critical media in the country.

In November the president of the Association of Salvadoran Journalists (APES) stated at a journalism forum that journalists were seen by the government as enemies of the state. He also confirmed that an increasing number of journalists were under attack by the government.

Violence and Harassment: On June 6, Minister of Justice and Public Security Gustavo Villatoro confirmed during a radio interview that the government was investigating and monitoring many journalists for what he alleged was their irresponsible coverage of crime.

On July 7, a PNC officer slapped a journalist in the face, claiming the journalist had entered a crime scene. A video showed PNC officer Raul Martinez Velasquez hit Jorge Beltran, a journalist for El Diario de Hoy, while Beltran was reporting on the recovery of the body of a missing student kidnapped and killed by gang members in Apopa, San Salvador Department. In response the PNC issued memorandums on July 20 and July 22 instructing police officers to act with professionalism and to adhere to the law and respect for human rights when interacting with citizens.

As of August 30, APES had registered 173 violations of the exercise of journalism, an increase of 73 percent, compared with 2020. Among these were physical aggression, digital harassment, blocking access to public information, intimidation, and sexual harassment. APES noted 84 violations against the exercise of journalism during the February 28 municipal and legislative elections, most of which the PNC perpetrated. As of August 31, the PDDH had received four complaints of violence against journalists by government officials, compared with 10 as of August 2020.

On April 14, the digital newspaper El Faro published the preliminary results of the audit the Ministry of Finance had performed on the newspaper over a one-year period. According to the ministry’s audit, El Faro evaded approximately $34,000 in taxes in 2017. The newspaper disputed the finding, saying it was an attempt by the government to again harass and threaten the organization, and it vowed to fight the finding in court if needed.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On May 5, the Legislative Assembly reformed the printing law to eliminate tax exemptions on the importation of raw materials, machinery, and equipment for printing materials. The Inter American Press Association described the reform as a “serious attack against democracy” that would impact the local newspaper industry. Romeo Auerbach, a legislative assembly member from the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party, justified the reform by arguing that the print media had evaded paying taxes for decades.

On June 14, the First Justice of the Peace of Santa Ana, Santa Ana Department, ordered the local investigative magazine Factum to take down its June 12 article about killings in Chalchuapa, Santa Ana Department, because the article included details of the crimes that were declared confidential. The Attorney General’s Office supported the court’s decision by citing the Special Comprehensive Law for a Life Free of Violence for , which prevents the disclosure of the victim’s identifying information. Factum sourced its article from a witness statement that detailed the names, dates, and modus operandi of 13 killings that occurred in Chalchuapa in 2020 and 2021, directly contradicting the government’s claim that the homicides occurred more than a decade ago.

On June 21, Minister Villatoro accused independent media of causing anxiety and deceiving persons and asked citizens to inform themselves through state-owned media instead.

On July 6, the General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners (DGME) denied a work permit to Mexican journalist Daniel Lizarraga of El Faro because he allegedly could not prove that he was a journalist. The DGME notified Lizarraga that he had five days to leave the country. On July 9, the DGME also denied the work permit of Roman Gressier, another El Faro journalist. According to the DGME, Gressier failed to comply with the provision to remain in the country while his permit was in process.

On July 15, Minister Villatoro stated the PNC would further limit access to crime scenes to prevent the publication of violent images. Villatoro justified the restriction to protect the mental health of children.

Nongovernmental Impact: APES noted journalists who reported on gangs and narcotics trafficking were subject to kidnappings, threats, and intimidation. Observers reported that gangs also charged print media companies to distribute in their communities, costing media outlets as much as 20 percent of their revenues.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, the government has extensive legal powers to restrict media activities. The government restricted journalistic activity through prepublication censorship. Media remained weak and under government influence or control. Most journalists practiced self-censorship. Those who did not were subject to government surveillance, arrests, and threats.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals generally chose not to criticize the president, his family, other high-ranking officials, and security forces due to fear of reprisal. The government attempted to impede criticism by continuing to monitor the activities of opposition members, journalists, and others. In some cases authorities reprimanded individuals, removed them from their jobs, or both. For example, in 2020 the then minister of health publicly insulted a nurse who privately criticized the government’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: A limited number of independent media outlets were active and expressed a variety of views, but not without restriction. The country had one marginally independent newspaper that published sporadically, and an online news portal published articles including criticism of the government. Print media outlets were extremely limited. Persons close to the president, including his son, the vice president, owned the few private media outlets that existed; the vice president owned the only private broadcast media. Starting a newspaper was a complicated process governed by an ambiguous law and impeded by government bureaucracy; creating a digital presence was less onerous. Accreditation was cumbersome for both local and foreign journalists. International magazines occasionally were available in grocery stores and hotels in major cities, providing some access to global news sources.

The government owned the only national radio and television broadcast system. Journalists who worked for these entities could not report freely.

The government denied or left pending requests by political parties to establish private radio stations. Satellite broadcasts were widely available, including a French-language television channel, which the government partially owned.

International news agencies did not have correspondents or regular stringers in the country. As most foreigners need visas to visit the country, the time-consuming nature of the process effectively dissuaded some journalists from travelling, although international media covered major events. In other cases the government may have prevented reporters from obtaining visas.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces detained, intimidated, and harassed journalists. The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law gives the government considerable authority to restrict media content through official prepublication censorship. The law also establishes criminal, civil, and administrative penalties for violation of its provisions. Journalists routinely practiced self-censorship, fearing government retaliation.

The only publishing facility available to newspapers was located at the Ministry of Information, Press, and Radio, where officials censored printed materials.  At least one newspaper publisher stated it was cheaper and easier to print newspapers abroad than locally, citing censorship as one reason.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used criminal libel and slander laws to restrict public discussion. For example, on July 30, authorities detained social activist Noelia Asama for three days in the local gendarmerie jail for alleged libel and slander against the vice president.

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Although the law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.

The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are punishable under the law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported there were 16 journalists in detention.

The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency, but access to free Egyptian satellite television was common. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.

Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained and who were held incommunicado.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. Most independent journalists were in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes libel as a misdemeanor and prescribes a punishment of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine. The law also criminalizes “malicious injury to honor or reputation,” which covers true statements communicated solely to damage a person’s reputation and prescribes a punishment of less than one month in prison and a fine. It is unclear if these provisions were enforced.

National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.

Estonia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes activities that incite hatred, violence, or discrimination and result in danger to the life, health, or property of a person.

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Eswatini

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government restricted this right, particularly with respect to press freedom and matters concerning the monarchy.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The law empowers the government to ban publications it deems “prejudicial or potentially prejudicial to the interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.”

Daily independent newspapers criticized government corruption and inefficiency but generally avoided criticizing the royal family. Independent online media and an independent monthly magazine were more likely to criticize the royal family as well as government.

Broadcast media remained largely under state control. Most persons obtained their news from radio broadcasts. Access to speak on national radio was generally limited to government officials. In April the University of Eswatini opened a student-run radio station which broadcast to a small area near its campus, but COVID-19, civil unrest, and intermittent school closures disrupted broadcasting efforts.

Violence and Harassment: During the civil unrest, the Media Institute of Southern Africa reported security forces injured two journalists. On June 30, authorities tear-gassed journalist Andile Langwelya of the privately owned weekly Independent News. On July 4, two journalists with the South African news website New Frame, South African Magnificent Mndebele and local national Cebelihle Mbuyisa, reported that they were detained and abused by security forces for covering civil unrest in June and July. The journalists reported they were arrested, taken to a police station, beaten, and threatened with suffocation when police placed plastic bags over their heads. They were released the same day and treated at a local hospital after lawyers for New Frame intervened. In July the Information, Communications, & Technology (ICT) Ministry requested all journalists in the country register their personal contact details in a state-run database. After questions regarding the rationale for the request were raised, the government dropped enforcement.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although journalists have become more willing to speak out against the government in recent years, criticism of the king was strongly discouraged by government and traditional leaders. Most journalists and broadcast media believed they were compelled to avoid criticizing the palace due to fear of reprisals, such as being professionally ostracized or losing paid government advertising. Self-censorship was widespread in relation to the king, but virtually nonexistent in relation to the government. Government officials and security personnel repeatedly made it clear that criticism of the king could result in serious consequences. In late 2020 Mbongeni Mbingo, the managing editor of the daily newspaper The Eswatini Observer was suspended, allegedly for not defending the king, but he was reinstated to his position in November after being absolved of any wrongdoing. In one example of blatant intimidation, ICT Minister Princess Sikhanyiso Sikhanyisoso summoned editors to a private meeting where, according to the press, she questioned their patriotism and accused them of “burning the country” for reporting on the political unrest.

National Security: Although the country has no formal criminal libel or slander laws and has no laws forbidding criticism of the monarchy, the government was sensitive to comments criticizing the king, using provisions of antiterrorism and other laws.

Internet Freedom

The government severely restricted access to the internet over the course of several weeks following the civil unrest. During the height of the unrest in late June and early July the government ordered internet service providers to cease operations. Internet access and cellular data were shut down completely for approximately one week. When internet service providers were allowed to resume service, they were instructed to block social media applications and websites for another few weeks. In July, August, and October the government subsequently orchestrated intermittent internet outages and social media blockages prior to planned demonstrations or protests.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were some reports of government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. In August Eswatini Broadcasting Information Service broadcasters were allegedly issued a directive to cease playing any music from two gospel singers who were also MPs who supported calls for democratic reforms. There were reports of attempts to influence academic appointments based on political views.

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media, and the government’s general respect for this right deteriorated, especially in response to the conflict in the northern part of the country. International organizations, including the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalists Without Borders, and Freedom House, reported a decline in press freedoms.

Freedom of Expression: Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government diminished significantly. During the year, however, the government demonstrated a limited willingness to accept criticism, which was reflected in restrictive measures on freedom of speech.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active, reports of harassment, intimidation, and other restrictions of journalists critical of the government – especially its response to the conflict and humanitarian crisis in the northern part of the country – were widespread. In April the government reformed and rebranded the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority – the entity that monitored, licensed, and issued proclamations on all media outlets – as the Ethiopian Media Authority (EMA). Although some reports characterized the changes as a continuation of a positive trajectory for media freedom reform, the EMA restricted some press freedoms.

According to the EMA, there were 20 public media, 38 commercial broadcast, 58 community broadcast, and three subscriptions (cable channels). There were eight newspapers published in Amharic and English and 31 mostly independent television stations representing national and regional interests. Community radio stations were widespread. Radio remained the most popular and accessible form of media in the country.

The still-developing media landscape faced persistent challenges. Many reporters were untrained, and most private stations reflected the political views of their owners. Regional news agencies and social media influencers amplified messages that led to “echo chambers,” which often were biased towards ethnic interests. News agencies withheld, underreported, downplayed, or discredited reports of abuses against rival ethnic groups.

Violence and Harassment: On January 19, government security forces in Tigray’s capital Mekele shot and killed Tigray TV journalist Dawit Kebede and his friend Bereket Berhe for allegedly violating the dusk-to-dawn curfew in the city. The government had previously detained Dawit without charge in November 2020 before eventually charging him with publishing false information and damaging the government’s image. Some reports alleged the killing was in response to Dawit’s reporting on Tigray.

On February 10, three armed intruders entered the Addis Ababa home of Los Angeles Times and al-Jazeera journalist Lucy Kassa, accusing her of spreading lies in support of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The intruders stole Kassa’s computer and flash drive of photographs showing evidence of Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. Following the raid of her home, Kassa reported targeted harassment and verbal abuse via aggressive drivers in public and private transportation.

On February 27, the ENDF arrested two translators, Fitsume Berhanu from Agence France Presse, and Alula Akalu from Financial Times. Fitsume reported a soldier threatened to claim the journalists had broken the dusk-to-dawn curfew in Mekelle and kill them. While there was no official reason given for the arrest, the ENDF later claimed Fitsume was a journalist working for the “Tigray Media House.”

In March the government cancelled media credentials for New York Times journalist and Irish national Simon Marks after his return from a reporting trip in Tigray. On May 20, the government detained Marks, took him to the airport where they held him for eight hours, and deported him without explanation, although his residence permit was valid until October. Some reports accused the government of deporting Marks for his critical reporting on Tigray.

Libel/Slander Laws: According to the NGO End Blasphemy Laws, the law provides criminal sanctions for blasphemy or scoffing at religious places or ceremonies.

National Security: The government charged some journalists on national security grounds.

Between June 30 and July 2, federal police arrested 12 journalists from Awlo Media Center and Ethio-Forum and six staff members from Awlo Media Center for alleged affiliation with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. On August 9, police released 10 employees of Awlo Media Center after 41 days of imprisonment in the Afar Region. Police retained four journalists in custody: Abebe Bayu, Bekalu Alamrew, Fanuel Kinfu and Yayesew Shimeles. On August 17, police released the journalists on a 5,000-birr ($116) bail. Authorities in this case neither followed due process, nor did they make formal charges. Awlo Media and Ethio Forum had both reported extensively on abuses against Tigrayans.

In July the EMA suspended the national news magazine Addis Standard concerning its use of the name “Tigray Defense Forces” in its reporting. The EMA justified its suspension by claiming Addis Standard supported the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. EMA deputy director general Yonatan Tesfaye told the Committee to Protect Journalists they had suspended the license because the outlet was endangering the country’s national security by publishing content that was illegal and “legitimizes terrorist groups.”

Nongovernmental Impact: The rebel faction OLA-Shane controls an area that was considered a nonpermissive environment for journalists. On May 9, a hit squad affiliated with OLA-Shane – the Aba Torbe – allegedly shot and killed Sisay Fida, a reporter and coordinator for the Oromia Broadcasting Network, while he was walking home. While a motive was never identified, reports blamed OLA-Shane and its affiliates for the killing. A spokesperson for OLA-Shane’s Western Zone blamed the federal government. Both OLA-Shane and the government denied responsibility for the killing.

Internet Freedom

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked social media sites, especially in areas of internal conflict. The government’s monopoly on the telecommunications sector – through state-owned EthioTelecom – enabled it to control the online media space by leveraging nationwide and regional shutdowns.

In November 2020 telephone, cell phone, and internet services were shut down in the Tigray Region, and internet access remained disrupted in most areas in Tigray at year’s end. In other areas there were reports of intermittent blackouts targeting websites and social media platforms suspected of expressing or encouraging antigovernment sentiments (see section 1.f.).

On May 17, the government blocked Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger for several hours. Other social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and Reddit, were unrestricted.

The Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation addresses hate speech in social media. The law prohibits dissemination of hate speech or disinformation through broadcasting, print, or social media using text, image, audio, or video. Conviction of a crime described under the law is punishable with imprisonment for no more than two years or a substantial monetary fine. A person convicted of violating the misinformation law may face no more than one year in prison or a substantial monetary fine. If their action results in a person or group being attacked due to hate speech, the punishment for conviction may be between one year and five years of incarceration. If a person is convicted of hate speech or disinformation via broadcasting services, print media, or a social media account of more than 5,000 followers, the violator faces one to three years in prison or a substantial monetary fine.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The laws governing academic curriculum rely on a proclamation from 2009, which restricts academic freedom by means of minimum requirements for being consistent with international good practice and cultural responsibility.

Cultural events and celebrations were not restricted. During the year the annual Oromo celebration of the harvest, Ireechaa, took place for the second time in Addis Ababa. Ethnic Oromo persons gathered freely, adorned the streets, and played Oromo music. Prior to 2020 the Ireechaa celebration only took place outside Addis Ababa in the Oromia Region.

Fiji

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but it grants the government authority to restrict these rights for a broad array of reasons. These include preventing hate speech and insurrection; maintaining national security, public order, public safety, public morality, public health, and the orderly conduct of elections; protecting the reputation, privacy, dignity, and rights of other persons; enforcing media standards; and regulating the conduct of media organizations. Using POA powers to detain persons on suspicion of “endangering public safety” and to “preserve the peace,” authorities continued to restrict freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: The law includes criticism of the government in its definition of the crime of sedition. This includes statements made in other countries by any person.

Public opposition to government policy or proposals could provoke a sharp response. In July, for example, much of the political opposition united in condemning what media described as “hugely unpopular” government proposals to amend the law governing the trusts that manage lands held in common by most ethnic Fijian landowners in a way that many feared would remove the landowners’ authority over the use of their land by lessees. On July 25, authorities arrested nine persons, including opposition members of parliament from the Social Democratic Liberal Party and the National Federation Party and three other prominent political figures under the POA for social media criticisms of the amendment. The government alleged the critiques were a breach of the POA, because they were “malicious writings of false news or reports tending to create or foster public alarm and anxiety.” The nine were released the same day without charge, then resummoned several times later for questioning. Two former prime ministers, Sitiveni Rabuka and Mahendra Chaudhary, and Unity Fiji Party leader Savenace Narube were detained, questioned, and released without charge on July 26 over the same issue. Others questioned by police included several youth workers from various parties and indigenous rights advocates. On the evening of July 29, police raided the National Federation Party’s office and arrested a staff member, Ranjit Raju. He was held at a Suva police station for 48 hours before his release without charge.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were somewhat active; however, journalists practiced self-censorship on sensitive political or communal topics because of restrictions in the law and monitoring by the Media Industry Development Authority. The law on media prohibits “irresponsible reporting” and provides for government censorship of media. The opposition and other critics of the government accused the government of using state power to silence critics.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media law authorizes the government to censor all news stories before broadcast or publication but was unused since 2012. Journalists and media nonetheless continued to practice varying degrees of self-censorship, citing a fear of prosecution. Nonetheless, media published opinion articles by academics and commentators critical of the government.

A media code of ethics established in law requires that media publish and television broadcast balanced material. It obligates media to give any individual or organization an opportunity to reply to comments or provide materials for publication. Journalists reported this requirement did not restrict reporting as much as in past years.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, and defamation are treated as civil matters under the law. The constitution, however, includes protecting the reputation of persons as a permissible limitation to freedom of expression, including by media. By law some of these conditions also apply to the internet.

Finland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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 to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

Freedom of Expression: Public speech intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group is a crime. Hate speech is not a separate criminal offense but may constitute grounds for an aggravated sentence for other offenses. On October 4, a court convicted Finns Party member of parliament Sebastian Tynkkynen on the charge of ethnic agitation in connection with Facebook posts he made in 2017 as part of a municipal election campaign. In the posts Tynkkynen published several pictures and texts implying that Muslim asylum seekers and immigrants were criminals preying on women and children. The court sentenced Tynkkynen to fines totaling 4,410 euros ($5,070) and demanded he delete the posts from his Facebook account.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The distribution of hate material intended to incite discrimination against any national, racial, religious, or ethnic group in print or broadcast media, books, or online newspapers or journals is a crime.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On October 29, the deputy state prosecutor filed charges of disclosure of state secrets and attempted disclosure of state secrets against the daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat’s reporters Laura Halminen and Tuomo Pietilainen, and editor of the political news department Kalle Silfverberg for an in-depth report on an intelligence facility located in Central Finland which was published in 2017. If convicted, the employees face a minimum of four months and maximum of four years in prison. The pretrial investigation found that the newspaper did not illegally acquire the documents, but police launched a separate investigation into how Helsingin Sanomat obtained the classified information.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation and aggravated defamation laws carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment and a monetary fine. The law has a section relating to breaches of the sanctity of religion (blasphemy) that includes publicly blaspheming against God and for the purpose of offending, publicly defaming, or desecrating what is held to be sacred by a church or religious community. Conviction carries a penalty of up to six months’ imprisonment and a monetary fine.

Nongovernmental Impact: On October 1, a law came into force that facilitates the prosecution of illegal threats made against journalists and researchers without the victim’s first filing a complaint. The legislative change is meant to protect journalists and public officials from targeted harassment and to expand freedom of expression for members of the media.

Journalists who covered sensitive topics, including immigration, far-right organizations, Russia, and terrorism, reported harassment by private entities, including being targeted for defamation.

Journalist Jessikka Aro, who was the target of harassment for her reporting of Russian disinformation efforts, stated that she moved abroad for reasons of personal safety.

Temporary Protection: From January to August, the government provided subsidiary protection to 102 individuals who did not qualify as refugees but who were deemed to qualify for subsidiary protection. During the same period, the government also offered humanitarian residence permits to 125 individuals based on “other grounds,” including medical and compassionate grounds.

France

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.

In April parliament adopted the controversial Comprehensive Security bill that aimed to change the legal framework for video surveillance, police body cameras, and the use of drones by law enforcement as well as broaden the authority of municipal police forces and better regulate private security firms. On May 20, the Constitutional Council ruled unconstitutional the provision of the law that makes publication of video of on-duty police officers illegal. The subject legislation had sparked massive street protests in late 2020 due to public perceptions it would limit freedom of the press.

On July 23, parliament adopted the government’s Upholding Republican Values bill creating a new offense for online hate speech that will make it possible to quickly detain a person who spreads personal information on social media regarding public-sector employees, elected officials, journalists, or a minor with the intent to harm them. Under the law such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 75,000 euros ($86,300). Offenses targeting other members of the population are punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($51,800). The law also makes it easier for authorities to block or delist websites promoting hate speech and accelerate legal proceedings against them.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the country’s antidefamation and hate-speech laws.

The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.

Violence and Harassment:

In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during “yellow vest” protests in 2018 and 2019. RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.

In September 2020 Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions of the doctrine, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press, aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. In September 2020 RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.

In its annual report released on April 20, RSF stated that conditions at violent protests, harassment during investigations, and concentrated media ownership were detrimental to press freedom in the country. RSF also criticized the inspector general of the IGPN police affairs bureau for summoning investigative journalists, which the RSF asserted could “threaten the confidentiality of a reporter’s sources, which are not sufficiently protected by French legislation.”

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not. On September 29, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, convicted of public defamation, with a 500 euro ($575) suspended fine as well as 1,000 euros ($1,150) in damages and 3,500 euros ($4,025) in procedural compensation, due to Melenchon’s 2016 comments on his blog calling a journalist an “unrepentant assassin.”

National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns regarding police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.

Nongovernmental Impact: Authorities opened an investigation for attempted murder after a news photographer working for the newspaper LUnion, Christian Lantenois, was attacked and seriously injured while covering a reported surge of youth violence in the northeastern city of Reims on February 27. The victim was in a serious condition after being hit on the head by a projectile and spent one month in a coma. Senior government officials condemned the assault. On March 1, police arrested a 22-year-old individual, who was charged for aggravated attempted murder and placed in pretrial detention.

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. According to the law, conviction of contempt of the president or of any government official “committed anywhere, on any occasion, or by any means,” is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment and monetary fines.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active, but authorities occasionally used libel and slander laws to restrict media criticism of the government. The country’s sole daily newspaper, L’Union, was progovernment. All newspapers, including government-affiliated ones, criticized the government and political leaders of both opposition and progovernment parties. The country had both progovernment and opposition-affiliated broadcast media.

Violence and Harassment: There were no cases of journalists being harassed or intimidated, although some journalists reported they received anonymous instructions or calls from persons suspected of being connected with the government not to report on certain matters.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most newspaper owners had either a progovernment or a pro-opposition political bias. Print journalists practiced occasional self-censorship to placate progovernment owners.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel and slander may be treated as either criminal or civil offenses. Editors and authors of articles ruled libelous in a court of law may be jailed for six months to five years and required to pay substantial fines. Penalties for conviction of libel, disrupting public order, and other offenses also include a one- to three-month publishing suspension for a first offense and three- to six-month suspension for repeat offenses. During the year there were no reports that these laws were applied.

Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of media.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Georgia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the members of the press and other media, and citizens generally were free to exercise this right, although the government did not adequately safeguard that freedom. During the year journalists, NGOs, and the international community raised serious concerns regarding the environment for media pluralism. In addition, the Public Defender’s Office noted in its April parliamentary report covering 2020 that the country lacked proper statistics on offenses committed against journalists.

Freedom of Expression: On March 1, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals overturned a 2019 decision that the NGO Transparency International/Georgia’s report on corruption raising concerns over judicial independence was not libelous. Civil society saw the decision as unsubstantiated and an attempt to interfere with the NGO’s freedom of expression. Transparency International/Georgia appealed the case, which was pending at the Supreme Court. NGOs accused the justice minister of attempting to restrict freedom of speech by suspending notary Bachana Shengelia from office in June 2020 for comments he posted on Facebook regarding the controversial 2018 death of his mother, school principal Ia Kerzaia (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Georgia for 2019, section 3). GYLA described the suspension as a restriction on freedom of expression and submitted a case on Shengelia’s behalf to the Constitutional Court in July 2020. The case remained pending.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. NGOs continued to express concern regarding the close relationship between Georgian Public Broadcaster and Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and the ruling party, GNCC bias against opposition-leaning outlets, the public broadcaster’s editorial bias in favor of the ruling party, decreased media pluralism, criminal prosecutions against owners and directors of opposition-leaning outlets that appeared politically motivated, violence against journalists, impunity for attacks against journalists, the ruling party’s boycott of media critical of the government, and alleged wiretaps specifically targeting journalists.

The GNCC was influenced by the ruling party. Civil society reported on several shortcomings during the year. For example, Transparency International/Georgia reported limited competition and preferential treatment of incumbent and former commissioners and employees in the selection of GNCC members on July 2. The NGO also reported that persons working in communications did not view the GNCC election process as independent from political influence.

On April 14, the GNCC announced a tender for an audit of independent television ratings companies, which media representatives and watchdogs said “exceeds the responsibilities of the body.” Civil society organizations alleged that the audit would open the way for ratings companies owned by ruling-party supporters to begin to set the ratings, affecting what had been independent assessments. Later in the year, the GNCC announced a tender to audit the two rating companies used; Kantar, which was widely seen as being Georgian Dream-supported; and TV MR, which was seen to be more cooperative with outlets critical of the government. Kantar accepted the offer and was found to be within international standards. TV MR, however, did not accept and was not audited. The move to audit both firms was viewed by observers as an example of GNCC overstepping its mandate by initiating audits when it should be the responsibility of the companies to conduct such internal operations.

Statements by political leaders also degraded media plurality. For example, on February 16, Giorgi Volski, the first deputy speaker of parliament, said that “journalists in particular are involved in planning some kind of conspiracy, misinformation, sabotage.” The next day Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the Georgian Dream party, said that “party televisions began to establish blasphemy in serials, thus accustoming the public to the insulting language.” This sort of rhetoric was used extensively by the ruling party (as it was used when other parties were in power) to call into question any reporting critical of the government. On October 30, the day of municipal runoff elections, Prime Minister Gharibashvili called a Mtavari Arkhi journalist a “provocateur.” Ruling party member of parliament Irakli “Dachi” Beraia referred to Formula TV as a “criminal thug of the [opposition United] National Movement.”

A significant number of journalists reported during the year that they were either prevented from covering public events or did not receive key public information when requested. Although nationwide statistics were not kept, Information Centers Network, a regional consortium of independent media outlets, filed 14 administrative complaints with local authorities for not receiving responses to requests for public information between May 1 and August 30, and twice as many by the end of the year. Civil society representatives observed the problem was not the law, which very clearly provides the public with the right to access information. The problem was the failure of the ruling party, as well as local and regional authorities, to implement the law. This situation further exacerbated an already adversarial relationship between media and the ruling party.

Media outlets, watchdog groups, and NGOs continued to express concern regarding decreased media pluralism and continuing political influence in media. Concerns also persisted regarding government interference with some media outlets. Persistent allegations of political pressure on public broadcasters continued. On August 9, journalist Irakli Absandze was dismissed by the Georgian Public Broadcaster. According to the Media Advocacy Coalition, Absandze’s dismissal was seen to be connected with his critical statements about the ruling party and the public broadcaster’s management. Absandze had criticized the July 5-6 violence against journalists and the ruling party’s ineffective response (see section 2.b.). Absandze subsequently filed a complaint to defend his rights, with Transparency International/Georgia providing legal support; however, no action was taken by the government to examine his case.

Following the July 5-6 violence against journalists (see section 2.b.), two key journalists from Rustavi 2 (a pro-Georgian Dream outlet) resigned, citing lack of editorial independence.

The Public Defender’s Office, some media watchers, NGOs, and opposition parties expressed suspicion that a number of criminal prosecutions against critical media outlets or their owners were politically motivated.

In early September, a few weeks before the municipal elections, the court resumed the government’s case against Mtavari Arkhi’s general director, Nika Gvaramia. The trial remained underway at year’s end. The opposition perceived this prosecution as the ruling party’s retribution for Mtavari Arkhi’s favorable coverage of the UNM. The case involved allegations that in 2015 Gvaramia exchanged advertising for vehicles from Porsche Center Tbilisi. In 2019 Gvaramia was charged with abuse of power, misappropriation of property, and commercial bribery. The public defender stated that holding a company director civilly liable for the company’s decision should apply only in exceptional circumstances and that criminal liability should be even rarer. Gvaramia and a number of media advocacy groups disputed the charges, claiming they were politically motivated. In 2020 Gvaramia claimed that he was physically assaulted and his family surveilled.

The OSCE/ODIHR preliminary assessment of the first round of the October 2 local elections stated, “The deterioration of the media environment as seen by recent cases of intimidation and threats against journalists and the law of swift and thorough investigation of these cases raised concerns about the ability of media to function in a safe and secure environment.” In its preliminary assessment of the second round of the local elections, the mission reported that the regional public broadcaster Adjara TV provided mostly neutral coverage of the campaign. In contrast, while the country’s public broadcaster allotted equal airtime to the ruling party and the largest opposition party, the tone in covering the ruling party “became more positive closer to election day.”

On September 30, two days before the municipal elections, the Ministry of Defense filed a lawsuit with Tbilisi City Court against Davit Kezerashvili, former Saakashvili administration defense minister, who was the majority owner of the government-critical Formula TV. The lawsuit requested more than five million euros ($5.8 million) in compensation for damage Kezerashvili allegedly caused during his tenure at the ministry. The first court session was scheduled for January 27, 2022. Opposition groups described the case as politically motivated.

Avtandil Tsereteli, the father of TV Pirveli’s founder, was also charged in 2019 for his alleged involvement in a money laundering case along with the founder of TBC Bank and his deputy, who were both current leaders of the opposition party Lelo. A verdict was pending.

The law provides that media outlets are obligated to disclose information concerning their owners to the GNCC.

Violence and Harassment: According to Transparency International/Georgia, as of the end of September, 93 cases of violence had been recorded against media representatives since October 2020, along with 55 instances of covert wiretaps of journalists. The NGO Reporters Without Borders described the illegal surveillance of journalists (see section 1.f.) as “very disturbing” and called on authorities for an investigation. Journalists of Radio Tavisupleba (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) and Formula, among others, confirmed that the wiretapping files reflected their respective conversations.

During the year there were also reports of harassment by security services. In March the opposition channel Pirveli released purported secret recordings of Bera Ivanishvili, son of the ruling party’s benefactor (former prime minister and then party head, Bidzina Ivanishvili), allegedly asking Irakli Garibashvili (then minister of internal affairs, later defense minister, and during the year, prime minister) to punish his social media critics (he was 15 years old at the time). Some of the recordings discussed alleged calls made by security service personnel to intimidate social media users.

After the release, the Prosecutor General’s Office received a court order to “raid” TV Pirveli’s office to find the source of the “illegal” recordings. Civil society and the international community denounced the secret recordings and intimidation of journalists for the purposes of revealing their sources. Four months later government forensics officials claimed the recordings were pieced together and not authentic.

During the year there were a significant number of attacks on journalists by far-right groups and politically motivated actors. Civil society observers believed that the government did not adequately investigate and prosecute such violence. In addition to assaults of July 5-6 (see section 2.b., Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association), there were numerous attacks on members of the media, notably on February 25 when Formula TV host Vakho Sanaia was physically attacked for being a journalist. On August 25, the three attackers were found guilty after having served six months of pretrial confinement, sentenced to 150 hours of community service, and fined. The perceived leniency of the sentence generated outrage by media rights defenders and vindication in more far-right circles on social media, where there were comments posted that Sanaia “had it coming.” Formula TV experienced another attack in April, when two employees (identified by station markers on their cars) were targeted, with one employee suffering a beating and both the cars involved badly damaged. No suspects were prosecuted. Other examples included Emma Gogokhia, a Mtavari Arkhi journalist, who reportedly was threatened with death by the mayor of Mestia on March 6.

On May 17, the television company GPB Channel 1 reported that protesters in Dmanisi physically assaulted a GPB camera crew, a journalist, a cameraman, and a photojournalist who were covering events. Representatives of other media outlets also were injured and their work disrupted.

The Coalition for Media Advocacy identified 20 cases of interference with the professional activities of journalists from outlets that were critical of the government during the October 30 municipal runoff elections in Tbilisi and the regions. The majority of the cases reportedly involved interference by ruling-party supporters. The coalition issued a statement that asserted that “law enforcement officials have failed to ensure media representatives’ physical safety and effective elimination of obstructive circumstances.”

On February 18, Russian citizen Magomed Gutsiev was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison by the Tbilisi City Court for a plot to kill Giorgi Gabunia, a Mtavari Arkhi journalist who in 2019 insulted Russian President Putin on a live program. Gutsiev appealed the conviction on March 17. On October 21, the Tbilisi Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the trial court.

On July 11, Lekso Lashkarava, a cameraman of TV Pirveli, was found dead in his home. During the July 5 attacks (see section 2.b.), he had been severely beaten. The statements by law enforcement agencies soon after his death appeared aimed at discrediting the journalist instead of determining the cause of death.

Following Lashkarava’s death, more than 70 media organizations issued a joint statement on July 11 that “cases of violation of the rights of media representatives” in the country had “reached a critical level.” The statement criticized authorities for failing to ensure the safety of journalists, insufficiently investigating violence against journalists, including the July 5 violence in which 53 members of the media were injured (see section 2.b.), and statements by ruling party officials that the statement said further encouraged such violence. On September 30, Transparency International/Georgia stated in part that physical security for journalists in the country had become “extremely dangerous” and that critical media representatives faced particular risk that was exacerbated by “aggressive rhetoric” from government officials and inadequate investigations of violent incidents.

Some watchdog groups such as Transparency International/Georgia expressed concern that law enforcement bodies summoned journalists for questioning and asked them to identify their sources. The law allows journalists to maintain the anonymity of their sources and not to be compelled to testify as a witness.

Nongovernmental Impact: Media observers, NGO representatives, and opposition politicians alleged Georgian Dream party chair and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili continued to exert a powerful influence over the government and judiciary, including in government actions against the owner of TV Pirveli and the general director of Mtavari Arkhi, whose court cases remained open as of November.

On April 6, far-right group Georgian March had a number of Facebook pages removed for what Facebook called “inauthentic behavior.” After the July 5 violence against journalists and others (see section 2.b.), the Facebook page for the far-right media outlet Alt-Info was taken down in connection with the July 5 events. According the Mythdetectors.ge, “Programs of Alt-Info are being shared by the Facebook page Alter-platform.” On December 7, Alt-Info’s leaders registered the political party Conservative Movement of Georgia with the National Agency of Public Registry. As of year’s end, more than 30 individuals were in pretrial detention on charges of abusing journalists, although none were identified as organizers.

While there was a relatively greater diversity of media in Abkhazia than in South Ossetia, media in both Russian-occupied regions remained restricted by Russian and de facto authorities.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, but concerns remained regarding unauthorized surveillance. Insufficient information was available regarding general internet freedom in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

On November 12, opposition-leaning Formula TV published a story alleging leaked documents from the State Security Service showing it was evaluating school principals for their loyalty to the ruling Georgian Dream party. The report alleged that principals who otherwise had received good evaluations were removed or demoted solely based on a negative evaluation by the State Security Service.

Germany

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned several individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.

Freedom of Expression: On April 1, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes. The act requires social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Online threats will now be treated the same as in-person threats, and threats of violence other than murder, such as of rape or vandalism, both online and in person, will also be treated the same as murder threats under the law.

On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, hair, or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of the public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these are of a religious nature, they can only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affect trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of their official duties.” Religious organizations expressed concern, however, that the law could serve as justification to restrict the wearing of religious head and face coverings or other religious symbols and attire by civil servants.

Some states did not permit full-face coverings in public schools.

In August 2020 the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by the federal state of Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. Berlin appealed the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in June.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.

Violence and Harassment: In June, 3,000 persons demonstrated in Duesseldorf against the new law on public assembly proposed by the NRW state government. Police allegedly assaulted a media representative and surrounded and detained 38 minors during the 10-hour event. During his testimony before the state parliament on the incident, NRW interior minister Herbert Reul regretted police action against the journalist and said it had been a mistake. NRW minister president Armin Laschet later met with the journalist and stated freedom of the press would always be guaranteed. Authorities filed 39 charges were against protesters, including nine counts of bodily harm and six of disturbing the peace.

On September 10, Munich police arrested photojournalist Michael Trammer of the newspaper taz for criminal trespass while he was covering a demonstration by environmentalists against an auto show. Trammer was arrested when police stormed the building and detained him in the process of arresting demonstrators even though he claimed he clearly identified himself as a member of the press. Police released Trammer later that day but ordered him not to enter the auto show’s facilities and declared he could be detained again if authorities suspected he might violate the law. Trammer’s newspaper contacted police, and they dropped the two orders, although Trammer still faced the trespass charge.

On April 3, regional broadcaster SWR was forced to abort a live report from a demonstration by the group Querdenker 711 in Stuttgart when demonstrators threw “hard objects” at the camera team. Police could not identify the perpetrators. The German Union of Journalists criticized police for not protecting the journalists. Journalists were also attacked at a March 23 Querdenker 711 demonstration in Kassel.

On April 26, a camera team in the government district of Berlin was harassed by five persons, disrupting a live broadcast on COVID-19 immunization policies. Police arrested four suspects on charges of attempted coercion. A federal government spokesperson condemned the attack and said journalists must be able to practice their profession without fear or interference.

Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, four individuals assaulted Turkish journalist Erk Acacer, a columnist for the Turkish daily BirGun, outside his residence in Berlin. Acacer told Deutsche Welle television he believed the attack was related to a Turkish businessman, whom Acacer alleged was involved in prostitution, drugs, and corruption. Acacer said he received new threats in late July; police were investigating the incidents.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, with one exception, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The exception is that the law permits the government to take down websites that belong to banned organizations or include speech that incites racial hatred, endorses Nazism, or denies the Holocaust. Authorities worked directly with internet service providers and online media companies to monitor and remove such content. Authorities monitored websites, social media accounts, messenger services, and streaming platforms associated with right-wing extremists. According to the state-level project Prosecute Rather Than Delete in NRW, 241 cases of inciting hate on the internet were reported to NRW authorities in 2020.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events supporting extreme right-wing neo-Nazism.

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right, although security forces committed isolated acts of violence and harassment against journalists.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Violence and Harassment: There were isolated attacks on journalists by members of security forces as well as by unknown assailants and occasional threats and intimidation. In April authorities arrested online news editor David Tamakloe, allegedly working on corruption stories concerning prominent members of the government. Authorities released him without charge. Media advocates characterized the arrest as a “preemptive move” and a “clear abuse of power” as no story had been published at the time of the arrest.

On May 11, Ministry of National Security officers detained and allegedly brutalized Caleb Kudah, a journalist with Omni Media Limited (OML), operator of Accra-based Citi FM radio and Citi TV. Authorities accused Kudah of filming a fleet of vehicles that had allegedly fallen into despair as a result of neglect at the Ministry of National Security facility, a restricted site. The security officers who detained Kudah reportedly beat and abused him during interrogation. On the same day, a SWAT team reportedly entered the OML offices in an attempt to arrest Zoe Abu-Baido, Kudah’s colleague. The Ministry of National Security accused Baido of possessing video files sent to her by Kudah immediately before his detention. Following public outrage the Ministry of National Security announced an internal probe into the incident which led to the suspension of the officers involved. Less than a week after his suspension, Ministry of National Security leadership re-assigned Lieutenant Colonel Acheampong, identified as the commander of the operation that apprehended and reportedly abused Kudah, to serve as commanding officer of a different unit of the Ghanaian Armed Forces.

On July 9, Assin Central Region Member of Parliament Kennedy Ohene Agyapong called for Erastus Asare Donkor, a journalist with Luv FM, to be “beaten and whipped” during a live television interview. The Media Foundation for West Africa and 642 professional journalists and supporters of press freedom presented a petition to the office of the speaker of parliament to request parliamentary debate on what they considered the deteriorating press freedom situation.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for criminal penalties for those who post false or misleading information online, with penalties of up to five years in prison and substantial fines.

On May 5, radio station Angel FM suspended popular morning show host Godsbrain Smart for allegedly slandering senior government officials, in accusing them of inaction on corruption and calling them “fools.” Media commentators and political observers suggested the station owner feared loss of nonmedia business opportunities, and the suspension contributed to a “growing culture of silence” among media outlets.

Internet Freedom

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

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Greece

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

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

Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. On November 11, the parliament approved legislation that allowed prosecution for spreading “fake news.” The law may be invoked by authorities on suspicion that an individual intends to spread fake news regarding the national defense, the economy, and health. NGOs expressed concern the law could be used to penalize media that reported on government actions to repel migrants and asylum seekers.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and their tax office. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites must display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. A similar electronic registry is in place for regional and local press.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of defamation, including libel and slander. Individuals convicted of crimes may not claim slander for discussion of their crimes.

On February 20, Deputy Minister of State Akis Skertsos filed a slander lawsuit against journalist Yorgos Tragas for a broadcast report alleging that the deputy minister had facilitated the sexual abuse of unaccompanied minors by the director of the National Theater. On April 23, a court of appeals reversed the slander conviction of broadcast journalist Michalis Tsokanis for reporting that two police officers in Evia had close ties to far-right Golden Dawn Party members.

Nongovernmental Impact: On April 9, two unknown perpetrators shot and killed journalist George Karaivaz outside his residence in Athens. Karaivaz was covering organized crime and corruption problems. His death, reportedly related to his reporting, was condemned by the prime minister and opposition parties, as well as by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and media freedom NGOs. Police had made no arrests by the year’s end.

Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least three instances. On January 10, a bomb exploded in the car of journalist George Sfakianakis outside the studios of television channel E in Athens. No injuries were reported. Police launched investigations but made no arrests. Government members and opposition parties condemned these attacks.

Grenada

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel, slander, and defamation are criminal offenses. Government or public figures did not use these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Guatemala

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government did not always respect this right. The intimidation of journalists increased during the year and resulted in significant self-censorship.

Freedom of Expression: Many journalists reported being followed or having to flee the country after publishing work that was critical of influential citizens. In August Marvin del Cid, an independent journalist, left the country after receiving threats due to the publication of a book he wrote exposing alleged improprieties in President Giammattei’s campaign funds in the 2019 presidential election.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Nonetheless, reporters covering organized crime, including its links to corrupt public officials, acknowledged practicing self-censorship due to the danger investigative journalism created for them and their families.

Lower advertising revenue, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or as pressure from companies against reports of corruption, resulted in media outlets becoming less independent.

Violence and Harassment: Members of the press reported receiving pressure, threats, and retribution from public officials and criminal organizations regarding the content of their reporting. Online attacks against independent journalists and media outlets continued throughout the year. These included hacking journalists’ private social media accounts, publishing stolen or falsified personal information, and conducting apparent coordinated attempts to undermine specific journalists and the press.

Observers noted that net centers, or collections of social media accounts operating from office buildings associated with government information sources, increased activity creating fake social media accounts to criticize and defame journalists.

On September 7, government prosecutors dropped all charges against Anastasia Mejia. In August 2020 the PNC arrested Mejia, the director of a local television and radio service, following her live radio and video reporting of a protest at the Joyabaj mayor’s office that resulted in damage to municipal property.

As of November the case against former congressman Julio Antonio Juarez Ramirez, accused of ordering the 2015 killings of two journalists in Suchitepequez, continued being litigated.

The Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Journalists reported 60 complaints of attacks or threats against journalists from January to August, compared with 73 during the same period of 2020, and no homicides, compared with one reported in the same period of 2020.

Nongovernmental Impact: Organized crime exerted influence over media outlets and reporters, frequently threatening individuals for reporting on criminal activities.

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.

Human rights defenders, journalists, as well as judges and lawyers on high-profile cases, reported social media attacks, including the hacking of their private social media accounts, publishing of stolen or falsified personal information, publishing of photographic surveillance of them and family members, and online defamation and hate speech. The government took little action to protect these individuals.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent and opposition-owned media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. Print media had limited reach. Radio remained the most important source of information for the public, and numerous private stations broadcast throughout the country. FM radio call-in shows were popular and allowed citizens to express broad discontent with the government. An increase in online news websites reflected the growing demand for divergent views. Nevertheless, allegations against or criticism of the Conde government could result in government reprisals, including suspensions, fines, and arrests. The CNRD reportedly engaged in reprisal against a media outlet that was affiliated with former president Conde.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports of arbitrary arrests, harassment, and intimidation of journalists by Conde government officials and CNRD transition authorities.

On July 18, police arrested journalist Habib Marouane Kamara in Conakry and took him to the Office of the Director of Judicial Police where he was questioned for several hours. According to his lawyer, Kamara was sued for defamation and blackmail following a complaint by the new director of the Guinea Water Company. Kamara previously criticized the appointments of water company executives, including the CEO’s wife, on his Facebook page. The Union of Private Press Professionals denounced his arrest and the lack of a judicial summons. Authorities released Kamara after two nights in police custody.

On October 9, security forces raided the compound of Djoma Media, a private media outlet with reported ties to former president Conde. The military claimed they were searching for missing government vehicles, although they did not have a warrant to enter the compound. Gunfire erupted at the scene, reportedly injuring two persons, after Djoma Media security guards refused to grant access.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Conde government penalized media outlets and journalists who broadcasted items criticizing government officials and their actions. Some journalists accused government officials of attempting to influence the tone of their reporting.

There were also reports CNRD authorities restricted journalists from covering certain transition government meetings and froze the assets of Djoma Media, a media outlet linked to former president Conde. According to media sources, the bank accounts were frozen due to “unjustified movements of money.” Djoma Media’s founder, Kabinet Sylla (known as “Bill Gates”), was a former government official and confidant of former president Conde. At year’s end the accounts remained inaccessible.

On October 8, according to Reporters Without Borders, CNRD authorities restricted several private television stations from filming CNRD Prime Minister Mohamed Beagovui’s swearing-in ceremony. State-owned Radio Television Guinea was often the only media outlet invited to cover Conde government meetings; it remained the only platform for official CNRD announcements to the public.

Libel/Slander Laws: Libel against the head of state, slander, and false reporting are criminal offenses subject to imprisonment up to five years and heavy fines. Conde government officials used these laws to harass opposition leaders and journalists. Journalists alleged the defamation lawsuits targeted persons critical of the government to silence dissent.

On February 4, a Conakry court sentenced sports journalist Ibrahima Sadio Bah to six months in prison and a monetary fine for defaming Mamadou Antonio Souare, the president of the national soccer federation.

On February 27, authorities arrested and detained sports journalist and historian Amadou Dioulde Diallo for allegedly insulting President Conde during a radio talk show. Reporters Without Borders, local press associations, and the Guinean Organization for the Defense of Human Rights expressed concern regarding the arrest and denounced his imprisonment, claiming that it was a violation of the law on freedom of the press. On May 19, a court sentenced him to a substantial fine and released him.

In January three journalists detained since 2018 from the private radio station Nostalgie FM, were prosecuted for “defamation, slanderous denunciation, and insults.” The journalists were sentenced on January 13 to two months’ imprisonment with suspended sentences and fined. During a 2018 episode of their radio show Africa 2025, a former teacher from the undergraduate school Saint Joseph de Cliny called in to denounce the working conditions at the school. In response the director of the school filed a complaint against the journalists who hosted the broadcast. The journalists’ lawyer announced they would appeal the decision. As of December the appeal was pending with the Conakry Court of Appeals. Several local press associations issued a press statement announcing their support for the journalists and advocated the cancellation of their sentence. On January 15, the Union of Private Press Professionals held a sit-in at the court to denounce the decision.

In December 2020 Minister of Technical Education and Vocational Training Zenab Nabaya Drame sued the three journalists for defamation for publishing a story implicating her in the embezzlement of approximately 219 billion Guinean Francs (GNF) ($22.3 million) in public funds as minister and in former positions as finance director in the Ministries of Health and Agriculture. The minister withdrew the suit in February after the court ruled that it could not proceed with the case while there was an ongoing investigation into the allegations of embezzlement (see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government).

National Security: Authorities used the law to punish journalists and executives at media outlets critical of the government.

In November 2020, after being detained for three weeks, Guinean-Canadian pro-opposition blogger Mamady Conde (alias Madic 100 Frontieres) was charged with slander, threats, xenophobia, inciting a revolt, and harming the fundamental interests of the state. He was convicted on February 8 and sentenced to five years in prison and fined for “downloading and disseminating messages, photos, drawings of a racist nature, xenophobia, threat, violence and insults through a computer system.” His sentence was reduced to one year on June 10 after an appeal. Then president Conde pardoned Mamady Conde in addition to three other high-profile opposition members in July after the four wrote letters of contrition seeking clemency.

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, including for members of the press and other media; however, the government did not always respect this right. Since President Sissoco’s self-inauguration in February 2020, the United Nations and media watchdogs reported multiple acts of intimidation against media, including state-owned media outlets.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. There were several private newspapers in addition to the government-owned newspaper No Pintcha, but the state-owned printing house published all of them. Journalists working for state-owned media, however, did not operate freely, and internal censorship was common.

Violence and Harassment: The government took no steps to preserve the safety and independence of media or to prosecute individuals who threatened journalists. Intimidation and harassment of journalist and media outlets remained a problem during the year.

On March 9, in Bissau, a group of four unidentified men abducted, robbed, and beat unconscious journalist António Aly Silva, who wrote articles critical of President Sissoco and ran a news website that frequently posted content critical of the government. The Guinean Human Rights League filed a complaint with judicial police on Silva’s behalf. The public prosecutor began an investigation into the attack, the results of which remained pending at year’s end.

On March 12, in Bissau, five armed men in plain clothes allegedly attacked and tried to abduct Adao Ramalho, a reporter for a local radio station, while he stood in front of the presidential palace reporting on the recent return to Bissau of exiled opposition leader Domingos Simoes Pereira (see section 1.e., Misuse of International Law Enforcement Tools). The men reportedly beat Ramalho with their rifles, punched and kicked him, and allegedly tried to pull him into a vehicle. Ramalho and bystanders identified one of the attackers as a member of the presidential guard force. The public prosecutor launched an investigation, which remained pending at year’s end.

On July 21, a Coast Guard officer assaulted and detained Emerson Gomes, a presenter and trainee journalist at Djan-Djan Community Radio in Bubaque, a town in the country’s Bijagos archipelago, accusing the outlet of spreading false news. The officer reportedly beat and detained Gomes at the Coast Guard regional office in Bubaque. Gomes allegedly suffered injuries from the assault and required hospitalization. The Coast Guard detained the alleged attacker for one week. The Coast Guard reportedly apologized to Gomes for the assault by one of its officers, launched an internal disciplinary review, and provided some funding for Gomes’s medical expenses. The results of the internal disciplinary review were not available at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were cases of censorship in public media. Political considerations often caused journalists to self-censor news content.

Guyana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The ruling party’s monopoly of state media created an imbalance in public discourse and tended to give them a public affairs advantage, since the opposition did not have an outlet of its own.

Libel/Slander Laws: Defamatory libel is a crime punishable by imprisonment of three years or less. As of November, a 2020 libel case against Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo lodged by opposition parliamentarian Annette Ferguson, regarding statements then opposition leader Jagdeo made about Ferguson’s acquisition of lands when she was in government was pending with the Court of Appeal.

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.

On July 15, the director of public prosecutions charged opposition parliamentarian Annette Ferguson with using a computer system to humiliate a person, under a provision of the Cybercrime Act. Police arrested her on June 15 following her social media post claiming a senior member of the Guyana Defense Force would be named head of a “death squad.” Ferguson was released on self-bail, but as of November the case remained pending before the Magistrates Court.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

Haiti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Civil society observers noted this right was not always upheld or respected.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported a deteriorating security climate and said some journalists resorted to self-censorship to avoid being publicly targeted by political or gang leaders.

On June 29, a journalist and an activist radio presenter, Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair, were killed in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. The acting HNP director general issued a statement the following day claiming the police union, SPNH-17, was behind the double killing and others in retaliation for the earlier killing of the SPNH-17 spokesperson, although many observers in civil society failed to understand the connection between the two incidents or how police were able to draw their conclusions so rapidly.

Local media reported a prominent photojournalist fled the country in June due to death threats from gang members. He had reportedly taken photographs of the gang looting a private business.

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 authorization.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no reports of the government restricting academic freedom or cultural events.

Honduras

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, with some restrictions, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.

The government allocated a budget of nearly 21 million lempiras ($865,000) for the continued operation of a protection mechanism for journalists, human rights defenders, and judicial-sector operators. As of August it continued to provide protection to 12 journalists, among other types of activists and human rights defenders. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) expressed concern regarding weak implementation of the law and limited resources available to operate the government’s protection mechanism. Civil society organizations criticized the government’s failure to investigate threats adequately.

The Honduran National Police’s Special Victim’s Investigations Unit, formerly known as the Violent Crimes Task Force, investigated crimes against high-profile and particularly vulnerable victims, including journalists as well as judges, lawyers, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media members and NGOs stated the press self-censored due to fear of retaliation from organized criminal groups or corrupt government officials.

Libel/Slander Laws: Citizens, including public officials, may initiate criminal proceedings for libel and slander. No cases were reported during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Some journalists and other members of civil society reported threats from members of organized criminal groups. It was unclear how many of these threats were related to the victims’ professions or activism. Several anonymous social media sites, possibly linked to political parties, criticized journalists (as well as activists and civil society organizations) who were critical of the government or opposition party policies.

Hong Kong

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

Despite provisions of the Basic Law and government claims, the PRC and SAR governments increasingly encroached upon freedom of expression. Attacks on independent media included the coerced closures of Apple Daily and Stand News; the restructuring of public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) to gut its editorial independence and to delete previous online content considered politically sensitive; pressure applied to a prominent journalists’ labor union; and acts to encourage self-censorship by other media outlets and public opinion leaders.

Freedom of Expression: There were legal restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government publicly without reprisal. Expressing views perceived to be critical of the PRC or SAR prompted charges of sedition or NSL violations for prodemocratic activists and politicians. On June 4, Chow Hang-tung, the vice chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, was arrested and later charged for inciting unauthorized assembly, because she urged members of the public to “turn on the lights wherever you are – whether on your telephone, candles, or electronic candles” in remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Requirements for electoral candidacy and for taking the oath of office also limited free speech in the political arena. The overhauled electoral system (see section 3) requires all elected officials to swear an oath of allegiance and to adhere to “patriotic” standards with respect to the PRC and SAR. Even with the signed pledge and oath of office, the Electoral Affairs Commission chose to disqualify 49 seated members of local District Councils and one remaining non-pro-Beijing legislative councilor, questioning their patriotism based on past statements or actions, despite their adherence to the requirements of office. There was no judicial recourse.

The government requires all civil servants to swear an oath of allegiance. According to media reports, civil servants may lose their jobs if they refuse to swear the oath and may face criminal charges, including under the NSL, if they later engage in behavior, including speech, deemed to violate the oaths. SAR authorities and Beijing officials insinuated that interactions with foreign diplomats could be considered “collusion” under the NSL. One former pan-democratic politician facing NSL charges was denied bail in part based on an email invitation from a foreign consulate, while another was denied bail in part based on interviews and text messages with international press.

Any speech critical of the central or local government or its policies may be construed as advocating secession or subversion in violation of the NSL, or inciting hate against the government in violation of a colonial-era sedition law. Prosecutors argued in multiple court hearings that the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” a common slogan of the 2019 prodemocracy protests, contained an inherent meaning of support for independence, a change in the SAR’s constitutional status, or both. To date, courts have convicted two individuals under the NSL in part on that basis. Scholars and activists have argued that the courts’ decisions failed to take into consideration protections for freedom of expression enshrined in the Basic Law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the NSL itself.

In May SAR authorities passed legislation that criminalized inciting others not to vote in elections or to cast blank ballots. Violators are subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine. The SAR anticorruption agency arrested at least 10 individuals in November and December for allegedly urging, on social media, others to cast blank votes. On December 16, two of the 10 were the first to be prosecuted under this law. Legal experts described the legislation as disproportionate and out of line with common law norms that criminalize incitement only when the behavior incited is itself illegal. SAR officials have also claimed that inciting others to boycott elections or cast blank votes may violate the NSL.

SAR legislation prohibits acts deemed to abuse or desecrate the PRC national flag or anthem. In September SAR authorities amended the legislation to criminalize desecrating the national flag or anthem online, such as by posting an image of a “defiled” national flag on social media. At least one individual was convicted during the year for desecrating the national flag, and at least three others were arrested for allegedly desecrating the flag or insulting the national anthem.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The operating space for independent media shrank considerably. The SAR targeted independent media that expressed views it construed as not progovernment. Pro-Beijing media and politicians accused government-owned public broadcaster RTHK of exercising insufficient editorial oversight, opposing police and the government, and thus potentially standing in violation of the NSL. The SAR government subsequently forced out the managing director and replaced him with a pro-Beijing civil servant with no broadcasting experience. RTHK’s civil service employees were given a deadline to swear loyalty oaths, leading many to resign. Under its new management, RTHK also fired presenters, cancelled shows, and censored content based on political perspective.

The SAR systematically dismantled Apple Daily, an independent newspaper and online news platform. On June 17, national security police officers arrested five executives of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily. The same day, police searched Apple Daily offices and froze its assets. During the search, police documented each staff member on site. Following the freeze of its assets, on June 24, Apple Daily issued its last online reports and newspaper edition. Three members of the editorial staff, including a senior editor prohibited from boarding a flight at the airport, were subsequently arrested under the NSL. Cheung Kim-hung, CEO of Apple Daily parent company Next Digital, was denied bail based in part on public statements made by foreign governments, over which the defendant had no control.

On December 29, national security police officers arrested seven individuals affiliated with prodemocracy online media outlet Stand News on charges of “conspiracy to print or distribute seditious materials” under a colonial-era sedition law. The same day, police raided its office, seized journalistic materials, and froze its assets. Police also raided the home of Stand News deputy editor and chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Ronson Chan, who was taken in for questioning but later released. Stand News subsequently announced on its social media page the resignation of its chief editor, the layoff of all staff, and the immediate cessation of all its operations.

Violence and Harassment: The pro-Beijing media and SAR officials began in September to accuse the Hong Kong Journalists Association of potential NSL violations. The association released a report in July titled Freedom in Tatters outlining the worrisome loss of journalistic freedom. The report expressed concern that police force national security offices would begin scrutinizing its activities using tactics like those used against trade unions and other professional associations. The Hong Kong Journalists Association is a frequent target of SAR government officials’ and pro-Beijing media criticism. In November the Foreign Correspondents’ Club issued the results of a member survey showing that 83 percent of respondents believed the NSL caused the media environment to change for the worse. This spurred the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in the city to condemn the club for smearing the city’s press freedom and interfering in the territory’s affairs.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Reports of media self-censorship and suspected content control continued. Public libraries and universities culled their holdings, including archives, to comply with the NSL; it was unclear if this was based on a request from SAR officials or if the institutions chose to self-censor. Public libraries removed past issues of Apple Daily and books authored by prodemocratic activists. After the closure of Apple Daily and the increased scrutiny of RTHK, Stand News removed articles and columns from its website in June to reduce risks that SAR authorities would accuse the media outlet of breaking the NSL or other laws.

In July officers in the Hong Kong police’s National Security Department arrested and later charged five members of a labor union with “conspiring to publish seditious publications” after the union published a series of children’s books that referred to the 2019-20 protest movement. Police also froze more than 160,000 Hong Kong dollars ($20,000) of the union’s assets. In August SAR authorities announced they were canceling the union’s registration for alleged activities inconsistent with the union’s stated objectives. SAR officials accused the books of “inciting hatred” and “poisoning” children’s minds against the PRC and SAR governments.

In October the Legislative Council passed a film censorship law that empowers SAR authorities to revoke a film’s license if “found to be contrary to national security interests.” Violators are liable for up to three years’ imprisonment.

Internet Freedom

The SAR government generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, although activists claimed central government authorities actively monitored their internet activity. There were also numerous reports of unexplained problems with access to certain websites associated with the prodemocracy movement. There were reports that public access was blocked to certain websites, including those associated with the prodemocracy movement and a museum focused on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, although SAR authorities refused to confirm the reports. Prosecutors cited social media posts as evidence, including against those charged with NSL violations or inciting an unlawful assembly. NGOs and some media outlets reported focusing on digital security to protect their privacy, partners, and sources.

When investigating NSL violations, the national security divisions of the police force may require a person who published information or opinions or the relevant service provider to remove the content or assist the national security divisions by providing information on the user. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter reported denying the SAR government’s user information and content takedown requests. Google reported releasing data to the SAR authorities on three occasions during the year, once due to a credible threat to life and twice in connection with suspected trafficking in persons; Google reported it had not complied with many political requests.

The antidoxing amendment raised concerns among civil society, the press, and online platforms that the vague amendment would be used to prosecute journalists reporting on matters of public interest. The amendment applies the same standard of consent to disclose data to private individuals and public officials alike and does not include carve outs for issues of public interest or for already publicly available information.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There was a significant increase in restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. The PRC and SAR authorities claimed that a lack of “patriotic education” was a root cause of the 2019 antiextradition bill protests and targeted the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, which dissolved under political pressure in August (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).

In February the SAR’s Education Bureau announced the incorporation of “national security” into the SAR government-approved curriculum at all levels, beginning at the kindergarten level. New guidelines require all schools following the official SAR curriculum to limit political expression and activities on school campuses and to submit periodic reports regarding their implementation of so-called national security education. Activists decried the guidelines as restricting freedom of expression on campuses. The Education Bureau announced guidelines in October that require all SAR-run and subsidized schools to hold weekly flag raising ceremonies.

In July police raided the office of the student union at the University of Hong Kong after the union’s council passed a motion expressing “sadness” at the death of an individual who attacked a police officer on the July 1 anniversary of the SAR’s handover to PRC sovereignty. The union later apologized and retracted the motion. Under pressure from SAR authorities, university leadership barred the students who attended the council meeting from campus and severed ties with the student union. In August police arrested four members of the student union on suspicion of “advocating terrorism,” a crime under the NSL.

In June a museum dedicated to memorializing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre operated by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China was raided following allegations that the museum did not have the appropriate license. Under this pressure, the museum closed later that month.

In December, three universities removed sculptures and artworks commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre from their campuses. The University of Hong Kong removed a memorial to the victims of the massacre called “Pillar of Shame,” the Chinese University of Hong Kong removed a statue of “The Goddess of Democracy,” and Lingnan University removed a wall relief portraying the massacre. The universities cited unspecified legal risks, and the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University of Hong Kong also claimed that their management had never approved the presence of the statues, which had stood on the campuses since 1997 and 2010, respectively.

Hungary

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, who were active and expressed a wide range of views. In a March 30 report, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights asserted that “the combined effects of a politically controlled media regulatory authority and distortionary state intervention in the media market have eroded media pluralism and freedom of expression.” On November 22, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression stated that “by exerting influence over media regulatory bodies, providing substantial state funds to support progovernment media, facilitating the expansion and development of media that follow a progovernment editorial line, and ostracizing media outlets and journalists reporting critically on the government,” authorities undermined media diversity, pluralism, and independence. There were some formal restrictions on content related to “hate speech” and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) topics (see below and in section 6). The government allegedly targeted the mobile phones of several investigative journalists with foreign spyware (see section 1.f.).

In March 2020 as part of the government’s legislative package declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parliament amended the criminal code to increase the penalty for spreading a “falsehood” or “distorted truth” (“scaremongering”) that could obstruct or prevent successful protection under a special legal order to imprisonment of up to five years (see section 3 for more on the state of emergency). As of June, 196 reports were filed for investigation for the suspicion of scaremongering. A March 30 report by the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights stated, “the high number of investigations launched, including in cases that undoubtedly involved expressions of opinions demonstrate the ambiguity of the amendment.” Free speech advocates and media observers asserted that the existence of the law, even in the absence of its widespread implementation, discouraged the free expression of ideas and objective reporting of the news.

The European Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report asserted that the May 2020 government decree that allowed public authorities to delay access to public data by up to 90 days so as not to “jeopardize” official duties during the COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency, further restricted access to information and inhibited independent media outlets’ ability to report news in a timely manner.

A drone law in effect effective January 1 requires a permit to operate flying objects weighing more than 4.2 ounces and made the publication of drone footage of property without the owner’s permission a crime punishable by up to a one-year prison sentence. Independent media had used drone footage to supplement investigative reports on alleged corruption and government misdeeds. In its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders asserted that the restrictions on taking pictures and videos by drones narrowed the scope of press freedom.

Freedom of Expression: Criminal law provides that any person who incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or certain other designated groups of the population may be prosecuted and convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to three years. The constitution includes hate speech provisions to “protect the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial, or religious community.” The law prohibits the public denial of expression of doubt regarding, or minimization of the Holocaust, genocide, and other crimes of the National Socialist (Nazi) and communist regimes; such crimes are punishable by up to three years in prison. The law also prohibits as a misdemeanor the wearing, exhibiting, or promoting of the swastika, the logo of the Nazi SS, the symbols of the Arrow Cross, the hammer and sickle, or the five-pointed red star in a way that harms human dignity or the memory of the victims of dictatorships. The media law also prohibits media content intended to incite hatred or violence against specific minority or majority communities and their members. The law includes the provision that media content must not have the potential to instigate an act of terrorism.

A 2018 law that imposes a 25 percent tax on civil entities that aid or promote immigration remained in force. Several NGOs criticized the law, noting that it penalizes the public expression of opinions different from that of the government (see section 5). According to press reports, no entity had paid any tax in 2020 under the law, and no known tax office investigation or audit had been conducted to that effect.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, with some legislative restriction on LGBTQI+ content (see section 6).

Several media providers criticized the “antipedophile” law passed in June that banned the “promotion” and “portrayal” of “gender reassignment” and homosexuality to minors in media and advertisement. On June 14, the commercial television group RTL Hungary released a statement asserting that the new regulations violated freedom of expression and caused “significant economic damage” to all domestic media players. Other media companies, such as A+E Networks UK, AMC, HBO, WarnerMedia, and ViacomCBS, expressed support for RTL’s statement, and some issued statements of their own.

In its 2021 Rule of Law Report, the European Commission noted concerns that while a broad range of media outlets continued to operate in the country, the diversity of the media market was negatively affected by the concentration of ownership in the hands of a few progovernment businesspersons, especially through the Central European Press and Media Foundation, and the resulting lack of editorial independence.

Some progovernment outlets relied almost completely on government advertising for their revenues. The European Commission’s 2021 Rule of Law Report stated that “significant amounts of state advertising have continued to permit the government to exert indirect political influence over the media.” The 2021 Media Pluralism Monitor reported that the state was the largest advertiser, spending approximately one-third of the total advertising revenue of the market, putting editorial independence at a high risk.

Independent media claimed to have been excluded in a discriminatory fashion from the events and press conferences of government and government-linked entities, thus depriving them of free and fair access to public officials to ask them challenging questions. For example, some outlets were not allowed to attend the prime minister’s June 10 annual press conference.

The National Media and Info-Communications Authority (NMHH), subordinate to parliament, is the central state administrative body for regulating media. The authority of the NMHH includes overseeing the operation of broadcast and media markets as well as “contributing to the execution of the government’s policy in the areas of frequency management and telecommunications.” The NMHH president, who is nominated by the prime minister, serves as the chair of the five-member Media Council, the decision-making body of the NMHH that supervises broadcast, cable, online, and print media content and spectrum management. In a March 30 report, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights raised concerns that the president of NMHH was a political appointee who “holds extensive and concentrated powers for nine years over all regulatory, senior staffing, financing, and content matters across all media sectors.”

The Media Council consisted exclusively of persons named by the governing parties. Some experts criticized the Media Council’s radio frequency awarding practices for allegedly penalizing radio stations that were critical of the government. On February 15, the country’s last major independent radio station, Klubradio, ended broadcasts after a court upheld a September 2020 decision by the Media Council not to extend the station’s broadcasting license based on its alleged failure to comply with certain administrative obligations. The Media Council subsequently rejected Klubradio’s new application for the same frequency, although it had submitted the only qualified bid. On June 17, the Curia upheld the Media Council’s decision. On June 9, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure regarding the Klubradio’s case, calling the Media Council’s justification of its decision to deny the frequency license “highly questionable” and characterizing the move as “disproportionate and nontransparent.” Forced to broadcast exclusively online, as of August Klubradio reached only 10 percent of the 200,000 daily listeners it had when it was on the airwaves.

The state news agency, MTI, which offers its services free of charge, is mandated by law to provide balanced, objective, nonpartisan coverage. Media watchdogs and independent outlets criticized the state media for concealing facts and opinions unfavorable to the government.

Parliamentary press regulations restrict the movement and work of journalists in parliament to a small cordoned off area. The speaker of parliament, Laszlo Kover, has the authority to ban parliamentary access for journalists for alleged violations of these rules. In April the Curia rejected the lawsuit against the speaker of parliament brought by a media outlet for using his authority to obstruct journalists’ activities.

Violence and Harassment: There were no reports of violence against journalists or of physical or legal harassment. Nevertheless, government officials and government-aligned media continued to refer to some independent journalists as “Soros agents” or “Soros mercenaries” and independent media as the “Soros media” or the “Soros blog.” The government has long portrayed Hungarian-American businessman/philanthropist George Soros as the mastermind behind numerous purported plots against the country. The anti-Soros campaign has anti-Semitic overtones, as the prime minister and others link Soros and the purported plots to “shadowy globalist forces.” For instance, on the anniversary of the 1956 revolution, the prime minister accused the opposition of competing to represent the interests of Soros and the EU, aiming to “take Hungary from the hands of Mary and place it at the feet of Brussels.”

On multiple occasions, government-aligned outlets criticized nongovernment-aligned, independent, and international journalists by name for their reporting.

In April the public television channel M1 broadcast a six-minute report that attacked an Austrian journalist for “provocative allegations disguised as questions” sent in an email to Fidesz’s delegation to the EU for an article in an Austrian magazine. The report referred to her as an “amateur journalist” for the “left-liberal press,” and displayed her name and photograph while drawing attention to previous articles she wrote on the prime minister. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on his Facebook page that the journalist was “spreading fake news.” Reporters Without Borders condemned the attack on her professional credentials, and the Association of European Journalists called the M1 report an attempt to damage the professional reputation of a journalist.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides content regulations and standards for journalistic rights, ethics, and norms that are applicable to all media, including news portals and online publications. It prohibits inciting hatred against nations; communities; ethnic, linguistic, or other minorities; majority groups; and churches or religious groups. It provides for maintaining the confidentiality of sources with respect to procedures conducted by courts or authorities.

The law mandates that public service media providers pursue balanced, accurate, detailed, objective, and responsible news and information services. These requirements were often disregarded. Opposition politicians complained that they were rarely able to appear on public television and radio or were given significantly less time to articulate their positions. There were reports that public media was instructed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic in specific ways, including which photographs could be shared.

The Media Council may impose monetary fines for violations of content regulations, including on media services that violate prohibitions on inciting hatred or violating human dignity or regulations governing the protection of minors. The Council may impose fines of up to 200 million forints ($666,000), depending on the nature of the infringement, type of media service, and audience size. It may also suspend the right to broadcast for up to one week. Defendants may appeal Media Council decisions but must appeal separately to prevent the implementation of fines while the parties litigate the substantive appeal.

On March 4, the Media Council opened administrative legal procedures against the commercial television channel RTL Klub on child protection grounds for airing an ad campaign in support of LGBTQI+ families; the case was pending at year’s end.

Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists reporting on an event may be judged criminally responsible for making or reporting false statements. Both individuals and media outlets may be sued for libel for their published statements or for publicizing libelous statements made by others. Plaintiffs may litigate in both civil and criminal courts.

Public officials and other public figures continued to use libel and defamation laws in response to criticism from citizens and journalists. On May 6, an appellate court in Budapest upheld a lower court’s November 2020 ruling to convict a reporter for independent news site 444.hu on a criminal defamation charge. The court issued a reprimand, meaning that the conviction was to remain on the journalist’s criminal record for three years, but it did not otherwise impose any penalty. The charges stemmed from a 2017 article accusing a Fidesz-linked Budapest city district council member of harassing the journalist while she attempted to report his presence at a party forum. The government-aligned publisher Mediaworks sued its former sports journalist for defamation after he criticized the editorial practice in one of its outlets. In February the court ruled in favor of the journalist.

Opposition politicians and government-critical private individuals sued government-aligned media outlets in several cases. Courts tended to pass verdicts that protected private individuals from libel or slander by government-affiliated media and their reporters. At the beginning of the year, progovernment media outlets ran hundreds of articles that mischaracterized statements by a leading independent political analyst concerning the use of Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines. Government officials including the prime minister repeated the misleading assertions. Media frenzy regarding the remarks resulted in threats of physical harm against the analyst and his family. Although the analyst won several lawsuits against the progovernment media outlets that misrepresented his remarks, no government officials retracted their criticism of him.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet and generally did not censor online content. There were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Experts pointed out, however, that formal approvals of secret surveillance activities against citizens were relatively easy to obtain (see section 1.f.).

In cooperation with internet service providers, the NMHH maintained a nonpublic database to store and cooperate in the implementation of court rulings and tax authority resolutions to block websites that violate the law, including content-related legislation.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The higher education law requires universities from non-EU countries to have a physical presence in their country of origin, operate under an intergovernmental agreement between Hungary and the country of accreditation, and stipulates that the university’s name in Hungarian reflects an exact translation of the name in the country of origin. Following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in October 2020 that declared the law in breach of EU law and World Trade Organization fair market access rules, in May the government revoked part of the law that forced U.S.-accredited Central European University (CEU) to transfer most of its operations to Vienna. The legislative change removed the requirement that foreign universities must be state-recognized higher education institutions providing such education in their home countries. The law stipulated that higher education institutions established outside the European Economic Area may offer degree programs under a signed agreement between Hungary and the government of the institution’s country of origin and that a foreign institution’s education be equivalent to that offered by Hungarian higher education. A similar requirement of an intergovernmental treaty forced the CEU to move from Budapest in 2019 as the government declined to sign the draft agreement to bring CEU into compliance with the law.

In July the Constitutional Court closed the CEU case without a ruling, which it suspended in 2018. The Constitutional Court stated that the petitions became obsolete after parliament adopted new legislation.

Under legislation passed by parliament in May 2020, the government assigned private foundations the right to operate six public universities starting in August 2020. On April 27, the ruling Fidesz majority in parliament voted to transfer control of another 11 public universities and billions of dollars of state assets to private foundations, which as a result gained control over 70 percent of the country’s higher education institutions. On April 30, the prime minister stated that the format would make universities more efficient and competitive and added the foundations would be overseen by “national-minded” individuals, as opposed to “internationalist or globalist” persons. On July 2-3, the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s body of constitutional experts, issued an opinion that these public-asset management foundations might jeopardize academic freedom and weaken the autonomy of higher-education institutions (see section 4).

Iceland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The law establishes fines and imprisonment for up to two years for “[a]nyone who publicly mocks, defames, denigrates, or threatens a person or group of persons by comments or expressions of another nature, for example, by means of pictures or symbols for their nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, or disseminates such materials.”

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.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

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

India

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, but it does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. The government generally respected this right, but there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling. There were also reports of terrorists and extremists perpetrating killings, violence, and intimidation against journalists critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals routinely criticized the government publicly and privately via online platforms, television, radio, or in print media. According to the HRW World Report 2021, the government “increasingly harassed, arrested, and prosecuted rights defenders, activists, journalists, students, academics, and others critical of the government or its policies.” Harassment and detainment of journalists critical of the government in their reporting or social media messaging continued.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2021 report downgraded the country’s ranking from “Free” to “Partly Free,” due in part to “a crackdown on expressions of dissent by media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.” The Freedom House report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices. Media contacts said that some media outlets practiced self-censorship in response to the government reportedly withholding public-sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

On January 1, Madhya Pradesh police arrested stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui and four other persons for offending religious sentiments with jokes he allegedly planned to perform. The Supreme Court granted Faruqui bail in February, stating the allegations against him were vague.

On February 1, the government ordered Twitter to block accounts belonging to journalists covering the protests against agricultural reform laws, stating the order was to prevent a potential escalation of violence. Twitter initially complied with the government’s request, but subsequently restored access to the accounts after conducting an internal review.

On May 13, Manipur police arrested social activist Erendro Leichombam for a Facebook post critical of a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as cures for COVID-19. On July 19, the Supreme Court granted bail to Leichombam, who was previously kept in preventive detention under the National Security Act after being granted bail by a lower court.

On July 24, Tamil Nadu police arrested Father George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest, for alleged hate speech against the prime minister and home minister. The priest was attending a July 18 meeting honoring deceased tribal rights activist Father Stan Swamy. The court remanded Ponnaiah to judicial custody for 15 days, and the Madras High Court granted conditional bail on August 10.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views. The law prohibits content that could harm religious sentiments or provoke enmity among groups, and authorities invoked these provisions to restrict print media; broadcast media; digital media platforms, including streaming services; and publication or distribution of books.

There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement.

NGOs alleged criminal prosecutions and investigations were used to intimidate journalists critical of the government.

The Reporters without Borders 2021 World Press Freedom Index described the country as very dangerous for journalists, with press freedom violations by police, political activists, criminal groups, and local officials. The report also identified “coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks,” encouraging threats against journalists as a major area of concern. Harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. Journalists working in Jammu and Kashmir continued to face barriers to free reporting through communications and movement restrictions.

In Jammu and Kashmir at least six journalists were assaulted, detained, or questioned by police through August according to the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. In 2020 the government introduced a new media regulation in Jammu and Kashmir empowering local administration to determine “fake and antinational news” and to initiate criminal charges against journalists. The Kashmir Press Club protested the policy and alleged that the government was institutionalizing intimidation by exploiting the policy against media platforms critical of the government.

In January, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, and New Delhi police filed charges against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; the Caravan founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath, and executive editor Vinod K. Jose; and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor. The charges included sedition, intent to cause riot, and other charges through their coverage of a violent January 26 protest. The Supreme Court granted the individuals a stay of arrest on February 9.

On March 5, journalists Shafat Farooq and Saqib Majeed said they were beaten by police during a protest in Srinagar. On July 17, Kashmiri journalist Aakash Hassan was allegedly assaulted by police. In August, Jammu and Kashmir police detained and questioned journalist Irfan Malik concerning tweets critical of the Jammu Kashmir government’s film promotion policy.

On April 7, Jammu and Kashmir Police inspector general Vijay Kumar issued a warning that police would file criminal charges against journalists who approached ongoing police counterterrorism operations, on the grounds that such reporting was “likely to incite violence” or promote “antinational sentiment.” The Editors Guild of India criticized the prohibitions as “draconian and undemocratic.”

Media reported criminal charges were filed against individuals who posted requests for oxygen supplies via social media during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, police in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, filed charges against 26-year-old Shashank Yadav for tweeting a plea for oxygen for his grandfather. On April 30, the Supreme Court warned that states should protect citizens’ right to communicate their grievances regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on social media.

On June 15, Uttar Pradesh police filed charges against Twitter; online news platform The Wire; journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammad Zubair; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani, and Sama Mohammad for “stoking communal unrest” by posting video footage of the assault of an elderly Muslim man.

On July 22, the Income Tax Department searched 32 office and residential locations affiliated with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, publisher of Dainik Bhaskar, the country’s second-most-read Hindi language newspaper. The Income Tax Department also raided the offices of Hindi language television station Bharat Samachar. Government sources asserted the raids were a result of alleged tax evasion by the media groups. The media groups claimed the raids were conducted as retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February the Kashmir Press Club stated security agencies had routinely deployed intimidation tactics such as threats, summonses, and physical attacks on journalists in Jammu and Kashmir. On February 8, police summoned journalists Naseer Ganai and Haroon Nabi to the police facility, where they were questioned for reporting on a statement by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

In June the Jammu and Kashmir government released Media Policy 2020, a policy which authorizes the Directorate of Information and Publication Relations to “examine” the content of print, electronic, and other forms of media for “fake news, plagiarism, and unethical or antinational activities” in the name of law and order. Under the new media policy, government action could range from legal proceedings against journalists for “indulging in fake news, unethical or antinational activities, or plagiarism” to withholding advertisements from any media that “incite or tends to incite violence, question sovereignty and the integrity of India, or violate the accepted norms of public decency and behavior.”

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh authorities charged Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the COVID-19 lockdown; she was charged with violating the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and sections of the penal code regarding printing defamatory matter and negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life. Police also charged the Mumbai-based editor in chief of Scroll.in. On August 26, the Allahabad High Court granted Sharma protection from immediate arrest in the case but allowed the investigation to continue.

On July 1, UNESCO director general Audrey Azoulay called for authorities to end “gunpoint censorship” and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Shubham Mani Tripathi, a journalist for the newspaper Kampu Mail. Tripathi died on June 19 when he was shot six times by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh. His killing was allegedly in retaliation for his investigative reports into connections between illegal sand mining and corruption allegations. The two assailants, along with a third individual, were arrested.

The government maintained a monopoly on AM radio stations, limiting broadcasting to the state-owned All India Radio, and restricted FM radio licenses to entertainment and educational content. Widely distributed private satellite television provided competition for Doordarshan, the government-owned television network. There were accusations of political interference in the state-owned broadcasters. State governments banned the import or sale of selected books that contained material government officials deemed could be inflammatory or provoke communal or religious tensions.

On May 14, Andhra Pradesh police filed sedition charges against Telugu news channels TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for broadcasting the speeches and statements of Member of Parliament K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju that allegedly “promoted enmity and hatred among different communities.” Police arrested Raju and filed sedition charges against him. On May 21, the Supreme Court granted bail to the lawmaker; on May 31, the Supreme Court blocked Andhra Pradesh police from acting against the two channels.

Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists reported five journalists were killed during the year. Journalists were threatened online with violence and, in the case of female journalists, rape.

On March 24, Syandan Patrika journalist Bikash Das was assaulted in Tripura while covering a story on corruption. A group of assailants attacked Das, inflicting serious injuries before he was able to escape.

On June 13, Uttar Pradesh journalist Sulabh Srivastava was found dead under mysterious circumstances. On the day before his death, Sulabh wrote to seek protection from Uttar Pradesh police, claiming he faced danger after reporting on organized crime in the city. Police reported the cause of Srivastava’s death as a motorcycle accident.

In July photojournalist Masrat Zahra, who relocated to Germany after UAPA charges were filed against her, alleged her parents were beaten by Jammu and Kashmir police because of her work.

On August 8, journalist Chennakeshavalu was stabbed to death by two suspects allegedly for his reporting on illegal gambling activities in Andhra Pradesh. Police arrested Venkata Subbaiah, a police officer, and his brother Nani for suspected murder.

Online and mobile harassment was prevalent, and reports of internet “trolling,” continued to rise. In some instances police used information provided by anonymous social media users as a pretext to initiate criminal proceedings against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Citizens generally enjoyed freedom of speech, but the government continued to censor and restrict content based on broad public and national interest provisions in Article 19 of the constitution.

On February 25, the government published new regulations to govern social media platforms, messaging services, and streaming service that delivers content directly to the consumer over the internet. Human rights advocates and journalists expressed concerns that these rules would curtail freedom of speech and expression, and several media organizations filed legal actions against the regulations. They contended that parts of IT Rules 2021 are unconstitutional and contrary to the necessity and proportionality standard laid down by the Supreme Court in the 2018 Puttaswamy v. India decision guaranteeing the right to privacy in the constitution. In response to one such challenge on August 14, the Mumbai High Court ordered a stay on implementation of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules 2021, which require digital news media and online publishers to adhere to a prescribed code of ethics and establish a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

Libel/Slander Laws: Individuals continued to face legal action for posting offensive or derogatory material on social media. In January the Delhi High Court dismissed a criminal defamation case filed by a former senior official against Priya Ramani, accusing Ramani of sexual harassment. The court noted, “a woman cannot be punished for raising her voice against sexual abuse.”

National Security: In some cases government authorities cited laws protecting national interest to restrict media content. The government banned more than 200 Chinese mobile apps because they were “prejudicial” to the sovereignty and security of the country.

Internet Freedom

There were government restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and there were reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, such as chat rooms and person-to-person communications. The law permits the government to block internet sites and content and criminalizes sending messages the government deems inflammatory or offensive. Both central and state governments have the power to issue directives for blocking, intercepting, monitoring, or decrypting computer information. The government temporarily blocked telecommunications and internet connections in certain regions during periods of political unrest.

In January 2020 the Supreme Court declared access to the internet a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. In 2015 the Supreme Court overturned some provisions of the information technology law that restricted content published on social media but upheld the government’s authority to block online content “in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the state, and friendly relations with foreign states or public order” without court approval. The government may shut telephone and internet services temporarily during a “public emergency” or for “public safety.” A suspension order can be issued by a “competent authority” at either the federal or the state level.

NGO Software Freedom Law Center reported the central and state governments conducted localized internet shutdowns 36 times as of October. For example, according to Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, Jammu and Kashmir experienced 19 instances of internet shutdown as of August.

Press outlets reported instances in which individuals and journalists were arrested or detained for online activity. Police continued to arrest individuals based on the Information Technology Act for legitimate online activity, despite a 2015 Supreme Court ruling striking down the statute as unconstitutional; experts claimed the arrests were an abuse of legal processes.

The Central Monitoring System continued to allow government agencies to monitor electronic communications in real time without informing the subject or a judge. The monitoring system is an indigenous mass electronic surveillance data mining program installed by the Center for Development of Telematics, a government-owned telecommunications technology development center.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

Contacts reported a few Kashmiri academics attempting to travel internationally to attend academic conferences or pursue professional assignments were prohibited from leaving the country.

In January the Ministry of Education issued guidelines for holding virtual conferences and seminars that required local universities to seek government approval for any virtual discussions, including approval of the names of all participants, and prohibited virtual events related to security matters. The academic community, including the country’s two largest science academies representing 1,500 scientists, protested and requested the elimination of these regulations. In February the government withdrew the guidelines and left in place a 2008 rule that only concerned in-person conferences.

In July, Madhya Pradesh police warned the administration of Dr. Harisingh Gour University of possible action based on the national penal code “if religious and caste sentiments are hurt” during an international webinar titled Culture and Linguistic Hurdles in the Achievement of Scientific Temper. The police warning was prompted by a complaint from the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, which objected to the topic as well as past statements and “antinational mentality” of the academic participants.

Indonesia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. The law places various restrictions on its exercise, including criminal penalties for defamation, hate speech, blasphemy, obscenity, and spreading false information. There were numerous reports of the law being used to limit political criticism of the government.

Freedom of Expression: The law criminalizes speech deemed defaming of a person’s character or reputation (see Libel/Slander Laws below); insulting a religion; spreading hate speech; spreading false information; obscenity; or advocating separatism. Spreading hate speech or false information is punishable by up to six years in prison. Language in the law regulating pornography has been broadly applied to restrict content deemed as offending local morals. Under the criminal code, blasphemy is punishable for up to five years in prison. Blasphemy cases, however, were usually prosecuted under the Electronic Information and Transactions law, which was increasingly used to regulate online speech and carries a maximum six-year prison sentence. NGOs reported these laws were often used to prosecute critics of the government.

In February Sulaiman Marpaung, a man in North Sumatra Province, was sentenced to eight months in prison for hate speech after he posted comments on Facebook critical of Vice President Ma’ruf Amin’s religious bona fides and a collage of photos comparing the vice president with an elderly Japanese pornography actor.

On May 19, Kahiri Amri, head of the KAMI opposition political organization in Medan, North Sumatra Province, was sentenced to one year in prison for hate speech. In October 2020 Amri sent messages in a WhatsApp chat about organizing protests against the government’s proposed Omnibus Bill on Job Creation. In those messages he referred to police as “brown planthoppers” – a kind of insect – which the court deemed to constitute hate speech.

On August 19, an “antimask” activist, Yunus Wahyudi, was sentenced to three years in prison for spreading false news. In 2020 Wahyudi had posted a video online in which he claimed that there was no COVID-19 in Banyuwangi Regency, East Java Province.

According to the Legal Aid Foundation, in 2020 there were 67 blasphemy cases following at least 40 arrests on blasphemy charges. On August 25, police arrested Muhammad Kece in Bali for videos he uploaded to YouTube that allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. On August 26, police arrested Yahya Waloni in Bogor Regency, West Java, for comments made in a video claiming that the Bible is fake. As of November 24, both Kece and Waloni were still in detention, with Waloni’s trial having begun and Kece’s trial scheduled to begin. For additional cases see section 2.c.

Although the law permits flying a flag symbolizing Papua’s cultural identity generally, a government regulation specifically prohibits the display of the Morning Star flag in Papua, the Republic of South Maluku flag in Maluku, and the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon flag in Aceh.

On May 21, Nasruddin (aka Nyak Din) was sentenced to one year in prison and his co-defendant Zulkifli was sentenced to eight months in prison for treason for flying the Free Aceh Movement Crescent Moon Flag in Indrajaya District, Aceh Province.

On May 15, police arrested three men for raising the Republic of South Maluku flag in Central Maluku Regency, Maluku Province. The three men have been named as suspects for treason and could face up to life imprisonment. As of November 24, there was no update on this case.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. The government, however, sometimes used regional and national regulations, including those on blasphemy, hate speech, defamation, false information, and separatism, to restrict media. Obtaining permits for travel to Papua and West Papua was difficult for foreign journalists, who reported bureaucratic delays or denials, ostensibly for safety reasons. The constitution protects journalists from interference, and the law states that anyone who deliberately prevents journalists from doing their job shall face a maximum prison sentence of two years or a substantial fine.

Violence and Harassment: From January to August, the Alliance of Independent Journalists reported 24 cases of violence against journalists that included doxing, physical assaults, and verbal intimidation and threats perpetrated by various actors, including government officials, police and security personnel, members of mass organizations, and the general public.

On March 4, Yasmin Bali, a journalist for Malukunews.com, was assaulted by Galib Warang, reportedly a friend of West Seram Regent Muhammad Yasin Payapo, in Maluku Province. Bali and several journalists had originally come to the regent’s office to interview the regional secretary. While waiting for the interview, Bali attempted to take a photo, at which point Warang punched him. Media reported that the assault happened in front of the regent. As of September 16, Warang was on trial for the incident.

On March 27 in Surabaya, East Java, security guards assaulted Nurhadi (no last name), a journalist for Tempo magazine, who was covering a story about a former Ministry of Finance official named as a suspect in a corruption case. Nurhadi went to the official’s daughter’s wedding reception to collect information for the report. While escorting Nurhadi from the reception, security guards allegedly destroyed his phone, punched him, and threatened to kill him. Nurhadi was taken to a second location where he was interrogated and beaten by two police officers. In May police named the two officers, Purwanto (no last name) and Firman Subkh, as suspects for assaulting Nurhadi. As of November 24, the trial for the two officers was ongoing. The suspects were not detained during the trial per a request from Surabaya Police.

In May IndonesiaLeaks, a joint investigative journalism project, reported the attempted hacking of websites and personal social media accounts of those associated with the project. Journalists associated with the project also reported that police followed them and took photos as they interviewed sources at cafes. The alleged intimidation occurred after IndonesiaLeaks made public its investigation into the head of the Corruption Eradication Commission and the reasons behind his alleged use of a civil service test to weaken the commission (see section 4). As a result of threats and intimidation, IndonesiaLeaks discontinued the use of its Twitter account in June.

In July the Bukit Barisan Regional Military Command identified four soldiers as suspects in the June 19 killing of Mara Salem Harahap, editor in chief of lassernewstoday.com, in Simalungun Regency, North Sumatra Province. Police had previously named two other suspects, the owner and staff of a local nightclub, in the killing. Police reported that Harahap often visited the nightclub and threatened to report on its involvement in drug trafficking if he was not given free drugs. The nightclub owner provided money to one of the soldiers to “deter” Harahap from continuing this extortion. On September 13, one of the soldiers, Awaluddin (no last name), died due to unknown causes at a hospital. As of October 28, another soldier, Dani Effendi, was reportedly on trial in military court for his involvement in the killing. As of October 28, the trial for the owner and staff of the night club was ongoing.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Attorney General’s Office has authority to monitor written material and request a court order to ban written material; this power was apparently not used during the year.

The Broadcasting Commission has the power to restrict content broadcast on television and radio and used that authority to restrict content deemed offensive. On March 17, the commission issued a circular on television programs aired during the month of Ramadan, which contained a provision that programs not show physical intimacy such as kissing or cuddling. Another provision prohibited television programs from having lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer content. In June the commission issued a list of 42 English-language songs that were prohibited from being played before 10 p.m. due to their content. Included in the list were songs by Bruno Mars, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, and Busta Rhymes.

The government-supervised Film Censorship Institute censored domestic and imported movies for content deemed religiously or otherwise offensive.

Libel/Slander Laws: Criminal defamation provisions prohibit libel and slander, which are punishable with five-year prison terms. The truth of a statement is not a defense.

NGOs alleged that government officials, including police and the judiciary, selectively used criminal defamation to intimidate individuals and restrict freedom of expressions.

On June 22, Andi Dharmawansyah was sentenced to one month in jail for defaming Andi Suryanto Asapa, the former district head of health for Sinjai Regency, South Sulawesi Province. On February 16, Dharmawansyah posted an accusation online that Asapa was the mastermind behind cuts to a compensation fund intended for the heirs of health workers who died from COVID-19.

On September 10, presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko filed criminal defamation complaints with police against researchers from Indonesia Corruption Watch. The criminal complaint focuses on statements made by the organization in July accusing Moeldoko of having a conflict of interest in promoting the use of Ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19 because of his daughter’s close relationship with PT Harsen Laboratories, the producer of Ivermectin. Moeldoko denied that his daughter had any business relationship with PT Hansen Laboratories. Prior to filing these charges, Moeldoko sent three cease and desist letters to Indonesia Corruption Watch, the first delivered on July 29. As of year’s end, the Criminal Investigative Agency of the police was investigating the complaint.

On September 22, Coordinating Minister of Maritime and Investment Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan filed criminal and civil defamation complaints with police against Fatia Maulidiyanti, coordinator for KontraS, and Haris Azhar, executive director of the Lokataru Foundation. The complaints focus on statements made by Maulidiyanti in an August 20 video hosted on Azhar’s YouTube channel accusing Pandjaitan of having an economic interest in the conflict in Papua, based on an August report by a coalition of 10 NGOs on mining interests in Papua. Pandjaitan’s lawyers and spokesperson denied the activists’ accusations and stated they lacked a factual basis for claiming Pandjaitan has a conflict of interest in Papua. As of year’s end, the Criminal Investigative Agency was investigating the complaint after efforts to arrange mediation sessions between the parties stalled.

National Security: The government used legal provisions barring advocacy of separatism to restrict the ability of individuals and media to advocate peacefully for self-determination or independence in different parts of the country.

Nongovernmental Impact: Hardline Muslim groups sometimes intimidated perceived critics of Islam. On September 3, a group destroyed an Ahmadiyya mosque in Sintang Regency, West Kalimantan Province. The destruction of the mosque followed protests against the Ahmadi by a group called the Alliance of the Islamic Ummah and an August 14 order by the Sintang regent closing the mosque. Police arrested 22 individuals in connection with the case, naming three of those arrested as potential masterminds of the attack. As of November 24, government officials were investigating the incident and the involvement of hardline groups and the local government.

Criminal groups also reportedly used intimidation and violence against journalists who exposed their operations. On June 13, unknown persons set fire to the house of Syahzara Sopian, a journalist for a local newspaper in Binjai, North Sumatra. On June 26, four unknown armed persons, in an apparent attempt to kill him, attacked Sopian in a cafe; Sopian escaped. As of July 14, police had arrested five individuals and were still pursuing four other suspects in the case. Police reported that the apparent motive for the arson and attempted murder was Sopian’s reporting on an illegal gambling ring operating in the city.

On November 7, a group calling itself the “Homeland Militant Defender Army” threw an explosive device into the house of the parents of human rights activist Veronica Koman in Jakarta, leaving behind a note containing threats and demanding that Koman return to the country. No one was injured in the bombing. Koman went to Australia in late 2019 after police stated she would be arrested on charges of inciting violent protests related to Papua. A police spokesperson stated that the bombing was likely related to Koman’s activism related to the situation in Papua. As of November 24, there has been no update on the status of the police investigation into the attack.

Iran

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, except when words are deemed “detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam or the rights of the public.” According to the law, “anyone who engages in any type of propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran or in support of opposition groups and associations shall be sentenced to three months to one year of imprisonment.”

The nonbinding Citizens’ Rights Charter acknowledges the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression. The charter grants citizens the right to seek, receive, publish, and communicate views and information, using any means of communication; however, it has not been implemented.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides for prosecution of persons accused of instigating crimes against the state or national security or “insulting” Islam. The government severely restricted freedom of speech and of the press and used the law to intimidate or prosecute persons who directly criticized the government or raised human rights problems, as well as to compel ordinary citizens to comply with the government’s moral code.

According to NGO reports, in February then president Rouhani signed additional provisions to Articles 499 and 500 of the penal code that could further restrict freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief and disproportionately impact members of religious and ethnic minority groups. According to the NGO Article 19, Article 499 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for “anyone who insults Iranian ethnicities, divine religions, or Islamic schools of thought recognized under the Constitution with the intent to cause violence or tensions in the society or with the knowledge that such [consequences] will follow.” Article 500 bis prescribes a prison sentence or fine for anyone who commits “any deviant educational or proselytizing activity that contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.” Authorities did not permit individuals to criticize publicly the country’s system of government, supreme leader, or official religion. Security forces and the judiciary punished those who violated these restrictions, as well as those who publicly criticized the president, cabinet, and parliament. In July UNSR Rehman expressed “deep concern” regarding authorities’ continued targeting of individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, media workers, writers, and cultural workers. The government monitored meetings, movements, and communications of its citizens and often charged persons with crimes against national security and for insulting the regime, citing as evidence letters, emails, and other public and private communications. Authorities threatened individuals with arrest or punishment for the expression of ideas or images they viewed as violations of the legal moral code.

Several activists who signed letters calling on the supreme leader to step down in 2019 remained in prison during the year on charges of “propaganda against the state” and “collusion against national security.”

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The government’s Press Supervisory Board issues press licenses, which it sometimes revoked in response to articles critical of the government or the regime, or did not renew for individuals facing criminal charges or who were incarcerated for political reasons. During the year the government banned, blocked, closed, or censored publications deemed critical of officials.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad) severely limited and controlled foreign media organizations’ ability to work in the country. The ministry required foreign correspondents to provide detailed travel plans and topics of proposed stories before granting visas, limited their ability to travel within the country, and forced them to work with a local “minder.”

Under the constitution, private broadcasting is illegal. The government maintained a monopoly over all television and radio broadcasting facilities through Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a government agency. Radio and television programming, the principal source of news for many citizens, particularly in rural areas with limited internet access, reflected the government’s political and socioreligious ideology. The government jammed satellite broadcasts as signals entered the country, a continuous practice since at least 2003. Satellite dishes remained illegal but ubiquitous. Those who distributed, used, or repaired satellite dishes faced fines. Police, using warrants provided by the judiciary, conducted periodic campaigns to confiscate privately owned satellite dishes throughout the country.

Under the constitution the supreme leader appoints the head of the Audiovisual Policy Agency, a council composed of representatives of the president, judiciary, and parliament. Independent print media companies existed, but the government severely limited their operations.

Violence and Harassment: The government and its agents harassed, detained, abused, and prosecuted publishers, editors, and journalists, including those involved in internet-based media, for their reporting on issues considered sensitive by the government. The government also harassed many journalists’ families (see section 1.e., Threats, Harassment, Surveillance, and Coercion). According to information provided by Journalism is not a Crime, an organization devoted to documenting freedom of the press in the country, at least 99 journalists or citizen-journalists were imprisoned as of November, a significant increase from 2020.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, in late January security forces arrested the editor of the Kurdish-focused news outlet Aigrin Roj Weekly, Mahmoud Mahmoudi, in Sandaj and transferred him to an unknown location. Mahmoudi had signed an open letter in late January protesting the mass arrest of civil, student, and environmental activists in Kurdistan Province. According to the same article, on June 20, the editor in chief of the Tehran-based Nour-e Azadi magazine, Reza Taleshian Jelodarzadeh, posted on his social media accounts that he had been arrested and was being transferred to Greater Tehran Penitentiary to serve a three-year sentence. In 2019 Jelodarzadeh was charged with “disturbing public opinion” and “spreading antiestablishment propaganda” for his posts on social media.

On February 7, RSF reported that freelance journalist Fariborz Kalantari was sentenced to three years in prison and 74 lashes for using his Telegram channel to circulate articles about corruption charges brought against former vice president Eshaq Djahangiri’s brother, Mehdi Djahangiri.

On February 17, authorities arrested photojournalist Noushin Jafari in her Tehran home and took her to Qarchak Prison to begin serving a five-year prison sentence she received in 2019, on charges of “insult(ing) Islam’s sacred values” on her social media account.

RSF also reported that in March photojournalist and women’s rights activist Raha Askarizadeh was summoned to serve a two-year prison sentence and was banned from leaving the country for two years for her social media activity. Arrested in December 2019, she had been released on bail a month later pending trial.

According to Journalism is not a Crime, in September intelligence agents in the city of Paveh in Kermanshah Province detained two local journalists for publishing on local Telegram channels a story of the rape of a seven-year-old girl (see section 6, Child Abuse).

As of year’s end, poet, author, and activist Baktash Abtin had been being placed into a medically induced coma to treat his severe COVID-19 symptoms after months of medical neglect in Evin Prison. Another fellow author and member of the Iranian Writers Association Board, Reza Khandan Mahabadi, was also transferred from Evin Prison to a hospital in December for COVID-19 treatment. The 73-year-old editor of the monthly political magazine Iran-e-Farda, Keyvan Samimi Behbahani, and another author Keyvan Bajan, remained in prison at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law forbids government censorship but also prohibits dissemination of information the government considers “damaging.” The Ministry of Culture reviews all potential publications, including foreign printed materials, prior to their domestic release and may deem books unpublishable, remove text, or require word substitutions for terms deemed inappropriate.

During the year the government censored publications that criticized official actions or contradicted official views or versions of events. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) determined the main topics and types of news to be covered and distributed topics required for reporting directly to various media outlets, according to the IHRDC. “Damaging” information included discussions of women’s rights, the situation of minorities, criticism of government corruption, and references to mistreatment of detainees. Authorities also banned national and international media outlets from covering demonstrations in an attempt to censor information about protests and intimidate citizens from disseminating information about them. As noted above, officials routinely intimidated journalists into practicing self-censorship through arrests and imprisonments. Public officials often filed criminal complaints against newspapers, and the Press Supervisory Board, which regulates media content and publication, referred such complaints to the Press Court for further action, including possible closure, suspension, and fines. According to RSF, judicial offices or Ministry of Intelligence officers summoned at least 42 journalists due to their news coverage in the period preceding the presidential election in June. Government authorities issued a range of prohibitions to journalists, including making “negative or critical comments about the election” and criticizing then candidate Ebrahim Raisi.

On July 13, reformist newspaper Etemad fired three of its political correspondents. While some commentators suggested the terminations were politically motivated, the newspaper did not offer any public explanation for the firings. On September 7, IRIB news presenter Hamid Arun announced via Twitter that he had been notified by his employer of his termination after he tweeted his disappointment at the sacking of a distinguished professor of philosophy, Bijan Abdolkarimi, from Islamic Azad University.

According to Freedom House, during the November 2019 protests and subsequent internet shutdown, journalists and media were issued official guidelines from the Ministries of Intelligence and of Culture and Islamic Guidance on how to cover the protests. The ministries threatened journalists with criminal prosecution if they strayed from official guidance, which instructed that the protests not be made into “headline news” and should instead be portrayed as civil protests while minimizing the extent of violence.

As the outbreak of COVID-19 escalated, the head of the Cyber Police, Commander Vahid Majid, announced the establishment of a working group for “combatting online rumors” relating to the spread of the virus. In April 2020 a military spokesman stated authorities had arrested 3,600 individuals for spreading COVID-19 “rumors” online, with no clear guidance on what authorities considered a “rumor.”

Libel/Slander Laws: The government commonly used libel and slander laws or cited national security to suppress criticism. According to the law, if any publication contains personal insults, libel, false statements, or criticism, the insulted individual has the right to respond in the publication within one month. By law “insult” or “libel” against the government, government representatives, or foreign officials while they are in the country, as well as “the publication of lies” with the intent to alter but not overthrow the government, are considered political crimes and subject to certain trial and detention procedures (see section 1.e.). The government applied the law throughout the year, often citing statements made in various media outlets or on internet platforms that criticized the government in the arrest, prosecution, and sentencing of individuals for crimes against national security.

According to the NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, citing IranWire and Tasnim News Agency, on July 5, Judge Abbas Shaghaghi of Branch 6 of Tehran’s Media Court convicted Mizenaft managing director Hamid Hajipour, Naftema managing director Mehdi Ghadiri, and two others from Etelaterooz whose names were not released, after the three media outlets published stories on alleged corruption by Kamran Mehravar, a director at the Ministry of Oil. Mehravar reportedly filed a lawsuit against the three websites, all of which covered energy news. As of November there was no indication the court had sentenced the journalists; keeping open files is a tactic the government used to intimidate journalists.

National Security: As noted above, authorities routinely cited laws on protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or to deter criticism of government policies or officials.

On June 17, authorities arrested poet and civil society activist Aram Fathi in a crackdown against dissidents initiated in connection with the presidential election. Fathi was charged with “acting against national security” and “propaganda against the regime with the intention of disrupting the elections.” According to family members, intelligence officers tortured Fathi with an electric shock device and punched and kicked him to extract a confession during his 11-day detention in Marivan. On July 28, he was released on bail, and as of September 9, he was waiting to appear before the revolutionary court in Marivan, according to Journalism is Not a Crime.

Internet Freedom

The Ministries of Culture and of Information and Communications Technology are the main regulatory bodies for content and internet systems, and they maintain monopoly control over internet traffic flowing into, in and out of the country. The Office of the Supreme Leader includes the Supreme Council of Cyberspace, charged with regulating content and systems. The government collected personally identifiable information in connection with citizens’ peaceful expression of political, religious, or ideological opinion or beliefs.

The law makes it illegal to use virtual private networks and distribute circumvention tools, and former minister of information and communications technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi was quoted in the press stating that using circumvention tools was illegal.

The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance must approve all internet service providers (ISPs). The government also requires all owners of websites and blogs in the country to register with the agencies that compose the Commission to Determine the Instances of Criminal Content (also referred to as the Committee in Charge of Determining Unauthorized Websites or Committee in Charge of Determining Offensive Content), the governmental organization that determines censoring criteria. These agencies include the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, Ministry of Intelligence, and Tehran Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The Ministry of Information and Communications Technology regulations prohibit households and cybercafes from having high-speed internet access.

The government restricted and disrupted access to the global internet, including fully blocking access in Khuzestan for almost two weeks during protests that initially broke out over water shortages in July, and for almost one week during nationwide protests in November 2019. Social media users reported internet outages across the country throughout the water shortage protests in July, which the independent internet watchdog NetBlocks corroborated and described as “consistent with a regional internet shutdown intended to control protests.”

Authorities blocked access to independent news sites and several social media and communication platforms deemed critical of the state and continued to monitor private online communications and censor online content. Individuals and groups practiced self-censorship online.

According to Freedom House, authorities employed a centralized filtering system that can effectively block a website within a few hours across the entire network. Private ISPs were forced either to use the bandwidth provided by the government or route traffic containing site-visit requests through government-issued filtering boxes developed by software companies within the country.

The government continued to implement the National Information Network (NIN, also known as SHOMA). As described by Freedom House, NIN enabled the government to reduce foreign internet connection speeds during politically sensitive periods, disconnect the national network from global internet content, and disrupt circumvention tools. According to Freedom House, several domestically hosted websites such as national online banking services, domestic messaging applications, and hospital networks remained online using the NIN infrastructure while global traffic was disconnected during the November 2019 protests.

Authorities restricted access to tens of thousands of websites, particularly those of international news and information services, the political opposition, ethnic and religious minority groups, and human rights organizations. They continued to block online messaging tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, although the government operated Twitter accounts under the names of Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Raisi, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian, and other government-associated officials and entities, including after shutting down most of the country’s internet access during both the November 2019 protests and the July water shortage demonstrations. According to Freedom House, websites were blocked if they contradicted state doctrine regarding Islam, as well as government narratives on domestic or international politics. News stories that covered friction among political institutions were also frequently censored.

Government organizations, including the Basij Cyber Council, Cyber Police, and Cyber Army, which observers presumed to be controlled by the IRGC, monitored, identified, and countered alleged cyberthreats to national security. These organizations especially targeted citizens’ activities on officially banned social networking websites such as Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr, and they reportedly harassed persons who criticized the government or raised sensitive social problems online.

The popular messaging application Telegram remained blocked during the year, although it continued to be accessed using circumvention tools.

In October a cyberattack against the Oil Ministry computer system blocked motorists’ ability to use their specialized smart cards to purchase subsidized fuel at 4,300 gas stations for several days. No group claimed responsibility for the attack; however, multiple officials blamed anti-Iranian forces from “abroad” for carrying it out.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government significantly restricted academic freedom and the independence of higher education institutions. Authorities systematically targeted university campuses to suppress social and political activism by banning independent student organizations, imprisoning student activists, removing faculty, preventing students from enrolling or continuing their education because of their political or religious affiliation or activism, and restricting social sciences and humanities curricula.

Authorities barred Baha’i students from higher education and harassed those who studied through the unrecognized online university of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education. According to the Baha’i International Community, on March 17, authorities expelled two Baha’i students midsemester from the University of Applied Science and Technology in Shiraz. The university president reportedly showed the students a letter from the Ministry of Education that requested the expulsion of nine Baha’i students from the Universities of Applied Science and Technology across the country. Three other students were expelled from universities midsemester under similar circumstances.

The government maintained control over cinema, music, theater, and art exhibits and censored those productions deemed to transgress Islamic values. The government censored or banned films deemed to promote secularism and those containing what it deemed as non-Islamic ideas concerning women’s rights, unethical behavior, drug abuse, violence, or alcoholism.

According to the IHRDC, the nine-member film review council of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, consisting of clerics, former directors, former parliamentarians, and academics, must approve the content of every film before production and again before screening. Films may be barred arbitrarily from screening even if all the appropriate permits were received in advance.

In December 2020 film authorities sentenced director Reza Mihandoust to six years in prison for “membership in a group seeking to overthrow the government” and levied against him an additional six-month prison term for “spreading antigovernment propaganda.” According to a relative of Mihandoust, these charges were linked to a documentary he directed in 2009 about women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad, as well as his participation in the nationwide protests in November 2019. Despite being on temporary release, Mihandoust was reportedly unable to find work due to the national security charges he faces.

Officials continued to discourage teaching music in schools. Authorities considered heavy metal and foreign music religiously offensive, and police continued to repress underground concerts and arrest musicians and music distributors. The Ministry of Culture must officially approve song lyrics, music, and album covers to ensure they comply with the country’s moral values, although many underground musicians released albums without seeking such permission.

In September musician Mehdi Rajabian told BBC News he was prepared to face prison for releasing a new album he recorded “undercover in his basement” that included songs inspired by his abuse in Evin Prison, as well including female singers, despite the ban on them. Rajabian was previously arrested on “immorality” charges at least three times for his work but remained free as of December.

Iraq

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media if such does not violate public order and morality, or express support for the banned Baath Party. Despite this provision, media and social activists faced various forms of pressure and intimidation from authorities, making the primary limitation on freedom of expression self-censorship due to a credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, militias, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs. A media environment in which press outlets were closely affiliated with specific political parties and ethnic factions, an opaque judiciary, and a still-developing democratic political system combined to place considerable restrictions on freedom of expression, including the press.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately but not without fear of reprisal.  Paramilitary militias harassed activists and new reform-oriented political movements online and in person, including through online disinformation, bot attacks, and threats or use of physical violence to silence them and halt their activities.

Iraqi Security Forces (mostly those under the Ministry of Interior, within the NSS, or from the PMF), in addition to KRG forces (primarily Asayish), arrested and detained protesters and activists critical of the central government and of the KRG, respectively, according to statements by government officials, NGO representatives, and press reports.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, central government and KRG oversight and censorship sometimes interfered with media operations, at times resulting in the closure of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, denying access to public information, and interference with internet service.

Local media was active and expressed a variety of views, largely reflecting owners’ political viewpoints. Media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against “violating public order” and because of a fear of reprisal by political figures and parties, militias, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, government officials, and private individuals. Political parties strongly influenced or controlled outright most of the several hundred daily and weekly print publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

The KRG’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) prioritized access to the outlets they owned. In KDP strongholds, Kurdistan Television, Rudaw, and K24 had access to all public places and information, while in PUK-dominated Sulaymaniyah Province, Kurdsat News and GK Television enjoyed the same privilege. Conversely, outlets belonging to opposition parties or lacking party affiliation had limited access to public information in the IKR.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face threats, intimidation, and attacks by militia or security forces.

Government forces occasionally prevented journalists from reporting, citing security reasons. Some media organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists, as well as government efforts to prevent them from covering politically sensitive topics, including security matters, corruption, and government failure to provide adequate services. For example on June 21, security forces confiscated the equipment of media crews of the BMC, Rudaw, and Kurdish Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) to stop them from covering a confrontation between security forces affiliated with the IKR vice president and Sulaymaniyah Asayish. Impunity in cases of violence against the press and a lack of a truly independent judiciary and press regulation body diminished the effectiveness of journalists.

During the year parliament introduced a revised draft of the Combatting Cybercrimes bill that was the subject of intense national debate. NGOs shared concerns that the law would most likely be used to restrict free speech and the work of journalists, whistleblowers, and activists.

Throughout the IKR there were reports of beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers, particularly toward journalists working for opposition-affiliated outlets. In some cases the aggressors wore KRG military or police uniforms. On August 11, the local NGO Metro Center reported that while covering public demonstrations protesting the lack of water in Erbil, government-affiliated persons attacked an NRT crew and prevented NRT and Speda TV crews from covering the protest. On July 13, security forces affiliated with PUK co-leader Bafel Talabani raided the headquarters of IPlus TV, a new outlet preparing to open reportedly affiliated with PUK co-leader Lahur Talabani. Security forces held the reporters inside the building for a few hours, following political disputes between the two leaders. The outlet was then shut down and was not permitted to open.

Certain KRG courts applied the more stringent criminal code and laws in lawsuits involving journalists rather than the KRG’s local press law, which provides greater protection for freedom of expression and forbids the detention of journalists. For example, the KRG security forces detained KNN journalist Qahraman Shukri on January 27, and the court sentenced him on June 27 in the absence of legal counsel, on unknown charges. On June 12, the Halabja court sentenced freelance journalist Nasih Abdulrahim to six months in prison on charges of defamation and misuse of a telecommunication device following a lawsuit filed by the Halabja Health Directorate concerning a Facebook post concerning an investigation into a workers’ complaint at the Health Directorate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties for conviction include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions critical of political factions inhibited free expression. The Ministry of Culture must approve all books published in or imported into the country, thereby subjecting authors to censorship.

On July 14, the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq (PFAA) reported that security forces had raided and closed the Baghdad bureau of RT (Russia Today), confiscating equipment and briefly detaining Ashraf al-Azzawi, the Baghdad correspondent of RT’s Arabic channel. According to PFAA, the order had come from the Communication and Media Commission (CMC), but the CMC provided no reason for the raid.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes slander, blasphemy, and defamation, including the insulting of government leaders. The judiciary, militias, and government officials used arrest warrants in defamation cases to intimidate, silence, and in some instances apparently “flush out” activists and journalists from hiding. Human rights organizations recommended the government revise the law, which they said was used to silence dissent and calls for reform. In November the judiciary issued an arrest warrant against prominent activist Ahmed al-Washah for defaming Mohammed al-Sadr, the father of Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr, based on Washah’s social media posts criticizing the Sadr family.

National Security: Paramilitary militias in the PMF frequently threatened Sunni and minority communities with terrorism charges to silence their dissent, especially in areas where the militias have taken over local land and economic activities and blocked the return of Sunni IDPs.

Nongovernmental Impact: Nongovernmental and quasi-governmental actors, including militias outside of state control, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations, threatened journalists with violence for reporting on sensitive subjects. According to the PFAA, on May 31, al-Tagheer TV channel employees and its owner received death threats from unknown militias in response to a television program criticizing militias in the country. The PFAA also received reports of other threats to media correspondents by militia groups.

Internet Freedom

The government restricted or disrupted access to the internet and censored online content, and there were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Government restrictions on access to the internet were overt, but the government denied that it monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize politicians, organize demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media platforms. Militias used bots and disinformation campaigns to attack and defame activists, independent elections candidates, and the electoral commission.

Civil society organizations reported their activists’ social media pages were monitored by government and militia forces, and that the activists faced harassment or criminal charges filed against them based on what they posted on Facebook and other social media platforms. For example on November 16, the Kirkuk Province misdemeanor court charged Hazhar Kakai, a lawyer and a human rights advocate, 510,000 dinars ($350) for a Facebook post allegedly describing the acting governor of Kirkuk Rakan al-Jabouri as a Baathist.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions various groups sought to control the pursuit of formal education and the granting of academic positions. Despite hosting several concerts and festivals during the year, the Tourism Security Directorate in some Shia provinces attempted to restrict the staging of concerts and use of public, non-Islamic music.

NGOs in the IKR reported that university president, dean, and senior professorship positions were easier to obtain for those with links to the KDP and PUK ruling parties. Privilege was also given to those affiliated with political parties in the pursuit of higher degrees.

Ireland

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of the media.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits words or behaviors likely to generate hatred against persons because of their race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, national origins, or sexual orientation.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: The same prohibitions against language likely to generate hatred and