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China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau) – Macau

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions.

Administration: The law allows prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of alleged deficiencies, and judges and prosecutors made monthly visits to prisons to hear prisoner complaints.

Independent Monitoring: According to the government, no independent human rights observers requested or made any visit to the prison in the SAR.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Activists expressed concern that the SAR government abused prosecutorial procedures to target political dissidents, while police said they charged those they arrested with violations of the law.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Public Security Police (general law enforcement) and the Judiciary Police (criminal investigations), and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish official abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Authorities detained persons with warrants issued by a duly authorized official based on sufficient evidence. Detainees had access to a lawyer of their choice or, if indigent, to one provided by the government. Detainees had prompt access to family members. Police must present persons in custody to an examining judge within 48 hours of detention. Authorities informed detainees promptly of charges against them. The examining judge, who conducts a pretrial inquiry in criminal cases, has wide powers to collect evidence, order or dismiss indictments, and determine whether to release detained persons. Investigations by the prosecuting attorney should end with charges or dismissal within eight months, or six months when the defendant is in detention. The pretrial inquiry stage must conclude within four months, or two months if the defendant is detained. By law the maximum limits for pretrial detention range from six months to three years, depending on the charges and progress of the judicial process; there were no reported cases of lengthy pretrial detentions. There is a functioning bail system; however, judges have often refused bail in cases where sentences could exceed three years. Complaints of police mistreatment may be made to the Commission for Disciplinary Control of the Security Forces and Services of the Macao SAR, the Commission Against Corruption, or the Office of the Secretary for Security. The government has also established a website for receiving named or anonymous complaints about irregular police activity or behavior. There were no reports of deaths in police custody.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

The SAR’s unique, civil-code judicial system is derived from the judicial framework of the Portuguese legal system. The courts may rule on matters that are the responsibility of the PRC government or concern the relationship between central authorities and the SAR, but before making their final judgment, which is not subject to appeal, the courts must seek an interpretation of the relevant provisions from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC). The Basic Law requires that courts follow the NPCSC’s interpretations when cases intersect with central government jurisdiction, although judgments previously rendered are not affected, and when the NPCSC makes an interpretation of the provisions concerned, the courts, in applying those provisions, “shall follow the interpretation of the Standing Committee.” As the final interpreter of the Basic Law, the NPCSC also has the power to initiate interpretations of the Basic Law.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. A case may be presided over by one judge or a group of judges, depending on the type of crime and the maximum penalty involved.

Under the law, defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have a right to appeal. The law provides that trials be public except when the court rules otherwise to “safeguard the dignity of persons, public morality, or to provide for the normal functioning of the court.” Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation), be present at their trials, confront witnesses, have adequate time to prepare a defense, not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. The government provides public attorneys for those financially incapable of engaging lawyers or paying expenses of proceedings. The law extends these rights to all residents.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary for civil matters, and citizens have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation.

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

The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions, but activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government occasionally sought to restrict these rights.

In August police arrested two persons for allegedly spreading false information about the government’s response to a typhoon. In December the government said it had begun drafting legislation to implement a national law passed in September that criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner when the anthem is played.

The SAR Penal Code states that anyone who initiates or organizes, or develops propaganda that incites or encourages, discrimination, hatred, or racial violence, is liable to imprisonment for one to eight years. The law also states that anyone who, in a public meeting or in writing intended for dissemination by any means or media, causes acts of violence against a person, or group of persons on the grounds of their race, color, or ethnic origin, or defames, or insults a person, or group of persons on those grounds with the intention of inciting or encouraging racial discrimination, is liable to imprisonment for between six months and five years.

Press and Media Freedom: Local media expressed a wide range of views but the government took steps to restrict unfavorable news coverage.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The media practiced self-censorship, in part because the government heavily subsidized major newspapers that tended to follow closely the PRC government’s policy on sensitive political issues. On August 29, the Macau Journalists Association stated at least five editors of local media outlets received messages from their senior executives instructing them to report more on positive news after a typhoon, and less on the government’s accountability for problems, especially the accountability of the highest officials. On August 28, the Macau Portuguese and English Press Association released a statement protesting the Macau Electoral Affairs Commission’s order to a local newspaper to remove an interview with a Legislative Assembly candidate from its website.

National Security: On August 26, SAR police denied entry to four journalists from Hong Kong who traveled to the SAR to report from the city after a typhoon. Immigration authorities asked the four journalists to sign a notice stating they “posed a risk to the stability of internal security,” according to a media report. In September the International Federation of Journalists condemned the SAR’s decision to deny entry to 15 Hong Kong-based journalists, some of whom intended to report on the SAR’s Legislative Assembly election.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. Activists critical of the government reported the government monitored their telephone conversations and internet usage.

According to the Statistics and Census Service, approximately 59 percent of the population subscribed to the internet. This did not take into account multiple internet users for one subscription, nor did it include those who accessed the internet through mobile devices.

The law criminalizes a range of cybercrimes and empowers police, with a court warrant, to order internet service providers to retain and provide authorities with a range of data. Police may seize electronic evidence without a warrant under exigent circumstances, but the police must obtain judicial validation of their actions within 72 hours or destroy the evidence.

Activists previously reported the government installed enterprise-grade software capable of censoring, decrypting, and scanning secured transmissions on its free Wi-Fi service without notifying users.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Academics reported self-censorship and also reported they were deterred from studying or speaking on controversial topics concerning China. Scholars also previously reported they were warned not to speak at politically sensitive events or on behalf of certain political organizations. University professors reported the SAR’s universities lacked a tenure system, which left professors vulnerable to dismissal for political reasons.

In February an art gallery cancelled a scheduled performance by an ethnically Tibetan artist after it received pressure to do so from government officials, according to media reports.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the government often respected these rights, despite some efforts to discourage participation in peaceful demonstrations.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law requires prior notification, but not approval, of demonstrations involving public roads, public places, or places open to the public. Police may redirect demonstration marching routes, but organizers have the right to challenge such decisions in court.

Activists alleged authorities were making a concerted effort to use both intimidation and criminal proceedings against participants in peaceful demonstrations to discourage their involvement. For example, the Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the Chief Executive. Activists reported police routinely attempted to intimidate demonstrators by ostentatiously taking videos of them and advising bystanders not to participate in protests.

In June approximately 200 persons participated in a vigil at Senado Square to mark the 28th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. No authorization is required to form an association, and the only restrictions on forming an organization are that it not promote racial discrimination, violence, crime, or disruption of public order, or be military or paramilitary in nature.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The Internal Security Law grants police authority to deport or deny entry to nonresidents whom they regard under the law as unwelcome, a threat to internal security and stability, or possibly implicated in transnational crimes. During the year the government banned several Hong Kong politicians and activists from entering the SAR on the grounds they posed a threat to internal security, according to media reports.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Persons granted refugee status ultimately enjoy the same rights as other SAR residents.

Pending final decisions on their asylum claims, the government registered asylum seekers and provided protection against their expulsion or return to their countries of origin. Persons with pending applications were eligible to receive government support, including basic needs such as housing, medical care, and education for children, but were not allowed to work until their refugee status was recognized.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law limits citizens’ ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections, and citizens did not have universal suffrage. Only a small fraction of citizens played a role in the selection of the chief executive, who was chosen in 2014 by a 400-member Election Committee consisting of 344 members elected from four broad societal sectors (which themselves have a limited franchise) and 56 members chosen from and by the SAR’s legislators and representatives to the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 a 400-member selection committee re-elected Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-On. Chui ran unopposed and won 97 percent of the vote. The most recent general election for the 14 directly elected seats in the 33-member Legislative Assembly occurred in September. A total of 186 candidates on 24 electoral lists competed for the seats. The election for these seats was generally free and fair, although strict campaign laws limited the ability of political newcomers to compete in the election.

There are limits on the types of bills legislators may introduce. The law stipulates that legislators may not initiate legislation related to public expenditure, the SAR’s political structure, or the operation of the government. Proposed legislation related to government policies must receive the chief executive’s written approval before it is introduced. The Legislative Assembly also has no power of confirmation over executive or judicial appointments.

A 10-member Executive Council functions as an unofficial cabinet, approving draft legislation before it is presented in the Legislative Assembly. The Basic Law stipulates that the chief executive appoint members of the Executive Council from among the principal officials of the executive authorities, members of the legislature, and public figures.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The SAR has no laws on political parties. Politically active groups registered as societies or limited liability companies were active in promoting their political agendas. Those critical of the government generally did not face restrictions, but persons seeking elected office were required to swear to uphold the Basic Law. The Legislative Assembly, in a secret ballot, voted to suspend Sulu Sou from the Legislative Assembly after prosecutors charged him with “aggravated disobedience” to police authorities during a peaceful protest against the chief executive’s decision to donate 123 million patacas ($15.4 million) to a mainland university on whose board the chief executive sits. Sou is a member of the New Macau Association, a political group generally critical of the government, and critics claimed his prosecution and suspension were politically motivated.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

Domestic and international groups monitoring human rights generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

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

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

There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary and unlawful killings.

Defector reports noted instances in which the government executed political prisoners, opponents of the government, forcibly returned asylum seekers, government officials, and others accused of crimes. The law prescribes the death penalty for the most “serious” or “grave” cases of “antistate” or “antination” crimes, which include: participation in a coup or plotting to overthrow the state; acts of terrorism for an antistate purpose; treason, which includes defection or handing over of state secrets, broadly interpreted to include providing information about economic, social, and political developments routinely published elsewhere; suppression of the people’s movement for national liberation; and “treacherous destruction.” Additionally, the law allows for capital punishment in less serious crimes such as theft, destruction of military facilities and national assets, fraud, kidnapping, distribution of pornography, and trafficking in persons. Defectors also reported that the government carried out infanticide, or required mothers to commit infanticide in cases of political prisoners, persons with disabilities, women who were raped by government officials or prison guards, and mothers repatriated from China.

NGOs and press reports indicated that border guards had orders to shoot to kill individuals leaving the country without permission, and prison guards were under orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps.

On June 22, a firing squad reportedly executed army lieutenant general Hyon Ju Song for abusing authority, profiting the enemy, and engaging in antiparty acts. Hyon had reportedly ordered the distribution of extra food and fuel to his troops, claiming “we no longer have to suffer and tighten our belts to make rockets and nuclear weapons.”

The trial of two women accused of assassinating Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, continued in Kuala Lumpur. The women claimed to have been tricked by four agents working on behalf of the North Korean government into fatally poisoning Kim at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2017. The four agents, including Ri Ji U and Hong Song Hac, were able to return to North Korea from Malaysia.

The state also subjected private citizens to public executions. According to the Institute for National Security Strategy, the state held 340 public executions from 2012 to 2016, including executions of 140 government officials between 2013 and 2016. A 2016 survey found that 64 percent of defectors had witnessed public executions. Defectors reported going to public executions on school field trips. One defector claimed to have witnessed the public execution of a man who stole copper from a factory and a woman who had come into contact with a missionary while in China.

b. Disappearance

NGO, think tank, and press reports indicated the government was responsible for disappearances.

During the year there was no progress in the investigation into the whereabouts of 12 Japanese citizens believed to have been abducted by the DPRK.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) government and media reports noted the DPRK also kidnapped other foreign nationals from locations abroad in the 1970s and 1980s. The DPRK continued to deny its involvement in the kidnappings. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK reported that 516 South Korean civilians, abducted or detained by DPRK authorities since the end of the Korean War, remained in the DPRK. South Korean NGOs estimated that during the Korean War the DPRK abducted 20,000 civilians who remained in the North or who had died.

During the year South Korean media reported that DPRK Ministry of State Security agents were dispatched to cities near the DPRK border in China to kidnap and forcibly return refugees. According to international press reports, North Korea may have also kidnapped defectors who relocated to South Korea and then were on travel in China. In some cases North Korea reportedly forced these defectors’ family members to encourage the defectors to return to China in order to capture them.

Defectors alleged that the Ministry of State Security (MSS) did not always notify families when a relative was arrested and sentenced to detention in a political prison camp.

According to The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), the state closed Hoeryong kwanliso (Camp 22) in late 2012 and demolished the Sirmchon/Kumchon-ri zone with Yodok kwanliso (Camp 15) in late 2014. The whereabouts of the former prisoners of these facilities remained unknown.

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

The penal code prohibits torture or inhuman treatment, but many sources reported these practices continued. Numerous defector accounts and NGO reports described the use of torture by authorities in several detention facilities. Methods of torture and other abuse reportedly included severe beatings; electric shock; prolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small “punishment cells” in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; water torture; and being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse, including “pumps,” or being forced to repeatedly squat and stand with the person’s hands behind their back. Mothers were in some cases reportedly forced to watch or to commit the infanticide of their newborn infants. Defectors continued to report many prisoners died from torture, disease, starvation, exposure to the elements, or a combination of these causes.

The December 2017 International Bar Association (IBA) Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Political Prisons alleged that torture with water or electricity was standard practice by the MSS. Other allegations include being stripped, hung inverted, and beaten as well as the sticking of needles under a detainee’s fingernails, among other forms of torture.

The White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea, published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a South Korean government-affiliated think tank, and the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report stated that officials had in some cases prohibited live births in prison and ordered forced abortions as recently as 2013. Detainees in re-education through labor camps reported the state forced them to perform difficult physical labor under harsh conditions (see section 7.b.).

The KINU white paper found that, in some cases of live birth, the prison guards killed the infant or left the baby to die, and it reported cases of guards sexually abusing or exploiting female prisoners.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

NGO, defector, and press reports noted there were several types of prisons, detention centers, and camps, including forced labor camps and separate camps for political prisoners. NGO reports documented six types of detention facilities: kwanliso (political penal-labor camps), kyohwaso (correctional or re-education centers), kyoyangso (labor-reform centers), jipkyulso (collection centers for low-level criminals), rodong danryeondae (labor-training centers), and kuryujang or kamok (interrogation facilities or jails). According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the Ministry of State Security administered kwanliso camps and either it or the Ministry of People’s Security administered the other detention centers.

There were reportedly between 5,000 and 50,000 prisoners per kwanliso. Defectors claimed the kwanliso camps contained unmarked graves, barracks, worksites, and other prison facilities. NGOs reported the existence of between four and six kwanliso facilities, including Gaecheon (Camp 14), Yodok (Camp 15), Hwaseong/Myeonggan (Camp 16), Pukchang (Camp 18), Cheongjin (Camp 25), and the Choma-bong Restricted Area. HRNK reported that the Choma-bong Restricted Area, constructed between 2013 and 2014, had not been confirmed by eyewitness reports, but it appeared to be operational and bore all the characteristics of a kwanliso.

Kwanliso camps consist of total control zones, where incarceration is for life, and “rerevolutionizing zones,” from which prisoners may be released. Reports indicated the state typically sent those sentenced to prison for nonpolitical crimes to re-education prisons where authorities subjected prisoners to intense forced labor. Those the state considered hostile to the government or who committed political crimes reportedly received indefinite sentencing terms in political prison camps. In many cases the state also detained all family members if one member was accused or arrested. The government continued to deny the existence of political prison camps.

Reports indicated conditions in the prison camp and detention system were harsh and life threatening and that systematic and severe human rights abuse occurred. Defectors noted they did not expect many prisoners in political prison camps and the detention system to survive. Detainees and prisoners consistently reported violence and torture. Defectors described witnessing public executions in political prison camps. According to defectors, prisoners received little to no food or medical care in some places of detention. Sanitation was poor, and former labor camp inmates reported they had no changes of clothing during their incarceration and were rarely able to bathe or wash their clothing. The South Korean and international press reported that the kyohwaso held populations of up to thousands of political prisoners, economic criminals, and ordinary criminals.

Both the kyohwaso re-education camps and kwanliso prison camps host extremely brutal conditions, according to HRNK’s 2016 report North Korea: Kyohwaso No. 12, Jongori. The report noted, “The brutality affects both those convicted of actual offenses and those sentenced for essentially political offenses.”

According to the Hidden Gulag IV report, since late 2008 Jongori (formerly referred to as Camp 12) in North Hamkyung Province was expanded to include a women’s annex that held approximately 1,000 women, most of whom the state imprisoned after forcibly returning them from China. Satellite imagery and defector testimony corroborated the existence of this women’s annex. Defector testimony also cited food rations below subsistence levels, forced labor, and high rates of death due to starvation at Jongori.

Physical Conditions: Estimates of the total number of prisoners and detainees in the prison and detention system ranged between 80,000 and 120,000. Physical abuse by prison guards was systematic. Anecdotal reports from the NGO Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and the 2014 COI report stated that in some prisons authorities held women in separate units from men and often subjected the women to sexual abuse. The COI report added, “Cases of rape are a direct consequence of the impunity and unchecked power that prison guards and other officials enjoy.” In November, Human Rights Watch released a report providing defector accounts of sexual abuse at detention centers between 2009 and 2013. Victims alleged widespread sexual abuse at holding centers (jipkyulso) and pretrial detention and interrogation centers (kuryujang) by secret police (bowiseong) or police interrogators, as well as while being transferred between facilities.

There were no statistics available regarding deaths in custody, but defectors reported deaths were commonplace as the result of summary executions, torture, lack of adequate medical care, and starvation. The COI report cited “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous forced labor, disease, and executions.

Defectors also reported that in Camp 14, prisoners worked 12 hours a day during the summer and 10 hours a day during the winter, with one day off a month. The camps observed New Year’s Day and the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Children age 12 or older worked, and guards gave light duty to prisoners older than 65 years of age. According to HRNK report Gulag, Inc., three political prison camps and four re-education camps contained mines where prisoners worked long hours with frequent deadly accidents. One prisoner reported suffering an open foot fracture and being forced to return to the mine the same day. Prisoners provided supervision over other prisoners and worked even when they were sick. Prisoners who failed to meet work quotas reportedly faced reduced meals and violence. Those caught stealing faced arbitrary and serious violence.

NGO and press reports estimated there were between 182 and 490 detention facilities in the country.

By law the state dismisses criminal cases against a person younger than age 14. The state applies public education in case of a crime committed by a person older than age 14 and younger than age 17, but little information was available regarding how the law was actually applied. Authorities often detained juveniles along with their families and reportedly subjected them to torture and abuse in detention facilities.

Administration: There was little evidence to suggest prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors. In past years refugees reported authorities subjected Christian inmates to harsher punishment if they made their faith public. No information was available regarding religious observance nor on whether authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of abuse.

Independent Monitoring: There was no publicly available information on whether the government investigated or monitored prison and detention conditions. The 2015 HRNK Imagery Analysis of Camp 15 noted officials, especially those within the Korean People’s Army and the internal security organizations, clearly understand the importance of implementing camouflage, concealment, and deception procedures to mask their operations and intentions. The government did not allow the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the DPRK into the country to assess prison conditions. The government did not permit other human rights monitors to inspect prisons and detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but reports pointed out that the government did not observe these prohibitions.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The internal security apparatus includes the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security and the Military Security Command. Impunity was pervasive. The security forces did not investigate possible security force abuses. The government did not take action to reform the security forces. These organizations all played a role in the surveillance of citizens, maintaining arresting power, and conducting special purpose nonmilitary investigations. A systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities existed between these organizations. Kim Jong Un continued to enforce this overlap to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provides a check and balance on the other.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Revisions to the criminal code and the criminal procedure code in 2004, 2005, and 2009 added shortened periods of detention during prosecution and trial, arrest by warrant, and prohibition of collecting evidence by forced confessions. Confirmation that the state applied these changes has not been verified.

Members of the security forces arrested and reportedly transported citizens suspected of committing political crimes to prison camps without trial. According to a South Korean NGO, beginning in 2008, the Ministry of People’s Security received authorization to handle criminal cases directly without the approval of prosecutors. Prosecutorial corruption reportedly necessitated the change. An NGO reported that investigators could detain an individual for the purpose of investigation for up to two months. HRNK reported that, for critical political crimes in North Hamgyong Province, MSS units interrogated suspects for periods of six to 12 months. No functioning bail system or other alternatives for considering release pending trial exists.

There were no restrictions on the government’s ability to detain and imprison persons at will or to hold them incommunicado. Family members and other concerned persons reportedly found it virtually impossible to obtain information on charges against detained persons or the lengths of their sentences. Judicial review or appeals of detentions did not exist in law or practice. According to an opinion adopted in 2015 by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, family members have no recourse to petition for the release of detainees accused of political crimes, as the state may deem any such advocacy for political prisoners an act of treason against the state. No known information on a bail system or on detainees receiving a lawyer was available.

Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrests reportedly occurred.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: According to defectors there was no mechanism for persons to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court. Defectors reported that inquiries into a family member’s detention status could result in the detention of additional family members.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution states courts are independent and that courts will carry out judicial proceedings in strict accordance with the law; however, an independent judiciary does not exist. According to the 2018 KINU white paper, there were many reports of bribery and corruption in the investigations or preliminary examination process and in detention facilities, as well as by judges and prosecutors in the trial stage.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

Little information was available on formal criminal justice procedures and practices, and outside access to the legal system was limited to trials for traffic violations and other minor offenses.

The constitution contains elaborate procedural protections, providing that cases should be public, except under circumstances stipulated by law. The constitution also states that the accused has the right to a defense, and when the government held trials, they reportedly assigned lawyers. Some reports noted a distinction between those accused of political, as opposed to nonpolitical, crimes and claimed that the government offered trials and lawyers only to the latter. MSS conducted “pretrials” or preliminary examinations in all political cases, but the court system conducted the trial. Some defectors testified that the MSS also conducted trials. There was no indication that independent, nongovernmental defense lawyers existed. According to the 2013 Hidden Gulag report, most inmates were sent to prison camps without trial, without knowing the charges against them, and without having legal counsel. There were no indications authorities respected the presumption of innocence. According to the UN COI report, “the vast majority of inmates are victims of arbitrary detention, since they are imprisoned without trial or on the basis of a trial that fails to respect the due process and fair trial guarantees set out in international law.”

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

While the total number of political prisoners and detainees remained unknown, the 2018 KINU white paper reported the state detained between 80,000 and 120,000 in the kwanliso. Guards held political prisoners separately from other detainees. NGOs and media reported political prisoners were subject to harsher punishments and fewer protections than other prisoners and detainees. The government considered critics of the regime to be political criminals. The government did not permit access to persons by international humanitarian organizations or religious organizations resident in China. Reports from past years described political offenses as including attempting to defect to South Korea or contacting family members who have defected to South Korea, sitting on newspapers bearing Kim Il Sung’s or Kim Jong Il’s picture, mentioning Kim Il Sung’s limited formal education, or defacing photographs of the Kims. The UN COI report noted that many “ordinary” prisoners were, in fact, political prisoners, “detained without a substantive reason compatible with international law.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

According to the constitution, “citizens are entitled to submit complaints and petitions. The state shall fairly investigate and deal with complaints and petitions as fixed by law.” Under the Law on Complaint and Petition, citizens are entitled to submit complaints to stop encroachment upon their rights and interests or seek compensation for the encroached rights and interests. Reports noted government officials did not respect these rights. Individuals and organizations do not have the ability to appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.

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

The constitution provides for the inviolability of person and residence and the privacy of correspondence; however, the government did not respect these provisions. The regime subjected its citizens to rigid controls. The regime reportedly relied upon a massive, multilevel system of informants to identify those it sees as critics. Authorities sometimes subjected entire communities to security checks, entering homes without judicial authorization.

The government appeared to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, emails, text messages, and other digital communications. Private telephone lines operated on a system that precluded making or receiving international calls; international telephone lines were available only under restricted circumstances.

A 2015 survey conducted by InterMedia found that 28 percent of respondents (recent defectors and North Korean businesspersons in China) had owned a domestic cell phone in North Korea. Citizens must go through a lengthy bureaucratic process to obtain a mobile phone legally, and authorities strictly monitored mobile phone use. Additionally, 14 percent of defectors reported owning a Chinese mobile phone. DPRK authorities frequently jammed cellular phone signals along the China-DPRK border to block the use of the Chinese cell network to make international phone calls. The MSS reportedly engaged in real-time surveillance of mobile phone communications. Authorities arrested those caught using such cell phones with Chinese SIM cards and required violators to pay a fine or face charges of espionage or other crimes with harsh punishments, including lengthy prison terms. Testimonies recorded by NGOs indicated prisoners could avoid punishment through bribery of DPRK officials.

In December 2017 the government reportedly temporarily shut down landline telephone services nationwide in order to change its phone number system. The move was allegedly made after an internal telephone directory, containing both government and private numbers, was smuggled out of North Korea.

The government divided citizens into strict loyalty-based classes known as “songbun,” which determined access to employment, higher education, place of residence, medical facilities, certain stores, marriage prospects, and food rations.

Numerous reports noted authorities practiced collective punishment. The state imprisoned entire families, including children, when one member of the family was accused of a crime. Collective punishment reportedly can extend to three generations.

NGOs reported the eviction of families from their places of residence without due process.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government prohibited the exercise of these rights.

Freedom of Expression: There were numerous instances of persons interrogated or arrested for saying something construed as negative towards the government.

The constitution provides for the right to petition, but the government did not respect this right. For example, when individuals submitted anonymous petitions or complaints about state administration, the Ministries of People’s Security and State Security sought to identify the authors and subject them to investigation and punishment.

Press and Media Freedom: The government sought to control virtually all information; independent media does not exist. The government tightly controlled print media, broadcast media, book publishing, and online media through the Propaganda and Agitation Department. Within the department, the Publication and Broadcasting Department controls all media content, including content used on television, in newspapers, and on the radio. The government carefully managed visits by foreigners, especially journalists. More than 100 foreign journalists visited the DPRK in September to report on celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK, but the government strictly limited their access. Media reported that the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Unification, under pressure from North Korea, prevented a North Korean defector journalist from covering high-level inter-Korean talks at Panmunjon in October.

Violence and Harassment: Domestic journalists had no freedom to investigate stories or report freely. During visits by foreign leaders, authorities permitted groups of foreign journalists to accompany official delegations and file reports. In all cases, the state strictly monitored journalists. Government officials generally prevented journalists from talking to officials or to persons on the street. Dozens of foreign journalists attended the DPRK’s 70th anniversary celebrations. DPRK officials reportedly provided them with a document warning against “distorting the realities” of the country or reporting falsely out of hostile intentions. The penalty for infractions was five to 10 years of “reform through labor.” In September 2017 North Korea’s central court sentenced four South Korean journalists to death for giving positive reviews to a book that the court considered insulting to North Korea.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Strict enforcement of domestic media censorship continued, with no toleration for deviation from the official government line. The government prohibited listening to foreign media broadcasts except by the political elite, and violators were subjected to severe punishment. Radios and television sets, unless altered, are set to receive only domestic programming; officials similarly altered radios obtained from abroad. Elite citizens and facilities for foreigners, such as hotels, had access to international television broadcasts via satellite. The government continued attempts to jam all foreign radio broadcasts. Officials imprisoned and punished citizens for listening to foreign radio or watching foreign television broadcasts and, in some cases, for simply owning radio or television sets able to receive nongovernment broadcasts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Internet access for citizens was limited to high-ranking officials and other designated elites, including selected university students. The Korea Computer Center, which acts as the North Korean gatekeeper to the internet, granted access only to information it deemed acceptable, and employees constantly monitored users’ screens.

According to media reports, in July 2018 satellite imagery showed the completion of a new Internet Communication Bureau headquarters in Pyongyang. Media speculated that the bureau would be responsible for managing internet traffic between North Korea and the global internet.

A tightly controlled and regulated “intranet” was reportedly available to a slightly larger group of users, including an elite grade school; selected research institutions, universities, and factories; and a few individuals. The NGO Reporters Without Borders reported some email access existed through this internal network. Government employees sometimes had closely monitored access to the internet and had limited, closely monitored access to email accounts. While the North Korean cell phone network is 3G-capable, most users’ data access is limited to a few state sanctioned functions through North Korea’s intranet, such as reading the government newspaper.

Media and civil society continued to report extensive cyber hacking by North Korea, particularly by North Koreans overseas.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and controlled artistic works. Curriculum was highly controlled by the state. The government severely restricted academic travel. The primary function of plays, movies, operas, children’s performances, and books was to buttress the cult of personality surrounding the Kim family and support the regime.

Foreign government and NGO workers in the DPRK reported the reintroduction of the Mass Games and preparation for the 70th Anniversary of DPRK’s founding celebrations had resulted in large numbers of youth preparing for long hours, under heightened incidents of personal injury and exhaustion, with no medical attention.

The state carried out systematic indoctrination through the mass media, schools, and worker and neighborhood associations. Indoctrination continued to involve mass marches, rallies, and staged performances, sometimes including hundreds of thousands of persons.

The government continued its attempt to limit foreign influence on its citizens. Listening to foreign radio and watching foreign films are illegal. Individuals accused of viewing or possessing foreign films were reportedly subjected to imprisonment and possibly execution. According to the 2016 KINU white paper, a 2015 survey revealed that defectors witnessed proclamations posted indicating that that those caught watching South Korean movies or listening to South Korean music would be sentenced to death, in accordance with instructions announced by the regime in 2013. According to the 2017 KINU white paper, the number of people executed for watching or distributing South Korean video content increased during the last few years.

Based on defector interviews conducted in 2015, InterMedia estimated as many as 29 percent of defectors listened to foreign radio broadcasts while inside North Korea and that approximately 92 percent of defectors interviewed had seen foreign DVDs in North Korea.

The government intensified its focus on preventing the import of South Korean popular culture, especially television dramas. According to media and NGO reports, in enforcing restrictions on foreign films, authorities authorized police to search homes for contraband DVDs. According to InterMedia, the government added a software-based censorship program known as the “signature system” to all domestic mobile phones. This system makes it impossible to view foreign media on the phones. Mobile phones are randomly inspected physically for illegal media, and a history of all activity on the device is available for export upon inspection through monitoring software called “TraceViewer.” Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un created a special police unit to restrict and control the flow of outside information into the country.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

While the constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, the government did not respect this provision and continued to prohibit public meetings not previously authorized and not under government control.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government failed to respect this provision. There were no known organizations other than those created by the government. Professional associations existed primarily to facilitate government monitoring and control over organization members.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for the “freedom to reside in or travel to any place”; however, the government did not respect this right. The government continued to control internal travel carefully. The government did not cooperate with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, forcibly returned refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons.

In-country Movement: The government continued to restrict freedom of movement for those lawfully within the state. Under the law, individuals who violate travel regulations were subject to warnings, fines, or forced labor. Only members of a very small elite class and those with access to remittances from overseas reportedly had access to personal vehicles. A lack of infrastructure hampered movement, as did security checkpoints on main roads at entry and exit points from every town. The 2018 KINU White Paper reported that individuals were able to move more freely within their own province as the use of bribery as a means to avoid punishment became more widespread.

The government strictly controlled permission to reside in, or even to enter, Pyongyang, where food availability, housing, health, and general living conditions were much better than in the rest of the country. Foreign officials visiting the country observed checkpoints on the highway leading into Pyongyang.

Foreign Travel: The government also restricted foreign travel. The government limited issuance of exit visas for foreign travel to officials and trusted businesspersons, artists, athletes, academics, and workers. Short-term exit papers were available on a very limited basis for some residents to visit with relatives, undertake short-term work opportunities, or to engage in small-scale trade.

Exile: The government reportedly forced the internal exile of some citizens. In the past, it forcibly resettled tens of thousands of persons from Pyongyang to the countryside. Sometimes this occurred as punishment for offenses and included those judged to be politically unreliable based on the social status of their family members.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government did not allow emigration, and reports stated that it continued to increase its severe, tight security on the border, dramatically limiting the flow of persons crossing into China without required permits. NGOs reported strict patrols and surveillance of residents of border areas and a crackdown on border guards who may have been aiding border crossers in return for bribes.

The government maintained orders to shoot to kill those attempting to leave without official permission. The law criminalizes defection and attempted defection. Individuals, including children, who cross the border with the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the state subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death. Many would-be refugees returned involuntarily from foreign states received imprisonment under harsh conditions. Some sources indicated authorities reserved particularly harsh treatment for those who had extensive contact with foreigners, including those with family members resettled in South Korea.

On November 13, 2017, a North Korean soldier was shot five times by North Korean border guards as he crossed over the DMZ and defected to South Korea.

Media reported in April that Kim Jong Un ordered government agencies to exert greater pressure on family members of defectors in order to encourage them to return home. Defectors reported family members back in North Korea contacting them and urging their return, apparently under pressure from North Korean officials. According to the Ministry of Unification, 1,127 North Koreans defected to South Korea in 2017. Through the end of July 2018, 703 North Korean defectors entered South Korea, a 9.7 percent drop from the same period the previous year.

Past reports from refugees noted the government differentiated between persons who crossed the border in search of food (who may be sentenced only to a few months of forced labor or in some cases merely issued a warning), and persons who crossed repeatedly for “political” purposes (who were sometimes sentenced to harsher punishment, including death), including those who had alleged contact with religious organizations based near the Chinese border. The law stipulates a sentence of up to two years of “labor correction” for the crime of illegally crossing the border.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection for refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum. The government had no known policy or provision for refugees or asylees and did not participate in international refugee fora.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Citizens do not have the ability to choose their government peacefully.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national elections to select representatives to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) occurred in 2014. These elections were neither free nor fair. The government openly monitored voting, resulting in a reported 100 percent participation rate and 100 percent approval of the preselected government candidates. Local elections on July 2015 were likewise neither free nor fair. The government reported a 99.97 percent turnout, with 100 percent approval for the government candidates.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government has created several “minority parties.” Lacking grassroots organizations, the parties existed only as rosters of officials with token representation in the SPA.

Participation of Women and Minorities: As of 2016 women constituted approximately 3.1 percent of members and 2.8 percent of candidate members of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and held few key WPK leadership positions. The 2014 UN COI report indicated only 10 percent of central government officials are women.

The country is racially and ethnically homogenous. There are officially no minorities.

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

There were no independent domestic organizations to monitor human rights conditions or comment on the status of such rights. The government reported many organizations, including the Democratic Lawyers’ Association, General Association of Trade Unions, Agricultural Workers Union, and Democratic Women’s Union, engaged in human rights activities, but observers could not verify the activities of these organizations.

The international NGO community and numerous international experts continued to testify to the grave human rights situation in the country. The government decried international statements regarding human rights abuses in the country as politically motivated interference in internal affairs. The government asserted criticism of its human rights record was an attempt by some countries to cover up their own abuses and that such hypocrisy undermined human rights principles.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government emphasized it had ratified a number of UN human rights instruments, but it continued to refuse to cooperate with UN representatives. The government prevented the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK from visiting the country to carry out his mandate, which it continued to refuse to recognize. The UN special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities visited the DPRK in 2017, but the visit did not focus on allegations of human rights abuses.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s DPRK Association for Human Rights Studies denied the existence of any human rights violations.

Federated States of Micronesia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: Authorities usually held pretrial detainees in the same facilities but in separate areas from convicted prisoners. Due to a lack of medical facilities or community-based support services for treating persons with mental disabilities, the government used separate jail cells to house persons with mental disabilities who had no criminal background.

There are no separate juvenile detention facilities, but two of the four states have designated cells for juveniles. The states seldom incarcerated juvenile offenders.

Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson to respond to complaints. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, but they rarely investigated such allegations.

Independent Monitoring: The government has the obligation to investigate and monitor prison and detention center conditions, but no information was available publicly on whether it did so. The government permits visits by independent human rights observers, but there was no information publicly available on whether independent monitoring occurred.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police are responsible for enforcing national laws, and the Department of Justice (Attorney General’s Office) oversees them. The four state police forces are responsible for law enforcement in their respective states and are under the control of the director of public safety for each state. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over national and state police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving security forces during the year. Charges from 2017 against a Chuuk security force member for protecting clan members accused of assaulting a foreign resident were settled out of court, and the foreign resident departed Chuuk.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants are required for arrests, and authorities advised detainees promptly of the charges against them. Authorities must bring detainees before a judge for a hearing within 24 hours of arrest, a requirement generally observed. Courts released most arrested persons on bail or after they relinquished their passports. Detainees generally had prompt access to family members and lawyers. Not all detainees who requested help from the public defender’s office received adequate legal assistance due to an insufficient number of trained lawyers. Authorities held no suspects incommunicado.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Authorities allowed closed hearings for cases involving juveniles. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts. Defendants are presumed innocent, have the right to be present at their trial, and cannot be forced to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to counsel and to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges; receive free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals; present witnesses and evidence; confront witnesses against them; and appeal. The law extends these rights to all persons. In some cases, however, state governments attempted to deport foreign workers who were victims of a crime before their cases came to trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. The Supreme Court is responsible for hearing lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression but does not refer specifically to speech or the press; however, 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.

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. Internet access was available in all four states, but service was slow with frequent outages. According to the International Telecommunication Union, more than 33 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement. Other laws allow for freedom of foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government generally respected these rights.

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government most recently cooperated with UNHCR to process asylum seekers in the country in 2016.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The March 2017 election for Congress for 10 legislators who serve two-year terms was generally free and fair. In 2015 the country held elections for all 14 legislators, including four at-large members from the four states. Following the 2015 election, Congress selected Peter M. Christian as president from among the four at-large members who were eligible to serve as president.

Political Parties and Political Participation: There are no restrictions on the formation of political groups, but there were no significant efforts to organize political parties, and none existed. Candidates generally sought political support from family, allied clan groupings, and religious groups.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process; however, cultural factors in the male-dominated society limited women’s representation in government and politics. Women were well represented in the middle and lower ranks of government at both the federal and state level, but they were notably few in the upper ranks. At year’s end three women held cabinet-level positions of secretary of finance and administration, postmaster general, and secretary of health and social affairs. There was one female associate justice on the national Supreme Court and one female associate justice on the Pohnpei State Supreme Court. The country’s first female ambassador served as permanent representative to the United Nations. There were two elected women in the Pohnpei State legislature. There were no female members of other state legislatures or national Congress.

The country is a multicultural federation, and both Congress and the executive branch included persons from various cultural backgrounds.

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

Although there are no official restrictions, no local groups concerned themselves exclusively with human rights. Several groups addressed problems concerning the rights of women and children, and the government cooperated with these groups. There were active women’s associations throughout the country.

Laos

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

There was no progress in the 2012 abduction of Sombath Somphone, a prominent civil society leader and retired founder of a nonprofit training center, by persons in plainclothes after what appeared to be an orchestrated stop of his vehicle by traffic police in Vientiane. The government denied knowledge of his whereabouts and claimed its investigation was continuing.

Civil society organizations alleged that armed men abducted Wutthipong Kachathamkhun, a Thai activist also known as Ko Tee, in Vientiane in July 2017 and he had not been seen since. In 2016 Itthipol Sukpaen, another Thai activist, reportedly disappeared while in Vientiane and had not been seen since. The government stated it was not aware of these abductions, had not investigated them, and had not received any request from the Thai government to look into the matter.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports government officials employed them. Civil society organizations claimed some prisoners were beaten or given electric shocks.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention facility conditions varied widely and in some prisons were harsh due to minimal food supply, overcrowding, and inadequate medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prison cells were crowded. Some prisons reportedly held juveniles with adults, although no official or reliable statistics were available on the overall population or gender of prisoners countrywide. Due to a lack of space, pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners were held together. There was no information available on the prevalence of death in prisons or pretrial detention centers. Some prisons required inmates to reimburse authorities upon release for the cost of food eaten during incarceration. Prisoners in facilities in urban areas generally fared better than did those in smaller, provincial prisons.

Although most prisons had a clinic, usually with a doctor or nurse on the staff, medical facilities were usually deficient. Prisoners had access only to basic medical care, and treatment for serious ailments was unavailable. Prisoners received vaccinations upon arrival; if sick, they had to pay for necessary medicine. In some facilities, prisoners could arrange for treatment in police hospitals, and authorities sent prisoners to these hospitals in emergencies.

Administration: The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for monitoring prison and detention center conditions. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions, although there were no reports of prisoners, detainees, or their family members making such requests due to fear of exacerbating poor detention conditions. During a session of the National Assembly in 2017, the legislature’s Justice Committee raised–and the president of the Supreme Court acknowledged–concerns about deteriorating prison conditions, including overcrowding and the detention of suspects together with convicted criminals.

There was no ombudsperson to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Prison wardens set prison visitation policies. Family members generally had access to prisoners and detainees once per month. Prisoners and detainees could follow some religious observances, but authorities did not provide any facilities.

Independent Monitoring: Government officials did not permit regular independent monitoring of prison conditions. During the 2017 Australia-Laos Human Rights Dialogue, Australian and EU diplomats and other foreign government officials were permitted to visit the only prison that held foreign prisoners, as well as a drug treatment detention center in Vientiane.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but some government officials did not respect these provisions, and arbitrary arrest and detention persisted.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Public Security maintains internal security but shares the function of external security with the Ministry of Defense’s security forces and with the LPRP and the LPRP’s mass organizations. The Ministry of Public Security oversees local, traffic, immigration, and security police, village police auxiliary, plus other armed police units. The armed forces have domestic security responsibilities, including counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

Impunity remained a problem; however, there were no statistics available on its prevalence. The Ministry of Public Security’s Inspection Department maintained complaint boxes in most of the country for citizens to deposit written complaints, but statistics on utilization were not publicly available. The government revealed no information regarding the existence or nonexistence of a body that investigates abuses by security forces. There were no known actions taken by the government to train security forces on respect for human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Both police and military forces have arrest powers, although generally only police exercised them. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. The law also requires authorities to notify detainees of the charges against them and inform next of kin of their detention within 24 hours of arrest, but this did not always occur in remote provinces. There is a bail system, but authorities implemented it arbitrarily. There were procedures for house arrest of detainees, particularly for health reasons. The law provides detained, arrested, or jailed persons the right to legal representation upon request. Three political prisoners were not allowed to meet with relatives. There were no other reports of prisoners held incommunicado.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police continued to exercise wide latitude in making arrests, relying on a provision of the law that permits warrantless arrests in urgent cases. Police reportedly used the threat of arrest as a means to intimidate persons or extract bribes. Local authorities detained several persons who belonged to minority religious groups. In September authorities detained (but did not charge) seven members of the Lao Evangelical Church for one week at a district jail in Champassack Province. In November in Savannahket Province, four members of the same church were arrested during religious services. One person was subsequently released, while three others remained in jail and had not been charged with a crime.

At times authorities detained prisoners after they completed their sentences, particularly if prisoners were unable to pay court fines. In some cases, officials released prisoners if they agreed to pay fines upon their release. The government sometimes released offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes without formally sentencing them to prison. During the National Assembly’s 2017 fall session, legislators called on judicial bodies to investigate instances of arrests without warrants by local police, and to which public prosecutors had turned a blind eye.

Pretrial Detention: The law limits detention without trial to one year. The length of detention without a pretrial hearing or formal charges is also limited to one year. The Office of the Prosecutor General reportedly made efforts to have authorities bring all prisoners to trial within the one-year limit, but officials occasionally did not meet the requirement, citing heavy workloads; the exact number of detainees held more than a year was unknown.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but corruption and judges acting with impunity continued to be problems. Some judges reportedly accepted bribes. The legal framework provides for defense counsel, evidentiary review, and the presumption of innocence. Despite these provisions, the country was still developing a formal justice system. Judges usually decided guilt or innocence in advance of trials, basing their decisions on police or prosecutorial investigation reports. The preferred and widely used policy for resolving disputes continued to be the “Harmonious Village Policy” or “No Case Village Policy,” which discouraged villages from referring cases to the formal justice system and provided incentives to village leaders to resolve legal disputes within village mediation units. Village leaders are not lawyers or judges and do not receive legal training. Most defendants chose not to have attorneys or trained representatives due to the general perception that attorneys cannot influence court decisions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, although the judiciary did not always uphold this right. The law provides defendants a presumption of innocence. Most trials, including criminal trials, were primarily pro forma examinations of the accused and reviews of the evidence. Defendants do not have a legal right to know promptly and in detail the charges against them, but the law requires authorities to inform persons of their rights. Trials are public, except for those involving certain types of family law or related to national security, state secrets, or children younger than age 16.

The law provides defendants the right to defend themselves with the assistance of a lawyer or other persons, but there remained a lack of qualified lawyers. Lawyers sometimes were unwilling to defend sensitive cases due to fear of retaliation by local authorities. A defense attorney may be present during a trial, but his role is passive, such as asking the court for leniency in sentencing or appealing a technical matter, not arguing the merits of the case, challenging evidence, or mounting a true defense for the client. Authorities provided defense attorneys at government expense only in cases involving children, cases likely to result in life imprisonment or the death penalty, and cases considered particularly complicated, such as ones involving foreigners. There is no legal right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense.

The government allows interpreters to provide explanations of laws and defendant’s rights to ethnic minority citizens and foreigners who cannot communicate in the Lao language. Interpreters receive payment based on the court fee system, which the court passes on to the defendant.

Defendants may have someone assist them in preparing written cases and accompany them at trial, but only the defendant may present oral arguments at a criminal trial. Defendants may question, present witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf. Defendants may refuse to testify, although authorities sometimes imposed harsher penalties on defendants who did not cooperate. Defendants have the right to object to charges brought against them but do not have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no government statistics or reliable estimates available regarding the number of political prisoners, but civil society organizations and international media reported on three political prisoners. The criminal court convicted Somphone Phimmasone, Soukan Chaithad, and Lodkham Thammavong in March 2017 to 20, 16, and 12 years’ imprisonment, respectively, on multiple charges including treason, propaganda against the state, and gatherings aimed at causing social disorder.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for judicial independence in civil matters, but enforcement of court orders remained a problem. A person may seek a judicial remedy for violations of civil or political rights in a criminal court or pursue an administrative remedy from the National Assembly. Individuals may seek redress for violations of social and cultural rights in a civil court.

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

The law generally prohibits such actions, including privacy of mail, telephone, and electronic correspondence, but the government continued its broad use of security law exemptions when there was a perceived security threat.

The law prohibits unlawful searches and seizures. Although the law requires police to obtain search authorization from a prosecutor or a panel of judges, police did not always obtain prior approval, especially in rural areas. Security laws allow the government to monitor individuals’ movements and private communications, including via mobile telephones and email (see section 2.a.).

The Ministry of Public Security monitored citizen activities through a surveillance network that included secret police. A police auxiliary program in urban and rural areas, operating under individual village chiefs and local police, shared responsibility for maintaining public order and reported “undesirable” persons to police. Members of the LPRP’s front organizations, including the Lao Women’s Union (LWU), the Youth Union, and the Lao Front for National Construction, also monitored citizens.

The law allows citizens to marry foreigners only with prior government approval. Authorities may annul marriages entered into without approval, with both parties subject to arrest and fines. The government normally granted permission to marry, but the process was lengthy and burdensome, offering officials opportunity to solicit bribes. Premarital cohabitation with foreigners is illegal, although it was rarely enforced, and generally only when the Lao party complained of some injustice.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government severely restricted political speech and writing and prohibited most public criticism it deemed harmful to its reputation.

Freedom of Expression: The law provides citizens the right to criticize the government but forbids slandering the state, distorting party or state policies, inciting disorder, or propagating information or opinions that weaken the state.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally exercised self-censorship, particularly after the 2012 disappearance of an internationally respected civil society advocate. NGOs reported that citizens are taught at an early age not to criticize the government.

Press and Media Freedom: The state owned and controlled most domestic print and electronic media. Local news reflected government policy. The government permitted publication of several privately owned periodicals of a nonpolitical nature, including ones specializing in business, society, and trade. By law foreign media must submit articles to the government before publication; however, authorities did not enforce these controls. The government did not allow foreign news organizations to set up bureaus in the country, except those from neighboring communist states China and Vietnam.

Although the government closely controlled domestic television and radio broadcasts, it did not interfere with broadcasts from abroad. Citizens had 24-hour access to international stations via satellite and cable television. The government required owners of satellite receivers to register them and pay a one-time licensing fee, largely as a revenue-generating measure, but otherwise made no effort to restrict their use.

The government restricted the activities of foreign journalists. Authorities denied journalists free access to information sources and at times required them to travel with official escorts.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Officials reviewed all articles in privately owned periodicals after publication and could penalize those whose articles did not meet government approval. Publishers and journalists were generally aware of what content the government would approve for publication and practiced self-censorship. The Ministry of Information and Culture’s Mass Media Department did not confirm whether the government disapproved any publication during the year.

Authorities prohibited dissemination of materials deemed indecent, subversive of national culture, or politically sensitive. Any person found guilty of importing a publication considered offensive to national culture was subject to a fine of one to three times the value of the item or a maximum imprisonment of one year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government controlled domestic internet servers and sporadically monitored internet usage but did not block access to websites. The government maintained infrastructure to route all internet traffic through a single gateway, thereby enabling it to monitor and restrict content, although the government’s technical ability to monitor internet usage was limited. The National Internet Committee under the Prime Minister’s Office administers the internet system. The office requires internet service providers to submit quarterly reports and link their gateways to facilitate monitoring.

The cybercrime law criminalizes dissent and puts user privacy at risk; it requires individuals to register on social media sites with their full names, making it difficult to share news articles or other information anonymously. Authorities detained at least one person for posting online mild criticism of the government’s response to a dam collapse that displaced thousands.

Authorities told social media bloggers to stop posting stories that they perceived to be critical of government policies, including posts on the government’s response to flooding and corruption. In 2017 the government convicted several activists based on their use of Facebook to criticize the government while living in Thailand (see section 1.e.).

The law prohibits certain types of content on the internet, including deceptive statements, and statements against the government and the LPRP. The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has authority to direct internet service providers to terminate internet services of users found violating the decree.

Many poor and rural citizens lacked access to the internet. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 25 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law provides for academic freedom, but the government imposed restrictions. The Ministry of Education tightly controlled curricula, including in private schools and colleges.

Both citizen and noncitizen academic professionals conducting research in the country may be subject to restrictions on travel, access to information, and publication. The government required exit stamps and other mechanisms for state-employed academic professionals to travel for research or to obtain study grants.

The government requires producers to submit films and music recordings produced in government studios for official review. The Ministry of Information and Culture attempted to limit the influence of Thai culture on local music and entertainment, but these attempts had little effect.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law places restrictions on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government continued to restrict these rights.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The law prohibits participation in demonstrations, protest marches, or other acts that cause turmoil or social instability. Participation in such activities is punishable by a maximum five years’ imprisonment; however, this was not strictly enforced. For example, in October 2017 a crowd of almost 2,000 persons gathered to protest outside the office of a financial company that had allegedly defrauded investors; police intervened by detaining the company’s executives but did not detain any protesters.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The government used laws that restrict citizens’ right to organize and join associations. For example, political groups other than mass organizations approved by the LPRP are prohibited. Moreover, the government occasionally influenced board membership of civil society organizations and forced some organizations to change their names to remove words it deemed sensitive, such as “rights.”

The registration process was generally burdensome, and authorities restricted NGOs’ ability to disseminate information and conduct activities without interference. By law the government regulates the registration of nonprofit civil society organizations, including economic, social welfare, professional, technical, and creative associations at the district, provincial, or national level, depending on their scope of work and membership. The government did not approve registration of any new nonprofit at the national level during the year, and there was no change in the number of registered associations since 2015: 147 national-level associations were fully registered, 22 had temporary registration, and 32 others had pending applications. Taxation of civil society organizations varied from organization to organization. Taxation requirements for international and local nonprofit organizations that receive foreign funding could be cumbersome and lacked uniformity, relying heavily on prenegotiated memorandums of understanding.

Some NGOs said the August 2017 decree covering NGOs further lengthened the registration process and government officials were either uncertain or unaware of the decree, leading to further delays. The decree also states that NGOs must seek approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive funding greater than $60,000. It also mandates the government to provide “advice and assistance” to NGOs to ensure their operations are in line with party policy, the law, and government regulations.

Some ministries appeared more open to engagement with civil society organizations, illustrated by an increase in invitations to attend meetings at ministries. The government also invited NGOs to the National Assembly’s intersession and plenary. Despite some positive steps, civil society organizations still faced many challenges for effective civil engagement and participation.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The government used the law to restrict freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government cooperated in some cases with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

In-country Movement: Citizens traveling for religious purposes including to minister, give advice, or visit other churches, with the exception of animist groups, are required to seek permission from central and provincial authorities. This process can take several weeks.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

The absence of comprehensive and timely monitoring by international organizations and independent observers made it difficult to verify the number and condition of IDPs; their situation, protection, and reintegration; government restrictions on them; and their access to basic services and assistance. The collapse of a dam under construction in Attapeu Province in July resulted in the displacement of an estimated 6,000 persons.

The government continued to relocate some villagers to accommodate land concessions given to development projects and relocated highland farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups, to lowland areas under its plan to provide better access to roads and health and education services, and to end opium production and slash-and-burn agriculture. Families frequently reported the government displaced them for government projects, for example a railroad linking Vientiane with China.

Although resettlement plans called for compensating farmers for lost land and providing resettlement assistance, in many cases villagers considered the assistance insufficient. Moreover, in some areas farmland allotted to relocated villagers was poor and unsuited for intensive rice farming. The government relied on assistance from NGOs, bilateral donors, and international organizations to cover the needs of those it resettled, but such aid was not available in all areas.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status, but it dealt with individuals on a case-by-case basis.

Authorities reportedly detained refugees recognized by UNHCR, such as Kha Yang after his deportation from Thailand in 2011. Authorities did not acknowledge UNHCR requests for access to him at that time. Kha Yang’s whereabouts remained unknown.

The government’s policy both for Hmong surrendering internally and for those returned from Thailand was to return them to their community of origin whenever possible.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law denies citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, and it did not provide for the free expression of the will of the people. Although the constitution outlines a system comprising executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the LPRP controlled governance and leadership at all levels through its constitutionally designated leading role.

Elections and Political Participation

The National Assembly appointed election committees, which must approve all candidates for local and national elections. Candidates do not need to be LPRP members, but almost all were, and the party vetted all candidates, including those in the 2016 National Assembly election. In 2016 the National Assembly began to decentralize its power by establishing provincial councils composed of 360 members countrywide selected from 508 candidates. Most candidates were either government staff or party members.

The National Assembly chooses or removes the country’s president, vice president, and other members of the government. The Standing Committee, which comprised the National Assembly’s president, vice president, and committee heads, supervises all administrative and judicial organizations; has sole power to recommend presidential decrees; and appoints the National Election Committee, which has authority over elections, including approval of candidates. The activities of the Standing Committee and the National Election Committee were not transparent. The National Assembly exerted public oversight over the executive branch.

Recent Elections: The most recent national election for National Assembly members was in 2016. The government allowed independent observers to monitor the election process; the LPRP selected all candidates. Several of the observers were members of the diplomatic corps in the country, as well as foreign press. The government determined which polling stations the various observers could visit, and these selected polling stations were reportedly better prepared and organized than others not under observation.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution legitimizes only the LPRP. The formation of other political parties is illegal.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Of the population, 80 percent lived in rural areas where the village chief and council handled most routine matters, and fewer than 3 percent of village chiefs were women. The LPRP’s Party Congress elections in 2016 increased the number of ethnic minority members in the 69-member LPRP Central Committee from seven to 15, and from two to three in the 11-member Politburo. The number of ethnic minority ministers in the 27-member cabinet increased from two to six, including a deputy prime minister.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated only under government oversight, and the government limited their ability to investigate or publish findings on human rights abuses.

The government intermittently responded in writing to requests for information on the human rights situation from international human rights organizations. Moreover, the government maintained human rights dialogues with some foreign governments and continued to receive training in UN human rights conventions from international donors.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government continued to support a National Steering Committee on Human Rights, chaired by a minister and head of the President’s Office, and composed of representatives from the government, National Assembly, the judiciary, and official mass organizations.

The Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs acts as the secretariat for the National Human Rights Steering Committee and has authority to review and highlight challenges and constraints in the protection of human rights.

Latvia

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices. In the first seven months of the year, the ombudsman received eight complaints from prison inmates of prison officials’ using violence against them. These complaints were forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation. Separately, in the first six months of the year, the prison administration received 27 complaints from prison inmates (four from the same person) of prison officials’ using violence against them. These complaints were also forwarded to the Internal Security Bureau for investigation. As in previous years, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) reported in 2017 there were complaints of physical mistreatment of detained individuals.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The prison system overall had an aging infrastructure, but most facilities provided satisfactory conditions and met minimum international requirements. Some reports regarding prison or detention center conditions raised human rights concerns. Prisoners complained mostly about insufficient lighting and ventilation.

Physical Conditions: In 2017 the CPT noted that most of the prisoner accommodation areas in the unrenovated Griva Section of Daugavgriva Prison were in poor condition and severely affected by humidity due to the absence of a ventilation system. It also found the Valmiera Police Station to be in a “deplorable state of repair.” In the Limbazi Police Station, according to the CPT, custody cells had no natural light due to opaque glass bricks in the windows. In addition, the in-cell toilets were not fully partitioned, and most of them were extremely dirty. Health care in the prison system remained underfunded, leading to inadequate care and a shortage of medical staff. As of August, 6.5 percent of health-care positions were vacant.

Through August the ombudsman received eight complaints from prisoners regarding living conditions and 22 complaints about health care in prisons. Most patients in the Psychiatric Unit (located in the Olaine Prison Hospital), as well as the great majority of sentenced minimum security prisoners at the Daugavgriva and Jelgava Prisons, were locked in their cells for up to 23 hours a day.

Administration: Prison authorities generally investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions and documented the results of their investigations in a publicly accessible manner.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by international human right monitors, including the CPT and independent nongovernmental observers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The State Police, Security Police, and State Border Guards are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. Municipal police are under local government control. The armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, Constitution Protection Bureau, and National Guard are subordinate to the Ministry of Defense. The State Police and municipal police forces share responsibility for maintaining internal security. The State Border Guard and the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence and Security Service, the Constitution Protection Bureau, and the National Guard are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities.

The State Police are generally responsible for conducting criminal investigations, but the Security Police, the financial police, military police, prison authorities, the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (KNAB), the tax and customs police, the State Border Guard, and the Internal Security Bureau also have specific criminal investigative responsibilities. The Security Police are responsible for combating terrorism and other internal security threats.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the State Police, the Security Police, State Border Guards, the armed forces, the financial police, the military police, prison authorities, KNAB, and other security forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In most cases officials require a warrant issued by an authorized judicial official to make an arrest. Exceptions are specifically defined by law and include persons caught by police in the act of committing a crime, suspects identified by eyewitnesses, or suspects who pose a flight risk. The law requires prosecutors to charge detainees and bring them before a judge within 48 hours. In 2017 the CPT found that persons remanded to custody by courts were frequently held in police detention facilities well beyond the statutory limit of 48 hours, in one case for 29 days, pending their transfer to a remand facility.

Officials generally informed detainees promptly of charges against them. Detainees did not usually receive verbal information about their basic rights immediately upon arrest, but detained persons did receive an information sheet explaining their rights and duties. Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) complained that the information sheet used legalistic language that was difficult for a nonlawyer to understand and was often available only in Latvian, although many detainees spoke Russian as a first language. While a bail system exists, judges used it infrequently and did so most often in cases involving economic crimes.

Detainees have the right to an attorney who may be present during questioning. The government generally provided attorneys for indigent defendants.

Pretrial Detention: For the most serious crimes, the law limits pretrial detention to 15 months from the initial filing of a case. The maximum allowable detention including trial is 21 months. The ombudsman and the Human Rights Center continued to express concern about lengthy pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. Most final court judgments were available online.

In individual instances, the fairness of judges’ verdicts remained a concern, and allegations of judicial corruption were widespread, particularly in insolvency cases. Through August the ombudsman received nine complaints concerning lengthy proceedings, eight complaints concerning excessive pretrial detention, and 12 complaints concerning detention without timely charges.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them. Defendants are also entitled to an expeditious and, in most cases, open trial, although officials may close trials to protect government secrets or the interests of minors. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial as well as to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and, if indigent, to representation at government expense.

The law provides for the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to the free assistance of an interpreter if they cannot understand or speak Latvian, to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, and to present witnesses and evidence in their defense. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and have the right to appeal.

NGOs expressed concern that defendants often exploited these legal protections in order to delay trials, including by repeatedly failing to appear for court hearings and forcing repeated postponement. Several high-profile public corruption trials have lasted nearly a decade, and NGOs were concerned that this contributed to widespread public belief that high-level officials enjoyed impunity for corruption.

According to the Ministry of Justice, judicial delays significantly diminished after judicial territorial reforms, completed in March, streamlined the judicial caseload and increased judicial efficiency of nine courts of general jurisdiction with an average of 30 judges in each court. Defendants waited up to two months for an initial hearing in administrative courts during the year, down from up to five months prior to the territorial reform. The average civil case took four months in Riga courts and three months in district courts, down from six months and four months, respectively. The average criminal case required one month in Riga courts and one and one-half months in district courts.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The law provides for an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. It is possible for individuals and organizations to bring a lawsuit through domestic courts seeking civil remedies for human rights violations. After exhausting the national court system, individuals may appeal cases involving alleged government violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

No Jewish communal property or restitution law is in effect, and Jewish communal property restitution dating from the Holocaust era remained incomplete. While the Jewish community estimated that approximately 270 properties still required restitution, government ministries maintained the number was much lower. Although a government working group exists and restitution mechanisms were discussed, little progress was achieved. Government officials were unwilling to reconcile the proposed list of properties with the Jewish community and officials from the World Jewish Restitution Organization. Some government officials asserted that the issue of restitution had been resolved by the return of five properties seized during World War II under legislation approved in 2016. The unrestituted properties identified by the Jewish community included cemeteries, synagogues, schools, hospitals, and community centers.

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

The constitution and the law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and the 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. There were legal restrictions on racial and ethnic incitement and denial or glorification of crimes against humanity and certain war crimes.

Freedom of Expression: Although the law generally provides for freedom of speech, incitement to racial or ethnic hatred and the spreading of false information about the financial system are crimes. The law forbids glorifying or denying genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against the country perpetrated by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany. Violation of these provisions can lead to a sentence of five years in prison, community service, or a fine. There are also restrictions on speech deemed a threat to the country’s national security. The law criminalizes nonviolent acts committed against the state or that challenge its “independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, or authority.”

Authorities charged several individuals with inciting national, ethnic, or racial hatred.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views with few restrictions. The law requires that 65 percent of all television broadcast time in national and regional electronic media be in Latvian or be dubbed or subtitled. Extensive Russian-language programming was also available. The restrictions on speech that incites racial hatred, spreads false information about the financial system, or glorifies or denies genocide, crimes against humanity, or crimes against the country by the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany also apply to the print and broadcast media, the publication of books, and online newspapers and journals.

The Latvian Journalists Association continued to express concerns regarding the independence and viability of local newspapers. Some municipalities provided funding to local newspapers in exchange for editorial control or even published their own newspapers, driving many independent competitors out of business. NGOs also expressed concern that opaque ownership of many of the largest media outlets posed a threat to media independence and transparency.

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. Internet speech was subject to the same restrictions as other forms of speech and the media. According to the International Telecommunication Union data from 2017, 81 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly. The government generally respected this right, but there are some restrictions. Organizers of demonstrations typically must notify authorities 10 days in advance, although this requirement can be reduced to 24 hours if the longer advance notice is “reasonably impossible” to meet. Officials may deny or modify permits to prevent public disorder.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and the law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The law prohibits the registration of communist, Nazi, or other organizations that contravene the constitution or advocate the violent overthrow of the government.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, which permits authorities to return asylum seekers to their country of first entry into the EU if they arrive from other EU member states, except in cases involving family reunification or other humanitarian considerations.

Durable Solutions: Some observers expressed concern that the government did not take sufficient steps to integrate asylum seekers who had been granted refugee status in the country. Refugee benefits fell well below the country’s poverty line.

Temporary Protection: In the first six months of the year, the government also provided subsidiary protection status to approximately 22 individuals who may not qualify as refugees.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR, 233,571 stateless persons were in the country at the end of 2017. As of the beginning of the year, the Central Statistical Bureau (CSB) listed 214,206 persons as “noncitizen residents,” and the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs listed 176 persons as stateless. Noncitizen residents accounted for approximately 11 percent of the population. Although UNHCR included most of the country’s noncitizen population in the stateless category, the government preferred to designate this population as noncitizen residents, since they were eligible to naturalize under the law. The government recognized as stateless only those persons with no claim to foreign citizenship or noncitizen resident status.

Persons categorized by authorities as stateless may pursue citizenship through naturalization after obtaining a permanent residence permit and lawfully residing in the country for five years. According to the law, a child born to noncitizen residents in the country is automatically granted citizenship if requested by at least one parent.

Noncitizen residents, mostly persons of Slavic origin who moved to the country during the Soviet occupation and their descendants, did not automatically become citizens when the country regained independence in 1991. They have permanent residence status, equal protection in the country and consular protection abroad, the right to leave and return to the country, and the right to all government social benefits. They also have employment rights, except in some government and private-sector positions related to the legal system, law enforcement, and national security. Noncitizens may not vote in local or national elections and may not organize a political party without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens.

The law also establishes conditions whereby members of the noncitizen resident population can obtain citizenship, although the rate of application for citizenship by noncitizen residents remained low. Through July, authorities received 589 naturalization applications. In public surveys of noncitizen residents, the majority of respondents who did not seek naturalization reported that, in addition to language barriers, their reasons for not doing so included political objections to the requirement and their understanding that Latvian citizenship was not necessary for them to travel to Russia and EU-member states.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessed the October 6 parliamentary elections as free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Citizens may organize political parties without restriction. The law prohibits the country’s noncitizen residents from organizing political parties without the participation of at least an equal number of citizens. The election law prohibits persons who remained active in the Communist Party or other pro-Soviet organizations after 1991 or who worked for such institutions as the Soviet KGB from holding office.

On August 21, the Central Election Commission removed Tatjana Zdanoka, a member of the European Parliament and the leader of the Latvian Russian Union political party, from the party’s ticket for the 2018 parliamentary election. The decision was based on a court ruling from 1999 that found Zdanoka was an active member of the Communist Party after January 1991, which under the law made her ineligible to run in the parliamentary elections. Zdanoka unsuccessfully appealed the ban to the Administrative District Court.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Approximately 31 percent of the ethnic minority population were noncitizen residents who could not participate in elections and had no representation in government.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often cooperated with NGOs and responded to their views and inquiries.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring the government’s performance on human rights. The ombudsman received some cooperation from the agencies it monitored and operated without direct government or political interference.

NGOs continued to criticize the Office of the Ombudsman for lacking the institutional authority or capacity to investigate and act on allegations of discrimination. They complained that the office frequently put forward problems with little follow-through and often focused on cases that involved high-level officials. As required by law, the Office of the Ombudsman published an annual report describing its activities and making recommendations to the government.

A standing committee on human rights and public affairs of parliament met weekly during the parliamentary session. It considered initiatives related to human rights but generally focused on public media policy.

Lebanon

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

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

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

Despite public assurances that it would do so, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has not released a public report on its June 2017 antiterrorism operation in the vicinity of Aarsal. During the operation, the LAF–in search of suspected ISIS and Fatah al-Sham terrorists who had seized the area in 2014–detained more than 350 Syrian men after five terrorists detonated suicide bombs, killing a young girl and wounding seven soldiers. Four of the detainees died in custody. The LAF concluded its investigation in July 2017, and LAF leadership publically conceded the detainees experienced “some mistreatment,” but the LAF maintained they died of natural causes. Family members of three of the men released photographs of their bodies returned by the LAF, which they alleged showed signs of torture.

Closing arguments in the principal case, concerning the 2005 attack that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other individuals, took place in September at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The penal code prohibits using acts of violence to obtain a confession or information about a crime, but the judiciary rarely investigated or prosecuted allegations of such acts. In September 2017 parliament approved a revised law against torture designed to align the country’s antitorture legislation better with the UN Convention Against Torture. The law prohibits all forms of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that security officials mistreated detainees.

Human rights organizations reported that incidents of abuse occurred in certain police stations. The government denied the systematic use of torture, although authorities acknowledged violent abuse sometimes occurred during preliminary investigations at police stations or military installations where officials interrogated suspects without an attorney present.

In a July 15 report released by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), local actor Ziad Itani alleged that officers from the General Directorate of State Security (GDSS) detained him incommunicado for six days in November 2017 and subjected him to torture until he confessed to collaborating with an Israeli agent. According to the report, Itani claimed that GDSS officers held him in a room designed for torture in an unknown location where they repeatedly beat and kicked him, hung him in a stress position, and used electrical cables to beat him, including on his exposed genitals. GDSS officers also allegedly threatened Itani and his family with rape and physical violence. The report claimed that Itani reported the torture to the Military Court during his first hearing in December 2017, but the judge failed to investigate the allegations as required by law. On May 29, the presiding judge dismissed the case against Itani after concluding the evidence against him appeared to be fabricated. Authorities subsequently charged a high-ranking police official for conspiring to fabricate evidence against Itani. After his release Itani visited Prime Minister Hariri who declared his arrest was based on “wrong information.” There were no reports that officials launched an investigation of the GDSS officers involved.

Although human rights and LGBTI organizations acknowledged some improvements in detainee treatment during the year, these organizations and former detainees continued to report that Internal Security Forces (ISF) officers mistreated drug users, persons involved in prostitution, and LGBTI individuals in custody, particularly through forced HIV testing, threats of prolonged detention, and threats to expose their status to family or friends.

One civilian employee of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was accused of sexual exploitation in March 2017. The incident was alleged to have taken place in 2014 or 2015. According to the United Nations, the accused individual resigned after being placed on administrative leave without pay. An Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation substantiated the allegation in late 2017, and the United Nations placed a note of the outcome in the subject’s Official Status File.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions were often overcrowded, and prisoners sometimes lacked access to basic sanitation. As was true for most buildings in the country, prison facilities were inadequately equipped for persons with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: As of October there were approximately 9,000 prisoners and detainees, including pretrial detainees and remanded prisoners, in facilities built to hold 3,500 inmates. Roumieh Prison, with a designed capacity of 1,500, held approximately 3,250 persons. Authorities often held pretrial detainees together with convicted prisoners. ISF statistics indicated that the prisons incarcerated more than 1,000 minors and approximately 300 women. The ISF incarcerated women at four dedicated women’s prisons (Baabda, Beirut, Zahle, and Tripoli).

Conditions in overcrowded prisons were poor. According to a government official, most prisons lacked adequate sanitation, ventilation, and lighting, and authorities did not regulate temperatures consistently. Prisoners lacked consistent access to potable water. Roumieh prisoners often slept 10 in a room originally built to accommodate two prisoners. Although better medical equipment and training were available at Roumieh, basic medical care suffered from inadequate staffing, poor working conditions, and extremely overcrowded medical facilities. Some NGOs complained of authorities’ negligence and failure to provide appropriate medical care to prisoners, which may have contributed to some deaths. The ISF reported that none died of police abuse, and there were no cases of rape in prisons during the year. During the year 12 prisoners died of natural causes and one prisoner died of a drug overdose.

There were reports that some prison officials engaged in sexual exploitation of female prisoners in which authorities exchanged favorable treatment such as improved handling of cases, improved cell conditions, or small luxuries like cigarettes or additional food to women willing to have sex with officials.

Administration: The ISF’s Committee to Monitor Against the Use of Torture and Other Inhuman Practices in Prisons and Detention Centers conducted 110 prison visits as of October. Parliament’s Human Rights Committee was responsible for monitoring the Ministry of Defense detention center. The minister of interior assigned a general-rank official as the commander of the inspection unit and a major-rank official as the commander of the human rights unit. The minister instructed the units to investigate every complaint. After completing an investigation, authorities transferred the case to the inspector general for action in the case of a disciplinary act or to a military investigative judge for additional investigation. If investigators found physical abuse, the military investigator assigned a medical team to confirm the abuse and the judge ruled at the conclusion of the review. As of October there were no complaints reported to the ISF committee. According to the ISF Human Rights Unit, in the course of its own investigations, the ISF took disciplinary action against officers it found responsible for abuse or mistreatment, including dismissals, but it did not publicize this action.

During the year authorities arrested an ISF prison officer on charges of sexual abuse against an inmate. The case was ongoing as of October.

Families of prisoners normally contacted the Ministry of Interior to report complaints, although prison directors could also initiate investigations. According to a government official, prison directors often protected officers under investigation. Prisoners and detainees also have the ability to report abuse directly to the ISF Human Rights Unit.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison and detention conditions by local and international human rights groups and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and such monitoring took place. The ICRC regularly visited 23 prisons and detention centers.

Nongovernmental entities, such as the FTO Hizballah and Palestinian nonstate militias, also reportedly operated unofficial detention facilities. On August 19, local media published leaked photos purportedly showing entrances to several secret, Hizballah-run prisons in Beirut’s southern suburbs where Hizballah allegedly held, interrogated, and tortured detainees.

Improvements: ISF training and corrections staff continued to institutionalize best practices to protect human rights through developing and implementing standard operating procedures, and modifying hiring practices and training programs to improve professionalization among new officers.

On June 25, the country’s State Prosecutor ordered judges to cease prosecution of drug users before providing them the opportunity to participate in a treatment program; NGOs and international organizations cited the prosecution of drug users as a factor contributing to extended pretrial detention and overcrowding in prisons and detention centers.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. The law requires judicial warrants before arrests except in cases of active pursuit. Nonetheless, NGOs and civil society groups alleged some incidents of the government arbitrarily arresting and detaining individuals, particularly refugees and migrant workers. Typically, these detentions were for short periods and related to administrative questions associated with the residency or work status of these populations, often lasting between several hours to one or more days.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISF and the Directorate of General Security (DGS), and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The ISF, under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for law enforcement, while the DGS, also under the Ministry of Interior, is responsible for border control. The LAF, under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for external security but authorized to arrest and detain suspects on national security grounds; it also arrested alleged drug traffickers. The GDSS, reporting to the prime minister through the Higher Defense Council, is responsible for investigating espionage and other national security issues.

Each security apparatus has its own internal mechanisms to investigate cases of abuse and misconduct. The ISF code of conduct defines the obligations of ISF members and the legal and ethical standards by which they must abide in performing their duties. NGOs and human rights advocates alleged that officers in various security forces enjoyed a degree of implicit impunity for violations, particularly because the Military Court typically hears cases against them. NGOs argued this practice contradicts the antitorture law. Some agencies, however, stated they took steps to increase accountability. For example, according to government officials and legal advocacy organizations, the ISF Inspector General investigated officials suspected of official wrongdoing, subjecting them to arrest and disciplinary measures ranging from suspensions and reassignments to criminal prosecution, although it has not made case details public.

The Ministry of Interior has a human rights unit to enhance and raise awareness about human right issues within the ISF, train police officers on human right standards, and monitor and improve prison conditions. The Ministry staffed the department with four officers, including the department’s head, and 15 noncommissioned officers. The department and its leadership maintained high standards of professionalism.

The ISF administers a complaint mechanism allowing citizens to track complaints and receive notification of investigation results. Citizens may file formal complaints against any ISF officer in person at a police station, through a lawyer, by mail, or online through the ISF website. At the time an individual files a complaint, the filer receives a tracking number that may be used to check the status of the complaint throughout the investigation. The complaint mechanism provides the ISF the ability to notify those filing complaints of the results of its investigation.

The ISF human rights unit continued its collaboration with NGOs, civil society, and other stakeholders to improve and advise on human rights procedures and policies and to increase accountability.

The LAF has a human rights unit that engaged in human rights training through various international organizations. The unit worked to assure that the LAF operated in accordance with major international human rights conventions and coordinated human rights training in LAF training academies. The LAF human rights unit also worked with international NGOs to coordinate human rights training and policies, and it requested the creation of legal advisor positions to embed with LAF combat units and advise commanders on human rights and international law during operations. The unit also has responsibility for coordinating the LAF’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

During the year 60 LAF officers participated in intensive human rights-focused training. The LAF Directorate of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights produced a card with applicable human rights and law of armed conflict guidance, requiring soldiers to carry it to strengthen compliance with LAF human rights policies and procedures.

UN Security Resolutions 425 and 426 established UNIFIL in 1978 to confirm the Israeli withdrawal from the southern region of the country, restore peace and security, and assist the government in restoring its authority over its territory. UN Security Resolution 1701 stated UNIFIL was to monitor cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hizballah after their 2006 war, accompany the LAF in deploying to the South Litani Sector, assist in providing humanitarian access to civilians, or the safe return of displaced, as well as assist the government in securing its borders.

Despite the presence of Lebanese and UN security forces, Hizballah retained significant influence over parts of the country. Neither the LAF nor the ISF controlled or attempted to control the interiors of 11 of 12 Palestinian camps in the country. The LAF, however, maintained positions around the camps and monitored movements into and out of them (except Nahr el-Bared camp). Joint committees of armed Palestinian factions provided collectively for their internal security, and there was coordination with the government and the LAF.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides the right to a medical examination and referral to a prosecutor within 48 hours of arrest. The law requires that officials promptly inform individuals of the charges against them, and authorities generally adhered to this requirement. If authorities hold a detainee longer than 48 hours without formal charges, the arrest is considered arbitrary, and authorities must release the detainee or request a formal extension. The code of criminal procedures provides that a person may be held in police custody for investigation for 48 hours, unless the investigation requires additional time, in which case the period of custody may be renewed for another 48 hours.

The law requires authorities to inform detainees of the charges filed against them. A suspect caught in the act of committing a crime must be referred to an examining judge, who decides whether to issue an indictment or order the release of the suspect. By law bail is available in all cases regardless of the charges, although the amounts required may be prohibitively high.

The code of criminal procedures states that from the moment of arrest a suspect or the subject of a complaint has the right to contact a member of his family, his employer, an advocate of his choosing, an acquaintance, or an interpreter, and undergo a medical examination on the approval of the general prosecutor. It does not, however, mention whether a lawyer may attend preliminary questioning with the judicial police. In practical terms the lawyer may not attend the preliminary questioning with judicial police. Under the framework of the law, it is possible to hold a suspect at a police station for hours before allowing the individual to exercise the right to contact an attorney. If the suspect lacks the resources to obtain legal counsel, authorities must provide free legal aid. The law does not require the judicial police to inform an individual who lacks legal counsel that one may be assigned through the Bar Association, whether in Beirut or Tripoli.

The law does not require authorities to inform individuals they have the right to remain silent. Many provisions of the law simply state that if the individuals being questioned refuse to make a statement or remain silent, this should be recorded and that the detainees may not be “coerced to speak or to undergo questioning, on pain of nullity of their statements.”

The law excludes from this protection suspects accused of homicide, drug crimes, endangerment of state security, violent crimes, crimes involving terrorism, and those with a previous criminal conviction.

Authorities may prosecute officials responsible for prolonged arrest on charges of depriving personal freedom, but they have rarely filed charges.

Authorities failed to observe many provisions of the law, and government security forces, as well as extralegal armed groups such as Hizballah, continued the practice of extrajudicial arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention. Additionally, the law permits military intelligence personnel to make arrests without warrants in cases involving military personnel or involving civilians suspected of espionage, treason, weapons possession, or terrorism.

Arbitrary Arrest: According to local NGOs, cases of arbitrary detention occurred, but most victims chose not to report violations against them to the authorities. NGOs reported that most cases involved vulnerable groups such as refugees, drug users, LGBTI individuals, and migrant workers. Civil society groups reported authorities frequently detained foreign nationals arbitrarily.

Pretrial Detention: The law states the period of detention for a misdemeanor may not exceed two months. Officials may extend this period by a maximum of two additional months. The initial period of custody may not exceed six months for a felony, but the detention may be renewed. Due to judicial backlogs, pretrial detention periods for felonies may last for months or years.

Pretrial detention periods were often lengthy due to delays in due process. The ISF did not report the number of prisoners in pretrial detention. As of October there were approximately 9,000 detainees, between sentenced offenders and those awaiting trial. In August 2017 the ISF reported more than 4,000 pretrial detainees. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about arbitrary pretrial detention without access to legal representation. Some pretrial detention periods equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime. According to a study by the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, detainees spent one year on average in pretrial detention prior to sentencing. Individuals accused of murder spent on average 3.5 years in pretrial detention. Some Lebanese Sunni militants, detained after returning from fighting in Syria, have remained in pretrial detention for more than five years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, authorities subjected the judiciary to political pressure, particularly in the appointment of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. Persons involved in routine civil and criminal proceedings sometimes solicited the assistance of prominent individuals to influence the outcome of their cases.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally sought to enforce this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the right to be promptly informed of the charges against them. Trials are generally public, but judges have the discretion to order a closed court session. Defendants have the right to be present at trial, to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and to question witnesses against them. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence. Defendants have the right to free interpretation; however, interpreters were rarely available. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt; they have the right of appeal.

The Military Court has a permanent tribunal and a cassation tribunal. The latter, composed of civilian judges, hears appeals from the former. The Military Court has jurisdiction over cases involving the military and police, as well as those involving civilians accused of espionage, treason, weapons possession, and draft evasion. It also may try civilians on security charges or for violations of the military code of justice, which also applies to civilians. Defendants on trial under the military tribunal have the same procedural rights as defendants in ordinary courts. While civilian courts may try military personnel, the Military Court often hears these cases, including for charges unrelated to official military duty. Human rights activists raised concerns that such proceedings created the potential for impunity. Although the military and civilian courts follow the same appellate procedures, human rights groups expressed concerns that Military Court proceedings were opaque, lacked sufficient due process assurances, and afforded inadequate review of court decisions.

Governance and justice in the Palestinian camps varied greatly, with most camps under the control of joint Palestinian security forces representing multiple factions, while local militia strongmen heavily influenced others. Essentially, Palestinian groups in refugee camps operated an autonomous system of justice mostly invisible to outsiders and beyond the control of the state. For example, local popular committees in the camps attempted to resolve disputes through informal mediation methods but occasionally transferred those accused of more serious offenses (for example, murder and terrorism) to state authorities for trial.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent judiciary in civil matters, but plaintiffs seldom submitted civil lawsuits seeking damages for government human rights violations to it. During the year there were no examples of a civil court awarding a person compensation for such violations. There is no regional mechanism to appeal adverse domestic human rights decisions. The country has reservations on individual complaints under any human rights treaty, body, or special procedure. Appeals to international human rights bodies are accessible only after exhausting all domestic remedies.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but authorities interfered with the privacy of persons regarded as enemies of the government. There were reports that security services monitored private email and other digital correspondence. On January 8, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and mobile security firm Lookout reported a spyware campaign operating from servers they identified as belonging to DGS. According to the report, since 2012 the campaign targeted the communications and activities of users in several countries, including Lebanese journalists and activists, by installing malware from fake versions of secure Android apps such as WhatsApp.

The law provides for the interception of telephone calls with prior authorization from the prime minister at the request of the minister of interior or minister of defense.

Militias and non-Lebanese forces operating outside the area of central government authority also frequently violated citizens’ privacy rights. Various nonstate actors, such as Hizballah, used informer networks, telephone, and electronic monitoring to obtain information regarding their perceived adversaries.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and stipulates that restrictions may be imposed only under exceptional circumstances. The government generally respected this right, but there were some restrictions, particularly regarding political and social issues.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals were generally free to criticize the government and discuss matters of public interest; however, several legal restrictions limited this right. The law prohibits discussing the dignity of the president or insulting him or the president of a foreign country. The military code of justice prohibits insulting the armed forces, and the Military Court prosecuted civilians under this statute. For example, in January the Military Court sentenced journalist and researcher Hanin Ghaddar in her absence to four months in prison for allegedly insulting the armed forces in remarks she gave at a 2014 conference in Washington, D. C. The court dismissed the charges on appeal in April. Authorities heard these cases in both civil and military courts; they generally carried sentences of between one and three years in prison, although typically they resulted in fines.

Press and Media Freedom: The 1962 Publications Law regulated print media. The law holds journalists responsible for erroneous or false news; threats or blackmail; insult, defamation, and contempt; causing prejudice to the president’s dignity; insulting the president or the president of a foreign country; instigation to commit a crime through a publication; and sectarian provocation. The Publications Law contains detailed rules governing the activities of printing houses, press media, libraries, publishing houses, and distribution companies. It also establishes media institutions such as the Press Syndicate. The law provides rules and conditions for becoming a journalist and for obtaining licenses for new publications. It also prohibits the press from publishing blasphemous content of the country’s officially recognized religions or content that may provoke sectarian feuds.

There was uncertainty regarding which legal framework is applicable to online news sites in the country. There are no specific laws regulating online speech. The penal code, however, contains a number of speech offenses. Several articles in the penal code criminalize defamation of public officials, public entities, and individuals. Moreover, the military justice code prohibits defamation of the army. Accordingly, authorities may prosecute individuals, journalists, and bloggers for what they express online.

The law governing audiovisual media bans live broadcasts of unauthorized political gatherings and certain religious events and prohibits the broadcast of “any matter of commentary seeking to affect directly or indirectly the well-being of the nation’s economy and finances, material that is propagandistic and promotional, or promotes a relationship with Israel.” Media outlets must receive a license from the Council of Ministers, based on a recommendation by the minister of information, to broadcast direct and indirect political news and programs. The law prohibits broadcasting programs that seek to affect the general system, harm the state or its relations with Arab and other foreign countries, or have an effect on the well-being of such states. The law also prohibits the broadcast of programs that seek to harm public morals, ignite sectarian strife, or insult religious beliefs.

Violence and Harassment: Broadcast journalists continued to suffer from intimidation and harassment. Political friction and tension led some outlets to fear entering certain “politically classified” areas to report without removing brandings and logos that referenced the outlets. During the parliamentary elections, journalists could travel freely. Outlets that sought to report in areas under control of Hizballah must obtain special permission from Hizballah’s media arm.

Authorities increased prosecutions of online, print, and television journalists for violations of the country’s publications law; NGOs and media watchdogs claimed it was an effort to intimidate critics. Prosecutors referred these cases to criminal courts based on both private complaints and their own discretion. On January 25, the Public Prosecutor filed charges against the host of a popular satire program for featuring a joke about the Saudi Crown Prince. The case was pending in the Publications Court as of October. Cases typically remain open for long periods in the Publications Court, often for a year or more.

On July 16-17, a journalist received death threats for commentary in defense of activist Charbel Khoury, who police interrogated over a Facebook post allegedly insulting a popular Maronite Christian saint, following a complaint from lawyers affiliated with the Lebanese Forces party (Maronite). There was no evidence that authorities investigated these threats.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law permits, and authorities selectively used, prior censorship of pornographic material, political opinion, and religious material considered a threat to national security or offensive to the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders. The DGS may review and censor all foreign newspapers, magazines, and books to determine admissibility into the country, but these reviews are mostly for explicit, pornographic content. Some journalists reported that political violence and extralegal intimidation led to self-censorship among journalists.

The law includes guidelines regarding materials deemed unsuitable for publication in a book, newspaper, or magazine. Any violation of the guidelines could result in the author’s imprisonment or a fine.

Authors could publish books without prior permission from the DGS, but if the book contained material that violated the law, the DGS could legally confiscate the book and put the author on trial. In some cases authorities might deem the offending material a threat to national security. Authorities did not take such offenses to trial based on the publication law, but rather based on criminal law or other statutes. Publishing a book without prior approval that contained unauthorized material could put the author at risk of a prison sentence, fine, and confiscation of the published materials.

Authorities from any of the recognized religious groups could request the DGS to ban a book. The government could prosecute offending journalists and publications in the publications court. According to one NGO, as of December 2017 the government opened more than 30 cases in the publications court during the year, mainly from libel suits filed by politicians, political parties, and private citizens. Authorities also referred such cases to criminal courts, which according to NGOs and media watchdogs, is counter to Lebanese law. These include an August 8 libel case filed by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri against a deputy news editor and journalist at al-Jadeed television station over its August 5 reporting on corruption allegations within Berri’s Amal movement.

Libel/Slander Laws: On July 24, protestors gathered in Samir Kassir Square in Beirut to protest the perceived abuse of libel and slander laws by authorities and political figures to silence critics. In most cases criminal courts heard libel and defamation complaints, which can carry sentences of one to three years, but typically resulted in fines or a promise to remove offending material from the internet. NGOs and activists reported increased prosecutions under such laws, and representatives of the foreign minister and president, among others, filed several complaints against critics throughout the year. On June 20, a judge issued a four-month prison sentence in his absence against blogger and journalist Fidaa Itani for defaming government officials. The charges related to blog and Facebook posts Itani published between June and July 2017, which criticized the foreign minister, prime minister, and president.

Nongovernmental Impact: Radical Islamist groups sometimes sought to inhibit freedom of expression and the press through coercion and threats of violence.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law does not restrict access to the internet. There was a general public perception, however, that the government monitored email and social media activity. The government reportedly censored some websites to block online gambling, pornography, religiously provocative material, extremist forums, and Israeli websites, but there were no verified reports the government systematically attempted to collect personally identifiable information via the internet.

Restrictions on freedom of speech concerning government officials applied to social media communications, which authorities considered a form of publication rather than private correspondence. Political activists and NGOs reported that political parties and their supporters engaged in intimidating individuals online and in person in response to online posts deemed critical of political leaders or religious figures.

The ISF’s Cybercrime Unit and other state security agencies summoned journalists, bloggers, and activists to question them about social media and blog posts, especially when they criticized political figures or religious sects. According to an August 17 open letter from 15 local NGOs to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, since 2016 security services have questioned, and in some cases detained, 39 individuals–including a 15-year-old boy–over online posts criticizing the government or other officials. NGOs also noted that the number of summonses might be higher since many individuals chose not to discuss or report their cases. Authorities charged the majority of those summoned under libel and slander laws. NGOs and media watchdogs reported that the willingness of the government to prosecute such cases increased over the past year, particularly during the May elections, focusing heavily on those who criticized the foreign minister or president.

On July 19, the Cybercrime Unit interrogated online activist Charbel Khoury when one of his Facebook posts raised public controversy for allegedly mocking a popular Maronite Christian saint. The judge in the case ordered Khoury to pledge to abstain from his Facebook account for one month and not to criticize religions.

Internet access was available and widely used by the public. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 76 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions specific to academic freedom, but libel and slander laws apply.

The majority of private universities enjoyed freedom of expression, and students were free to hold student elections and organize cultural, social, and political activities.

During the year the government censored and barred the screening of at least one film. The DGS reviewed all films and plays, and there were complaints the DGS’s decision-making process lacked transparency and the opinions of religious institutions and political groups influenced it. Cultural figures and those involved in the arts practiced self-censorship to avoid being detained or denied freedom of movement.

Following the 2017 ban on the film Wonder Woman, the group Campaign to Boycott Supporters of Israel successfully lobbied for the DGS to ban the release of the film The Post due to the film director’s alleged financial support to Israel. The ban was issued on January 15. On January 17, the government overturned the ban following widespread public attention.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly with some conditions established by law. Organizers are required to obtain a permit from the Interior Ministry three days prior to any demonstration.

Security forces occasionally intervened to disperse demonstrations, usually when clashes broke out between opposing protesters.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association with some conditions established by law, and the government generally respected the law.

No prior authorization is required to form an association, but organizers must notify the Ministry of Interior for it to obtain legal recognition, and the ministry must verify that the organization respects public order, public morals, and state security. The ministry sometimes imposed additional, inconsistent restrictions and requirements and withheld approval. In some cases the ministry sent notification of formation papers to the security forces to initiate inquiries about an organization’s founding members. Organizations must invite ministry representatives to any general assembly where members vote on bylaws, amendments, or positions on the board of directors. The ministry must then validate the vote or election. Failure to do so may result in the dissolution of the organization by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers.

The cabinet must license all political parties (see section 3).

In areas under Hizballah’s sway, independent NGOs faced harassment and intimidation, including social, political, and financial pressures. Hizballah reportedly paid youth who worked in “unacceptable” NGOs to leave the groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens but placed extensive limitations on the rights of Palestinian refugees and Syrian, Iraqi, and other refugee populations. Within families, men sometimes exercised considerable control over female relatives, restricting their activities outside the home or their contact with friends and relatives.

As of October the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered more than 976,000 Syrian refugees, almost 16,400 Iraqis, more than 1,700 Sudanese refugees, and refugees of other nationalities in the country. UNHCR estimated that another 300,000 Syrians were unregistered, a result of government policy banning new registrations. While the government has allowed no new UNHCR registrations of refugees, UN agencies reported that working relationships with government ministries were generally productive. Some elements of the government, most notably the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have attacked UNHCR, other UN agencies, and some donor governments for purportedly discouraging refugee returns to Syria, including threatening to eject some of those countries’ officials from Lebanon. The foreign minister for several months blocked renewal of legal residency for UNHCR staff, affecting the organization’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) assisted Palestinian refugees registered in the country. Approximately 470,000 Palestinians were registered as refugees with UNRWA in Lebanon as of December 2017. As of October, UNRWA estimated the number of Palestinians residing in the country was between 260,000 and 280,000. UNRWA also provided services to Palestinian refugees from Syria (PRS). As of October, UNRWA reconfirmed more than 29,000 PRS individuals residing in the country.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government lacked the capacity to provide adequate protection for refugees. Multiple NGOs and UN agencies shared reports of sexual harassment and exploitation of refugees by employers and landlords, including paying workers below the minimum wage, working excessive hours, debt bondage, and pressuring families into early marriage for their daughters. There were multiple reports of foreign migrant domestic workers (mainly from East Africa and Southeast Asia), tied to their employers through legal sponsorship, who faced physical and mental abuse, unsafe working conditions, and nonpayment of wages. According to NGOs who assisted migrant workers in reporting these abuses to authorities, security forces and judges did not always adequately investigate these crimes, particularly as many victims later refused to file complaints or retracted testimony due to fear of reprisals or deportation.

In one highly publicized example, a domestic worker advocacy group reported that an Ethiopian domestic worker badly injured herself after leaping from a balcony to escape a physically abusive sponsoring family. The worker alleged the family abused and beat her, but later retracted her statements in televised interviews with the family. Advocacy groups suspected the well connected family coerced her to recant. The family reportedly sought to suppress media reporting on the incident through Lebanon’s libel and defamation laws.

In-country Movement: The government maintained security checkpoints, primarily in military and other restricted areas. Hizballah also maintained checkpoints in certain Shia-majority areas. Government forces were usually unable to enforce the law in the predominantly Hizballah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut and did not typically enter Palestinian refugee camps. According to UNRWA Palestinian refugees registered with the Interior Ministry’s Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs could travel from one area of the country to another. The DGS, however, had to approve the transfer of registration of residence for refugees who resided in camps. UNRWA stated the DGS generally approved such transfers.

In an effort to address the low number of refugees obtaining and renewing legal residency, the government waived renewal fees for refugees registered with UNHCR, a change to be implemented by the DGS. While the government intended these policies to improve the ability of Syrian refugees to obtain and maintain legal residency, there has been little improvement in the percentage of refugees with legal status. According to the United Nations, only 27 percent of the refugee population held legal residency as of October.

Due to the slow implementation of a February 2017 residency fee waiver by the DGS and, in many cases, failure to obtain or keep a Lebanese sponsor, the majority of Syrian refugees were unable to renew their legal documents, which significantly affected their freedom of movement owing to the possibility of regular arrests at checkpoints, particularly for adult men. While authorities released most detainees within a few days, some of the refugees met by foreign diplomats said authorities required them to pay fines before releasing them. Obtaining and maintaining legal residency was also a challenge for Iraqi refugees and refugees of other nationalities. UNHCR reports that only 20 percent of Syrian refugees were legal residents. There is no official limitation of movement for PRS in the country; however, PRS without valid legal status faced limitations to their freedom of movement, mainly due to the fear and risk of arrest at checkpoints. UNRWA reported anecdotal accounts of authorities detaining PRS without legal residency documents as well as issuing “departure orders” for those with expired visas.

Since 2014 authorities granted entry visas at the border for PRS only to persons with either a verified embassy appointment in the country or a flight ticket and visa to a third country. Authorities issue most of these individuals a 24-hour transit visa. Additionally, limited numbers of PRS secured a visa for Lebanon by obtaining prior approval from the DGS, which required a sponsor in the country and could not be processed at border posts. UNRWA estimated that only 12 percent of the PRS in the country arrived after 2016.

Compared to the policy applied to Syrian nationals, authorities applied tighter conditions to PRS (notwithstanding restrictions on Syrians announced in January 2015). For example, Syrian nationals, in principle, could enter with humanitarian visas, while this opportunity was not available to PRS. Consequently, some PRS sought to enter the country through irregular border crossings, placing them at additional risk of exploitation and abuse and creating an obstacle to later regularizing their legal status.

In July 2017 DGS issued a circular allowing the free, unlimited renewal of PRS residency for six months, with no fees for delays. It applied to PRS who entered the country legally or who regularized their status before September 2016, and granted temporary residency documents to PRS who turned 15 years old in the country, allowing them to use available documents more easily, for cases of children without passports or national identity cards. The circular, issued for residency renewal and not regularization, did not apply to PRS who entered the country through unofficial border crossings; authorities issued a departure order to PRS who entered the country through official border crossings, but who overstayed their temporary transit visa or failed to renew their visa.

In October 2017 the government waived the condition of valid residency for birth and marriage registration for PRS, expanding the application of a previous circular issued in September 2017 applicable to Syrians.

In principle, asylum seekers and refugees of nationalities other than Syrian, if arrested because of irregular entry or stay, were sentenced to one to three month’s imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine. Some also received a deportation order, due to illegal entry.

According to UNHCR most non-Syrian asylum seekers arrested due to irregular entry or residency faced administrative detention without being sentenced by a court. The DGS held these individuals in a migrant retention facility where officials processed their immigration files before making administrative deportation decisions. Most cases resulted in deportation of the detainee, except for some instances where UNHCR secured their resettlement to a third country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Fighting in 2007 destroyed the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, displacing approximately 30,000 residents, of whom approximately 27,000 were registered Palestine refugees. Many of the displaced resided in areas adjacent to the camp or in other areas of the country where UNRWA services were available. As of July approximately 55 percent of displaced families returned to newly reconstructed apartments in Nahr el-Bared camp.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government consistently reaffirmed its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement with respect to Syrians. The DGS coordinated with Syrian regime officials to facilitate the voluntary return of 4,800 refugees, as of October 1. UNHCR did not organize these returns but was present at departure points and, in interviews with refugees, found no evidence that returns were involuntary or coerced. Between July 2017 and June, DGS deported seven Iraqi refugees.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Nonetheless, the country hosted an estimated 1.5 million refugees.

Palestinian refugees were prohibited from accessing public health and education services or owning land; they were barred from employment in many fields, making refugees dependent upon UNRWA as the sole provider of education, health care, and social services. A 2010 law expanding employment rights and removing some restrictions on Palestinian refugees was not fully implemented, and Palestinians remained barred from working in most skilled professions, including almost all those that require membership in a professional association.

In 2017 the Ministry of Labor issued an administrative decree that allowed Syrian refugees with valid legal residency to work in construction, agriculture, and cleaning. The decree does not apply to PRS, and many, therefore, worked unofficially, exposing them to discrimination and increased risk of abuse and exploitation. Large number of PRS families in the country relied heavily on UNRWA financial assistance.

As of June 30, there were more than 975,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR. Since the government instructed UNHCR to stop registering Syrian refugees in early 2015, this total did not include Syrian refugees who arrived in the country after early 2015. There were no formal refugee camps in the country for Syrians. Most Syrian refugees resided in urban areas, many in unfinished, substandard, or nonresidential buildings. Approximately 19 percent lived in informal tented settlements, often adjacent to agricultural land, according to an October UN assessment. According to a UN study, the refugees borrowed to cover even their most basic needs, including rent, food, and health care, putting nearly 90 percent of them in debt.

In 2015 the government banned the entry of all Syrian refugees unless they qualified for undefined “humanitarian exceptions.” During the year the government accepted Syrians seeking asylum only if they qualified under the “humanitarian exceptions” that the Ministry of Social Affairs reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These exceptions included unaccompanied and separated children, persons with disabilities, medical cases, and resettlement cases under extreme humanitarian criteria.

Legal status in Lebanon was critical for protection, as it allowed refugees to pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, complete civil registration processes, and access and remain within the educational system.

In addition to more than 16,000 UNHCR-registered Iraqi refugees residing in the country, a limited number of additional Iraqis entered during the year to escape violence. As of June 30, UNHCR also registered more than 3,500 refugees or asylum seekers from Sudan and other countries.

Freedom of Movement: Authorities imposed curfews in a number of municipalities across the country, allegedly to improve security of all communities. Some international observers raised concerns that these measures may be discriminatory and excessive, since authorities usually enforced them only on Syrian refugees.

Municipalities and neighborhoods hosting Syrian refugee populations continued to impose movement restrictions through curfews, evictions, and threats of evictions. As of July UNHCR confirmed the evictions of 336 households, comprising more than 1,500 refugees across the country. UNHCR only tracks “mass evictions” of five or more households; the overall number of refugees affected by eviction is higher. Furthermore, UN agencies reported that local municipal officials frequently used the threat of evictions to exert control over refugees or to appease host communities competing with refugees for jobs and other resources.

Police checkpoints and curfews imposed by municipalities restricted refugees’ movement. For example, in Metn refugees were under curfew from 7:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. Cases of identity document confiscation and fines for breaking curfews continued, although observers reported no violent incidents. UNHCR staff reported these restrictions on movement increasingly forced families to send children and young women, who authorities are less likely to stop, to perform family errands.

Employment: Authorities continued requiring Syrian refugees who wished to obtain residency permits to pledge to abide by the country’s laws, under which Syrians may work only in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.

The law allows a special account to provide end-of-service indemnities or severance pay to Palestinian refugees who retired or resigned. These benefits were available only to Palestinians working in the legal labor market. Palestinians did not benefit from national sickness and maternity funds or the family allowances fund. UNRWA continued to bear the cost of any medical, maternity, or family health-care expenses (excluding worker’s compensation).

Palestinian refugees received partial access to the benefits of the National Social Security Fund. They may not, however, work in at least 36 professions including medicine, law, and engineering and face informal restrictions on work in other industries. According to UN agencies, government officials, and Palestinian advocacy groups, Palestinian refugees consistently reported discrimination in hiring due to bureaucracy and stigma. Lack of written contracts, lack of employment benefits, and insecure job tenure contributed to unstable working conditions.

Access to Basic Services: The government did not consider local integration of any refugees a viable solution.

The law considers UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees to be foreigners. UNRWA has the sole mandate to provide health, education, social services, and emergency assistance to registered Palestinian refugees residing in the country. The amount of land allocated to the 12 official Palestinian refugee camps in the country had changed only marginally since 1948, despite a fourfold increase in the population. Consequently, most Palestinian refugees lived in overpopulated camps, some of which past conflicts heavily damaged. In accordance with agreements with the government, Palestine Liberation Organization security committees provided security for refugees in the camps, with the exception of the Nahr el-Bared camp.

A comprehensive, multi-year plan to rebuild the Nahr el-Bared camp in eight stages began in 2008 and was in process at year’s end. In April UNRWA revised the overall estimated cost of the completing Nahr el Bared camp from LL 521 billion ($345 million) to LL 497 billion ($329 million). Remaining reconstruction was not fully funded, and a shortfall of LL 135 billion ($90 million) remained. On April 25, the prime minister appealed to the international community at the Brussels II Syria Conference to fund shortfall for reconstructing the camp, reconfirming this project as a priority for the country. Of the 27,000 Palestinians originally displaced following the camp’s destruction, UNRWA expected that approximately 21,000 would return.

A 2001 amendment to a 1969 decree barring persons explicitly excluded from resettling in the country from owning land and property was designed to exclude Palestinians from purchasing or inheriting property. Palestinians who owned and registered property prior to the 2001 law entering into force could bequeath it to their heirs, but individuals who were in the process of purchasing property in installments were unable to register the property.

Palestinian refugees residing in the country could not obtain citizenship and were not citizens of any other country. Palestinian refugee women married to Lebanese citizens were able to obtain citizenship after one year of marriage. According to the country’s nationality law, the father transmits citizenship to children. Palestinian refugees, including children, had limited social and civil rights and no access to public health, education, or other social services. Children of Palestinian refugees faced discrimination in birth registration, and many had to leave school at an early age to earn an income.

Palestinian refugees who fled Syria to Lebanon since 2011 received limited basic support from UNRWA, including food aid, cash assistance, and winter assistance, such as cash to purchase fuel for heating. Authorities permitted children of PRS to enroll in UNRWA schools and access UNRWA health clinics.

The Ministry of Education and Higher Education facilitated the enrollment of more than 213,000 non-Lebanese students, predominantly Syrian refugees, in public schools (basic education from kindergarten to grade nine) in the 2017-18 academic year. Authorities estimated that there were almost 338,000 registered Syrians of school age (three to 14 years old) in the country. Donor funding to UN agencies covered school-related expenses, such as school fees, books, and uniforms. Syrian refugees had access to many government and private health centers and local clinics for primary care services, and UN agencies and NGOs funded the majority of associated costs with international donor support. Syrian refugees had access to a limited number of UNHCR-contracted hospitals for lifesaving and obstetric care.

Iraqi refugees had access to both the public and private education systems. UNHCR verification exercises confirmed that authorities enrolled more than 600 Iraqi children in formal public schools for the 2017-18 school year. Iraqi refugees also had access to the primary health-care system. UNHCR, through NGOs, provided secondary health care with donor support.

STATELESS PERSONS

Citizenship is derived exclusively from the father, resulting in statelessness for children of a citizen mother and a noncitizen father when registration under the father’s nationality is not possible. This discrimination in the nationality law particularly affected Palestinians and, increasingly, Syrians from female-headed households. Additionally, some children born to Lebanese fathers did not have their births registered due to administrative obstacles or a lack of understanding of the regulations. The problem was compounded since nonnational status was a hereditary circumstance that stateless persons passed to their children. There were no official statistics on the size of the stateless population.

Approximately 3-5,000 Palestinians were not registered with UNRWA or the government. These persons are Palestinians who began to arrive in the country during the 1960s and do not hold any formal valid identification documentation. The government does not recognize them as they do not hold valid legal status in the country. Without documentation and legal status, nonregistered Palestinians faced restrictions on movement, risked arrest or detention, and encountered obstacles completing civil registration procedures; all of which limited access to public services and formal employment.

Undocumented Palestinians, not registered in other fields, were not necessarily eligible for the full range of services provided by UNRWA. Nonetheless, in most cases, UNRWA provided primary health care, education, and vocational training services to undocumented Palestinians. The majority of undocumented Palestinians were men, many of them married to UNRWA-registered refugees or Lebanese citizen women, who could not transmit refugee status or citizenship to their husbands or children.

The Directorate of Political and Refugee Affairs is responsible for late registration of children of Palestinian refugees. According to the law, birth registration of children older than one year previously required a court procedure, a proof of marriage, an investigation by the DGS, and a DNA test. A March 2 decree issued by the Ministry of Interior facilitated the required documentation for birth registration of PRS and Syrian children more than one year old and born in the country between 2011 and February. In such cases authorities no longer required the court procedure and DNA tests to register these children; however, proof of marriage is still mandatory. This decree does not apply to the registration of Palestinian refugee children more than one year old.

Approximately 1,000 to 1,500 of an estimated 100,000 Kurds living in the country lacked citizenship, despite decades of family presence in the country. Most were descendants of migrants and refugees who left Turkey and Syria during World War I, but authorities denied them citizenship to preserve the country’s sectarian balance. The government issued a naturalization decree in 1994, but high costs and other obstacles prevented many individuals from acquiring official status. Some individuals who received official status had their citizenship revoked in 2011 due to a presidential decree. Others held an “ID under consideration” document without a date or place of birth.

Stateless persons lacked official identity documents that would permit them to travel abroad and could face difficulties traveling internally, including detention for not carrying identity documents. They had limited access to the regular employment market and no access to many professions. Additionally, they could not access public schools or public health-care facilities, register marriages or births, and own or inherit property.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

Although the law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections conducted by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, lack of government control over parts of the country, defects in the electoral process, previous prolonged extensions of parliament’s mandate, and corruption in public office restricted this ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Michel Aoun was elected President of the Republic in October 2016, ending two and a half years of political stalemate. Following the 2017 passage of a new electoral law, the government held its first parliamentary election since 2009 on May 6. Observers concluded that the election was generally free and fair.

For the first time, voters used preprinted ballots, which reduced opportunities for fraud.

Monitors observed that family members or other acquaintances “helped” elderly or disabled voters cast their ballots, often standing with them in the private voting booth. The new electoral law allowed citizens living outside Lebanon to vote from abroad in several countries.

NGOs and observers raised concerns about vote buying and bribes, particularly with respect to media broadcasting. Representatives of nontraditional parties or alliances–many belonging to “civil society” lists–alleged that election authorities did not always enforce laws meant to limit campaign expenses, and there was a public perception that some candidates paid for their positions on party lists or used patronage networks to provide voters with incentives, including cash or promises of employment. Prior to the elections, there were some reports of limited, sporadic violence between candidate supporters. Security services responded quickly to these incidents.

Political Parties and Political Participation: All major political parties and numerous smaller ones were almost exclusively based on confessional affiliation, and parliamentary seats were allotted on a sectarian basis.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate; however, there were significant cultural barriers to women’s participation in politics. Prior to 2004 no woman held a cabinet position, and there were only four female ministers subsequently. During the year one woman served in the cabinet. Only six of 128 members of parliament were women, and most were close relatives of previous male members. Female leadership of political parties was limited, although three parties introduced voluntary quotas for their membership and one party (Lebanese Forces) appointed a woman as its secretary general in 2016, the first woman ever to hold the post in a major Lebanese political party. In September 2017 parliament approved a law that allows women to run in municipal elections in their native towns instead of the municipality of their spouses.

Minorities participated in politics. Regardless of the number of its adherents, authorities allocated every government-recognized religion, except Coptic Christianity, Ismaili Islam, and Judaism, at least one seat in parliament. Voters elected three parliamentarians representing minorities (one Syriac Orthodox Christian and two Alawites) in this year’s elections. None of the minority parliamentarians were women. These groups also held high positions in government and the LAF.

Since refugees are not citizens, they have no political rights. An estimated 17 Palestinian factions operated in the country, generally organized around prominent individuals. Most Palestinians lived in refugee camps that one or more factions controlled. Palestinian refugee leaders were not elected, but there were popular committees that met regularly with UNRWA and visitors.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were responsive in some instances to these groups’ views; however, there was limited accountability for human rights violations.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights struggled to advance legislative proposals to make legal changes to guide ministries in protecting specific human rights or, for example, improving prison conditions. The State Ministry for Human Rights supported human rights legislation and engaged with NGOs and international organizations, but lack of an official budget or staff limited it.

Lesotho

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

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

There were several reports members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

For example, on February 8, Butha-Buthe police killed Terene Pitae. According to the press, police shot and killed Pitae and wounded two other villagers who protested the Kao Mine’s failure to compensate and relocate villagers affected by mining operations.

Although the case of eight LDF members charged with murder in connection with the 2015 death of former LDF commander Maaparankoe Mahao remained open, it had yet to be tried by at year’s end. All eight LDF members remained incarcerated.

b. Disappearance

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

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

Although the constitution and law expressly prohibit such practices, there were several credible reports police tortured suspects and subjected them to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. For example, on March 31, media reported that Maseqobela Mohale suffered a miscarriage after Matelile police repeatedly kicked her in the abdomen. Police also reportedly forced gang members to roll on the ground while kicking and beating them with clubs.

The LMPS acknowledged receiving seven reports of police torture. The LMPS stated that it took disciplinary measures against one police officer and investigated allegations against two other officers. The LMPS provided instruction to police on the human rights of persons in police custody and cooperated with the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transformation Resource Center (TRC). On June 26 and June 27, the TRC conducted a human rights workshop for police. The Office of the Commissioner of Police sent representatives to police stations to emphasize police officer responsibilities regarding human rights.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to gross overcrowding; physical abuse and inmate-on-inmate violence, including rape; and inadequate sanitary conditions, medical care, ventilation, lighting, and heat. The Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) indicated it had no facilities or staff with specialized training to deal with prisoners with disabilities. The service depended on voluntary assistance from other prisoners. Prison buildings lacked ramps, railings, and other features facilitating physical access for prisoners with disabilities.

Physical Conditions: The LCS reported that facilities in Maseru, Leribe, Quthing, and Berea were overcrowded. Former justice minister Mahali Phamotse attributed overcrowding at prisons holding men to high crime rates among the unemployed.

Prisoners reported 11 cases of physical abuse by correctional officers, and authorities took disciplinary measures accordingly. LCS authorities registered 24 cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, instituted disciplinary action in 22 cases, and referred two cases to police for investigation. The LCS reported five inmate-on-inmate rape cases. For example, in July, two inmates allegedly raped another inmate at the Qacha’s Nek Correctional Institution.

Rape and consensual unprotected sex by prisoners contributed to a high rate of HIV/AIDS infection in correctional facilities. The LCS distributed condoms weekly to combat the disease. In January the Lesotho Times newspaper reported that Superintendent Limpho Lebitsa stated, “A lot happens behind bars and away from the eyes of prison officers.”

Although prisons provided potable water, sanitation was poor in Mokhotlong, Berea, Quthing, and Qacha’s Nek, and facilities generally lacked bedding. Proper ventilation, heating, and cooling systems did not exist, and some facilities lacked proper lighting. All prisons had a nurse and a dispensary to attend to minor illnesses, but health care was inadequate. Prisons lacked round-the-clock medical wards; as a result, guards confined sick prisoners to their cells from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Administration: The LCS investigated 11 cases of physical abuse by correctional officers, 24 cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, and 16 allegations of verbal abuse by correctional officers. Authorities formally took disciplinary action in cases of physical abuse and in one case of verbal abuse by correctional officers. Prison instituted disciplinary action in 22 cases of prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

The Office of the Ombudsman stated it received one complaint from a prisoner regarding his sentences not running concurrently. Prisoners were often unaware they could submit complaints to this office. Complaints to the ombudsman, however, must pass through prison authorities, creating the possibility of retaliation against complainants.

According to the LCS, prisoners and detainees have the right to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The LCS referred no complaints to the Magistrate Court during the year.

Independent Monitoring: Representatives of the Lesotho Red Cross Society and the TRC, churches, the business community, and the courts visited prisoners. Visitors provided toiletries, food, and other items. International Committee of the Red Cross representatives periodically visited a group of foreign nationals detained in the country.

Improvements: The LCS reported the renovation of cellblocks at the Maseru Central Correctional Institution, continuing renovation of the Mafeteng Correctional Institution, and installation of electricity at the Berea Correctional Institution.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The security forces consist of the LDF, the LMPS, the National Security Service (NSS), and the LCS. The LMPS is responsible for internal security. The LDF maintains external security and may assist police when the LMPS commissioner requests aid. The NSS is an intelligence service that provides information on possible threats to internal and external security. The LDF and NSS report to the minister of defense, LMPS to the minister of police and public safety, and the LCS to the minister of justice and correctional service. Impunity in the LMPS was a problem.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the LMPS, NSS, and LCS. Following a January change in command of the LDF, civilian control over the army improved. By year’s end more than 30 soldiers implicated in crimes were arrested, charged, and incarcerated. The viability of this improvement is expected to be tested once SAPMIL troops leave the country.

In May the LDF court martialed Major Pitso Ramoepane, Captain Boiketsiso Fonane, and Captain Litekanyo Nyakane for planning a mutiny that led to the September 2017 killing of LDF commander Motsomotso. Court martial proceedings continued at year’s end. In June the TRC reported an increase in human rights abuses by the LMPS, including killings, torture, and corruption, and in October the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights expressed concern regarding “persistent allegations of police brutality.” On October 20, the prime minister urged the minister of police and public safety and the commissioner of police to investigate deaths of suspects in police custody.

The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse. The PCA was ineffective because it lacked authority to fulfill its mandate. It could only investigate cases referred to it by the police commissioner or minister of police and public safety and could act on public complaints only with their approval. The PCA also lacked authority to refer cases directly to the Prosecutor’s Office. The PCA did not publish its findings or recommendations.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires police, based on sufficient evidence, to obtain an arrest warrant from a magistrate prior to making an arrest on criminal grounds. Police arrested suspects openly, informed them of their rights, and brought them before an independent judiciary. By law police are required to inform suspects of charges against them upon arrest and present suspects in court within 48 hours. According to the TRC, police did not always inform suspects of charges upon arrest and detained them for more than the prescribed 48 hours. The law provides that authorities may not hold a suspect in custody for more than 90 days before a trial except in exceptional circumstances.

The law provides for bail, which authorities granted regularly and, in general, fairly. Defendants have the right to legal counsel. Authorities generally allowed detainees prompt access to a lawyer and provided lawyers for indigents in criminal cases. Free legal counsel was usually available for indigents, from either the state or an NGO. The Legal Aid Division under the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Service offered free legal assistance, but a severe lack of resources hampered the division’s effectiveness and resulted in a backlog. The division had only 15 lawyers and two vehicles to serve the entire country. NGOs maintained a few legal aid clinics.

There were no reports of suspects detained incommunicado, held under house arrest, or reports of authorities ignoring court orders for their release this year.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detainees constituted 23 percent of the prison population. The average length of pretrial detention was 60 days, after which authorities usually released pretrial detainees on bail pending trial. Pretrial detention could last for months, however, due to judicial staffing shortages and unavailability of legal counsel.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. There were no reported instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by the government. In some cases authorities failed to respect court orders. For example, on August 6, the High Court found the principal secretary of foreign affairs and international relations, the minister of foreign affairs and international relations, the prime minister, and the attorney general “guilty of blatant and willful contempt of court” for failing to honor its March 23 order directing the government not to recall former permanent representative to the United Nations Kelebone Maope. Consequently, the court ordered the government to pay Maope terminal benefits, including salary for the remaining term of his contract within 60 days.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, but trial delays were common.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence. In most cases officials informed defendants promptly and in detail of the charges with free interpretation as necessary. In some cases interpreters were not readily available, resulting in delays in the filing of charges.

In civil and criminal matters, a single judge normally hears cases. In constitutional, commercial, and appeals court cases, more than one judge is assigned. Trials are open to the public. A backlog of cases in the court system and the failure of defense attorneys to appear in court caused trial delays.

Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to consult with an attorney of their choice, to have an attorney provided by the state if indigent, and to have adequate time to prepare their case. Authorities provide free interpretation as necessary during proceedings at the magistrate and High Court levels but not at other points in the criminal justice process. By law the free assistance of an interpreter is not required for cases in the court of appeals.

Defendants may confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their own behalf. The law allows defendants to present evidence on their own behalf at the Magistrate Court, but the High Court requires legal representation. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal a judgment. The law extends the above rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary with jurisdiction over civil matters. Individuals and organizations may freely access the court system to file lawsuits seeking cessation of human rights violations and recovery of damages.

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

The constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and the government generally respected these prohibitions. Although search warrants are required under normal circumstances, the law provides police with the power to stop and search persons and vehicles as well as to enter homes and other places without a warrant if the situation is life threatening or there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a serious crime has occurred. Additionally, the law states any police officer of the rank of inspector or above may search individuals or homes without a warrant.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech, but the constitution does not explicitly mention freedom of the press. Media freedom deteriorated, marked by several incidents of censorship, intimidation of journalists, and radio stations taken off the air.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits expressions of hatred or contempt for any person because of the person’s race, ethnic affiliation, gender, disability, or color. The government did not arrest or convict anyone for violating the law. The NSS reportedly monitored political meetings.

Press and Media Freedom: The law provides for the right to obtain and impart information freely but only as long as it does not interfere with “defense, public safety, public order, public morality, or public health.” Nevertheless, censorship, intimidation of journalists, and suspension of radio broadcasting rights occurred.

Violence and Harassment: In May an unidentified individual threatened People’s Choice FM radio journalist Malehlohonolo Ramathe following a program on the internal dynamics of the ABC political party. Ramathe reported the threats to police who continued to investigate the matter at year’s end.

By year’s end no trial date was set for the five LDF suspects arrested in November 2017 for involvement in the 2016 shooting of Lesotho Times editor Lloyd Muntungamiri, a Zimbabwean national. In May, Muntungamiri briefly returned to the country to make a formal statement to police. The case encountered several delays in assigning a magistrate.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media relied heavily on government advertising and technical resources, leading to some level of self-censorship. The government restricted antigovernment broadcaster MoAfrika FM (the country’s second-largest broadcaster) by limiting its access to transmission lines. In August and again in September, the Ministry of Communication filed charges against MoAfrika FM for broadcasting programs that incited violence. The ministry sought suspension of the station’s license. Although the ministry’s charges were dismissed, MoAfrika FM reported that interruption of its broadcasts in northern parts of the country continued. The government issued a public service announcement that technical work to achieve digital migration caused broadcasting disruptions.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: In December 2017 the Lesotho Communications Authority resumed issuance of radio broadcasting licenses, which had been suspended since early 2015. Although a number of stations submitted applications, no licenses had been issued by year’s end.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa with support from the Open Society Initiative Southern Africa engaged an independent consultant to review the country’s laws and make recommendations for a constitution that enhances a free press environment. The report concluded that freedom of the press was not provided for adequately due to outdated laws and the lack of an independent regulatory framework. It noted the Ministry of Communications controlled both the Lesotho Communications Authority and the Lesotho National Broadcasting Service.

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. The internet was not widely available and almost nonexistent in rural areas due to lack of communications infrastructure and high cost of access. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 29.8 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but the law requires organizers to obtain permits seven days in advance for public meetings and processions. The government generally respected these rights when timely applications for permits were submitted.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In March 2017 parliament passed a motion of no confidence in the prime minister, triggering a chain of events that led to early elections. In June 2017 parliamentary elections were held in which the opposition ABC party won 51 of 120 seats and formed a coalition government with the Alliance of Democrats, the Basotho National Party, and the Reformed Congress of Lesotho.

In June 2017 former prime minister Pakalitha Mosisili peacefully handed power to Motsoahae Thomas Thabane. Domestic and international observers characterized the election as peaceful and conducted in a credible, transparent, and professional manner. Observers expressed concern, however, regarding LDF presence at polling places in some constituencies; there were no reports otherwise of the LDF interfering in the electoral process.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process. Women participated in the political process, but there were no members of racial or ethnic minority groups in the National Assembly, Senate, or cabinet. The law provides for the allocation of one-third of the seats in the municipal, urban, and community councils to women. The law also states a political party registered with the Independent Electoral Commission must facilitate the full participation of women, youth, and persons with disabilities. Party lists for the 40 proportional representation seats in the National Assembly must include equal numbers of women and men.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. According to some local NGOs, government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The independent Office of the Ombudsman occasionally encountered government or political interference. The office was partially effective but constrained by a low level of public awareness and use of its services because its operations were limited to Maseru and it had insufficient staffing, financing, and equipment.

Because of allegations by some LCS officers that LCS Commissioner Thabang Mothepu selected officers for promotion on the basis of political patronage and nepotism, in May the Office of the Ombudsman held a public inquiry on the promotions of 60 LCS officers and ordered Mothepu not to proceed with the promotions pending investigation.

Although the TRC continued to campaign for the establishment of a human rights commission that meets international standards, the government did not establish one by year’s end.

Liberia

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On April 29, a zone commander for the Liberia National Police (LNP), Roosevelt Demann, shot and killed an unarmed civilian, Beyan Lamie, when Lamie attempted to flee after a confrontation. An LNP investigation determined that Lamie posed no danger to Demann at the time. In September, Demann was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Demann’s legal counsel filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. The case is reportedly on the docket for March 2019.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits practices such as torture and inhuman treatment. Sections 5.1 and 5.6 of the penal code provide criminal penalties for excessive use of force by law enforcement officers and address permissible uses of force during arrest or while preventing the escape of a prisoner from custody. Nonetheless, police and other security officers allegedly abused, harassed, and intimidated persons in police custody, as well as those seeking police protection. Unlike previous years, the LNP did not report any cases of rape or sexual assault by police officers.

In a report released in August, the Liberian Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported that in August 2017, a corrections officer at Harper Central Prison severely beat a pretrial detainee for refusing to get the officer water from a nearby creek. After an internal investigation, the Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation (BCR) suspended the officer for one month.

The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which closed its mission in March, had received four reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse for the year. All incidents reported during the year occurred in 2016 or earlier, and all investigations were pending. Three reports of sexual exploitation were filed against a military contingent member from Namibia, a member of the UN police from Gambia, and a military observer from Ethiopia. The fourth report implicated four individuals from Nigeria; three military contingent members for alleged sexual exploitation and one military contingent member for rape. The United Nations substantiated three of the six cases from the previous year and repatriated the accused individuals, including one report against a military contingent member from Nepal accused of sexual assault, one report against a military contingent member from Nigeria accused of a sexually exploitative relationship, and one report against a military contingent member from Ghana accused of sexual exploitation. The remaining reports were still under investigation as of November.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and at times life threatening due to overcrowding, failing infrastructure, and inadequate medical care. Prisoners and independent prison monitors often noted that prisons had inadequate food.

Physical Conditions: Inadequate space, bedding and mosquito netting, food, sanitation, ventilation, cooling, lighting, basic and emergency medical care, and potable water contributed to harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions in the 15 prisons and one detention center. Many prisoners supplemented their meals by purchasing food at the prison or receiving food from visitors in accordance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The BCR sometimes used farming to supplement food rations. According to the BCR, the government’s food allocation is sufficient to meet daily calorie requirements, and both the allocation to prisons and distribution to prisoners were tracked by the BCR and were available upon request. The BCR reported that poor road conditions during the rainy season frequently delayed food delivery in the southeast, during which time prison superintendents supplemented normal rations with locally grown food and donations from family and friends of inmates.

The BCR reported six prisoner deaths through August 29. According to the BCR, the deaths were due to medical reasons, like tuberculosis or malaria, and none resulted from prison violence or mistreatment of prisoners.

Gross overcrowding continued to be a problem. The BCR reported the prison population in the country was almost twice the planned capacity. In seven of the 16 BCR facilities, detention figures were 100 to 450 percent more than planned capacity. According to the BCR, approximately one-half of the country’s 2,426 prisoners were at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP). MCP’s official capacity is 374 detainees, but the prison held 1,180 in December, of whom 76 percent (901) were pretrial detainees. As of August 29, the prison population countrywide included 60 women, of whom 21 were assigned to the MCP, which also held 10 male juveniles, all of whom were in pretrial detention. The BCR administration complained of understaffing. No comprehensive staffing document existed to verify BCR staffing claims.

In some locations, the BCR relied on the LNP to provide court and medical escorts; other locations relied on court officers to transport prisoners to court; still other locations reportedly called the county ambulance to transport prisoners and escorts to the hospital or placed prisoners on the back of motorcycles. There were reports that the BCR also used the superintendent or the county attorney’s vehicle to transport prisoners. The MCP lacked adequate vehicles and fuel for its needs; some staff reportedly paid for fuel themselves.

The Ministry of Justice funded the BCR, which did not have a specific funding allocation beyond those funds under the national budget. The BCR lacked funds for the maintenance of prison facilities, fuel, vehicle maintenance, cellular or internet communications, and regular and timely payment of employees, which remained a government-wide problem. According to the INCHR, prison conditions were not in compliance with the country’s own legal standards for prisons. According to Prison Fellowship Liberia (PFL), most prisons and detention facilities were in unacceptable condition and often had leaking roofs, cracks in the walls, limited or no lighting, and in some cases lacked septic tanks or electricity.

Medical services were available at most of the prisons but not on a daily or 24-hour basis. The only location where medical staff was available Monday through Friday was at the MCP. Medical staff at the MCP only worked during the day. Health-care workers visited most other prisons and detention centers one to two times per week; they were not always timely, and facilities could go weeks without medical staff.

The Ministry of Health and county health teams had primary responsibility for the provision of medicines. The budget of the Ministry of Justice included a small line item to supplement medicines to cover those that the Ministry of Health could not provide. The Carter Center and Don Bosco Catholic Services provided some medical services, medicines, nutritional supplements, food, and related training to improve basic conditions at the MCP. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Partners in Health and the Ministry of Health generally provided health services to facilities. The supply chain for medicines was weak throughout the country; prison medical staff often did not have access to necessary medicines. NGOs and community groups also provided medicines to treat seizures, skin infections, and mental health conditions. The ministry and county health teams replenished medications to treat malaria and tuberculosis only when stocks were exhausted. Since replenishment sometimes took weeks or months, inmates often went without medication for lengthy periods.

There were reports of inadequate treatment for ailing inmates and inmates with disabilities. At the MCP the BCR worked to identify individuals with special needs, including those with tuberculosis, through screening provided by the Ministry of Health and Partners in Health. Although the law provides for compassionate release of prisoners who are ill, such release was uncommon. By law prisoners must be extremely ill for authorities to take up the request for release on compassionate grounds; prisoners sometimes died waiting for authorities to review their cases. Authorities determined whether to release an ill prisoner on an ad hoc basis, and most were quarantined after presenting symptoms rather than being released. As a result inmate health in prisons and the BCR’s ability to respond and contain diseases among the prison population was poor.

Authorities held men and women in separate cellblocks at the MCP, but in counties with smaller detention facilities, authorities designated a single cell for female prisoners and held juveniles in the same cellblock with adults. In Barclayville police manage one cell and the BCR manage another, as there are only two cells in the station; there is no designated cell for females or juveniles. Except at the MCP, which had a juvenile cellblock, children were mostly held in separate cells within adult cellblocks. Because many minors did not have identity documents at the time the court issued commitment orders, they were sometimes misidentified as adults by the courts, issued confinement orders as adults, and therefore held in adult cellblocks. There were also reports by NGOs and observers of inmates in the juvenile facility reaching age 18 who were not transferred to the adult population. According to the PFL, prison staff sometimes held adults with juveniles in the juveniles’ smaller cells. Pretrial detainees were generally held with convicted prisoners.

Conditions for women prisoners were somewhat better than for men; women inmates were less likely to suffer from overcrowding and had more freedom to move within the women’s section of facilities. According to the INCHR female inmates’ personal hygiene needs were often not addressed. Many female detainees lacked sanitary items unless provided by family; occasionally NGOs donated these items, but stocks ran out quickly.

Administration: The BCR has its own training staff, which as of September conducted one in-service training and five specialized training sessions for a small number of officers. The BCR increased use of its own data collections and systems. Intake reporting expanded to capture data regarding prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. National records officers communicated (via telephone) weekly with facility records officers to collect updated information, and share a monthly roll with county attorneys; however, the transfer of records to Monrovia remained inadequate.

The PFL stated that prison staff sometimes misappropriated food intended for prisoners. Unlike in 2017 the BCR did not report investigations of staff for corruption in the distribution of food.

Independent prison monitors sent complaints of prison conditions and allegations of staff misconduct to the BCR. The BCR stated it would conduct internal investigations into each complaint, but it was unclear if the BCR actually did so.

Authorities sometimes used alternatives to prison sentencing for nonviolent offenders, but courts failed to make adequate efforts to employ alternatives to incarceration at the pretrial stages of criminal proceedings. Courts issued probationary sentences in some cases for nonviolent offenders. Magistrates, however, continued to sentence prisoners convicted of minor offenses to long terms, for cases in which probation prisoner rights advocates believed might have been more appropriate. Public defenders continued to use a plea-bargaining system in some courts. The law provides for bail, including release on the detainee’s own recognizance. The bail system, however, was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. No ombudsman system operated on behalf of prisoners and detainees.

The government did not make public internal reports and investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons. The BCR sometimes made prison statistics publicly available. Although not systematically implemented, BCR media policy dictated release of information, including in response to requests from the public.

The BCR removed a corrections officer and a nurse from their positions after they were caught stealing from a prison pharmacy in July; as of September the BCR turned over the nurse’s case to the Ministry of Health and the officer was suspended pending termination.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, international NGOs, the United Nations, diplomatic personnel, and media. Some human rights groups, including domestic and international organizations, visited detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the MCP. The INCHR had unfettered access to and visited all facilities. The PFL also had unfettered access to facilities.

Improvements: During the year the BCR reorganized its gender unit so that it was directly involved in the recruitment and training of corrections officers. The BCR reorganized the centralized investigation unit, an independent unit that investigates allegations against corrections staff and recommends disciplinary action, so that investigative officers no longer perform corrections duties. It also expanded the probation department by adding 25 probation officers. The Robertsport Central Prison facility opened in May, with a cellblock for female inmates and a greater number of cells.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and the law provides for the right of any person to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, but the government did not always observe these prohibitions and rights. The arbitrary arrest, assault, and detention of citizens continued.

Police officers or magistrates frequently detained citizens for owing money to a complainant. During site visits to the nine operating magistrate courts in Montserrado County, several city solicitors reported that magistrate court judges unilaterally issued writs of arrest without approval or submission by the city solicitors. The court administrative assistants reported this issue to the solicitor general for further action. At the opening of the October term of the Supreme Court, the minister of justice announced that one of the government’s top priorities for judicial reform was the curtailment of magistrate judges’ ability to arrest persons independently, without involvement or investigation by the LNP or other organs of government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for enforcing laws and maintaining order through supervision of the LNP and other law enforcement agencies. The armed forces, under the Ministry of National Defense, provide external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities, specifically coastal patrolling by the Coast Guard.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, although lapses occurred. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. The INCHR reported that violent police action and harassment during arrests were the most common complaints of misconduct. The LNP’s Professional Standards Division (PSD) is responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct and referring cases for prosecution. There were instances during the year in which civilian security forces acted with impunity. A 2016 police act mandates establishment of a civilian complaints review board to improve accountability and oversight, but as of December, the board had not been constituted.

An armed forces disciplinary board investigates alleged misconduct and abuses by military personnel. The armed forces administer nonjudicial punishment. In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the ministries of Justice and National Defense, the armed forces refer capital cases to the civil court system for adjudication. In 2017 the legislature passed the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but as of November the armed forces had not set up courts of inquiry or military tribunals.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

In general, police must have warrants issued by a magistrate to make arrests. The law allows for arrests without a warrant if necessary paperwork is filed immediately afterwards for review by the appropriate authority. Nonetheless, arrests often were made without judicial authorization, and warrants were sometimes issued without sufficient evidence.

The law provides that authorities either charge or release detainees within 48 hours. Detainees generally were informed of the charges against them upon arrest and sometimes brought before a judge for arraignment within 48 hours. A detainee’s access to a hearing before a judge sometimes depended on whether there was a functioning court in the area. Those arraigned were often held in lengthy pretrial detention. Some detainees, particularly among the majority who lacked the means to hire a lawyer, were held for more than 48 hours without charge. The law also provides that, once detained, a criminal defendant must be indicted during the next succeeding term of court after arrest or, if the indicted defendant is not tried within the next succeeding court term and no cause is given, the case against the defendant is to be dismissed; nevertheless, cases were rarely dismissed on either ground.

In 2016, the Ministry of Justice established a public defender’s office at the MCP and subsequently deployed additional public defenders to courts around the country. There are 33 public defenders across the country; the Ministry of Justice assigned 12 public defenders to Montserrado County and one or two public defenders for each of the other counties. Under the public defender program, each police station maintains an office of court liaison that works with the public defenders’ office in each county. Magistrates or police officers are responsible for contacting the public defender in cases where individuals are arrested on a warrant, whereas the court liaison officer is responsible for contacting the public defender when warrantless arrests are made.

The law provides for bail for all noncapital or drug-related criminal offenses; it severely limits bail for individuals charged with capital offenses or serious sexual crimes. Bail may be paid in cash, property, insurance, or be granted on personal recognizance. The bail system was inefficient and susceptible to corruption. Detainees have the right to prompt access to counsel, visits from family members, and, if indigent, an attorney provided by the state in criminal cases. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and indigent defendants appearing in magistrate courts–the venues in which most cases are initiated–were rarely provided state-funded counsel. Public defender offices remained understaffed and underfunded, and some allegedly charged indigent clients for their services. Although official policy allows detained suspects to communicate with others, including a lawyer or family member, inadequate provision of telephone services resulted in many inmates being unable to communicate with anyone outside of the detention facility. House arrest was rarely used.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces continued to make arbitrary arrests. In September the deputy minister for information ordered the arrest of a media liaison officer in the Legislative Budget Office for allegedly video recording the deputy minister dancing at a local bar. He was released without charge less than a day later.

Pretrial Detention: Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and prearraignment detention remained serious problems. Pretrial detainees accounted for approximately 63 percent of the prison population across the country. As of August, those arrested for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes and armed robbery constituted the fastest-growing categories of pretrial detainees.

Ineffective management of court schedules, lack of fully implemented plea bargaining, insufficient resources for preparation, hearings, and trials, unavailability of counsel at the early stages of proceedings, and detainee lack of understanding of the law all contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. As of December 19, data provided by the BCR showed a pretrial detainee population of 1,664. According to law pretrial detainees should not be held for more than two successive terms in court without a trial. Approximately 25 percent of detainees were held longer than two terms in court; at the MCP approximately 38 percent of detainees were held longer than two terms.

Circuit courts used supervised pretrial release programs in conjunction with the Magistrate Sitting Program (MSP) to help reduce the number of pretrial detainees in the prison system. The MSP was established to expedite the trials of persons detained at the MCP, but was not widely used outside Monrovia. The MSP also suffered from poor coordination among judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, and corrections personnel; deficient docket management; inappropriate involvement of extrajudicial actors; and a lack of logistical support. From January to December, the MSP dismissed the cases of and released 509 of 568 pretrial detainees.

The corrections system continued to develop its capacity to implement probation. In some cases, the length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for the alleged crime. A shortage of trained prosecutors and public defenders, poor court administration and file management, inadequate police investigation and evidence collection, and judicial corruption exacerbated the incidence and duration of pretrial detention.

With UNICEF support, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection (MGCSP) established procedures to divert many juvenile offenders from the formal criminal justice system and place them in a variety of safe homes and “kinship” care situations. The program has dramatically decreased the number of minors in detention. From January to July, the program released 83 children from detention and an additional 331 cases were mediated to avoid confinement.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, regardless of whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release. The government frequently did not respect these rights, and the court system lacked the capacity to process promptly most cases. Additionally, many clients lacked the means to hire private attorneys.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and engaged in corruption. Uneven application of the law, limited and unequal distribution of personnel and resources, lack of training, the small number of courts in rural counties, and a poor road network remained problems throughout the judicial system. Advocacy groups often reported that some judges only appear for a fraction of a court term, limiting the number of adjudicated cases per term.

Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.

While the Supreme Court has made provision through the establishment of the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and has suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public has brought few cases due to fear of retribution. Complaints of corruption and malpractice involving judges’ conduct may be brought to the Judicial Inquiry Commission. Both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Judicial Inquiry Commission lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively.

The government continued efforts to harmonize the formal and traditional customary justice systems, in particular through campaigns to encourage trial of criminal cases in formal courts. Traditional leaders were encouraged to defer to police investigators and prosecutors in cases involving murder, rape, and human trafficking, as well as some civil cases that could be resolved in either formal or traditional systems. The Carter Center ran a program that seeks to strengthen access to justice for historically marginalized rural citizens with the goal of creating a functional and responsive justice system consistent with local needs, practices, and human rights standards. From January to June, the center trained 942 traditional leaders on the law, dispute resolution, and good governance practices.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

By law trials are public. Circuit court proceedings, but not magistrate court proceedings, may be by jury. In some cases, defendants may select a bench trial. Jurors were sometimes subject to influence and corrupt practices that undermined their neutrality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials and consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants have the right to be informed of charges promptly and in detail. If a defendant, complainant, or witness does not speak or understand English, the court provides an interpreter for the trial. The justice system does not provide interpreters throughout the legal process. For example, there are no sign-language interpreters or other accommodations provided for the deaf, and rarely is interpretation available unless paid for by the defendant. Defendants also have the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, although these rights often were not observed. Defendants are presumed innocent, and they have the right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. The law extends the above rights to all defendants; however, these rights were often not observed and were rarely enforced.

Some local NGOs continued to provide legal services to indigent defendants and others who had no representation. In February the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia launched a legal aid project to promote and protect the rights of women, children, and indigent persons in two counties. The Liberian National Bar Association also continued to offer pro bono legal services to the indigent through legal aid clinics.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

No specialized court exists to address lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts or through administrative mechanisms, which include out-of-court conferences, hearings concerning labor disputes at the Ministry of Labor for workers’ rights, and other grievance hearings at the Civil Service Agency of Liberia. While there are civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts and adverse decisions in human rights cases may be appealed, the majority of human rights cases are brought against nonstate actors. Human rights violations are generally reported to the INCHR, which refers cases to relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Justice. In some cases, individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies after all domestic redress options have been exhausted. While there is an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice to address human rights violations in member states, few citizens could afford to access this court. In May a group from Nimba County reportedly filed a human rights lawsuit before the ECOWAS court on behalf of the Mandingo ethnic group. The $500 million suit reportedly stemmed from a long-standing land dispute.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected these rights, although with some unofficial limits.

Freedom of Expression: Individuals could generally criticize the government publicly or privately, but criminal libel and slander laws and national security laws placed limits on freedom of speech.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but due to a lack of funding, they were often overshadowed by privately owned media outlets with partisan leanings. Some media outlets and journalists allegedly charged fees to publish some articles. According to the Press Union of Liberia (PUL), laws prohibiting criminal libel against the president, sedition, and criminal malevolence as well as high fines associated with civil suits were sometimes used to curtail freedom of expression and intimidate the press. Self-censorship was widespread, and some media outlets avoided addressing subjects like government corruption both due to fear of legal sanction and in order to retain government advertising revenue. Court decisions against journalists often involved exorbitant fines, and authorities jailed journalists who did not pay the fines.

Violence and Harassment: Law enforcement officers occasionally harassed newspaper and radio station owners because of their political opinions and reporting, especially those that criticized government officials. Government officials also harassed and sometimes threatened media members for political or personal reasons. In February the legislative press pool stated that Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate Toe C. Toe bit Austin Kawah of Prime FM during a disagreement regarding entering Senate chambers, and that Representative Munah Pelham-Youngblood assaulted FrontPage Africa journalist Henry Karmo during an open session at the Capitol. According to the press pool, Youngblood attacked Karmo for reporting a story that was critical of the lawmaker. On November 21, the Daily Observer reported that Representative Solomon George allegedly threatened to order the beating of two journalists from the legislative press pool for “insulting” the legislature.

During a joint press conference marking the conclusion of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) with UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed on March 22, President Weah rebuked BBC and Associated Press journalist Jonathan Paye-Layleh for being “against him.” President Weah’s response followed a question from Paye-Layleh regarding whether he would support establishing a war crimes court. Days later the president’s press secretary released a statement to clarify that Weah’s remarks were a reminder that while Weah was advocating for human rights, Paye-Layleh and other journalists “were bent on undermining his [Weah’s] efforts by depicting a positive image of the carnage” during the country’s civil wars. PUL suggested that the president’s comments directed at Paye-Layleh could endanger journalists and promote self-censorship.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Although generally able to express a wide variety of views, some journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid possible criminal charges. Journalists and media directors also practiced self-censorship to maintain advertising revenue from the government, the largest advertiser in the country. There were several reports that politicians and government agencies offered “transportation fees” to journalists to secure coverage of events.

In June the government announced the suspension and review of all media licenses issued between January 1 and June 18. According to a press release from the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism, the reason for the suspension was to investigate irregularities such as the duplication of transmission frequencies to radio and television broadcasters. PUL stated that the move was meant to intimidate media and halt the opening of a radio station by a critic of the government.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports that libel, slander, and defamation laws constrained the work of journalists and media outlets reporting on high-profile government or other public figures. On April 9, the Civil Law Court ordered staff from FrontPage Africato appear in court. The government then briefly detained at least seven journalists and forced the newspaper’s office to close temporarily. The court’s decision resulted from a $1.8 million civil defamation lawsuit filed against the newspaper for publishing a paid advertisement concerning the administrators of a deceased politician’s estate that it retracted before the suit.

PUL advocated for decriminalizing libel and slander and eliminating prison terms for persons unable to pay large fines. PUL also continued efforts to self-regulate the media and ensure adherence to standards including investigation and settlement of complaints against or by the press. PUL’s National Media Council, launched in 2017 to address court cases against the media, mediated six cases during the year.

On May 31, President Weah submitted a bill repealing sections of the penal law on criminal libel against the president and other government officials, sedition, and criminal malevolence. In July the House of Representatives unanimously approved the bill. As of November the bill was awaiting Senate review. This bill, if passed, would help bring the country into compliance with the Table Mountain Declaration, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and “insult” laws across the African continent.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

There were reports of government officials threatening legal action and filing civil lawsuits to censor protected internet-based speech and intimidate senders.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. The Ministry of Justice required permits for public gatherings and obtaining a permit was relatively easy.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held presidential and legislative elections in October 2017. A runoff presidential election was scheduled for November, but it was delayed due to a legal challenge to the October results. The Supreme Court ruled in a 4-1 decision in December 2017 that there was insufficient evidence presented by the appellant political parties (Unity Party and Liberty Party) to justify a rerun, which quelled rising tensions around the country. The court ordered the NEC to schedule the runoff in accordance with the constitution and specified some remedial actions to be taken by the NEC, such as cleaning up duplications in the final registration roll of voters. The NEC scheduled the presidential runoff election for December 2017. Senator George Weah won the presidential runoff in elections that were generally considered free and fair. In the first round, in October 2017, 75 percent of citizens voted, and 56 percent participated in the runoff elections.

According to a report by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the 2017 general elections saw peaceful youth involvement in the campaign process, as opposed to the 2005 and 2011 general elections when political parties and candidates used young supporters to initiate disturbances and violent protests.

On July 31, the country held by-elections to fill Senate seats vacated by the president and vice president. The elections were peaceful and credible, but there was low voter turnout; 29 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Bong County while 15 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Montserrado County. On November 20, the country held by-elections to fill two legislative vacancies; elections were credible and peaceful, although a November 17 scuffle between supporters of two opposing candidates resulted in one individual being taken to the hospital and subsequently released.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women, members of minorities, or both in the political process, and they did participate. Some observers believed traditional and cultural factors limited women’s participation in politics as compared with the participation of men. Women participated at significantly lower levels than men as party leaders and as elected officials. Election law requires that political parties “endeavor to ensure 30 percent” female participation. While this provision has no enforcement mechanism, there was a 16 percent uptick in the number of female candidates listed for the legislative race of the 2017 election cycle. The NEC reported that women represented 49 percent of all voters during the first round of presidential and legislative elections, but as of December had not released final numbers.

Muslim citizens were active participants in the 2017 elections, but faced discrimination as both candidates and voters. NDI observers reported numerous instances of hate speech against Muslim candidates including by fellow candidates. Moreover, several Muslim groups noted other forms of discrimination when trying to register to vote, including a group of women in hijab who were told they had to remove their head coverings completely for their registration photo, when non-Muslim women wearing traditional head coverings were not told to remove them. The case was raised to the level of the NEC, which promptly issued guidance to NEC staff to allow women to wear the hijab in registration photos. The Liberian Muslim Women Network did not report any issues related to identification photos since the election. Discrimination also occurred against the Mandingo ethnic community. NDI received reports that some polling staff prevented Mandingo voters from registering or voting and accused them of being noncitizens.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating, and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to the views of these groups.

The government has not implemented the majority of the recommendations contained in the 2009 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. The law creating the commission requires that the president submit quarterly progress reports to the legislature on the implementation of TRC recommendations; however, since taking office in January, President Weah has failed to submit quarterly reports.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Ministry of Justice, Human Rights Protection Unit convened coordination meetings that provided a forum for domestic and international human rights NGOs to present matters to the government, including proposed legislation. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights acted as an independent check on the actions of the government in line with its mission to monitor human rights violations in the country.

The INCHR has the mandate to promote and protect human rights, investigate and conduct hearings on human rights violations, propose changes to laws, policies, and administrative practices and regulations, and counsel the government on the implementation of national and international human rights standards.

Libya

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

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

There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned armed groups, nonstate actors, LNA units, Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups, tribal groups, ISIS fighters, and other terrorist groups committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, non-state actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.

Reports indicated terrorist organizations, criminal gangs, and militias played a prominent role in targeted killings and suicide bombings perpetrated against both government officials and civilians. Criminal groups or armed elements affiliated with both the government and its opponents may have carried out other such attacks. Shelling, gunfire, airstrikes, and unexploded ordinances killed scores of persons during the year, including in the capital, Tripoli. In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, perpetrators remained unidentified, and most of these crimes remained unpunished.

Between January and October, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) documented the deaths of more than 177 civilians. Shelling injured or killed the largest number of victims.

b. Disappearance

GNA-aligned forces and armed groups acting outside GNA control committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). The GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.

Kidnappings were common throughout the year, typically carried out by criminal gangs or trafficking groups that exploited the country’s ungoverned spaces and ransomed victims for money.

On April 20, Salem Mohamed Beitelmal, a professor at the University of Tripoli, was driving to work when local militias abducted him on the outskirts of western Tripoli. On June 6, his captors released him.

Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the post-revolutionary period remained unresolved. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, and the slow progress of the National Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases.

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

While the Constitutional Declaration and post-revolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal detention centers tortured prisoners (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled many facilities, the GNA continued to rely primarily on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in most instances. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), armed groups held detainees at their discretion prior to placing them in official detention facilities. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. National Committee for Human Rights in Libya (NCHRL) reported abuses included beatings with belts, sticks, hoses, and rifles; administration of electric shocks; burns inflicted by boiling water, heated metal, or cigarettes; mock executions; suspension from metal bars; and rape.

On November 14, Director of the Patrol Department of the Public Security Service under the Qadhafi regime, Brigadier General Nuri al-Jalawawi, died after being tortured in Al-Hadhba prison in Tripoli, according to human rights activists and press reports. Nuri was arrested after the 2011 revolution and held in Al-Hadhba prison, which is under the control of the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades (TRB). In 2015 the Tripoli Appellate Court suspended the case against him and ordered his transfer to Al-Razi Psychiatric Hospital in Gargaresh; however, he was never transferred or released.

According to the testimony of former detainees held in Mitiga Prison, Special Deterrence Force (SDF) prison administrators subjected detainees to torture. Former Mitiga detainees reported suspension from their shoulders for many hours leading to dislocations; beatings that lasted up to five hours; beatings with PPV tubes; beatings of their feet in a torture device called the “al-Falqa” cage; and broken noses and teeth. SDF leaders Khalid al-Hishri Abuti, Moadh Eshabat, Hamza al-Bouti Edhaoui, Ziad Najim, Nazih Ahmed Tabtaba, as well as SDF head Abdulrauf Kara and prison directors Usama Najim and Mahmoud Hamza supervised the prison according to a former detainee in the facility.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, harsh, and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside government control see section 1.g.).

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), migrant detention centers, operated by the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Irregular Migration, also suffered from massive overcrowding, extremely poor sanitation conditions, lack of access to medical care, and significant disregard for the protection of the detainees. According to press reports, detainees experienced discrimination on the basis of their religion. IOM did not, however, receive complaints during the year about migrants prevented from engaging in religious observances while detained.

Physical Conditions: In the absence of an effective judicial system or release of prisoners, overcrowding and limited access to health care reportedly continued during the year. Many prison facilities need infrastructural repairs. Accurate numbers of those incarcerated, including a breakdown by holding agency, were not available.

Detention conditions were sometimes substantially different for types of detainees; according to reports by the NCHRL, ISIS detainees and other terrorist suspects were detained in less crowded conditions due to security concerns.

A large number of detainees were foreigners, mostly migrants. Facilities that held irregular migrants generally were of poorer quality than other facilities. The Libyan Young Lawyer’s Association (LYLA) reported poor conditions at the government detention center in Zawiya. According to UNHCR, as of September, there were between 8,000 and 9,000 migrants and refugees housed in the 20 active official detention center’s run by the GNA’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration (Ministry of Interior), down from 20,000 in late 2017. A large number of additional migrant detainees were reportedly held in nongovernment centers, although numbers were unknown. Officials, local militias, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of detention centers with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.

There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections. There were separate facilities for men and women.

There were reports of killings and deaths in detention centers. Due to security conditions that limited monitoring, the exact number of those killed in prisons, jails, pretrial detention, or other detention centers was unknown.

Makeshift detention facilities existed throughout the country. Conditions at these facilities varied widely, but reports indicated the conditions in most were below international standards. Consistent problems included overcrowding, poor ventilation, and the lack of basic necessities.

Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a separate, rival, eastern Ministry of Justice that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya and Zintan. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.

Independent Monitoring: The GNA permitted some independent monitoring and permitted IOM and UNHCR increased access to transit facilities. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity regarding who ran each facility and the sheer number of facilities made it impossible to gain a comprehensive view of the system.

Reports also questioned the capability and professionalism of local human rights organizations charged with overseeing prisons and detention centers.

Due to the volatile security situation, few international organizations were present in the country monitoring human rights. UNSMIL monitored the situation through local human rights defenders, members of the judiciary, and judicial police. The absence of a sustained international presence on the ground made oversight problematic; however, UNSMIL relocated most of its staff to Tripoli by the end of the year to engage in more effective monitoring of Libyan human rights developments. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) did undertake efforts to monitor conditions of detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.

The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. Throughout the year the government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detainees.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Government agencies had limited control over the national police and other elements of the security apparatus. The national police force, which reports to the GNA Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The military under the GNA Ministry of Defense, led by Prime Minister al-Sarraj in an acting capacity since July, has as its primary mission the defense of the country from external threats, but it also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. The situation varied widely from municipality to municipality contingent upon whether police organizational structures from Qadhafi-era Libya remained intact. In some areas, such as Tobruk, police functioned, but in others, such as Sebha, they existed in name only. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate armed groups, which received salaries from the Libyan government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability.

Impunity was a serious problem. The government’s lack of control led to impunity for armed groups on all sides of the conflict. There were no known mechanisms to investigate effectively and punish abuses of authority, abuses of human rights, and corruption by police and security forces. Unclear chains of command led to confusion regarding responsibility for the actions of armed groups, including those nominally under GNA control. In these circumstances police and other security forces were usually ineffective in preventing or responding to violence perpetrated by armed groups.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. According to HRW and local human rights organizations, including the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), prison authorities and militias held thousands of detainees without charges or due process.

Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” Additionally, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), there were numerous inmates held in GNA-controlled prisons in pretrial detention for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed; however, the GNA Ministry of Justice is working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west.

Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment diffused among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process. According to AOHR and NCHRL, individuals affiliated with armed groups were routinely able to avoid detention or judicial penalty.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system and difficulties securely transporting prisoners to the courts limited detainee access to the courts.

Amnesty: The GNA did not clarify whether it believed there was a blanket legal amnesty for revolutionaries’ actions performed to promote or protect the 2011 revolution.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. Judges and prosecutors contended with threats, intimidation, violence, and under-resourced courts and thus struggled to deal with complex cases. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Some courts, including in Tripoli and in the east, continued to operate during the year. Throughout the rest of the country, however, courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards, according to LYLA. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.

According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.

Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release; however, the GNA made efforts during the year to release individuals convicted of petty crimes due to lack of prison capacity. In September the GNA announced the release of 83 nonsecurity inmates from the over-crowded Mitiga prison facility in Tripoli. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.

The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but the judicial system has not implemented it in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security, intimidation of armed groups, and intimidation from outside sources challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.

Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.

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

The Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Reports in the news and on social media indicated armed groups, terrorist groups, and GNA-affiliated actors violated these prohibitions by entering homes without judicial authorization, monitoring communications and private movements, and using informants.

Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitutional Declaration provides for freedom of opinion, expression, and press, but various armed groups, including those aligned with the GNA, exerted significant control over media content, and censorship was pervasive. Unidentified assailants targeted journalists and reporters for political views.

Freedom of Expression: Freedom of speech was limited in law and practice. The law criminalizes acts that “harm the February 17 revolution of 2011.” The HoR, since its election in 2014, and the GNA, since taking its seat in Tripoli in 2016, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because Salafist-leaning armed groups, among others, threatened and killed activists. Widespread conflict in major urban areas deepened the climate of fear and provided cover for armed groups to target vocal opponents with impunity.

International and local human rights organizations claimed that human rights defenders and activists faced continuing threats–including physical attacks, detention, threats, harassment, and disappearances–by armed groups, both those aligned with and opposed to the GNA.

Observers reported that individuals censored themselves in everyday speech, particularly in locations such as Tripoli.

Press and Media Freedom: Press freedoms, in all forms of media, were limited. Additional restrictions on press freedom were promulgated during the year. Beginning in January the GNA’s Foreign Media Department (FMD) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs directed its staff to monitor and track the movements of foreign journalists and severely restricted approvals of journalist visas. On April 2, the GNA issued a decree imposing additional licensing restrictions on foreign press organizations. Authorities associated with the FMD revoked valid foreign press credentials and required foreign media organizations to apply for authorization from the Libyan Embassy in the country where the organization was headquartered. The FMD also required foreign media organizations to provide the names of the agency’s foreign and local staff. Journalists said the regulations were designed to increase the costs of operating in the country, as well as to provide a legal justification for shutting organizations that did not meet the requirements.

Violence and Harassment: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. Harassment, threats, abductions, violence, and killings made it nearly impossible for media to operate in any meaningful capacity in areas of conflict.

Impunity for attacks on media exacerbated the problem, with no monitoring organizations, security forces, or a functioning judicial system to constrain or record these attacks. In some exceptional cases, however, GNA authorities such as the Attorney General’s Office were able to intervene to see journalists released.

On March 20, armed men from the GNA-aligned TRB abducted and arbitrarily detained Juma al-Asi, director of the Al-Asima Television Channel, from his home in the Andalusia neighborhood of Tripoli. The TRB gave no reason for his arrest, nor the legal basis for his detention. On March 27, the Attorney General’s Office intervened and referred al-Asi’s case to the Public Prosecutor’s Office. In the absence of any legal case against him, he was released. None of the TRB members involved in his kidnapping was charged in connection with his illegal detention.

On July 30, forces in Abu Sitta Abusetta Naval Base, which falls under the control of the GNA-aligned al-Nawasi Brigade, detained four journalists during a rescue operation for migrants in Tripoli. The Reuters and Agence-France Presse journalists were released after 10 hours of interrogations.

In March 2017 Annabaa TV stopped broadcasting after its Tripoli headquarters were set on fire by an unidentified Tripoli-based militia. This crime remained unsolved as of year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship due to the lack of security and intimidation. The unstable security situation created hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing armed groups or political factions.

According to social media reports, the LNA confiscated books it claimed promoted Shi’ism, secularism, or moral perversion.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It, and other laws, also provides criminal penalties for conviction of defamation and insults to religion. Most reports attributed infringement of free speech to intimidation, harassment, and violence.

National Security: The penal code criminalized speech considered to “tarnish the [country’s] reputation or undermine confidence in it abroad,” but the GNA did not enforce this provision of the code during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: Armed groups, terrorist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Salafist or Islamist-affiliated armed groups, other armed groups also limited freedom of expression.

On July 31, the body of Musa Abdulkareem, a journalist and photographer working for Fasanea, a Sabha-based newspaper, was found in the al-Thanawia neighborhood of Sabha. Abdulkareem’s body showed signs of torture, including burns, and 13 gunshot wounds. His murder remained unsolved.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were no credible reports that the GNA restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year.

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. In September unknown entities blocked access to Facebook for several days in Tripoli during clashes between rival armed groups in the capital, hampering the ability of government officials to transmit information. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, intimidation by armed groups, and the uncertain political situation.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 21.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no reported government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Security conditions in the country, however, restricted the ability to practice academic freedom and made cultural events rare; of the 20 universities active in 2011, only 12 were still operational in during the year.

In 2017 Al-Fanar Media reported the case of a professor, Ahmed bin Suwaid of Tripoli University Medical School, who resigned his position and left the country after students affiliated with armed groups beat him; they attacked bin Suwaid after he refused to provide the students questions for a qualifying examination in advance of the test.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The Constitutional Declaration provides for a general right to peaceful assembly, and the GNA generally respected this right. The law on guidelines for peaceful demonstrations, however, fails to include relevant assurances and severely restricts the exercise of the right of assembly. The law mandates protesters must inform the government of any planned protest at least 48 hours in advance and provides that the government may notify the organizers that a protest is banned as little as 12 hours before the event.

Throughout the year the Libyan Movement for the Voice of the People, led by Mohammed al-Boa, held several protests in Tripoli opposing the role militia groups played in the capital (see section 1.g.). Police authorities generally cooperated with the group’s requests, coordinating with the group to issue permits and provide security at protest sites.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The Constitutional Declaration includes freedom of association for political and civil society groups. The government lacked capacity, however, to protect freedom of association, and targeted attacks on journalists, activists, and religious figures severely undermined freedom of association. Civil society organizations also complained about a lack of a legal framework for organizing and implementing their activities. The FMD (see FMDs section 2.a.) and the Ministry of Culture Civil Society Commission took steps to regulate the activity of civil society organizations. Other organizations, including the NCHRL and the AOHRL, were able to register and to interact freely with GNA officials.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The Constitutional Declaration recognizes freedom of movement, including foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, although the government has the ability to restrict freedom of movement. The law provides the government with the power to restrict a person’s movement if it views that person as a “threat to public security or stability,” based on the person’s “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR migrants were subjected to unlawful killings, arbitrary detention, including in nongovernmental detention centers (see section 1.d.), torture, sexual exploitation, and other abuses. Conditions in detention included severe overcrowding, insufficient access to toilets and washing facilities, malnourishment, and lack of potable water.

Women migrants faced especially difficult conditions, and international organizations received consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.

Instability in the country and lack of government oversight made human trafficking profitable. Armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorist organizations were involved in human smuggling activities.

Numerous media reports during the year suggested that traffickers had caused the death of migrants. In July Al-Jazeera reported that eight migrants, including six children, were found dead after suffocating from gas exhaust while packed into a truck container on the western coast near Zuwara. Another 90 migrants were injured and taken to a hospital for treatment.

Migrants were also exploited for forced labor and suffered extortion at the hands of smugglers, traffickers, and the personnel of GNA institutions and GNA-aligned armed groups running GNA facilities. International organizations reported many cases of migrants’ disappearance due in part to the practice of selling migrants to human traffickers.

In November 2017 the government set up an ad hoc investigative committee, under the auspices of the Anti-Illegal Immigration Authority, to investigate reports of migrants sold into slavery; however, as of year’s end, the committee had made no indictments.

In June the UN Security Council and a western government imposed international and domestic sanctions against six persons, four Libyans and two Eritreans; Fitiwi Abdelrazak, Ahmad Oumar al-Dabbashi, Ermias Ghermay, Mohammed Kachlaf, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, and Mus’ab Abu Qarin, for involvement in the trafficking and smuggling of migrants in Libya. The GNA was supportive of the sanctions and took independent action in response to the levying of these sanctions during the year, including public statements of condemnation against the trafficking and smuggling of migrants and in support of human rights.

In January the GNA launched an investigation into trafficking in persons and the abuse of migrants and refugees and vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. During the year the GNA authorized UNHCR, the IOM, and other international agencies to open offices in the country, assist refugees and migrants, repatriate those who wished to return to their home countries, and access detention centers in areas controlled by the GNA. These international organizations encouraged the GNA to adopt a system for registering the arrivals of migrants in Libya; of the hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Libya, only a few thousand have been registered.

There were approximately 20 official detention centers operational during the year. At year’s end 6-8,000 refugees and migrants were housed in centers under the auspices of the GNA Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting Irregular Migration.

According to IOM the number of migrants who arrived in Europe via Libya during the first half of the year decreased significantly from the equivalent period in 2017, from approximately 85,000 to 16,700 individuals. Over 1,000 migrants died attempting to make the crossing via the central Mediterranean route during this period. Conditions on vessels departing for Europe were poor, and human smugglers abandoned many migrants in international waters with insufficient food and water. Boats were heavily over-loaded, and there was a high risk of sinking. The number of migrants rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, while still in the country’s territorial waters, greatly increased during the year. There were reports of physical abuse of refugees by the Coast Guard, including beatings with whips and chains.

In-country Movement: The GNA did not exercise control over internal movement in western Libya, although GNA-aligned armed groups set up some checkpoints. The LNA established checkpoints around Benghazi and Derna and in the south to intercept members of extremist organizations. These checkpoints were occasional targets of attacks by terrorist organizations. There were reports that armed groups controlling airports within the country conducted checks on citizens wanting to travel to other areas within the country or abroad since Libya lacked a unified customs and immigration system.

Armed groups controlled movement within their territories through checkpoints. These checkpoints and those imposed by ISIS, AQIM, and other terrorist organizations impeded internal movement and, in some areas, prohibited women from moving freely without a male escort.

There were multiple reports of women who could not depart from the country’s western airports controlled by GNA-aligned militias because they did not have “male guardians,” which is not a legal requirement in the country.

Citizenship: The Qadhafi regime revoked the citizenship of some inhabitants of the Saharan interior of the country, including many Tebu and some Tuareg minorities, after the regime returned the Aouzou strip to Chad. As a result many nomadic and settled stateless persons lived in the country. Additionally, due to a lack of state control of the southern borders, a large number of irregular migrants of Tebu background entered the country, some of whom reportedly applied for and obtained documents attesting to nationality, including national identification numbers.

The Nationality Law states that citizens may lose citizenship if they obtain a foreign citizenship without receiving permission beforehand from authorities. Authorities have not established processes for obtaining permission, however. Authorities may revoke citizenship if obtained based on false information, forged documents, and withheld relevant information concerning one’s nationality. The state lacked the capacity, however, to investigate the authenticity of citizenship applications.

If a father’s citizenship is revoked, the citizenship of his children is also revoked. The law does not specify if only minor children are susceptible to losing their nationality in this way or if loss of nationality would apply to adult children as well.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

Limited access for local and international assistance organizations into areas affected by fighting between rival armed groups and to official and unofficial detention centers within the country hampered efforts to account for and assist the displaced.

In September IOM and UNHCR estimated there were 192,000 IDPs in the country. Most of the citizens displaced were from Sirte or Benghazi; however, due to tribal violence in the south, displacement in Sabha and neighboring southern towns increased during the year. More than 30,000 members of the Tawerghan community remained displaced, the largest single IDP population; however, in August the GNA provided support that allowed several hundred Tawerghan families to return to their hometown. These efforts followed a reconciliation agreement between representatives of Tawergha and the city of Misrata that aimed to end ongoing violence between the two communities dating to 2011; however, delays in implementation of the agreement, which provided for safe return for all Tawerghan IDPs to the town of Tawergha, have prevented some members of the community from returning.

IOM identified more than 19,000 persons who were internally displaced during clashes in Tripoli in late August and early September.

IDPs were vulnerable to abuses. The government struggled to facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their place of origin. Due to the lack of adequate laws, policies, or government programs, international organizations and NGOs assisted IDPs to the extent possible in the form of cash payments and provision of health services to IDPs, including to those with disabilities.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The country is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 protocol, although the Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right of asylum and forbids forcible repatriation of asylum seekers. The GNA did not establish a system for protecting refugees or asylum seekers. Absent an asylum system, authorities could detain and deport asylum seekers without their having the opportunity to request asylum. UNHCR, IOM, and other international agencies operated within the country and were allowed to assist refugees and immigrants and repatriate those who wish to return to their countries. UNHCR monitored and publicly reported on the situation of refugees and migrants in the country, including those detained in GNA detention centers. On December 4, UNHCR, in coordination with Libyan authorities, evacuated 133 refugees from Libya to Niger. The GNA allowed only seven nationalities to register as refugees with UNHCR: Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese (Darfuris), Ethiopians (Oromo), Eritreans, Yemenis, and South Sudanese. The GNA did not legally recognize asylum seekers without documentation as a class distinct from migrants without residency permits. The GNA cooperated with the refugee task force formed by the African Union, EU, and the United Nations.

In July 2017 Libyan authorities proposed that UNHCR rehabilitate an abandoned facility in the Tarek Al Sika area in Tripoli to accommodate persons of concern temporarily. UNHCR completed rehabilitation on July 19, and the center has a capacity of 1,000 persons. Although UNHCR planned to begin receiving refugees at this Gathering and Departure Facility in August, armed clashes in Tripoli postponed its opening until December.

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: IOM estimated that the overall number of migrants in Libya grew 70 percent from an estimated 400,000 in August 2017 to approximately 680,000 by September. The majority of migrants came from Niger, Egypt, Chad, Ghana, and Sudan. UNHCR has registered approximately 55,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country since 2011.

During the year UNHCR, ICRC, and IOM provided basic services directly and through local implementing partners to refugees and asylum seekers. Despite security challenges humanitarian organizations enjoyed relatively good access, with the exception of the coastal city of Derna and the Fezzan region in the south.

Sub-Saharan Africans reportedly entered the country illegally through unguarded southern borders. Treatment of detained migrants depended upon their country of origin and the offense for which authorities held them. Migrants and refugees faced abduction, extortion, violent crime, and other abuses, exacerbated by entrenched racism and xenophobia. GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups held refugees and asylum seekers in detention centers alongside criminals or in separate detention centers under conditions that did not meet international standards.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees registered with UNHCR may access basic protection and assistance from UNHCR and its partners; however, during the year the GNA did not provide refugees universal access to healthcare, education, or other services given the limitations of its health and education infrastructure.

STATELESS PERSONS

By law children derive citizenship only from a citizen father. Children born to a citizen father and a noncitizen mother are automatically considered citizens even if they were born abroad. Citizen mothers alone were unable to transmit citizenship to their children, but there are naturalization provisions for noncitizens. The law permits female nationals to confer nationality to their children in certain circumstances, such as when fathers are unknown, stateless, of unknown nationality, or do not establish paternity. In instances where the father is a noncitizen, the children produced from that union are effectively stateless and banned from travel abroad and certain educational opportunities. Without citizenship stateless persons are unable to obtain legal employment.

Due to the lack of international monitoring and governmental capacity, there was no credible data on the number of stateless persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The Constitutional Declaration provides citizens the ability to change their government in free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage and conducted by secret ballot to provide for the free expression of the will of the people, and citizens exercised that ability.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 the High National Electoral Commission (HNEC) successfully administered the election of members to the HoR, an interim parliament that replaced the General National Congress, whose mandate expired that year. An estimated 42 percent of registered voters went to the polls to choose 200 members from among 1,714 candidates. International and domestic observers, representatives of media, and accredited guests mostly commended the performance of the electoral authorities. The Libyan Association for Democracy, the largest national observation umbrella group, cited minor technical problems and inconsistencies, but stated polling was generally well organized. Violence and widespread threats to candidates, voters, and electoral officials on election day affected 24 polling centers, most notably in Sabha, Zawiya, Awbari, Sirte, Benghazi, and Derna. Eleven seats remained vacant due to a boycott of candidate registration and voting by the Amazigh community, and violence at a number of polling centers that precluded a final vote. The term of the HoR has expired; however, the legislative body was recognized by the Libyan Political Agreement signed in 2015.

On December 6, HNEC Chairman Emad Sayegh announced his agency would begin voter registration for a constitutional referendum, the date of which has not yet been fixed. On May 2, two ISIS militants carried out a suicide bombing attack against the HNEC headquarters in Tripoli, killing 11.

In May the Central Committee for Municipal Council Elections announced the results of the municipal elections in Zawiya, in northwestern Libya in which 63 percent of the individuals who were registered to vote participated. Municipal elections also took place in Bani Walid and Darj in September, despite an arson attack against an elections headquarters in Bani Walid by individuals protesting the initial results and an armed attack on one of the polling stations in Darj.

The LNA appointed military figures as municipal mayors in many areas it controlled.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties proliferated following the revolution, although political infighting among party leaders impeded the government’s progress on legislative and electoral priorities. Amid rising insecurity public ire fell on political parties perceived to contribute to instability. The Political Isolation Law (PIL) prohibits those who held certain positions under Qadhafi between 1969 and 2011 from holding government office. Observers widely criticized the law for its overly broad scope and the wide discretion given to the PIL Committee to determine who to exclude from office.

The HoR voted to suspend the PIL in 2015, and individuals who served in political and military positions during the Qadhafi era are no longer categorically ineligible from serving in governmental office.

Participation of Women and Minorities: The Constitutional Declaration allows for full participation of women and minorities in elections and the political process, but significant social and cultural barriers–in addition to security challenges–prevented their proportionate political participation.

The election law provides for representation of women within the HoR; of the 200 seats in parliament, the law reserves 32 for women. There were 21 women in the HoR during the year. The disparity was due to resignations and parliamentary deputies who refused to take their seats in the HoR.

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

The GNA and affiliated militia groups used legal and nonlegal means to restrict some human rights organizations from operating, particularly organizations with an international affiliation. Presidency Council member Ahmed Hamza circulated a directive to GNA government ministries and executive agencies authorities warning them against registering any NGOs and directing government ministries to forward the files of organizations and their membership to intelligence agencies. The GNA was unable to protect organizations from violence that often specifically targeted activists, and human rights organizations struggled to operate.

The GNA publicly condemned human rights abuses, including allegations of the abuse of migrants and human trafficking (see section 2.d.).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies:

The GNA was unable to assure the safety of UN officials to allow them to travel in some areas of the country not under GNA control, but generally cooperated with UN representatives in arranging visits within the country.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The National Council for Civil Liberties and Human Rights, the UN-recognized national human rights institution, was not able to operate in the country due to security concerns. The council maintained limited international activity with other human rights organizations in Tunis and the UN Human Rights Council. It had a minimal presence in Tripoli. Its ability to advocate for human rights and investigate alleged abuses during the reporting period was unclear. During the year the GNA Ministry of Justice announced the appointment of a new undersecretary for human rights; however, domestic human rights organizations criticized the body for inactivity.

The former government passed the Transitional Justice Law in 2013 (see section 1.e.), establishing a legal framework to promote civil peace, implement justice, compensate victims, and facilitate national reconciliation. The law further establishes a Fact-finding and Reconciliation Commission charged with investigating and reporting on alleged human rights abuses, whether suffered during the Qadhafi regime or during the revolution. There was no known activity by the commission during the year. International organizations including the UN Development Program have established transitional justice programs throughout the country at the national and subnational levels.

Liechtenstein

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

According to bilateral treaties with Austria and Switzerland, as of January 1, the country’s authorities accommodated Liechtensteiner prisoners in Austria and housed prisoners undergoing release procedures in detention centers in Switzerland. The new agreements are the result of a 2017 government report which concluded that the country’s only prison failed to comply with international standards.

Individuals undergoing pretrial detention or awaiting deportation continued to be housed in the country’s only prison, which had a 20-bed capacity. Since the facility served as a short-term prison, authorities asserted they could not always separate different categories of detainees. Female detainees had their own section with a total of four beds. Due to lack of space and the generally very low number of juvenile detainees, authorities usually accommodated juveniles in the women’s ward.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police maintain internal security and report to the Department of Civil Defense. The country does not have an army. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the regular and auxiliary national police, and the government had effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police arrest a suspect based on an arrest warrant issued by the national court. According to the criminal procedure code, every detainee must be informed of the reasons for the detention at the time of detention or immediately thereafter. Within 48 hours of arrest, police must bring suspects before an examining magistrate, who must either file formal charges or order the suspect’s release. Authorities respected this right. The law permits the release of suspects on personal recognizance or bail unless the examining magistrate has reason to believe the suspect represents a danger to society or will not appear for trial. Alternatives to bail include supervision by a probation officer and restrictions on movement. The law grants suspects the right to a lawyer of their own choosing during pretrial detention, and the government provided lawyers at its own expense to indigent persons. Authorities also must advise detainees of their right to contact legal counsel and a relative. During investigative detention authorities may monitor visits to prevent tampering with evidence. The Committee for the Prevention of Torture expressed concern that police can question juveniles and request them to sign statements in the absence of a lawyer or trusted person, and that inmates, including juveniles, could be held in solitary confinement for disciplinary reasons for up to four weeks. The committee also criticized authorities’ ability to surveil conversations between detainees and their lawyers, and called on the government to re-establish a register at the police station for recording information related to a person’s incarceration.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of charges. Trials were conducted in a fair and timely manner. While most trials were public, some were closed proceedings. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.

Defendants are allotted adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants have access to free interpretation as necessary from the moment they are charged through all appeals. Defendants may challenge witnesses and evidence and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants have the right not to testify or confess guilt. Convicted persons have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Supreme Court.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Individuals and organizations may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits public insults, including via electronic means, directed against a race, people, or ethnic group, with a possible prison sentence of up to two years for violations. Authorities did not file any charges for public insults through October.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to data from the International Telecommunication Union, almost all of the country’s residents used the internet as of 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but persons entering the country from another safe country are not eligible for asylum. The law allows asylum seekers under deportation orders to be granted an appeal hearing if requested within five days after the decision. The law permits persons from safe countries of origin who are ruled to be ineligible to be processed for denial of asylum within a maximum of seven days.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Liechtenstein Refugee Aid reported that asylum seekers’ access to appropriate legal representation was inadequate, as asylum proceedings were only partially covered by legal aid. According to the NGO, the government provided legal assistance largely to asylum seekers whose applications were likely to be approved.

In some cases authorities detained unsuccessful applicants for asylum pending their deportation. Conditions of detention were generally satisfactory.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

As a hereditary monarchy, the country’s line of succession is restricted to male descendants of the Liechtenstein dynasty.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In February 2017, the country held parliamentary elections. There were no reports of irregularities.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

The Liechtenstein Human Rights Association (LHRA) operated as an independent entity, and the government supported it with 350,000 Swiss francs ($350,000) annually. The LHRA advises authorities and individuals on human rights abuses, supports victims of human rights violations, informs the public on the country’s human rights situation, carries out human rights investigations, recommends appropriate human rights measures to authorities and individuals, and promotes dialogue as well as national and international cooperation on human rights.

Lithuania

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices. In its report published on February 1, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) stated it had heard allegations of excessive force exerted by police after a detainee had been subdued during arrest.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Some prison and detention center conditions did not meet international standards.

Physical Conditions: The CPT report noted substandard conditions at the Alytus Prison, Marijampole Prison, and Panevezys Prison. Inmates in all prisons, but especially the Alytus and Marijampole prisons, complained about the quality and especially the quantity of food. The CPT reported its impression that the provision of health care in the penitentiaries it visited “was rather poor and the services were not well organized.”

The delegation received a number of allegations of deliberate physical mistreatment and of excessive use of force by prison staff at the Alytus and Marijampole prisons. The CPT also found an apparent increase in interprisoner violence in those two prisons and new reports of interprisoner violence at the Panevezys Prison. The CPT committee attributed the situation to “accommodation in cramped large-capacity dormitories” and “a low number of custodial staff, insufficient to ensure the safety of prisoners.”

The CPT reported a detainee may be held in a holding jail for up to 15 days after seeing a judge. It called for the prompt transfer of detainees to remand prisons.

Administration: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman generally investigated credible prisoner complaints and attempted to resolve them, usually by making recommendations to the institutions concerned and monitoring their implementation. The law requires the ombudsman’s office to investigate detention centers and other institutions. The ombudsman’s office reported that prison institutions were responsive to all of its interventions. On September 1, the ombudsman’s office identified two of the 20 prisoner complaints to be legitimate and merited. The parliamentary ombudsman visited Alytus and Marijampole prisons five times and detention facilities 46 times.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The CPT visited the country in 2016 and published the report in February 2017. On April 20-27, it revisited many of the same places of confinement it had visited earlier. The report of this later visit was not available at the end of the year.

Improvements: Between January and September, the government renovated housing, medical units, and food services in facilities in Siauliai, Alytus, and Pravieniskes.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The police and the State Border Guards Service are subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior. The Special Investigative Service, the main anticorruption agency, reports to the president and parliament. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the police, the State Border Guards Service, and the Special Investigative Service. The government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Except for persons arrested during the commission of a crime, warrants are generally required for arrests, and judges may issue them only upon the presentation of reliable evidence of criminal activity. Police may detain suspects for up to 48 hours before formally charging them. Detainees have the right to be informed of the charges against them at the time of their arrest or their first interrogation.

Bail is available and was widely used.

The law provides for access to an attorney and the government provides one to indigent persons. A detained person has the right to meet with a lawyer of his or her choice in private before his or her first interrogation. Some detainees who had appointed government attorneys complained that they met their attorney for the first time at the court hearing, even in instances when they had requested an attorney shortly after their arrest. Detainees had prompt access to family members.

Pretrial Detention: The law permits authorities to hold suspects under house arrest for up to six months, a period that a judge may extend at his or her discretion. A pretrial judge may order that a suspect facing felony charges be detained for up to three months, but only to comply with extradition requests or to prevent the accused from fleeing, committing new crimes, or hindering the investigation. In many cases the law permits detention to be extended to 18 months (six months for juveniles), subject to appeal to a higher court. Judges frequently granted such extensions, often based on the allegation that the defendant would pose a danger to society or influence witnesses. The maximum period authorities may detain an adult charged with minor offenses is nine months.

In the first half of the year, the average length of pretrial detention was approximately 13 months. As of September 1, approximately 57 percent of incarcerated persons were pretrial detainees. The law allows defense attorneys access to the evidence prosecutors use to justify pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence, to prompt and detailed information about the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense), adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, and free assistance of an interpreter from the moment charged through all appeals. They are entitled to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and to be free of compulsion to testify or confess guilt. They enjoy the right of appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Plaintiffs may sue for legal relief or temporary protection measures from human rights violations. Persons alleging human rights abuses may also appeal to the parliamentary ombudsman for a determination of the merits of their claims. Although the ombudsman may only make recommendations to an offending institution, such institutions generally implemented the ombudsman’s recommendations. Individuals alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the government may, after exhausting domestic legal remedies, appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government has laws and mechanisms in place to address the issue of property restitution, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups reported that the government has made some progress on the resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens. A philanthropic foundation created in 2011 to receive government compensation for Communist and Nazi seizures of Jewish community-owned property distributed funds to individuals and to Jewish educational, cultural, scientific, and religious projects. According to an agreement between the government and the Jewish community, the foundation was to disburse $44 million by 2023. The foundation distributed a one-time payment of $1 million to individual survivors in 2013 and 2014. The remaining funds were allocated to support Jewish educational, cultural, scientific, and religious projects, as decided by the foundation board. As in the previous year, the foundation received $4.34 million for this purpose, which brought the total received since 2011 to $26.2 million. Jewish and ethnic Polish communities continued to advocate for private property restitution because there has been no opportunity to submit individual claims since 2001, when the country’s existing restitution law stopped allowing citizens to apply for private property restitution. Despite changes to the citizenship law in 2011 that made it easier to reacquire the country’s citizenship, the government did not reopen the application period for these communities and others who had been excluded from filing claims based on citizenship.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

The law requires authorities to obtain a judge’s authorization before searching an individual’s premises. It prohibits indiscriminate monitoring, including of email, text messages, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Domestic human rights groups alleged that the government did not always properly enforce the law. In the first nine months of the year, the State Data Protection Inspectorate investigated 618 allegations of privacy violations, compared with 435 such allegations in the first nine months of 2017. Most complaints were individuals’ claims that their personal information, such as identity numbers, had been collected without a legal justification.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including of 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 speech and the press.

Freedom of Expression: The constitutional definition of freedom of expression does not permit slander; disinformation; or incitement to violence, discrimination, or national, racial, religious, or social hatred. Inciting hatred against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years. Inciting violence against a group of persons is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.

It is a crime to deny or “grossly to trivialize” Soviet or Nazi German crimes against the country or its citizens, or to deny genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. They are subject to the same laws that prohibit hate speech and criminalize speech that grossly trivializes international and war crimes.

It is illegal to publish material that is “detrimental to minors’ bodies or thought processes” or that promotes the sexual abuse and harassment of minors, sexual relations among minors, or “sexual relations.” Human rights observers continued to criticize this law. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups claimed that it served as a rationale for limiting LGBTI awareness-raising efforts and that agencies overseeing publishing and broadcast media took prejudicial action against the coverage of stories with LGBTI themes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: On February 14, the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania imposed a one-year suspension on the Russian-language channel RTR Planeta for inciting violence and hatred.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law makes insulting or defaming the president of the country in mass media a crime punishable by a fine. Authorities did not invoke it during the year.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 78 percent of the country’s households used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government generally respected the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, with the exception of some organizations associated with the Soviet period.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and the government generally respected this right.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the law provides for this freedom and the government generally respected it, the government continued to ban the Communist Party and other organizations associated with the Soviet period.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: In compliance with the EU’s Dublin III Regulation, authorities barred asylum seekers arriving from safe countries of origin or transit and returned them to such countries without reviewing the substantive merits of their applications. The government’s participation in the EU’s efforts to address high levels of migration into Europe was an exception to this policy.

Durable Solutions: Since 2015, 468 refugees entered the country under the EU’s relocation program, of whom 338 subsequently left the country for other EU states.

Temporary Protection: The government may grant “temporary protection” to groups of persons. Authorities may also grant “subsidiary protection” to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. During the first half of the year, the government provided “temporary protection” to six persons.

STATELESS PERSONS

According to UNHCR as of May, 3,320 stateless persons lived in the country. The law permits persons born on the territory or legally residing there for 10 years and who are not citizens of any other country to apply for citizenship. Applicants must possess an unlimited residence permit, knowledge of the Lithuanian language and constitution, and the ability to support themselves.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Presidential elections, including a runoff between the two candidates receiving the most votes, took place in 2014. Parliamentary elections took place in 2016. Observers evaluated these elections as generally free and fair.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for freedom of association, which includes membership in political parties and organizations, although the government continued to prohibit the Communist Party.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman has three mandates: to investigate complaints about abuse of office or other violations of human rights involving public administration; to implement the national prevention of torture mechanism under the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and to serve as an accredited national human rights institution (NHRI). As an NHRI the parliamentary ombudsman is responsible for reporting on and monitoring human rights problems, cooperating with international and domestic human rights organizations, and promoting human rights awareness and education.

The Equal Opportunities Ombudsman governs an independent public institution with responsibility for implementing and enforcing rights under the law and for investigating individual complaints.

A Children’s Rights Ombudsman is responsible for overseeing observance of children’s rights and their legal interests. It may initiate investigations of possible violations of such rights, either upon receipt of a complaint or on its own initiative.

Parliament’s human rights committee prepares and reviews draft laws and other legal acts related to civil rights and presents recommendations to government institutions and other organizations about problems related to the protection of civil rights. It also receives reports from the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Luxembourg

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

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

Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns in prisons and detention centers regarding physical conditions or inmate abuse.

Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent human rights observers, including the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and through the country’s ombudsman who monitors and supervises the country’s detention centers.

Improvements: On July 4, parliament unanimously adopted two laws, one focused on sentencing and one on prison administration. Both laws are part of a larger prison reform focused on successful rehabilitation. The law on sentencing creates a process for detainees to appeal sentencing and administrative decisions and makes several other reforms.

Starting September 15, the law on prison administration creates a system for supervising detention, parole, and probation. It also creates a sociojudicial psychiatric unit and allows penitentiary officers to carry arms, both lethal and nonlethal, as well as pepper spray, and to use them in self-defense and other well-defined scenarios. In addition, all detainees have the option to sign a “voluntary insertion plan” that monitors the convict from his or her incarceration to his or her early release and can cover different topics, such as training and competence development. Revisited at regular intervals, the plan is designed to serve as the basis for possible release on parole.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Grand Ducal Police maintain internal security and report to the Ministry of Internal Security. The Luxembourg Army is responsible for external security and reports to the Directorate of Defense of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Grand Ducal Police and Luxembourg Army, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Warrants issued by a duly authorized official are required for arrests in most cases. Police must inform detainees of charges against them within 24 hours of their arrest and bring them before a judge for a determination of the detention’s legality. There is a functioning bail system, which judges regularly employed.

According to law, detainees must be provided access to an attorney prior to their initial interrogation. In cases of indigent detainees, the government pays for the attorney.

Pretrial Detention: Approximately one-half of the roughly 600 prisoners in the closed prison in Schrassig were awaiting trial. Trial procedures can last up to several months because most cases involve collaboration with foreign authorities, as most detainees are noncitizens. Judges must renew the authorization for pretrial detention regularly, and detainees are entitled to appeal that decision.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants have the right to a presumption of innocence. A defendant has the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges (with free interpretation as necessary). Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial without undue delay. Trials are public, except for those involving sexual or child abuse cases. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner. Defendants and their attorneys have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Persons who do not speak or understand the language of the proceedings are entitled to the free assistance of an interpreter as soon as they are questioned as a suspect, whether in the course of an investigation or preliminary investigation, or charged in criminal proceedings. Defendants may confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They are not compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal.

The law extends the above rights to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Magistrate courts serve as an independent and impartial judiciary in civil and commercial matters and were available to individuals who wished to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Citizens may appeal cases involving alleged violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the state to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all routes for appeal in the country’s court system.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

According to the Jewish community, all claims by citizens for Holocaust-era property restitution have been settled. Only citizens were compensated. There are open questions about compensation for destroyed property owned by Holocaust survivors who were either citizens of a foreign country or had no citizenship at all. There are also open questions about bank accounts and insurance contracts of Holocaust survivors involving banks and insurance companies based in the country.

The government has laws and mechanisms in place, but the Jewish Consistory, the body governing the Jewish congregation in the country, expressed concern that the government did not make significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims during the year, including for foreign citizens.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. 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: The law prohibits “hate speech” in any medium, including online, and provides for prison sentences of between eight days and two years and fines between 251 and 25,000 euros ($290 and $2,000) for violations.

The public prosecutor’s office and the courts respond firmly to hate speech. Victims of hate speech on the internet as well as third-party observers can access a website to report hateful remarks and seek help and advice.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

According to statistics compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 97 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

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

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Applicants for asylum continued to experience prolonged waiting periods for adjudication of their claims in some individual cases.

A small number of Iraqi nationals held a peaceful sit-in in Luxembourg City during the year. According to several news outlets, they were primarily persons whose requests for asylum status were rejected by the Directorate of Immigration and who were demanding protection and the authorization to work in the country. The government denied exerting pressure on the refugees to return to their country of origin and claimed that it granted the Iraqi nationals a six-month, renewable suspension of deportation instead. The government issued temporary working permits to those Iraqi nationals who had requested them and qualified, as follows: the employee and the employer jointly submit a request for a temporary working permit for a position which the Employment Development Agency has already declared vacant and for which EU nationals have already been given priority. The six months renewable temporary work permit is only valid for one profession and one employer.

Authorities determined the granting or denying of protection on a case-by-case basis through individual interviews and background checks. The Directorate of Immigration employed an accelerated procedure for nationals of safe countries of origin as determined by the 2006 Asylum Law and updated annually by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As part of the procedure, following the submission of the application, the directorate interviews applicants. Following the interview, the directorate considers whether the applicant falls under the normal procedure. In the event that the accelerated procedure applies, the directorate notifies the applicant. The accelerated procedure can last up to two months, with a possibility to reduce waiting time to six days for nationals of safe countries of origin. The applicant may file an appeal within 15 days after receiving the directorate’s decision.

Employment: Once granted asylum, there are no legal restrictions on a refugee’s ability to work. Most jobs, however, have language requirements that may present a barrier. According to the country’s Refugee Council (a collection of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) assisting refugees), application procedures are lengthy and not adapted to the needs of the labor market. Asylum seekers can apply for a temporary work permit six months after applying for asylum. Job positions are published at the national employment agency but are open to foreign nationals only if no qualified citizen applies within three weeks. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must approve requests for temporary work permits.

Durable Solutions: Through the EU, the country accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing in the country, and assisted in voluntary return to their homelands.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection (known as “subsidiary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 54 persons during 2017.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: On October 14, the country held parliamentary elections that observers considered free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The law requires that 40 percent of the party candidate lists submitted for national elections be from “the under-represented gender.” If a party fails to meet the quota, the law provides a graduated scheme of reducing its yearly financial endowment from the government, based on the extent of failure to meet the criteria. The country’s five major parties all met the 40 percent criterion in their candidate lists for the parliamentary elections.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government has two bodies that deal with human rights, the Consultative Commission for Human Rights and the Ombudsman Committee for the Rights of Children. In addition, the Center for Equal Treatment monitors issues related to discrimination based on race or ethnic origin, sex, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs, disability, and age. The three organizations are government funded and composed of government nominees but act independently of the government and of one another. The government provided resources that enabled the continuous and unrestricted operation of the committees. As consultative bodies in the legislative process, the committees commented on the government’s bills and amendments to laws concerning human rights. They were also active in outreach efforts, informing the public about human rights and the rights of children and publishing annual reports on their activities.

The ombudsman mediates solely between citizens and the public sector and cannot receive complaints against the private sector, even though many assistance institutions are private or run by a not-for-profit organization that often receives government support. The Center for Equal Treatment can receive complaints against the private sector but cannot take cases to court on behalf of the victim.

Madagascar

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

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

There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Most killings occurred during security force operations to stem cattle rustling by armed criminal groups in the central, west, and southwest areas as well as during police raids to combat insecurity in urban areas. Villagers sometimes supported government efforts to stem cattle rustling and were responsible for killing cattle rustlers.

In January the National Gendarmerie told the press that in its efforts to combat insecurity, gendarmes had killed 217 presumed thieves in 2017, compared to 220 the year before. Between January and September, media reported 292 deaths from security force actions to combat insecurity, but this number included members of the security forces and civilians as well as presumed thieves According to media, clashes between alleged cattle thieves and the security forces occurred at least monthly. Usually the security forces were composed of police and gendarmes, but occasionally they included military elements. There were isolated reports of security forces executing cattle thieves or bandits after capture. These could not be substantiated and were rarely, if ever, investigated.

In July bandits kidnapped four employees of a then state owned chromite mining company 115 miles north of Antananarivo. After their ransom was paid and they were released, gendarmes deployed to the area, and in mid-August a gendarme was killed in a shootout. Subsequently an army platoon consisting of 30 soldiers reportedly arrested a number of persons the locals identified as suspected bandits, removed their clothing and applied hot, melted plastic to their bodies. At least five were summarily executed, according to a villager’s report to a media outlet.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law provide for the inviolability of the person and prohibit such practices, but security forces subjected prisoners and criminal suspects to physical and mental abuse, including torture, according to media reports.

Security personnel used beatings as punishment for alleged crimes or as a means of coercion. Off-duty and sometimes intoxicated members of the armed forces assaulted civilians. In most cases, investigations announced by security officials did not result in prosecutions.

Media outlets reported on August 25 that police took two presumed thieves to Antananarivo’s main public hospital August 23. One of the suspects was dead upon arrival at the hospital and the second one was very weak and died the next day. Both presented injuries including bruises, suggesting they had been the victims of battery. The suspects had been arrested the previous day for alleged involvement in an armed attack in Ankadindramamy that resulted in the death of a police officer.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and insufficient medical care.

Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding due to weaknesses in the judicial system and inadequate prison infrastructure was a serious problem. One penitentiary surpassed its official capacity by nearly eightfold. As of August the country’s 84 prisons and detention centers held an estimated 24,590 inmates, of whom 1,729 were female and 22,861 male. The total number of inmates included 785 minors. This figure represented well over twice the official capacity of 10,360 inmates.

Lengthy pretrial detention was pervasive, contributing significantly to overcrowding. On April 25, the National Human Rights Commission (CNIDH) noted that two-thirds of detainees in the country were in pretrial detention, resulting in as many as 180 detainees sleeping in one room. The largest rooms were dormitory-style rooms designed to hold many detainees. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.

Authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults, and some children under school age shared cells with their incarcerated mothers. According to the Ministry of Justice, 53 percent of the 43 prisons holding juvenile detainees had separate areas for minors.

During the second quarter of 2017, Grandir Dignement (Grow Up with Dignity), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the rights of imprisoned youth, identified 828 minors held in the country’s 41 prisons, 39 jails, and two juvenile detention centers. The NGO estimated that 20 percent of the minor prisoners were collocated with adult prisoners during the day, and 5 percent shared dormitories with adults. Girls were always held together with adult female prisoners.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), almost one in two prisoners nationwide suffered from moderate or severe malnutrition. Each inmate received approximately 10.5 ounces of cassava per day, compared with the recommended 26 ounces. The ICRC, in collaboration with the Catholic Chaplaincy for Prisons, treated almost 7,500 prisoners in 14 detention centers for malnutrition during the year, in addition to approximately 2,000 sick prisoners and breastfeeding women.

A deteriorating prison infrastructure that often lacked sanitation facilities and potable water resulted in disease and insect and rodent infestations, although prison officials carried out extermination efforts against insects and rats, minor renovations, and small construction projects with financial support from the ICRC. Access to medical care was limited. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature control were inadequate or nonexistent in many of the smaller facilities hosting fewer than 300 inmates; larger facilities were renovated during the year to address these issues.

The Ministry of Justice recorded 129 deaths in prisons in 2017, none of which were attributed to actions by guards or other staff. The most frequent causes of death were tuberculosis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal issues.

Fifteen prisoners tried to escape Antalaha Prison in the northern Sava Region on July 15. During the confrontation between the prisoners and penitentiary agents, two prisoners died and one was seriously injured.

Administration: While a formal process exists to submit complaints to judicial authorities, few detainees used it due to fear of reprisal. Officials authorized weekly visits from relatives and permitted religious observance. Visits outside scheduled days were reportedly possible by bribing guards and penitentiary agents. NGOs reported bribes could purchase small privileges, such as allowing family members to bring food for prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the ICRC, several local NGOs, and some diplomatic missions. Authorities permitted the ICRC to conduct visits to all main penitentiary facilities and to hold private consultations in accordance with its standard modalities. Authorities also permitted ICRC representatives to visit detainees in pretrial or temporary detention.

Improvements: As of October, 22 of the country’s 41 prisons had established separate areas for boys and men, an increase from 2014 when only 17 prisons had such areas.

Humanity and Inclusion (HI), an NGO that collaborated with the Ministry of Justice penitentiary administration, completed a project called “Prison for a Better Future: From Detention to Reinsertion.” The project addressed the mental well-being of detainees in five detention centers. The project also promoted protection of detainees’ human rights and developed a method for psychosocial support for penitentiary agents, civil society organizations, local communities, and detainees.

Some regional directorates of the penitentiary administration undertook independent initiatives to improve detainees’ well-being. The Antalaha directorate, for example, established agreements with local farmers by which the prisons provided workers from among detainees to farmers, who then allocated part of their harvest to the prison food supply. During the year the administration concluded five such agreements that brought approximately 60 tons of dried foodstuffs including rice, corn, and cassava, to the prisons.

The government allocated an additional two billion ariary ($560,000) to the Ministry of Justice during the year to increase the pace of hearings and conduct a pilot project to improve detainees’ diet. In the pilot project, detainees in two prisons (Toliara and Miarinarivo) benefitted from a new diet providing three kinds of food to detainees and two meals per day, and the ministry stated its intent to expand this to the remaining prisons. The 2019 budget, approved in November, doubled the amount allocated to the penitentiary administration compared with the reporting year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always respect these provisions. Authorities arrested persons on vague charges and detained many suspects for long periods without trial. According to international media reports, women are routinely arrested for crimes their male relatives are accused of, allegedly because they should have known and are thus considered an accomplice.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security, are responsible for maintaining law and order in urban areas. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas. Since 2015 the military has remained active in rural areas, particularly to maintain order in areas affected by cattle rustling and banditry.

The government did not always exercise law enforcement effectively outside the capital. Security forces at times failed to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly in rural areas.

Government institutions lacked any effective means to monitor, inspect, or investigate alleged abuse by security forces, and impunity was a problem. Victims may lodge complaints in the local court of jurisdiction, although this rarely occurred.

The law gives traditional village institutions authority to protect property and public order. In some rural areas, a community-organized judicial system known as dina resolved civil disputes between villagers over such issues as alleged cattle rustling. Dina procedures sometimes conflicted with national laws by imposing harsh sentences without due process or by failing to protect the rights of victims. For example, the dina system of the Toliara region, adopted in 2016, states that prosecution for wrongful death is unnecessary in cases where a presumed criminal is killed during a robbery. Other dina systems prescribe capital punishment, although it has been abolished at the national level. For example, a newspaper reported on April 28 that the town of Tolongoina in the region of Vatovavy Fitovinany had set up a local dina to crack down on the frequent cases of vanilla theft. The agreement provided for the decapitation of any thief caught red-handed stealing vanilla.

In May the national police published a booklet entitled “Serve and Protect,” developed with the support of the ICRC, that serves as a guide to police officials for protecting human rights.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires arrest warrants in all cases except those involving ‘hot pursuit’ (the apprehension of a suspect during or immediately after a crime is committed), but authorities often detained persons based on accusations only and without judicial authorization. The law requires authorities to charge or release criminal suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they often held individuals for significantly longer periods before charging or releasing them. Defendants have a right to counsel, and the law entitled those who could not afford a lawyer to one provided by the state. Many citizens were unaware of this right, and few requested attorneys. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them, but authorities did not always respect this right. Authorities frequently denied bail without justification. Magistrates often resorted to a mandat de depot (retaining writ) under which defendants were held in detention for the entire pretrial period. The law limits the duration of pretrial detention and regulates the use of the writ, with a theoretical maximum of eight months for criminal cases. Family members generally had access to prisoners, although authorities limited access for prisoners in solitary confinement or those arrested for political reasons.

Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, political opponents of the government, demonstrators, and other civilians.

In August the CNIDH reported gendarmes arrested seven persons in the Sava Region for contesting their eviction from their village in Moratsiazo, where they had lived for five years. The court imprisoned the men in Antalaha; two young children and their mother were held in the Sambava police station.

Pretrial Detention: In April the CNIDH noted that two-thirds of detainees in the country were in pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 58 percent of the prison population (14,222 of 24,590 inmates) was in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention ranged from several days to several years. Poor recordkeeping, an outdated judicial system, insufficient magistrates, insufficient courts of first instance and lack of resources contributed to the problem. The length of pretrial detention often exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.

On March 1, the NGO Action des Chretiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (Action by Christians to Abolish Torture) developed and published a manual to help law enforcement agents reduce the rate of pretrial detention with the aim of decreasing prison overcrowding and improving respect for the rights of prisoners.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for the defendant’s right to file an appeal concerning his or her pretrial detention with no specific provision concerning his or her right to prompt release and compensation. The law states that a defendant must be released immediately if a prosecutor approves a temporary release requested by the defendant.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was susceptible to executive influence at all levels, and corruption remained a serious problem. There were instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities did not always enforce court orders. Lack of training, resources, and personnel hampered judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs were “prodigious,” according to Freedom House. Judges reported instructions from the executive to release accused sex offenders who were often, but not always, foreign citizens from donor countries.

The law reserves military courts for trials of military personnel, and they generally follow the procedures of the civil judicial system, except that military jury members must be officers. Defendants in military cases have access to an appeals process and generally benefit from the same rights available to civilians, although their trials are not public. A civilian magistrate, usually joined by a panel of military officers, presides over military trials.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the courts have the authority to direct that a trial be closed to protect the victim or to maintain public order. Trials were often delayed. Prolonged incarceration without charge, denial of bail, and postponed hearings were common. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, but authorities often ignored this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and the law provides free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals.

Defendants have the right to legal counsel at every stage of proceedings. Many citizens were unaware of their right to counsel, however, and authorities did not systematically inform them of it. Defendants who did not request or could not afford counsel generally received very limited time to prepare their cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to present and confront witnesses, and to present evidence. Authorities generally respected such rights if defendants had legal representation. The law provides the right to an interpreter for the judicial police, examining magistrate, and the defendant’s legal advisor but does not mention any such right for the defendant, nor whether it is a free service. The law stipulates that the defendant has the right to refuse an interpreter. In practice, if an external interpreter must be hired, it is at the defendant’s expense. Legislation outlining defendants’ rights does not specifically refer to the right not to be compelled to testify or not to confess guilt. It does include the right to assistance by another person during the investigation and trial. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.

By law, the above rights apply to all defendants, and there were no reports that any groups were denied these rights.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Alain Ramaroson remained in jail at years end. The leader of an opposition party, Ramaroson was arrested in August 2016 and accused of forgery in a land dispute with one of his family members. After several refusals of his attorneys’ requests for temporary release and after several postponements, a first trial was held in July 2017, and he was sentenced to one year in prison and a 900 million ariary ($252,000) fine. In August 2017 the court rendered a judgement related to another charge and sentenced him to 30 months in prison and a 200 million ariary fine ($56,000). The media reported that persons seeking to visit him were required to obtain prior approval from the ministry.

There were no reports of any other cases of politically motivated arrests or detentions.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary deals with all civil matters, including human rights cases, and individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Courts lacked independence, were subject to influence, and often encountered difficulty in enforcing civil judgments. There is no prohibition against appealing to regional human rights bodies, but there was no known case of an appeal. The legal system does not recognize the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

During the year, media reported several similar cases of forced evictions of entire communities in various parts of the country, supported by security forces, to the benefit of foreign investors. There were no reports that the evicted persons in any of these cases received any restitution.

There was no report of government action to seize private properties for public use during the year.

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

The law prohibits such actions, but there were a few reports the government failed to respect these provisions.

On May 20, for example, five soldiers belonging to a unit from Antsirabe seized 15 zebu cattle from a courtyard and burned a house in the district of Manandriana, Amoron’i Mania. The soldiers had allegedly received an anonymous tip that the resident was a cattle rustler and had gone to the village to arrest him. When they found no one in the suspect’s presumed house, they burned it and seized the zebus.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but these “may be limited by the respect for the freedoms and rights of others, and by the imperative of safeguarding public order, national dignity, and state security.” The government sometimes restricted these rights. The communication code includes a number of provisions limiting freedom of speech and expression. The code also grants broad powers to the government to deny media licenses to political opponents, seize equipment, and impose fines.

The government arrested journalists and activists who had publicly denounced the misbehavior of public authorities. The government often used unrelated charges to prosecute them.

Freedom of Expression: In accordance with the constitution, the law restricts individuals’ ability to criticize the government publicly.

In May the Court of Appeals of Fianarantsoa confirmed a two-year suspended prison sentence for human rights activist Raleva, accused of impersonating the district chief of Mananjary. Raleva publicly questioned the legality of the gold mining permit of a Chinese company operating in Mananjary, on the southeast coast, and denounced the negative impact of the company’s activities on the environment and the health of the local population. In October 2017, after a month’s detention, the court of Mananjary convicted him of identity fraud against the district chief, for having demanded during a public meeting to see the legal document authorizing the Chinese company to operate on the site. Civil society members and local and international NGOs condemned the court decision and characterized it as an effort to silence human rights activists.

During the year, the CNIDH and local NGOs issued several communiques denouncing the continuing harassment, including arrest and intimidation, of human rights activists. Most of the affected activists had denounced illegal aspects of the evictions of local communities in several parts of the country to the benefit of foreign investors.

Press and Media Freedom: The communications code contains several articles limiting press and media freedoms. For example, Article 85 requires the owner of a media company to be the chief publisher. This article may permit the harassment of potential opposition presidential candidates, many of whom were also media owners.

Although defamation is not a criminal offense in the communications code, a separate cyber criminality law allows for the charge of criminal defamation for anything published online. It is unclear whether the cyber criminality law, which includes prison sentences for online defamation, has precedence over the 2015 communications code, as all newspapers are also published online. The fines allowed for offenses under the communications code are many times higher than the average journalist’s annual salary.

The communications code gives the communications ministry far-reaching powers to suspend media licenses and seize property of media outlets if one of their journalists commits two infractions of the code. Finally, the code allows only state owned radio and television stations the right to broadcast nationally, although this limitation was not always enforced.

The country had numerous independent newspapers. More than 300 radio and television stations operated in the country, although many shifted to live call-in shows in recent years to distance themselves from editorial responsibility for content. Many of them continued to have a national audience, in spite of the code’s limitations. Nevertheless, access by nonstate actors, especially the opposition, to public media, was limited.

In August newspapers reported that the minister of communication had ordered staff of the national television station not to broadcast Andry Rajoelina’s announcement of his candidacy for president. Although former president and opposition figure Marc Ravalomanana’s radio station MBS was allowed to resume broadcasting after years of suspension, its management alleged the government was deliberately jamming its broadcasts.

On August 8, after a meeting related to the coverage of the presidential election, managers of the state owned media announced their intent to ensure neutrality vis-a-vis the presidential candidates before, during, and after the elections.

Violence and Harassment: There were several reports of journalists being suspended or harassed for coverage of opposition figures. An online media outlet, Gasy Patriot, reported in May that a journalist for the public radio station had been suspended and others moved following accusations by their supervisors that they were too close to opposition members of Parliament who were demonstrating against the government at the time.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and authors generally published books of a political nature abroad.

In February the prefect of Mahajanga, Lahiniaina Ravelomahay, banned any interaction with the press about an ongoing conflict within the local university, and required the University of Mahajanga, its student association, and students’ parents to obtain official authorization from his office before talking to journalists. The announcement also required journalists to check whether their interviewees had the prefect’s written authorization to speak to journalists prior to conducting any interview.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were several reports of government authorities using libel, slander, or defamation laws to restrict public discussion.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The 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.

A cybercrime law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of two million to 100 million ariary ($560 to $28,000) for defamation. Following criticism from the media and international community, the government promised to revise the law, but did not do so.

Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 9.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet (exclusive of social media) among the more reliable sources of information.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of peaceful assembly, but authorities often restricted this right. The government required all public demonstrations to have official authorization from the municipalities and police prefectures, but these rarely gave authorization to opposition parties. Security forces regularly impeded opposition gatherings throughout the country and used excessive force to disperse demonstrators.

Several times during the year, security forces used tear gas to disperse demonstrations by university students, supporters of political opponents, and other groups. Students generally retaliated by throwing stones at security forces or set up roadblocks, which often resulted in injuries and arrests.

During the year, the government systematically hindered political opponents’ ability to meet with their supporters in public places. On January 6 and 22, for example, the joint security unit Emmo-Reg prevented former president Marc Ravalomanana from meeting with supporters by blocking supporters’ entry and destroying audio equipment in private venues.

Government political restrictions on public political demonstrations peaked in April when a group of parliamentarians demonstrated against the proposed electoral code. On April 21, in Antananarivo, elements from the Emmo-Reg blocked the entry to City Hall where opposition parliamentarians had planned to meet voters and report on the adoption of the electoral laws that they judged controversial and in violation of democratic principles. Security forces threw tear gas and fired blanks to prevent access to the compound. Later the same day, security forces that reportedly left the area because they were out of supplies allegedly shot at demonstrators who tried to pursue them. Casualty reports after the confrontations differed, with estimates of between two and five dead and 17 injured.

After April 21, security forces issued a statement that they would no longer intervene in demonstrations unless lives or property were endangered. Opposition members were allowed to demonstrate unhindered, which eventually led to the establishment of a consensus government, and the freedom of all parties to hold political rallies and events without interference for the remainder of the year.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the right of association, but the government did not always respect this right.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election on November 7, followed by run-off on December 19 between the two highest vote getters in the first round. During the campaign, there were early efforts by the government to prevent or disperse opposition rallies (See “Freedom of Peaceful Assembly”). Several candidates alleged voter suppression through the selective absence of voter registration materials, vote buying, and other irregularities. Independent domestic and international observers nonetheless judged the elections as generally free and fair. On December 27, the Electoral Commission reported that Andry Rajoelina, a former transitional leader, had taken nearly 56 percent of the vote; his opponent, Marc Ravalomanana, trailed with about 44 percent. The results were not formally certified nor a victor declared before year’s end.

Legislative elections were held in 2013. Despite irregularities that led to cancellation of results by the special electoral court in four districts, international observers–including the EU, the African Union, the Carter Center, and La Francophonie–deemed the elections generally free and fair. In 2014 the National Assembly began its five-year term.

Municipal elections in 2015 were marked by low turnout (25 percent) and irregularities, including the exclusion of qualified voters from the polls, government interference with the nominally independent election authority, cancellation of elections in 19 cities, and other problems. The mayors and municipal counsellors who were elected subsequently elected 42 members of the Senate. The ruling Hery Vaovao ho an’i Madagasikara (New Forces for Madagascar) party won 36 of the 42 seats. The opposition alleged undue influence by authorities on electors and unequal financial resources available to candidates. The president appointed the remaining 21 senators.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government restricted opposition parties and denied them the right to demonstrate spontaneously. Official permission is required for all demonstrations, and there were reports that the government denied or delayed permission for opposition parties, especially on national holidays or other symbolic dates.

In January the government put former president Ravalomanana’s company, Tiko AAA, under commercial and legal pressure. Some media and political observers described the actions as an effort to eliminate Ravalomanana’s financial resources for the upcoming elections. Authorities in Antsirabe, where the company’s factory was located, deployed security force elements to search the factory compound to investigate an alleged electricity theft. Security forces searched all vehicles circulating in the neighborhood to prevent staff from going to work and to prevent the delivery of goods. The Ministry of Commerce ordered the confiscation of all Tiko products that they assessed were illegally produced. In August the company resumed operations; there was no official explanation of the ongoing dispute.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Of 209 members of parliament (both houses), 38 were women; eight of 30 members of the cabinet were women. Some observers believed that cultural and traditional factors prevented women from participating in political life in the same way as men, however.

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

Numerous domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were not always responsive to their views, but authorities allowed international human rights groups to enter the country, work, and consult freely with other groups.

Several domestic NGOs worked on human rights, but few had the capacity to work effectively and independently.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNIDH is composed of 11 commissioners, each elected by members of a different human rights organization and given a mandate to investigate cases of, and publish reports on human rights violations. The government allocated and disbursed two billion ariary ($560,000) for the commission to operate during the year. In addition some international organizations and diplomatic missions provided some equipment.

Malawi

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

Media reported that, between January and August, 43 suspects had died at the hands of police. For example, on June 16, after police arrested 11 persons in Blantyre, four individuals, Humpfrey Sakhumwa, Dave Sembele, Dave Gondwe, and Ashbu Daiton, were separated from the group to be transferred to another facility. Later that day officers dropped their bullet-riddled bodies at the local hospital mortuary. A reputable nongovernmental organization (NGO) and the United Nations carried out a preliminary investigation into several of the deaths that included interviews with family members and witnesses and found the allegations generally credible and warranting a more in-depth inquiry. Media reported during the year that police were also suspected of responsibility for at least 70 other deaths in 2017.

Perpetrators of past abuses were occasionally punished administratively, but investigations often were delayed, abandoned, or remained inconclusive.

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, police sometimes used excessive force and other unlawful practices, including torture, to extract confessions from suspects. The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) stated in its annual report that torture was widespread in prisons.

Reputable NGOs working with sex workers reported that police officers regularly extracted sexual favors from sex workers under the threat of arrest.

One allegation of sexual abuse by a Malawian peacekeeper deployed in MONUSCO and reported in 2016 remained pending at year’s end. Two additional allegations of abuses by Malawian peacekeepers with MONUSCO, in 2016 and 2014, were reported during the year.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; inadequate food, potable water, heating, ventilation, lighting, and health care; and torture.

Physical Conditions: According to the Inspectorate of Prisons, the government remained largely noncompliant with the High Court’s 2009 requirement to improve prison conditions. A December 2017 MHRC prisons and police cells monitoring tour covering more than half of the prisons and police cells in the Central, Southern and Eastern regions found recurrent problems of poor sanitation, poor diet, overcrowding, prisoner abuse, poor ventilation, detention without charge beyond 48 hours, understaffing, prison staff corruption, and insufficient prisoner rehabilitation such as education and vocational training.

Overcrowding and malnutrition remained problems. On October 3, the Malawi Prison Service reported a total prison population of 13,929 in space with a designed holding capacity of 7,000. Police held detainees in police stations for long periods beyond the legal limit of 48 hours, which led to pervasive cell overcrowding.

Authorities held women separately from men but often held pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners together. In police detention centers, children were not always held separately from adults. Although inadequate, detention facilities for women and children were generally better than men’s facilities. Several hundred irregular migrants as young as 13 were held with the general prison population even after their immigration-related sentences had been served. The International Office of Migration (IOM), however, noted significant improvements in the treatment of migrants held at prison facilities, including easier access to care for migrants with medical conditions. IOM also claimed improved channels of communication with prison staff, and easier access to detention facilities.

As of October, according to the prison service, 33 inmates had died in prison. Leading causes of death were meningitis (seven), hypovolemic shock (four), anemia (three), and HIV/AIDS-related (three).

Basic emergency medical care generally was available in the daytime but unavailable after regular working hours. Daily prison rations were meager. Officials allowed family members to provide food and encouraged inmates to grow vegetables and raise livestock in rural prisons. Malnutrition in the prison population remained a problem, however, particularly in urban prisons.

Inadequate infrastructure remained a serious problem. Prisons and detention centers had no provisions for temperature control other than wood fires.

Administration: Each prison had a designated welfare officer, some of whom had received specialized training, to receive prisoner complaints regarding conditions. The complaints process, however, was primarily verbal and informal, allowed for censorship, and provided little follow-up. Prisoners sometimes had the opportunity to complain to NGOs that recorded cases for inclusion in government advocacy and reports, but this rarely resulted in follow-up on individual cases.

The MHRC and NGOs working in prisons expressed concern regarding the human rights of detained persons. During the year the MHRC released a report that cited overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food and health care as major problems in prisons and detention centers. It stated that torture was widespread and most prisoners and detainees lived in degrading and inhuman conditions. From January to August, the MHRC received one complaint regarding the rights of prisoners and one complaint regarding the rights of individuals at a migrant detention facility. NGOs believed the low number of submitted complaints was due to fear of retaliation by authorities.

Independent Monitoring: During the year the government permitted domestic and international NGOs and media to visit and monitor prison conditions and donate basic supplies. Domestic NGOs, the Malawi Red Cross Society, and diplomatic representatives had unrestricted access to prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government did not always observe these prohibitions. The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court but does not provide for compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Lack of knowledge of statutes and of access to representation meant detainees did not challenge the legality of their detention.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The government exercised effective control over the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) and Malawi Police Service (MPS). The MPS, under the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, has responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order. The MDF has responsibility for external security. The executive branch sometimes asked the MDF to carry out policing activity. The MDF commander reports directly to the president as commander in chief.

Police were inefficient, poorly trained, and corrupt (see section 4). Impunity remained a problem. Officers suspected of misconduct generally were transferred rather than investigated and disciplined if found guilty. Authorities, however, prosecuted officers accused of involvement in serious crimes such as robbery, murder, or rape (see section 1.a.).

Like other elements of government, the MDF and MPS were subject to investigation for corruption. In 2015 the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) arrested former army chief General Henry Odillo and his former deputy, Lieutenant General Clement Kafuwa, on corruption charges in connection with contracts for military equipment that was never delivered. The trial began in October 2016, and in April 2017 the defendants, who were out on bail, pled not guilty to the charges. The trial had yet to conclude by year’s end. In June a leaked ACB investigation report revealed that MPS officials subverted procurement practices to award an overpriced food ration procurement contract to a company that made a sizable donation to the ruling party. At the request of civil society activists, the courts froze accounts linked to the transaction. No arrests have been made in the case, nor has an official case been opened, and the civil servants identified in the report have yet to face any kind of disciplinary action.

The MDF and MPS cooperated with corruption investigations by the ACB but did not carry out their own internal investigations. Government mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption were only marginally effective due in large part to funding and human resource constraints.

The inspector general of police remained committed to the professionalization of the MPS. The Professional Responsibility Unit (previously known as the Internal Affairs Department) of the MPS investigates police misconduct, including whether killings or other misconduct that occurred in the line of duty were justifiable.

Police trained officers on internal investigations, victims’ rights, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and trafficking in persons. Police received foreign assistance for training and equipment.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Police apprehended most suspects without a warrant if they had reasonable grounds to believe a crime was being or had been committed. Only in cases involving corruption or white-collar crime were arrest warrants normally issued by a duly authorized official based on evidence presented. The law provides detainees the right to have access to legal counsel and be released from detention or informed of charges by a court within 48 hours of arrest; however, authorities often ignored these rights. The use of temporary remand warrants to circumvent the 48-hour rule was widespread. Police frequently demanded bribes to authorize bail, which was often granted to reduce overcrowding in jails, rather than release a detainee on the merits of a case. Relatives were sometimes denied access to detainees. There were no reports detainees were held incommunicado or held under house arrest.

Detainees who could afford counsel were able to meet with counsel in a timely manner. While the law requires the government to provide legal services to indigent detainees, such aid was provided almost exclusively to suspects charged with homicide. In 2015 the Legal Aid Bureau replaced the Department of Legal Aid as the institution mandated to provide legal assistance to indigent persons. The bureau had 15 lawyers and 18 paralegals in the three offices, located in the largest cities: Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Mzuzu. Inadequate funding remained a major challenge.

The Center for Human Rights Education, Advice, and Assistance (CHREAA) assisted persons detained at police stations and in prisons through its Malawi Bail Project, camp courts, police cell visits, and paralegal aid clinic to expedite their release. During the year CHREAA reached out to 18,565 detainees, 18,450 of whom succeeded in obtaining bail. The Center for Legal Assistance and the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute, NGOs that assist prisoners with legal matters, provided limited free legal assistance to expedite trials of detainees. Priority was given to the sick, the young, mothers with infants, persons with disabilities, and those in extended pretrial detention.

Arbitrary Arrest: The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, or false arrest. Sections of the penal code pertaining to rogues and vagabonds were used in the past to make arbitrary arrests but were struck down as unconstitutional in January 2017 by the High Court. Authorities, however, made arrests based on other provisions, such as conduct likely to cause breach of peace and obstruction of police officers. Although prostitution is legal, police regularly harassed sex workers. In April 2017, in Lilongwe, police arrested Masauko Chimphamba, a small-scale businessperson, and kept him in custody for two nights without charge or telling him the reason for his arrest. Chimphamba was released after a man involved in a robbery informed police that Chimphamba was not part of the robbery. Chimphamba registered an arbitrary arrest complaint with the MHRC. By October, however, the complaint had not been followed up, due to his having gone abroad.

Pretrial Detention: Of the total prison population of 13,929 inmates, approximately 2,500, or 18 percent, were in pretrial detention. Despite a statutory 90-day limit on pretrial detention, authorities held most homicide suspects in pretrial detention for two to three years. There was evidence some homicide detainees remained in prison awaiting trial for much longer periods, but reliable information on the number and situation of these detainees was unavailable.

To reduce case backlog and excessive pretrial detention, certain cases were directed to local courts and “camp courts” organized by civil society groups. Camp courts expedite cases by bringing magistrates to prisons. Paralegals gathered cases of pretrial detainees awaiting trial for excessive periods, who were held unlawfully, or who had been granted bail but were unable to meet the terms set by the court. Magistrates, along with the court clerk and police prosecutor, worked through the list, granting bail to some, reducing bail for others, dismissing cases, or setting trial dates.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. The judicial system, however, was inefficient and handicapped by serious weaknesses, including poor recordkeeping; a shortage of judges, attorneys, and other trained personnel; heavy caseloads; corruption; and lack of resources. The slow-moving judicial system, including extensive delays due to motion practice (a three-step court order request), a low bar for granting injunctions, judge shopping, prosecutorial delay tactics, recusals, and lawyers and witnesses not being present on trial dates, undermined the government’s ability to dispense justice.

In October 2017 police arrested and charged Vincent Wandale, a land reclamation advocate, with “publishing false news” after he declared himself the leader of an independent state in the south of the country. In November 2017, although he was not a danger to himself or others, he was involuntarily committed to a mental institution based on a report on his mental health requested by the prosecution. Wandale was forcibly medicated for mental illness until his release on bail in February after a local NGO challenged his detention. He remained on bail with no date set for his trial.

The MDF conducts courts-martial but no military or security tribunals. Used more frequently than courts-martial is a nonjudicial procedure under which cases are dealt with summarily by senior officers without a formal trial process. In both procedures military personnel are entitled to the same rights as persons accused in civilian courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants are presumed innocent. The constitution and law require a court to inform an accused of charges within 48 hours of arrest, with free assistance of an interpreter if necessary. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, to have an attorney, and, if indigent, an attorney provided at state expense, but such assistance was usually limited to homicide cases. Defendants have the right to challenge prosecution or plaintiff evidence and witnesses, and present their own witnesses and evidence. By law they may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. The law does not specify a given length of time for the accused to prepare a defense. The slow pace of trials affords defendants adequate time to prepare but not to adequate facilities due to insufficient prison system funding. All persons have the right of appeal; however, appeals often were delayed for years and sometimes never addressed by a higher court.

The judiciary’s budgetary and administrative problems led to backlogs that effectively denied expeditious trials for most defendants and kept some defendants in pretrial detention for long periods. Recruitment and retention of government attorneys remained a problem. MPS prosecutors with limited legal training prosecuted the majority of criminal cases. The Directorate of Public Prosecutions in the Ministry of Justice customarily tried high-profile cases and those involving the most serious offenses. As of September 2017, the directorate had 20 prosecuting attorneys supported by 18 paralegals, who also prosecuted certain lower court cases. Minor victims as young as 12 often testified in open court and in at least one instance the minor was cross-examined by the abuser who was self-representing. Child-friendly court facilities existed but were used only for minors in conflict with the law.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters, and citizens have access to a court to submit lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional courts. The law provides for administrative and judicial remedies for alleged wrongs; however, a lack of legal professionals restricted the number of human rights cases pursued and resulted in a large backlog. As of September 17, there were only 418 licensed legal practitioners in a country of more than 18 million.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions.

The law permits police officers of the rank of subinspector or higher to conduct searches without a court warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe they could not otherwise obtain something needed for an investigation without undue delay. Before conducting a search without a warrant, the officer must write a reasonable-grounds justification and give a copy to the owner or occupant of the place to be searched.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right.

Freedom of Expression: The government sometimes used antisedition and breach of peace laws to stifle criticism. On August 21, police arrested Manes Hale, an American citizen of Malawian origin, while she was boarding an airplane departing the country. The government charged her with insulting the president under section 4 of the Protected Flag, Emblems, and Names Act for critical remarks she wrote concerning the president on Facebook. On August 23, she was released on bail; on August 27, the government dropped the charges, and Hale flew to the United States the following day.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities sometimes attempted to intimidate journalists who reported criticism of the ruling party. On May 4, during the president’s State of the Nation Address at the Parliament, ruling party cadres assaulted a cameraman of privately-owned Times Television. Despite the information minister apologizing for the incident, there were no signs police had undertaken an active investigation. On July 2, two ruling party cadres assaulted newspaper columnist Idris Ali Nassah for his criticism of the Mutharika administration. The government also regularly barred privately owned media from covering government events.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists sometimes practiced self-censorship, especially at government-owned media outlets such as the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). Government agencies sometimes selectively targeted prominent media houses critical of the government for enforcement actions. On June 1, the Malawi Revenue Authority sealed Times Group offices due to unpaid VAT arrears of Malawian kwacha (MWK) 550 million ($756,000). Similarly, on August 22, Zodiak Broadcasting was raided by MRA for MWK 1.7 billion ($2,337,000) in unpaid taxes. In contrast the equally tax delinquent progovernment MBC owed MWK 4.5 billion ($6,187,000) in back taxes but operated without any impediment.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act became law in June 2017. The law criminalizes the act of “knowingly receiving and sharing unauthorized data” and stipulates that a person found sharing or receiving such information is committing a crime and liable to a fine of 1.85 million MWK ($2,500) and imprisonment for up to five years. The law also makes it a crime for any person willfully and repeatedly to use electronic communication to attempt to disturb the peace or right of privacy of any person. Civil society organizations decried passage of the law, arguing it was meant to silence persons on social media ahead of national elections scheduled for 2019. As of November no one had been charged with a crime under the law. Lack of infrastructure and the high cost of internet connections limited internet access. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 13.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017, the latest year for which data was available.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom during the year; however, the government sporadically censored films that it deemed contained culturally sensitive or sexually explicit material.

The Malawi Censorship Board Secretariat is responsible for reviewing and classifying plays, films, and foreign music for adult content as well as regulating public theaters.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

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

Government officials used their positions to thwart protests or gatherings by opposition figures through the selective use of permits. In September, after a coalition of NGOs critical of the government announced its intent to hold a protest, the ruling party sought and quickly obtained a permit for a competing event, forcing the activists to reschedule.

In September 2017, during a march against gender-based violence, male police officers arrested protester Beatrice Mateyo and charged her with “insulting the modesty of a woman” for carrying a placard deemed offensive. Released on bail, she had yet to be tried by year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right. The government required registration of all NGOs and political parties. NGOs must register with three different government entities and pay significant yearly registration fees.

During the year the government tried to increase its control over civil society. Two draft laws include provisions that would give government-controlled bodies the ability to deregister NGOs. The government, however, had yet to introduce these drafts into parliament.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens voted in simultaneous presidential, parliamentary, and local elections. International observers characterized those elections as generally peaceful, free, credible, and transparent. Voters elected Arthur Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party as president with 36.4 percent of the vote. Mutharika defeated incumbent president Joyce Banda, marking the first time an incumbent party lost the presidency since the country’s first multiparty election in 1994. Presidential and vice presidential debates took place and were broadcast on radio and television for the first time, which provided voters a tool for evaluating and contrasting candidates and their policies. The 2014 elections also filled the positions of local councilors following a nine-year gap; the term of councilors elected in 2000 had expired in 2005.

Since 2014 the country has held several by-elections for vacated seats; the next tripartite elections are scheduled for May 2019, with political parties already actively campaigning. Media regularly reported that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) diverted state resources for partisan events. The DPP sometimes requisitioned national or local government vehicles to ferry supporters to partisan events. In 2017 representatives from several government-affiliated entities attended a DPP fundraising event held at the presidential palace, with their respective institutions paying the bill.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural and traditional gender bias and lower levels of literacy, education, and economic empowerment prevented women from participating in the political process to the same extent as men. There were 32 women in the 193-seat National Assembly and 56 women among the 462 elected local councilors. There were four women in the 20-member cabinet. Women constituted approximately 25 percent of the civil service. There were 10 female justices among the 35 Supreme Court of Appeal and High Court justices.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, training civic educators, advocating changes to existing laws and cultural practices, and investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The MHRC, an independent government-chartered institution, is mandated by the constitution to promote and protect human rights and investigate violations of human rights. Despite its independent leadership, resource shortfalls resulted in a backlog of cases, delayed production of reports, and limited investigation of human rights violations.

The Office of the Ombudsman is mandated to investigate government officials responsible for human rights violations and other abuses. The Ombudsman’s Office does not take legal action against government officials but may order administrative action to redress grievances and may recommend prosecution to the director of public prosecution. The office had 17 investigators who were assisted by 11 government interns. During the year its civic education team conducted public rallies and awareness campaigns in five of the country’s 28 districts. It maintained a website, Facebook page, and an active Twitter account and provided regular updates on its activities.

Malaysia

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

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

There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. According to the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM), 521 persons died in prison from 2015 through 2016, while more than 100 individuals died in immigration detention centers. The government claimed that deaths in police custody, particularly those caused by police, were rare, but civil society activists disputed this claim. In a 2018 report on custodial deaths, the nogovernmental organization (NGO) Lawyers For Liberty described a “broken system that abets the perpetrators of these crimes.”

Early in the year, the government’s Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) determined that police were guilty of “serious misconduct” in relation to the 2017 death of a man in police custody. The EAIC also found that closed-circuit cameras in the police station were nonfunctional. No further action was taken.

In March a 39-year-old man was found dead in a police detention center. A police official stated the incident was believed to have been caused by negligence and would be investigated. No further action was taken.

Investigation into use of deadly force by a police officer occurs only if the attorney general initiates the investigation or if the attorney general approves an application for an investigation by family members of the deceased. When the attorney general orders an official inquiry, a coroner’s court convenes, and the hearing is open to the public. In such cases, courts generally issued an “open verdict,” meaning that there would be no further action against police.

b. Disappearance

In January the inspector general of police informed SUHAKAM that police had charged a man with the February 2017 abduction of Christian pastor Raymond Koh. Police noted that the law bars SUHAKAM from investigating any complaint that is the subject of a court proceeding, after which SUHAKAM announced it would “immediately cease” its public inquiry into the matter. Some civil society members believed the arrest was an attempt by police to stop SUHAKAM’s public inquiry into Koh’s disappearance. SUHAKAM announced in May it would reopen its investigation, although little progress was made in the case.

Police also made little progress in investigating the separate disappearances in November 2016 of Christian pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth, and of Amri Che Mat, a Muslim activist alleged to be linked to Shiite teachings. SUHAKAM continued public inquiries into the disappearances.

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

No law specifically prohibits torture; however, laws that prohibit “committing grievous hurt” encompass torture. More than 60 offenses are subject to caning, sometimes in conjunction with imprisonment, and judges routinely mandated caning as punishment for crimes including kidnapping, rape, robbery, and nonviolent offenses such as narcotics possession, criminal breach of trust, migrant smuggling, immigration offenses, and others.

Civil and criminal law exempt men older than age 50, unless convicted of rape, and all women from caning. Male children between ages 10 and 18 may receive a maximum of 10 strokes of a “light cane” in a public courtroom.

Some states’ sharia provisions, which govern family issues and certain crimes under Islam and apply to all Muslims, also prescribe caning for certain offenses. Women are not exempt from caning under sharia, and national courts have not resolved conflicts between the constitution, the penal code, and sharia.

In August a sharia court in Terengganu State sentenced a woman to six months in jail and six strokes of the cane for prostitution. No charges were filed against the woman’s alleged client.

Civil laws in Kelantan State allow courts to sentence individuals to public caning for certain civil offenses, although there were no reports of such punishment in the state.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions in prisons and detention centers operated by the government’s Immigration Department were harsh. In 2017 SUHAKAM described the conditions at one police detention center as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading.” In January SUHAKAM made a follow-up visit to a police detention center in Johor State that it recommended be closed due to poor conditions. According to SUHAKAM, “conditions of the lock-up remain unchanged and unsatisfactory.”

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in prisons and immigration detention centers, particularly in facilities near major cities, remained a serious problem. According to the Home Ministry, 20 of the country’s 37 prisons were overcrowded.

In April Thanabalan Subramaniam, age 38, died in police custody in Selangor State; a postmortem could not determine the cause of death but found no signs of abuse. According to Amnesty International, the incident “shows that the authorities, at the very least, are (sic) not proactive in ensuring that [the inmate] received immediate and comprehensive medical treatment in case of an emergency or health hazard. His death also suggests that standard operating procedures put in place for these kind of situations may have been neglected.”

Administration: The law allows for investigations into allegations of mistreatment; however, this did not always function in practice. Law enforcement officers found responsible for deaths in custody do not generally face punishment. In August the lawyer for a man who died in police custody in 2014 said no investigation was conducted into his client’s death, which the EAIC’s investigations revealed was caused by police beatings.

Authorities restricted rights to religious observance for members of Islamic sects the government banned as “deviant.”

Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally did not permit NGOs and media to monitor prison conditions; the law allows judges to visit prisons to examine conditions and ask prisoners and prison officials about conditions. The government provided prison access to the EAIC, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and SUHAKAM, on a case-by-case basis.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) generally had access to registered refugees and asylum seekers, and to unregistered persons of concern who may have claims to asylum or refugee status held in immigration detention centers and prisons. This access, however, was not always timely.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Police may use certain preventive detention laws to detain persons suspected of terrorism, organized crime, gang activity, and trafficking in drugs or persons without a warrant or judicial review for two-year terms, renewable indefinitely. Within seven days of the initial detention, however, police must present the case for detention to a public prosecutor. If the prosecutor agrees “sufficient evidence exists to justify” continued detention and further investigation, a fact-finding inquiry officer appointed by the minister of home affairs must report within 59 days to a detention board appointed by the king. The board may renew the detention order or impose an order to restrict, for a maximum of five years, a suspect’s place of residence, travel, access to communications facilities, and use of the internet. Details on the numbers of those detained or under restriction orders were not generally available.

In other cases the law allows investigative detention to prevent a criminal suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence during an investigation.

Immigration law allows authorities to arrest and detain noncitizens for 30 days pending a deportation decision.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Royal Malaysia Police force, with approximately 102,000 personnel, reports to the home affairs minister. The inspector general of police is responsible for organizing and administering the police force. The Ministry of Home Affairs also oversees immigration and border enforcement and the People’s Volunteer Corps, a paramilitary civilian organization. NGOs remained concerned inadequate training left corps members poorly equipped to perform their duties.

State-level Islamic religious enforcement officers have authority to accompany police on raids or conduct their own raids of private premises and public establishments to enforce sharia, including bans on indecent dress, alcohol consumption, sale of restricted books, or close proximity to unrelated members of the opposite sex. Religious authorities at the state level administer sharia for civil and family law through Islamic courts and have jurisdiction for all Muslims.

Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security services. The government has some mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and the EAIC and SUHAKAM played a role in investigating alleged abuses committed by the security forces (see section 1.b.). NGOs and media reported that, despite investigation into some incidents, security forces often acted with impunity.

Police officers are subject to trial by criminal and civil courts, but convictions were infrequent. Police representatives reported disciplinary actions against police officers; punishments included suspension, dismissal, and demotion. Police training included human rights awareness in its courses. SUHAKAM also conducted human rights training and workshops for police and prison officials. In October the inspector general of police stated 72 police personnel were fired and 1,484 others were disciplined during the year through September for such offenses as “abuse of power, negligence, failure to report for duty, as well as criminal activities.”

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law permits police to arrest and detain individuals for some offenses without a warrant, even outside situations of a crime in progress or other urgent circumstances. To facilitate investigations, police can hold a suspect for 24 hours, which can be extended for a maximum 14 days by court order under general criminal law provisions. NGOs reported a police practice of releasing suspects and then quickly rearresting them in order to continue investigative custody without seeking judicial authorization. In August the lawyer for a person suspected of criminal breach of trust claimed police held his client in custody for more than 40 days without any charges, repeatedly extending the remand order by moving the suspect from one jurisdiction to another. A local human rights NGO described the extended detention as “excessive and [an] abuse of power” by police.

Some NGOs asserted that a police approach of “arrest first, investigate later” was prevalent, particularly in cases involving allegations of terrorism. By law a person must be informed of the grounds for arrest by the arresting officer.

Bail is usually available for persons accused of crimes not punishable by life imprisonment or death. The amount and availability of bail is at the judge’s discretion. Persons granted bail usually must surrender their passports to the court.

Police must inform detainees of the rights to contact family members and consult a lawyer of their choice. Nonetheless, police often denied detainees’ access to legal counsel and questioned suspects without allowing a lawyer to be present. Police justified this practice as necessary to prevent interference in investigations in progress, and the courts generally upheld the practice.

While authorities generally treated attorney-client communications as privileged, in 2017 the Federal Court, the country’s highest court, ruled that Malaysian Anticorruption Commission officials could question lawyers who accompanied their clients to commission hearings (which are nonjudicial) about their interaction with their clients and the content of their discussions.

Police sometimes did not allow detainees prompt access to family members or other visitors.

The law allows the detention of a material witness in a criminal case if that person is likely to flee.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities sometimes used their powers to intimidate and punish opponents of the government. Activists and government critics were often subject to late-night arrests, long hours of questioning, and lengthy remand periods, even if they were not ultimately charged with an offense. According to SUHAKAM, police raided the home of lawyer and civil society activist Siti Kasim in June “without the police adequately and reasonably investigating the factual circumstances of the case.”

Pretrial Detention: Crowded and understaffed courts often resulted in lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes lasting several years. The International Center for Prison Studies reported that pretrial detainees made up approximately 26 percent of the prisoner population in mid-2015.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to challenge their detention by filing a habeas corpus application, although they were rarely successful, especially when charged under preventive detention laws.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Three constitutional articles provide the basis for an independent judiciary; however, other constitutional provisions, legislation restricting judicial review, and executive influence over judicial appointments limited judicial independence and strengthened executive influence over the judiciary. The judiciary frequently deferred to police or executive authority in cases those parties deemed as affecting their interests.

Members of the Malaysian Bar Council, NGO representatives, and other observers expressed serious concern about significant limitations on judicial independence, citing a number of high-profile instances of arbitrary verdicts, selective prosecution, and preferential treatment of some litigants and lawyers.

According to Lawyers for Liberty, the former government was guilty of “concerted attempts to politicize the judiciary,” including forcing judicial officers to attend a political lecture in May 2017 “in flagrant breach of the doctrine of separation of powers and the concept of an independent judiciary.”

In August court of appeal judge Hamid Sultan Abu Backer said he was “severely reprimanded” by an unnamed senior judge for dissenting in a high-profile case and was never again assigned to hear public interest cases related to constitutional matters.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the rights to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The civil law system is based on British common law and defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly of the charges against them and the right to a timely trial and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to be appointed counsel at public expense if they face charges that carry the death penalty. Defendants also may apply for a public defender in certain other cases.

According to the Malaysian Bar Council, defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense if they had the means to engage private counsel. Otherwise, defendants must rely on legal aid and the amount of time to prepare for trial is at the discretion of the judge. Authorities provide defendants free interpretation in Mandarin, Tamil, and some other commonly used dialects from the moment charged through all appeals. The right to confront witnesses is limited by provisions allowing the identity of prosecution witnesses to be kept secret from the defense before a trial, which inhibits cross-examination of those witnesses. Defendants may present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Limited pretrial discovery in criminal cases also impeded the defense. Strict rules of evidence apply in court. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt.

Defendants may appeal court decisions to higher courts, but only if the appeal raises a question of law or if material circumstances raise a reasonable doubt regarding conviction or sentencing. The Malaysian Bar Council claimed these restrictions were excessive.

In cases related to terrorism or national security, the law allows police to hold persons even after acquittal against the possibility of appeal by the prosecution.

Many NGOs complained women did not receive fair treatment from sharia courts, especially in cases of divorce and child custody (see section 6).

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

In May opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was released from detention after receiving a full royal pardon for consensual sodomy, a charge he denied and many international observers and human rights organizations viewed as politically motivated. Until his release, authorities generally permitted Anwar’s lawyers and family to visit him; however, in April prison authorities banned attorney Latheefa Koya from seeing Anwar because she violated prison regulations by allegedly releasing a statement to the press in which Anwar purportedly criticized a controversial bill in parliament. Family members said prison officials at times limited Anwar’s access to medical treatment for a shoulder injury.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may sue the government and officials in court for alleged violations of human rights; however, a large case backlog often resulted in delays in civil actions, to the disadvantage of plaintiffs. The courts have increasingly encouraged the use of mediation and arbitration to speed settlements.

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

Laws prohibit such actions; nevertheless, authorities sometimes infringed on citizens’ privacy. Under national security laws, police may enter and search the homes of persons suspected of threatening national security without a warrant. The government monitored the internet and threatened to detain anyone sending or posting content the government deemed a threat to public order or security (see section 2.a.).

Islamic authorities may enter private premises without a warrant to apprehend Muslims suspected of engaging in offenses such as gambling, consumption of alcohol, and sexual relations outside marriage.

The government does not recognize marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims and considers children born of such unions illegitimate.

In 2017 the court of appeal ruled that the National Registration Division was not bound by an edict issued by the National Fatwa Committee that declared children to be illegitimate, and therefore unable to take their father’s name, if they were born fewer than six months after the parents’ marriage. The government, however, appealed the case and successfully applied for a stay. The case remained pending.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution allows restrictions on the freedom of expression “in the interest of the security of the Federation…[or] public order.” The former government regularly restricted freedom of expression for the media and civil society, citing reasons such as upholding Islam and the special status of ethnic Malays, protecting national security, maintaining public order, and preserving friendly relations with other countries.

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits sedition and public comment on issues defined as sensitive, including racial and religious matters or criticism of the king or ruling sultans. Sedition charges often followed comments by vocal civil society or opposition leaders. Civil society groups claimed the former government generally failed to investigate and prosecute similar statements made by progovernment or pro-Malay persons.

Citing a “misdirection of law,” the court of appeals in February overturned the 2014 conviction of Adam Adli under the Sedition Act after he urged people to topple the government during a Kuala Lumpur forum in 2013. Authorities also withdrew Sedition Act charges against Members of Parliament Khalid Samad, Hassan Abdul Karim, and R. Sivarasa; former Member of Parliament Tian Chua; human rights lawyers N. Surendran and Eric Paulsen; socialist party central committee member S. Arulchevan; and political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Al Haquem, popularly known as Zunar. The government initiated new charges under the Sedition Act against several persons for allegedly criticizing the country’s royal families.

In February artist Fahmi Reza was sentenced to one month in jail and fined RM30,000 ($7,500) for publishing a caricature of then prime minister Najib Razak in 2016 that was deemed “obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person.” Amnesty International called the decision “yet another example of the continued crackdown on dissent by the Malaysian authorities.” In November the High Court upheld the conviction but reduced the fine to RM10,000 ($2,500) and revoked the jail sentence. In October prosecutors dropped similar charges against Fahmi in a separate case.

In September the Federal Court ruled that the government can sue individuals for defamation. Human rights groups, the Malaysian Bar Council, and former judges criticized the decision, describing it as “not in consonance with the citizens’ freedom of speech and the principle of good governance.”

Press and Media Freedom: Political parties and individuals linked to the former ruling coalition owned or controlled a majority of shares in almost all print and broadcast media, many of which were overtly progovernment. Online media outlets were more independent but were often the target of legal action and harassment.

Despite many restrictions and official pressure, opposition parties, social action groups, unions, internet news sites, and other private groups actively covered opposition parties and frequently printed views critical of government policies. Online media and blogs provided views and reported stories not featured in the mainstream press.

The government maintained and at times exerted control over news content, both in print and broadcast media. The former government punished publishers of “malicious news” and banned, restricted, or limited circulation of publications believed a threat to public order, morality, or national security. The government has the power to suspend publication for these reasons and retained effective control over the licensing process. In February the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) asked two online news portals to remove articles that went “against the country’s laws.” According to media, “the articles all addressed current issues and local politics, while being openly critical of certain political parties and leaders.”

In April parliament passed the Anti-Fake News law, criminalizing the “malicious” production or dissemination of “any news, information, data or reports, which is or are wholly or partly false.” Later that same month, Salah Salem Saleh Sulaiman, a Danish national of Yemeni descent, pled guilty to maliciously creating and publishing fake news and was fined RM10,000 ($2,500) for posting a video on social media in which he alleged police did not respond promptly to emergency calls following the assassination of Palestinian lecturer Fadi Albatsh on April 21. Parliamentarians voted to repeal the law in August, but the opposition-controlled Senate overturned the decision, postponing the law’s repeal for as long as one year.

The former government sometimes barred online media from covering government press conferences.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists were subject to harassment and intimidation, especially in the run-up to the general election.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The former government censored media, primarily print and broadcast media; the new government maintained the ability to censor media but did not use this power as frequently. In addition to controlling news content by banning or restricting publications believed to threaten public order, morality, or national security, the former government prosecuted journalists for “malicious news,” and took little or no action against persons or organizations that abused journalists. The law requires a permit to own a printing press, and printers often were reluctant to print publications critical of the government due to fear of reprisal. Such policies, together with antidefamation laws, inhibited independent or investigative journalism and resulted in extensive self-censorship in the print and broadcast media.

On election night the MCMC reportedly instructed internet service providers to block access to independent media outlets such as Malaysiakini, which were publishing unofficial election results indicating a possible win by the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition. The new government ordered an investigation into the matter.

The government occasionally censored foreign magazines, newspapers, and news programming, most often due to sexual content.

Government restrictions on radio and television stations mirrored those on print media, and all also predominantly supported the government. News about the opposition in those media remained restricted and biased. Television stations censored programming to follow government guidelines.

The government generally restricted publications it judged might incite racial or religious disharmony. The Ministry of Home Affairs maintained a list of 1,653 banned publications as of March 2017. In April 2018 the ministry banned six books whose contents it judged could be detrimental to public order, morality, or public interest, including texts that contained “elements promoting liberalism that can cause confusion among some readers.” In January the court of appeal ruled a 2015 ban on three books by novelist Faisal Musa violated the author’s freedom of speech. The previous government appealed the decision, but in October the new government withdrew the appeal and instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs to remove the titles from its list of banned publications.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law includes sections on civil and criminal defamation. Criminal defamation is punishable by a maximum two years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. True statements can be considered defamatory if they contravene the “public good.” The government and its supporters used these laws, along with provisions against sedition, to punish and suppress publication of material critical of government officials and policies. In August prosecutors charged a member of the opposition United Malays National Organization (UMNO) under the Communications and Multimedia Act for allegedly insulting another UMNO member on Facebook. The accused’s attorney questioned why prosecutors dropped similar charges against members of the ruling coalition.

National Security: Authorities under the former government occasionally cited national security laws to restrict media distribution of material critical of government policies and public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: NGOs sympathetic to the former government sought to limit freedom of expression through criminal complaints of allegedly seditious speech. Such NGOs also sometimes attempted to intimidate opposition groups through demonstrations.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government generally maintained a policy of restricted access to the internet. Authorities blocked some websites and monitored the internet for email messages and blog postings deemed a threat to public security or order. Following the May election, the new government restored access to several online media outlets that were previously blocked, including Sarawak Report and Medium.

Authorities restricted internet freedom to combat dissenting political views online. In August the minister of religious affairs stated government authorities would monitor “LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) issues, as well as liberal Islam” on social media.

The government warned internet users to avoid offensive or indecent content and sensitive matters such as religion and race, and aggressively pursued charges against those criticizing Islam, the country’s royalty, or its political leaders.

In July authorities opened an investigation into lawyer Fadiah Nadwa under the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act in relation to a blog post in which she criticized the royalty.

In February a man was sentenced to a RM20,000 ($5,000) fine or four months in jail for uploading content to Facebook in 2016 related to the prime minister and attorney general that authorities deemed offensive.

Sedition and criminal defamation laws led to self-censorship by local internet content sources including bloggers, news providers, and NGO activists.

The law requires internet and other network service providers to obtain a license, and permits punishment of the owner of a website or blog for allowing offensive racial, religious, or political content. By regarding users who post content as publishers, the government places the burden of proof on the user in these cases. NGOs and members of the public criticized the law, noting it could cause self-censorship due to liability concerns.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 80 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government placed some restrictions on academic freedom, particularly the expression of unapproved political views, and enforced restrictions on teachers and students who expressed dissenting views. The government requires all civil servants, university faculty, and students to sign a pledge of loyalty to the king and government. Opposition leaders and human rights activists claimed the government used the loyalty pledge to restrain political activity among these groups. Although faculty members sometimes publicly criticized the government, public university academics whose career advancement and funding depended on the government practiced self-censorship. Self-censorship took place among academics at private institutions as well, spurred by fear the government might revoke the licenses of their institutions. The law imposes limitations on student associations and on student and faculty political activity. In February a court ruled on procedural grounds that the University of Malaya should not have disciplined four students for holding political placards during a town hall meeting in 2016. The court did not, however, entertain the students’ claim that the university’s actions violated their right to freedom of expression.

The government regularly censored films, editing out profanity, kissing, sex, and nudity. The government also censored films for certain political and religious content, not allowing, for example, screening of films in Hebrew, Yiddish, or from Israel. Although the government allowed foreign films at local film festivals, it sometimes censored content by physically blocking screens until the objectionable scene was over. Media censorship rules forbid movies and songs that promote acceptance of gay persons (see section 6). The Film Censorship Board banned a controversial Hindi film that featured a relationship between a Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler in medieval India. The board also banned Those Long Haired Nights, a Philippine film about transgender prostitutes.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association but allows restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of security, public order, or (in the case of association) morality. Abiding by the government’s restrictions did not protect some protesters from harassment or arrest.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides all citizens “the right to assemble peaceably and without arms;” however, several laws restricted this right. Although the law does not require groups to obtain a permit for assemblies, police frequently placed time, location, and other restrictions on the right to assemble. Authorities banned street protests, and police sometimes confronted civil society and opposition demonstrations with mass arrests.

Protests deemed acceptable by the government usually proceeded without interference.

In December police approved a demonstration opposing the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination but rescinded a previously approved application to hold a Human Rights Day event on the same day citing security risks.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right of association; however, the government placed significant restrictions on this right, and certain statutes limit it. By law only registered organizations of seven or more persons may legally function. The government often resisted registering organizations deemed particularly unfriendly to the government or imposed strict preconditions. The government may revoke registrations for violations of the law governing societies.

The government bans membership in unregistered political parties and organizations.

The law prohibits students who hold political positions from conducting political party activities on campus. Students are also prohibited from “expressing support or sympathy” for an unlawful society or organization. In December the lower house of parliament passed amendments to legislation on university students’ participation in political-party activities on campus. The Senate, however, did not approve the legislation during the year. Earlier in the year the government lifted the ban on opposition politicians visiting schools in their constituencies, but required them to first obtain approval from state authorities.

Many human rights and civil society organizations had difficulty obtaining government recognition as NGOs. As a result, many NGOs registered as companies, which created legal and bureaucratic obstacles to raising money to support their activities. Authorities frequently cited a lack of registration as grounds for action against organizations. Some NGOs also reported the government monitored their activities in order to intimidate them.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, but these rights were often restricted by federal and state government officials, particularly in eastern Sabah and Sarawak States.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government generally did not impede organizations providing protection and assistance to migrants, refugees, and stateless persons, most of whom lived intermingled with the general public. Access to those in detention centers, however, was often significantly limited.

Migrants, refugees, and stateless persons receive no government support. The government allows UNHCR and NGOs to work with these populations, but government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent. In 2017 the government launched the Tracking Refugees Information System to register refugees and collect their biometric data. The program requires refugees to pay an annual fee of RM500 ($125) for an identification card but did not provide any benefits.

As “illegal immigrants,” refugees and others are subject to deportation at any time. They also face a maximum five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM10,000 ($2,500), or both, and mandatory caning of a maximum six strokes if convicted of immigration law violations.

In July the government used what some NGOs called inhuman and degrading methods to carry out a mass operation to arrest undocumented migrant workers.

Most migrants, refugees, and stateless persons lived in private accommodations and survived on support from UNHCR and NGOs or illegal casual labor. The government, however, held thousands in immigration detention centers and other facilities.

NGOs and international organizations involved with these populations made credible allegations of overcrowding, inadequate food and clothing, lack of regular access to clean water, poor medical care, improper sanitation, and lack of bedding. An NGO with access to the detention centers claimed these conditions and the lack of medical screening and treatment facilitated the spread of disease and contributed to deaths. NGOs provided most medical care and treatment in the detention centers.

Local and international NGOs estimated the population at most of the country’s 17 immigration detention centers was at or beyond capacity, with some detainees held for a year or longer. The number detained in these centers was not publicly available.

In-country Movement: Sabah and Sarawak States controlled immigration into their areas and required citizens from peninsular Malaysia and foreigners to present passports or national identity cards for entry. State authorities continued to deny entry to certain national opposition leaders to these states. Sarawak maintained a travel ban on a SUHAKAM commissioner for criticizing the construction of a controversial dam in the state. SUHAKAM stated the travel ban prevented it from holding its October commission meeting as planned.

Foreign Travel: Travel to Israel is subject to approval and limited to religious purposes. The government also sometimes used its powers to restrict travel by its critics. In addition to preventing overseas travel by some activists, the former government temporarily detained and in some cases denied entry to foreign human rights activists.

In May immigration authorities banned former prime minister Najib Razak, his wife, and several other former government officials from traveling overseas because they were suspected of corruption, although they had not been charged with a crime at the time they attempted to leave the country. Authorities later charged Najib with 38 counts of money laundering, bribery, and criminal breach of trust, and his wife with 19 counts of money laundering and corruption.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Refoulement: The government at times did not provide legal protection against the expulsion or forcible return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In 2017 authorities detained three Turkish citizens, one a UNHCR-registered refugee, and deported them to Turkey, reportedly at the request of the Turkish government. According to a report released during the year by a Swedish human rights group, a Turkish national deported by Malaysian authorities in 2016 was beaten, tortured, and threatened with death upon his return to Turkey. Malaysian human rights groups said in April that the incident violated international customary law.

In October the government released 11 Uighurs from prison and dropped charges against them of illegal entry. The government also rejected China’s request to forcibly return the group to China and allowed them to relocate to Turkey.

Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status; government cooperation with UNHCR was inconsistent, but the government occasionally reported potential refugees to UNHCR.

Human rights organizations expressed serious concerns about conditions in immigration detention centers and the lack of access to fair legal process and adequate representation during immigration court hearings. The Malaysian Bar Council has strongly criticized the immigration courts in detention centers as facilitating a legal process where migrant workers were not provided with a clear understanding of the charges against them in their own language and were effectively denied the right to legal counsel. At court hearings 15 to 20 migrants were often tried together, grouped by the offense with which they were charged. If found guilty the cost of deportation is generally at the detainee’s expense, which led to prolonged detention for migrants who were unable to pay.

Freedom of Movement: The government generally tolerated the presence of undocumented refugees and asylum seekers, but sometimes detained them for a variety of causes in police jails or immigration detention centers until they could be deported or UNHCR established their bona fides. Some refugees holding UNHCR identification cards reported, nonetheless, limited ability to move throughout the country because authorities sometimes did not recognize the UNHCR card.

Employment: Although the government does not authorize UNHCR-registered refugees to work, it typically did not interfere if they performed informal work. UNHCR reported the government brought charges, in a few cases, against employers for hiring them. During the year the government permitted a pilot program for 30 Rohingya refugees to work in a local bakery, a program refugee advocates said was a success.

Access to Basic Services: The government provided access to health care at a discounted foreigner’s rate of 50 percent to UNHCR-registered refugees, but not to asylum seekers, who did not receive UNHCR registration cards. NGOs operated mobile clinics, but their number and access was limited. Refugees did not have access to the public education system. Access to education was limited to schools run by NGOs and ethnic communities, and UNHCR estimated no more than 40 percent of refugee children attended school. A lack of resources and qualified teachers limited opportunities for the majority of school-age refugee children. UNHCR staff members conducted numerous visits to prisons and immigration detention centers to provide counseling, support, and legal representation for refugees and asylum seekers.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary, renewable residence permits to a group of Syrian refugees. The permit allows for legal residency and conveys work rights, but must be renewed annually.

STATELESS PERSONS

The National Registration Department did not maintain records of stateless persons. UNHCR estimated there were 12,350 stateless persons residing in peninsular Malaysia and 450,000 in Sabah. In May the government established a minority task force to address statelessness among members of the country’s ethnic Indian community.

Citizenship law and birth registration rules and procedures created a large class of stateless children in the migrant/refugee population. When mothers did not have valid proof of citizenship, authorities entered the child’s citizenship as “unknown” on the birth certificate. UNHCR deemed this a widespread problem and reported that, in a population of approximately 80,000 Filipino Muslim refugees in Sabah State, an estimated 10,000 were children who were technically stateless.

Even if the father is a citizen, the marriage may be considered invalid and the children illegitimate if the mother lacks proof of citizenship; such children were also considered stateless.

Some observers indicated that children born to Muslim refugees and asylum seekers often had an easier time obtaining citizenship than non-Muslim refugees and asylum seekers. For refugees in Muslim marriages, the observers claimed authorities often accepted a UNHCR document or other documentation in lieu of a passport as proof of citizenship.

Persons who lacked proof of citizenship were not able to access government services, such as reduced cost health care, or own property.

In October the federal government approved the citizenship applications of two stateless children after lawyers sued the government. The cases of three other stateless children remained pending.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In May the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition unseated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in general elections, marking the first federal transition of power between coalitions since independence in 1957. In the lead up to the elections, then-opposition political parties were disadvantaged due to government control over traditional media outlets and malapportionment of constituencies, among other issues.

While authorities generally recorded votes accurately, there were irregularities that affected the fairness of elections. The constitution fixes the number of seats in parliament assigned to each state to the advantage of rural states and regardless of population shifts over time. Moreover, it does not require equal populations in electoral constituencies in any given state. Each constituency elects one member of parliament. The Electoral Commission has established constituencies with widely varying populations, further to the advantage of rural populations. For example, the rural district of Igan had 18,000 registered voters, while the urban district of Kapar had more than 144,000 registered voters. Local and municipal officials are appointed at the state or federal level.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The country’s general election was held on May 9 amidst allegations of partisanship on the part of public institutions, in particular the Election Commission and the Registrar of Societies. A consortium of NGOs released a formal report in July detailing irregularities in the election, including vote buying, the use of public funds for partisan activity, and allegations of biased behavior by public officials. According to the NGOs, none of which were formally accredited to observe the polls, federal and state governments spent over RM5 billion ($1.25 billion) on “handouts” after legislatures had been dissolved and lawmakers were ostensibly prohibited from making new financial commitments. The report also alleged one accredited election observer actively campaigned for the former government.

Despite strong objections by opposition political parties and civil society, in March the former government approved redrawn parliamentary districts that critics said unfairly advantaged Barisan Nasional through gerrymandering and malapportionment.

Citing Election Commission regulations that stipulate only a party’s president or deputy president can appear in campaign materials (besides candidates in that specific district), in April police removed then opposition leader Mahathir’s photo from a billboard in a key parliamentary district.

The Election Commission disqualified at least six candidates from the Pakatan Harapan opposition coalition from participating in the May election, including a party vice president and two-term incumbent member of parliament. After police blocked an opposition candidate from entering a nomination site in Negeri Sembilan State, the incumbent chief minister was declared the winner by default. In November an election court invalidated the result and called for a re-election, a decision the incumbent appealed.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Many opposition candidates were unable to compete on equal terms with the UNMO-led coalition and were subject to restrictions and outside interference. The lack of equal access to media was a serious problem for the opposition in national elections. News about the opposition was restricted and reported in a biased manner in print and broadcast media. Registering a new political party remained difficult because of government restrictions on the process.

The Registrar of Societies announced at a press conference in April that the opposition Bersatu party would be temporarily deregistered for failing to provide documents requested by the government. Later that month a Kuala Lumpur High Court judge temporarily blocked the 30-day dissolution of Bersatu, arguing that if Bersatu remained “provisionally dissolved, it may cause irreparable damage to the political party in its attempt to provide an alternative choice for the voters” on election day.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation by women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The deputy prime minister in the new government is the first woman to hold the post. The Pakatan Harapan government appointed the first non-Malays as Chief Justice, Law Minister, and Attorney General.

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

Domestic and international human rights groups operated subject to varying levels of government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases; however, the government was not always cooperative or responsive to their views.

Outside the political and human rights fields, the government generally allowed NGOs to function independently, met with representatives from some NGOs, and responded to some NGO requests. The government, however, also took action against some NGOs.

Government Human Rights Bodies: Created by an act of parliament, the official human rights commission SUHAKAM is headed by a chairperson and commissioners appointed by the king on the recommendation of the prime minister. Observers generally considered SUHAKAM a credible human rights monitor. It conducted training, undertook investigations, provided reports, and made recommendations to the government. SUHAKAM may not investigate cases in progress in court cases and must cease its inquiries if a casebecomes the subject of judicial action.

The EAIC also performs some oversight functions although its mandate is not limited to human rights.

Maldives

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. The government took steps to investigate disappearances reported in previous years.

On November 17, President Solih created a Commission on Investigation of Murders and Enforced Disappearances to investigate cases such as the 2014 disappearance of independent news outlet Maldives Independent reporter Ahmed Rilwan. In August the Criminal Court acquitted two of three suspects charged under the 1990 antiterrorism act that prohibits abduction, citing lack of evidence. The court argued Maldives Police Service (MPS) had failed to conduct an adequate investigation and the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) had submitted inadequate evidence. Rilwan’s family announced its intent to sue the MPS and the PG for negligence, alleging the court’s decision proved “at a minimum state complicity and, at worst, active involvement.” The third suspect to be charged was not tried after his family informed the court he had died abroad. Media reported he had travelled to Syria to join militant groups involved in the civil war. The National Integrity Commission (NIC) continued to investigate a 2016 complaint filed by Rilwan’s family claiming police negligence. In a public speech in August, President Yameen announced Rilwan was dead, but the former president later retracted the statement.

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

The constitution and the Anti-Torture Act prohibit such practices, but there were reports of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The law permits flogging and other forms of corporal punishment, and security officials employed such practices.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’s (HRCM) fifth annual antitorture report, released during the year, the MPS was accused in 37 of the 54 cases of torture submitted to the commission between July 2017 and June. The Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) was accused in 13 cases. The HRCM closed investigations in 50 of the cases, finding no evidence of torture. One alleged case of torture the HRCM submitted for prosecution in November 2016 remained on trial as of September. NIC reported investigating another case in which police officers had pepper sprayed two detainees in the groin. There were also several allegations of police brutality from journalists and opposition protesters arrested during antigovernment protests. In February independent media outlet Raajje TV said police arrested and kicked one of its reporters unconscious while he was covering an antigovernment rally.

Government regulation permits flogging as a form of punishment. The Department of Judicial Administration reported flogging nine men and six women as of June, with two flogged for consuming alcohol. According to a 2014 Supreme Court guideline, the court must delay the execution of a flogging sentence of minors until they reach the age of 18.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prisons were overcrowded in some cases and lacking adequate sanitary conditions and medical care, but they generally met most international standards.

Physical Conditions: According to the Prisons and Parole Act, pretrial detainees should be held separately from convicted prisoners, but this was not always done. MCS oversaw the operation of four prison facilities: Asseyri Prison, Hulhumale Prison, Maafushi Prison, and Male Prison. The MCS also operated the MCS Ahuluveri Marukazu and the Male Ahuluveri Marukazu rehabilitation centers for inmates scheduled for parole, while the MPS operated Dhoonidhoo pretrial Detention Center and Male Custodial Center. Detainees reported overcrowding and inadequate hygiene and sanitation standards in prisons and pretrial detention facilities. Authorities held undocumented migrant workers awaiting deportation or legalization in a facility that also housed convicts. Although the law requires the Ministry of Home Affairs to designate a separate facility to hold remanded detainees on trial, the MCS continued to hold them in Maafushi Prison, which also holds convicted prisoners.

There were 13 cases of unexplained deaths in custody from August 2016 to August 2018. NIC was investigating six of these deaths but had not concluded investigations as of September. The HRCM independently investigated 11 cases of custodial deaths and concluded four of the cases were natural deaths. The HRCM had not concluded investigations in the seven remaining cases as of August. Civil society sources reported that although the MCS had declared a number of the deaths resulted from heart attack or stroke, most of the detainees did not have a history of heart disease, and the MCS failed to determine the cause of the strokes. All of the inmates who died in custody had reportedly requested medical attention in the days or weeks leading up to their deaths. The law requires the HRCM be informed immediately in the case of any deaths in state custody and be allowed to inspect the body prior to burial. Authorities implemented this provision; however, in most cases they moved the body to a second location, such as a hospital, before the HRCM was able to inspect the bodies.

The HRCM reported conditions varied across detention facilities. In most of the facilities overseen by the MCS and MPS, detainees were not allowed to leave their cells except for visitation. In Male Prison and the maximum-security unit of Maafushi Prison, detainees had reportedly not been allowed outside to exercise for more than a year. The HRCM reported poor ventilation and lack of electricity in cells at Dhoonidhoo Custodial Center. Local NGO Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) reported authorities denied detainees held in Dhoonidhoo access to medical care and potable drinking water, especially those arrested during the SoE imposed in February. Authorities held some prisoners in solitary confinement at Maafushi Prison in specialized cells without ventilation or electricity. Although inmates were generally not held in solitary for extended periods of time, prisoners regardless of length of time in solitary were not provided mattresses, pillows, or mosquito repellent. Most prisoners were held in cells open to the elements, allowing mosquitoes to enter their cells. Sources reported Hussain Humam Ahmed, a 24-year-old man convicted in the 2012 murder of a parliamentarian, has been in solitary confinement since 2012.

As of July the MCS received 299 complaints from detainees regarding inadequate access to medical care. In its fifth annual antitorture report, the HRCM reiterated reports from previous years that specialist doctors were not permitted to examine some inmates who claimed to have been tortured. Nurses were stationed for 24 hours at two of the five detention facilities overseen by the MCS, while no facilities had a doctor on call 24 hours a day. Local hospitals did not set aside quotas for detainees seeking medical attention, leading to difficulties in getting appointments for detainees to seek specialist care in a timely manner. Some high-profile convicts reported being denied permission to travel abroad for necessary medical treatment. The government denied former vice president Ahmed Adeeb’s request to travel abroad to undergo cancer screenings and treatment for conditions that included internal cysts, kidney stones, and glaucoma, deciding instead to treat his conditions locally and releasing him to house arrest. During the year President Yameen repeatedly said Adeeb would be granted medical leave once he repaid money he allegedly embezzled from the state.

Some political prisoners in Maafushi Prison faced significantly different conditions from those of the general prison population. High-profile prisoners were usually placed in a dedicated unit with larger cells and better ventilation, and some were also allowed out of their cells during the day. Reportedly at the request of the Home Ministry, some political prisoners were held in the same unit with the same poor conditions as the maximum-security prisoners.

Administration: According to the HRCM’s fifth antitorture report, detention facilities overseen by the MCS and MPS did not have enough CCTV cameras or maintain CCTV coverage for an adequate length of time, posing challenges in the investigation of allegations of mistreatment or torture. The HRCM also noted the MPS did not maintain records of detainees they held for less than 24 hours, leading to difficulties in verifying torture complaints or the identities of responsible police officers. During the February SoE, authorities denied detainees regular access to lawyers or family members. A police procedure introduced in 2016 prohibiting meetings between detainees and legal counsel on Fridays and Saturdays remained in place.

Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted regular and unannounced prison visits by the HRCM, so long as a presidentially appointed commissioner was present during the visit. The HRCM provided recommendations to the government addressing deficiencies. The HRCM conducted only three visits (to two police stations and one prison) as of July. The HRCM reported that, although it has the legal mandate to enter detention facilities without prior approval, the MCS and MPS required a letter signed by an HRCM commissioner before allowing access. Facilities required a commission member, appointed by the president, to accompany the visits. NIC had a legal mandate to visit detention facilities as part of investigations in progress, and it reported the MCS and MPS did not impose the same conditions on NIC investigative officers. The government generally permitted visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross/Red Crescent (ICRC) and other international assessment teams with prior approval. The ICRC reportedly conducted visits to all detention facilities overseen by the MCS during the year but had not produced any report on its findings as of September.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court; however, the government failed to enforce the law consistently, especially in cases against members of the political opposition and those who were arrested during the SoE.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The MPS is responsible for internal security, public safety, and law and order, and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) is responsible for external security and disaster relief, but the MPS at times requested MNDF assistance in matters of internal security and law and order. The chief of the MNDF reports to the minister of defense and national security. The president is commander in chief of the MNDF.

Civilian authorities generally maintained control over the MPS and MNDF, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. NIC is the primary mechanism to investigate abuses by law enforcement agencies and employees, and it has the authority to forward any cases with criminal elements to the police for further investigation. Evidence indicated these authorities did not function independently. NIC reported it received 134 complaints of MPS human rights violations as of July 31, but it had completed investigations in only two of the cases. As of August, NIC had also only completed nine out of 61 complaints of MPS human rights violations received in 2017.

Human rights organizations reported the courts did not fairly adjudicate allegations of police brutality and, as a result, police enjoyed impunity.

There is no independent review mechanism to investigate abuses by military forces. Parliament and the judiciary, however, are able to initiate investigations on an ad hoc basis. The HRCM reported investigating two complaints of torture by military officers during the year. In some instances military forces interfered in civilian political activities. On several occasions in February, military officers repeatedly blocked parliamentarians’ access to parliament and physically removed them from the building.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The constitution states an arrest may not be made unless the arresting officer observes the offense, has reasonable evidence, or has a court-issued arrest warrant. The Criminal Procedure Act allows police to arrest a person if a police officer has reason to believe a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense or may attempt to destroy evidence of a major crime. The MPS generally complied with arrest procedures when making arrests. Authorities reported newer officers sometimes did not comply with arrest procedures, such as timely informing of the reasons for an arrest. The law provides for an arrestee to be verbally informed immediately of the reason for arrest and to have the reason confirmed in writing within 12 hours of arrest.

Prisoners have the right to a ruling on bail within 36 hours, but the courts did not implement bail procedures consistently, and several lawyers and activists reported judges were ignorant of bail procedures. The law also requires an arrestee be informed of the right to remain silent and that what the arrestee says may be used in a court of law. The law further provides that arrestees are to have access to a lawyer at the time of arrest. A lawyer may be court appointed in serious criminal cases if the accused cannot afford one. The law allows police to question a detainee in the absence of counsel if the detainee’s lawyer does not appear within 12 hours without adequate reasons for the delay. Police normally informed the arrestee’s family of the arrest within 24 hours. The law does not require that police inform the family of the grounds for the arrest unless the arrestee is younger than 18 years of age, in which case a parent or guardian must be informed within four hours.

The law provides for investigative detention. A person detained for investigation is allowed one telephone call prior to police questioning. Once a person is detained, the arresting officer must present evidence to a court within 24 hours to justify continued detention. Based on the evidence presented, the prosecutor general has the authority to determine whether charges may be filed. If law enforcement authorities are unable to present sufficient evidence within 24 hours, the prisoner is eligible for release. During the February SoE, the government suspended the Criminal Procedure Act, and police failed to present dozens of arrested opposition activists before a judge within 24 hours to justify continued detention. They were held in detention for days or weeks before being released and many had not been charged as of September. Judges have the authority to extend detention upon receiving an arresting officer’s petition but must cite factors such as the detainee’s previous criminal record, status of the investigation, type of offense in question, and whether the detainee poses a threat if released.

Arbitrary Arrest: The Criminal Procedure Act allows police to detain individuals for questioning for four hours, without the detention being classified as a formal arrest. Human rights organizations and defense lawyers reported police routinely abused this provision to detain protesters as an intimidation tactic. Dozens of opposition activists were arrested during the February SoE and held for four hours without questioning. Police reportedly held the suspects under investigative or administrative detention without formal arrest as a way to remove opposition supporters and journalists from the streets.

Pretrial Detention: Authorities held dozens of opposition activists arrested during the February SoE for weeks before releasing them without charges. Ibrahim Siyad Gasim, the son of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, was arrested on suspicion of bribery in February and held in custody until July. The Criminal Court nullified the case against him on November 5, stating the prosecution had not submitted evidence proving Gasim paid bribes during preliminary hearings. The trial for opposition MP Faris Maumoon, who was arrested on suspicion of bribery in July 2017, began in January. Social media activist Ahmed Ashraf, who was arrested in Sri Lanka and returned to Maldives in 2015, has remained under house arrest since March 2017. He had been kept in a police custodial center from November 2015 until March 2017. Although Ashraf was first arrested on suspicion of “terrorism,” the police charged him for a separate offense of “threatening” a ruling party council member. His trial has been stalled without explanation since the last hearing held in March 2016. If convicted, Ashraf faces a maximum sentence of one-year’s imprisonment.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act stipulate conditions under which a person can be arrested or detained and provides everyone the right to appeal and the right to compensation for unlawful arrest or detention. The High Court routinely hears appeals of arrest warrants or pretrial detention orders, but defense lawyers claimed High Court judges tended to seek justification for upholding such orders rather than questioning the grounds and merits of detention and delayed verdicts until the authorized pretrial detention orders expire. The appeal courts did not accept appeals of detentions authorized for the duration of a trial already in progress, based on a 2012 High Court decision that ruled trial judges have discretionary authority to authorize detention of suspects for the duration of pending trials as well as on a 2009 Supreme Court ruling that decisions made by judges using discretionary authority cannot be appealed.

Victims of unlawful or arbitrary arrest or detention can submit cases to the Civil Court to seek compensation, but they did not commonly exercise this right.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was not completely independent or impartial, and was subject to influence. There were numerous allegations of judicial impropriety and abuse of power, with large numbers of judicial officials, prosecutors, and attorneys reportedly intimidated or bribed. Government officials, opposition members, and members of domestic and international civil society accused the judiciary of bias and accused the executive branch of manipulating judicial outcomes.

The five-member Supreme Court is supposed to be constitutionally independent from the executive. It hears appeals from the High Court and considers constitutional matters brought directly before it. Many judges, appointed for life, held only a certificate in sharia, not a law degree. Most magistrate judges could not interpret common law or sharia because they lacked adequate English or Arabic language skills. An estimated one-quarter of the country’s judges had criminal records. Media, human rights organizations, and NGOs criticized the Judicial Service Commission for appointing unqualified judges. According to a 2016 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report, the composition of the commission, tasked with vetting and appointing judges, was flawed, leading to a politicized judiciary. Judges exhibiting judicial independence were often transferred to a lower court or another island as retribution.

After the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of nine political prisoners on February 1 and ordered their release pending retrials, President Yameen declared a SoE and the MPS arrested then chief justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court justice Ali Hameed, and charged them with terrorism, bribery, influencing official conduct, and obstruction of justice. The remaining three Supreme Court justices subsequently overturned sections of the February 1 order “in light of concerns raised by the President.” The SoE was lifted after 45 days. In March the ruling coalition in parliament passed an amendment to the Judges’ Act to state any judge convicted of a criminal offense would be immediately removed from office if the Supreme Court upholds the conviction, with parliamentarians specifically stating the amendment was intended to disbar Saeed and Hameed. In June the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of Saeed and Hameed on charges of influencing official conduct, following which they were removed from the bench. On December 5, the High Court overturned Hameed’s conviction.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act provide for the right to a fair and public trial, although the judiciary did not always enforce this right. The law provides that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Most trials were public and conducted by judges and magistrates, some of whom were trained in Islamic, civil, or criminal law. The courts, however, have increasingly been arbitrarily closed to the public. The constitution states defendants have a right to be informed of the charge without delay in a language understood by the defendant. The law states a defendant must be provided with a copy of the case documents within five days of charges being submitted to court. The law provides that an accused person has a right to be tried in person and have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Some high-profile politicians, including opposition MPs Faris Maumoon and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, reported authorities obstructed regular meetings with lawyers during detention, and lawyers discovered their meetings were being recorded or monitored. The constitution states the accused has the right not to be compelled to testify. The law provides the right to free assistance of an interpreter and governs trial procedures. Judges question the concerned parties and attempt to establish the facts of a case. Accused persons have the right to defend themselves and during a trial may call witnesses and retain the right to legal representation. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to full access to all evidence relating to their case, may cross-examine any witnesses presented by the state, and may present their own witnesses and evidence. The judiciary failed to enforce these rights in cases of high-profile politicians. In June former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was sentenced to four-months’ imprisonment on charges of obstructing justice following a trial where the judge refused to admit defense witnesses and hearings were held without legal representation after Gayoom’s lawyers recused themselves, citing procedural irregularities.

Islamic law as interpreted by the country is applied in situations not covered by civil law. The law provides for the right to legal counsel, and those convicted have the right to appeal. The testimony of women is equal to that of men in court, except on rape and other issues specifically stipulated by the country’s legal code.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

The Yameen government asserted there were no political prisoners; however, the opposition, international and domestic NGOs, and members of the international community estimated that at one time there were at least six to nine political prisoners and likely many more. The political prisoners identified by these groups were convicted of terrorism, weapons smuggling, obstructing justice, or bribery charges. Support staff of these political prisoners were also arrested on charges of terrorism and bribery. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN officials were allowed access to these prisoners on scheduled visits and upon request. Several high-profile prisoners have been released since President Solih’s election, and on November 17, President Solih created a Presidential Committee on Releasing Prisoners.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and ran against President Yameen during the 2013 presidential election, was subjected to a rushed trial in 2015 on terrorism charges and many of his due process rights were ignored, according to international observers. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2015 determined Nasheed’s detention was politically motivated and assessed that serious due-process violations indicated Nasheed had not received a free and fair trial. The government announced its rejection of the working group’s findings in a 2015 press release. In January 2016 the government granted approval for Nasheed to travel to London on a medical furlough. He stated he was unable to return due to concerns he would again be arbitrarily detained. In July 2016 former vice president Adeeb claimed Nasheed’s 13-year terrorism sentence was masterminded under direct government scheming and influence and offered to testify in the Supreme Court to provide evidence of his claims. The Supreme Court ordered a stay on Nasheed’s conviction October 30, opening the way for his return to the country, and cleared his conviction November 26, ruling that Nasheed was wrongfully charged.

The courts sentenced opposition Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla to 11-years’ imprisonment in 2016 on terrorism charges on the grounds his speech at an opposition rally incited protesters to become violent. The human rights NGO TM, however, asserted during the speech Sheikh Imran repeatedly denied any intent of violence against the government. In February the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined Imran’s detention was politically motivated and assessed that serious due-process violations indicated Imran had not received a free and fair trial. The Supreme Court overturned Imran’s sentence on November 22, ruling the lower courts failed to review properly the evidence against him.

The courts also sentenced opposition Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim to three-years’ imprisonment in absentia in August 2017 on bribery charges. The grounds for his charge was a speech Gasim gave at an opposition rally in which he said opposition parties would grant party tickets for 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who voted for a no-confidence motion submitted against Speaker Maseeh, which the court said amounted to offering a bribe to an elected official. The Criminal Court initially dismissed the charges, but the government appealed. Two of the judges on the trial bench were transferred to lower courts within hours of the dismissal, and new judge Adam Arif restarted the trial within days of the government’s appeal. Judge Arif held closed hearings in Gasim’s case and sentenced him in absentia in a ruling issued after midnight, while Gasim was hospitalized after collapsing in the courtroom hours earlier. In September 2017 the government authorized Gasim to travel to Singapore on a medical furlough. The government identified Gasim as a fugitive of the state when Gasim did not return within the time allotted for medical furlough. Gasim remained in Singapore under medical advisement until November 2017 when he traveled to Germany for further medical treatment, in contravention of a travel ban the government placed on him. On October 4, Gasim returned to the country after the High Court ordered his release on bail, and on October 22, the High Court acquitted Gasim, citing procedural irregularities during his criminal court hearings.

In 2016 the government rejected the opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that former defense minister Mohamed Nazim’s arrest and detention was arbitrary based on two of the five categories used by the group to establish an opinion. The working group recommended Nazim’s immediate release and that he be accorded an enforceable right to reparations. Nazim remained in detention and reportedly had chronic medical problems that remained unaddressed. In 2016 former vice president Adeeb claimed Nazim had been framed and offered to testify in the Supreme Court to provide evidence of his claims. The Supreme Court suspended Nazim’s sentence on November 4.

In June former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was sentenced to one-year-and-seven-months’ imprisonment on charges of obstructing justice. The state argued he had refused to hand over his mobile phone to police following his arrest in February. The Criminal Court had refused to admit defense witnesses and several hearings were held without affording Gayoom legal representation after his lawyers recused themselves citing “grave procedural defects.” In September, Gayoom was released on appeal to the High Court. In October the High Court acquitted Gayoom, citing procedural irregularities during his criminal court hearings. As of October 23, Gayoom remained on trial on separate charges of terrorism.

In June opposition MP Faris Maumoon was sentenced to four-months’ imprisonment on charges of identity fraud. The state argued he had used the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)’s flag and logo after he had been expelled from the party. In July, Amnesty International declared Faris Maumoon a prisoner of conscience who was convicted on fabricated charges. He was released on bail in September, and on October 25, the High Court overturned his identify fraud sentence; however, he remained on trial on separate charges of bribery and terrorism on allegations he attempted to bribe parliamentarians to overthrow the government and faced 17-20-years’ imprisonment.

Former vice president Ahmed Adeeb was serving a 33-year prison sentence on multiple counts of corruption and terrorism, including for an alleged plot to kill the president, and was kept in solitary confinement until his November 27 transfer to house release. Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin served two years of a 17-year sentence for an alleged coup plot before the High Court overturned his sentence November 22.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. The Civil Court addressed noncriminal cases.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

In September the Ministry of Tourism ordered approximately 80 individuals living in 18 houses on H. Dh. Kulhudhuffushi to vacate their residences within five days to make way for the construction of an airport. In August the island’s magistrate court had dismissed cases filed by two of the households alleging the government had not provided the amount of compensation it promised when ordering the households to move in 2017. In October the High Court overturned the magistrate court’s rulings, citing lack of due process and ordered the magistrate court to review the decisions.

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

The law prohibits security officials from opening or reading radio messages, letters, or telegrams, or monitoring telephone conversations, except as expressly provided by law. Security forces may open the mail of private citizens and monitor telephone conversations if authorized to do so by a court during a criminal investigation.

On several occasions, the MPS entered private homes without search warrants, to obstruct opposition political activity. In February, after failing to locate MP Ilham Ahmed for arrest under a warrant, the MPS took his wife, Aminath Maasha, into custody on two separate occasions and only released her after Ahmed turned himself in to police.

In February the MPS issued new rules specifying detainees must speak in either Dhivehi or English with their lawyers after former president Gayoom engaged in private consultations with his lawyer in Arabic.

In March, days after Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Thayyib Shaheem claimed his mobile phone number was disconnected and reassigned to a third party who had changed the passwords to his social media accounts using the number, telecommunications company Dhiraagu confirmed it had allowed the MPS to access Shaheem’s mobile phone SIM card based on a criminal court order.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, except on religious matters, but the government imposed legal restrictions on this freedom and regularly obstructed this right.

Freedom of Expression: The Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, enacted in 2016 and repealed November 14, criminalized any expression that “contradicts a tenet of Islam, threatens national security, contradicts social norms, or encroaches on another’s rights, reputation, or good name.” The act imposed fines of up to two million Maldivian rufiyaa (MVR) ($129,800) for violations and jail terms of up to six months for failure to pay fines. According to the law, journalists could also be required to reveal the sources of alleged defamatory statements in direct contravention to Article 28 of the constitution, which states, “No person should be compelled to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated, or published by that person.”

Ministry of Youth regulations prohibit publishing literary material without first seeking authorization from the National Bureau of Classification. The regulations define publication of literary material as “any writing, photograph, or drawing that has been made publicly accessible electronically or by way of printing, including publicizing or circulating on the internet.”

On several occasions during the year police sought to limit free speech and expression by arresting and questioning individuals who participated in opposition political activities, while taking no action against those inciting violence against opposition leaders. According to media sources, the government directly and indirectly forbade civil servants from attending opposition political events, firing or transferring those who did so. Opposition parties reported difficulty conducting lawful rallies because of 2016 amendments to the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act that imposed additional restrictions on planning and execution of protests. Police and members of the military routinely monitored opposition rallies. Police reported they had dispersed 72 protests for violation of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act as of July 31. Journalists reported police intimidation against protesters and journalists covering the raids and protests, including physical assault, use of pepper spray, and deliberate damage of equipment.

The constitution prohibits utterances contrary to tenets of Islam or the government’s religious policies.

Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views. Criticism of the government and debates on societal problems were commonplace, but media did not question Islamic values or the government’s policies on religion. Until repealed November 14, under the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, the government could impose heavy fines against media outlets that broadcasted criminalized content and could revoke licenses of websites and outlets that failed to pay the fines.

Police routinely detained journalists covering protests and held them for several hours before releasing them without charges. During the February SoE, the MPS obstructed journalists from approaching or covering opposition protests, sometimes confiscating their equipment.

In August the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) issued two fines totaling MVR two million ($129,800) against independent news outlet Raajje TV for broadcasting an opposition parliamentarian’s speech at a rally the MBC claimed threatened national security and defamed President Yameen. Raajje TV alleged the fines were “a calculated and well coordinated attack to obstruct its efforts to make President Yameen’s government accountable ahead of presidential elections.” In March the MBC fined independent news outlets VTV and sister outlet VFM MVR 400,000 ($26,000) and Sangu TV MVR 100,000 ($6,500) for broadcasting a speech by an opposition parliamentarian deemed defamatory towards President Yameen. Independent and pro-opposition media claimed the charges and fines were part of the government’s systematic attempts to silence free speech.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities attacked, harassed, and intimidated media representatives. Approximately 20 journalists from various outlets that covered a February 16 opposition protest sought medical treatment due to manhandling and close-range pepper spraying by MPS officers. Hassan Hussain, a reporter from Raajje TV, lost consciousness due to police brutality and remained hospitalized for weeks. A statement from the PPM accused reporters of organizing the protest that preceded the crackdown on the media. The next day the MPS accused the reporters of spreading false information and “behaving like protesters.”

On February 8, Raajje TV preemptively shut down its operations for 56 hours following threats from both state and nonstate actors and in expectation of an imminent government order to close. Days before, PPM deputy leader Abdulla Abdul Raheem had repeatedly called on authorities to shut down the station, and on February 3, a small group of government supporters led by PPM MP Abdulla Yameen gathered near the Raajje TV office and led a chant calling to burn it down. Progovernment social media outlets continued to call for Raajje TV to be shut down in the first week of February. In April, Raajje TV said they had credible information that PPM officials paid a criminal gang to assault their chief operating officer Hussain Fiyaz Moosa.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Parliament Privileges Act and the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act allow authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources, but authorities did not routinely take advantage of this provision. Media reported higher levels of self-censorship in reporting political news following the passage of the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act. Several outlets continued to avoid publishing bylines to protect their journalists from possible punitive actions. Members of civil society organizations and journalists said crackdowns on political opposition members led them to self-censor.

In January after all local mainstream media outlets covered a statement released by convicted former vice president Adeeb, the MCS issued a statement threatening to take action against any outlets that “promote” convicts by broadcasting their interviews or statements. In May as convicted opposition leader Nasheed campaigned in the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) presidential primary, the MBC and the Ministry of Home Affairs issued statements with the same warning. In August, after the joint opposition began putting up presidential campaign posters with photos of convicted opposition leaders, the MPS released a statement threatening action against political parties and media outlets who “promote” convicts. Media outlets noted no legislation that prohibits the coverage of statements by convicts, but all outlets refrained from broadcasting statements, interviews, or campaign rally speeches by convicted opposition leaders following the warning in May.

NGO sources stated media practiced self-censorship on matters related to Islam due to fears of harassment from being labeled “anti-Islamic.” Journalists also practiced self-censorship in reporting on problems in the judiciary or criticizing the judiciary.

There were no known restrictions on domestic publications, nor were there prohibitions on the import of foreign publications or materials, except for those containing pornography or material otherwise deemed objectionable to Islamic values, such as Bibles and idols for worship. The restriction applies only to items for public distribution; tourists destined for resort islands were not prohibited from carrying Bibles and other religious paraphernalia for their personal use.

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 63 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

The Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM) is the regulatory body mandated to enforce internet content restrictions on sites hosted within the country and to block domestic access to any websites. CAM maintained an unpublished blacklist of all offending websites. Although CAM did not proactively monitor internet content, it accepted requests from ministries and other government agencies to block websites that allegedly violated domestic laws on anti-Islamism, pornography, child abuse, sexual and domestic violence, and other prohibitions. The MPS reported it investigated two cases for unlawful content and one case related to anti-Islamic rhetoric as of August.

During the year the MPS charged opposition MP Ahmed Mahloof with two counts of reporting false information to law enforcement related to a December 2017 tweet criticizing lack of medical care provided to detainees and a January tweet claiming a senior police officer was demoted for attempting to leak information on an alleged plot to assassinate the former vice president. The government argued the fact that Mahloof tagged the MPS twitter account in both tweets amounted to reporting of the information. In September the Criminal Court dismissed the charges related to the January tweet. As of October 23, Mahloof remained on trial for the December tweet.

In April the MPS questioned local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) executive director Shahindha Ismail on allegations of attempting to disrupt religious unity and create religious discord with a December 2017 tweet. Ismail had responded to a statement by President Yameen that he would not allow any religion other than Islam in the country by tweeting that other religions exist because God allows it. The MPS launched its investigation after a progovernment news website posted a series of articles December 28, 2017, about her tweet, accusing her of blasphemy for “indirectly calling to allow other religions in the Maldives” and branding her an apostate, and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs published a statement condemning anti-Islamic speech. Ismail received death threats online after the Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ statement. Although questioned three times since December 2017, Ismail remained uncharged as of October 23.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The law prohibits public statements contrary to the government’s policy on religion or the government’s interpretation of Islam. In response to the law, there were credible reports that academics practiced self-censorship. The government censored course content and curricula. Sunni Islam was the only religion taught in schools. In August the government ordered the removal of statues presented in a private resort’s new underwater gallery, alleging they promoted idol worship contrary to Islam.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for “freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State,” but the government did not respect this right. A 2013 law on peaceful assembly restricts protests outside designated areas, and a 2016 amendment to the law further restricts the designated areas for lawful protests in the capital city. Protesters must obtain prior written permission from the MPS to hold protests outside of designated areas and from the Ministry of Home Affairs to hold protests within the designated area, which local civil society organizations condemned as unconstitutional. Opposition political parties expressed concern the amendment effectively banned protests in the city. Police reported they had dispersed 72 gatherings for violation of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act as of July 31. In a March 12 statement, the HRCM said MPS had used disproportionate force in dispersing multiple opposition protests since February 1, causing injuries to protesters and journalists, and violating regulations on use of less-than-lethal weapons in their use of pepper spray. Opposition parties also reported that the police and Ministry of Housing routinely ignored requests to grant permission to hold opposition protests, while allowing and facilitating progovernment gatherings to proceed.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but the government imposed limits on this freedom. The government allowed only clubs and other private associations that did not contravene Islamic or civil law to register.

NGOs reported that a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above MVR 25,000 ($1,630) or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant. The registrar dissolved the Maldives NGO Federation, a registered network of 62 NGOs, after it released a statement calling for the enforcement of the February 1 Supreme Court order to release nine detained opposition figures.

The Political Parties Act restricts registration of political parties and eligibility of state funds to those parties with 10,000 or more members. A 2016 amendment to the act requires all political parties to submit fingerprints with each membership application, legalizing a 2011 Elections Commission requirement. Forms without fingerprints would be considered invalid, and those persons would not be counted as members of a political party. The TM and the MDN raised concerns the law and subsequent amendments restricted the constitutional right to form and participate in political parties.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. During the year, however, the government confiscated the passports of several members of the political opposition, restricting their foreign travel.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The presidential elections held in September were generally free and fair, despite a flawed pre-election process, according to the TM. The international community and the TM identified several issues of concern during the pre-election phase, including the disqualification of opposition candidates, restrictions on monitoring and candidacy, widespread disenfranchisement of voters, appointment of loyalists in key positions at the EC, and misuse of government resources for Yameen’s campaign. Immediately after the election, the TM reported minor administrative issues on voting day, but no issues that could have affected the results of the election as announced by the EC. On October 10, President Yameen formally contested the presidential election results on the grounds of fraud and vote rigging. On October 21, the Supreme Court ruled there was no constitutional basis to question the legality or results of the election, citing a lack of evidence in Yameen’s petition.

The parliamentary elections held in March 2014 were well administered and transparent, according to the TM, “but wider issues of money politics threaten[ed] to hijack [the] democratic process.” The TM reported vote buying was widespread due to gaps in the electoral legal framework, lack of coordination, and a failure to take action by the relevant institutions.

Political Parties and Political Participation: In July 2017 the PPM used a 2017 Supreme Court ruling on floor crossing to oust 12 PPM-turned-opposition parliamentarians from their seats. These members argued they had either left or been ejected from the party prior to the ruling and should be allowed to retain their seats. In a July ruling, the Supreme Court acknowledged all 12 had appealed their dismissals at the Supreme Court and declared the Supreme Court needed to issue separate rulings in these cases to reach a final decision on their standing. As of October 30, the Supreme Court had issued rulings on all 12 of the MPs, reinstating them to parliament.

In May the MPS attempted to stop opposition MDP’s presidential primary based on a civil court order initiated by the attorney general. The MDP proceeded with voting despite MPS confiscation of ballot boxes and brief shut down of several voting stations. Although former president Mohamed Nasheed won the MDP primary, he gave up the ticket after the EC informed the party it would not allow Nasheed to contest in presidential elections, given his past terrorism conviction that disqualified him as a candidate.

Several NGOs expressed concerns prior to the September 23 presidential election regarding President Yameen’s misuse of state resources for his campaign, police action to remove the opposition’s campaign posters and banners, and the shutdown of opposition campaign halls ahead of President Yameen’s visits to islands. NGOs also raised questions about the voter reregistration process leading to concerns of voter disenfranchisement, and the EC’s decision not to include the TM in the National Election Advisory Board as practiced in all previous elections.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women in the political process, and they did participate. The TM and the United Nations noted, however, a disproportionately low number of female candidates who contested in the local council elections in 2017. Thirty-nine women were elected as councilors for a total of 653 seats, and five women were elected to the 85-member parliament. Women’s rights activists highlighted lack of government and political party effort to encourage political participation of women.

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

A number of domestic human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials, however, were rarely cooperative and responsive to their views. Some domestic NGOs reported central government authorities instructed project partners in local islands not to engage with them on projects related to the promotion of democracy and human rights. Some project participants asked not to be shown in social media coverage of NGO activities for fear of reprisals from government employers.

Domestic NGOs reported authorities sometimes delayed or imposed strict requirements in issuing visas for foreign experts and consultants intending to travel to the country to collaborate with domestic NGOs. During the February SoE, immigration authorities refused entry to a four-member delegation from LAWASIA, a regional association of judges, lawyers, jurists and legal organizations intending to assess judicial independence, administration of law, rule of law and rights-related issues, and the independence of the legal profession. In a statement, LAWASIA said the delegation was held in a closed detention facility under guard and surveillance before they were deported. LAWASIA had informed several authorities of their visit including HRCM, members of the judiciary and government representatives including the attorney general and had reportedly confirmed meetings with some of them prior to their arrival.

In May, a day after the TM released a pre-election assessment reporting public concerns over challenges posed to the conduct of free and fair presidential elections, the EC informed the TM of its decision not to include the TM on the National Election advisory Committee. The TM had sat on this committee for all elections since 2008.

NGOs reported a 2015 associations regulation threatened their freedom of operation. The regulation requires human rights and other NGOs to seek government approval before applying for domestic assistance above $1,630 or for any foreign assistance. The regulation also requires organizations to submit a membership registry to the government and grants the registrar of associations sweeping powers to dissolve organizations and enter organizations to obtain documents without a search warrant. The registrar dissolved the Maldives NGO Federation, a registered network of 62 NGOs, after they released a statement calling for the enforcement of the February 1 Supreme Court order to release nine detained opposition figures.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The HRCM is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to promote and protect human rights under the constitution, Maldivian Islamic law, and regional and international human rights conventions ratified by the country. NIC is a constitutionally recognized independent institution with a mandate to investigate allegations of human rights violations by law enforcement agencies and employees, and it has the authority to forward any cases with criminal elements to the police for further investigation. Both opposition political parties and NGOs questioned the independence of the HRCM and NIC. In September, five NGOs expressed disbelief over a September 1 HRCM statement declaring an environment conducive to free and fair elections was in place. The NGOs noted the HRCM had not consulted any NGOs involved in election monitoring before reaching this conclusion and raised 15 points that show a “significant inconsistency between HRCM’s findings and the openly and publicly available information and evidence to the contrary.”

Mali

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

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

There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.).

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on April 5, 14 Fulani men suspected of terrorism were killed by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMA). The FAMA issued a statement saying that 14 men had died while attempting to escape; however, witnesses believed that these men were executed by the FAMA. On May 19, a Malian battalion assigned to the G5 Sahel Joint Force summarily and arbitrarily executed 12 civilians at the Boulikessi livestock market in an act of retaliation, according to a MINUSMA investigation.

Signatory armed groups and violent extremist groups committed numerous arbitrary killings related to internal conflict. Clashes between ISGS and a government and French Barkhane-supported MSA-GATIA coalition killed numerous civilians in the Menaka and Kidal regions. On July 15, 12 civilians were killed during clashes in Injagalane in the Menaka Region. The MSA-GATIA coalition reportedly received equipment and logistical support from the government and French Barkhane forces during this period.

Terrorist elements, including JNIM affiliates, launched frequent attacks, killing civilians as well as national and international security force members. For example, on June 29, a suicide bomber attacked the G5 Joint Force headquarters in Sevare, killing two Malian soldiers and one civilian. In the attack 11 soldiers from Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger were wounded. Four suspects were arrested. The suspects remained in custody awaiting trial at year’s end. JNIM claimed responsibility for the attack.

Attacks by bandits and Islamist extremist groups increasingly expanded from the traditional conflict zone in the North to the Mopti and Segou regions in the central part of the country. These attacks targeted government and international security force members.

There was limited progress in the prosecution of suspects, including coup leader Sanogo, in the 2012 disappearance, torture, and killing of 21 Red Berets, including former junta member Colonel Youssouf Traore. The case was initially brought to trial in 2016. Following a defense objection to the admissibility of DNA evidence, however, the trial remained suspended pending new DNA analysis.

b. Disappearance

There were several reports of disappearances. For example, the MINUSMA Human Rights and Protection Division reported the forced disappearance of one man in the village of Dia, Tenenkou Circle, by security forces on April 28.

On June 15, three common graves believed to contain the remains of at least 25 men executed after their detention by soldiers were discovered in Nantaka and Kombaga in the Mopti Region. The Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs released a statement recognizing the existence of the graves and the involvement of military personnel in the events. Foreign governments and several human rights organizations, including the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) and the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH), called for impartial and independent investigations. As of November investigations were ongoing.

Since February 2018 HRW has documented the alleged summary execution in the central region of at least 66 suspected members of Islamist armed groups, a dozen cases of enforced disappearances, and numerous cases of ill treatment and torture in which the detainees were last seen in the custody of security forces. The Ministry of Defense publicly announced plans to investigate these incidents and instructed the Mopti military prosecutor to investigate the Boulikessi, Nantaka, and Kombaga cases. As of November investigations were ongoing.

Human rights observers were unable to verify the whereabouts of dozens of prisoners purportedly detained in connection with the northern conflict due to possible unreported deaths in custody, alleged surreptitious releases, and suspected clandestine transfer of prisoners to the government’s intelligence service, the General Directorate of State Security (DGSE). Human rights organizations estimated the DGSE held 60 unacknowledged detainees.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but there were reports that soldiers employed them against individuals with suspected links to extremist groups including Ansar al-Dine, al-Murabitoun, and the Macina Liberation Front (see section 1.g.). There were reports that Islamist groups perpetrated sexual violence.

According to HRW, on March 8 and 12, armed forces members tortured five men they suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups. The detainees were allegedly hogtied, beaten, lashed with belts, burned, and repeatedly threatened with death. Physical wounds were present on the detainees’ bodies.

Also according to HRW, on March 12, FAMA arrested two men ages 57 and 42, whom they accused of supporting armed Islamists. The captors allegedly threatened to kill the elders, severely beat them, and threatened to behead them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care. The government took steps to improve staff training. By year’s end a nine billion CFA ($16.5 million) construction project for a new prison in Kenioroba, 30 miles south of Bamako was ongoing. The prison was designed to hold 2,500 inmates and to meet international standards for detainees’ human rights.

Physical Conditions: As of July the Bamako Central Prison held 2,217 prisoners in a facility designed to hold 400. Detainees were separated by gender. Detention conditions were better in women’s prisons than in those for men. Authorities held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners. Authorities detained 155 persons arrested on charges related to terrorism in the high-security division of Bamako Central Prison and in Koulikoro. The magistrate strike, which began July 25 and ended on November 5, made prison conditions worse by increasing the numbers of pretrial detainees and preventing the release of prisoners who completed their sentences. Gendarmerie and police detention centers were at maximum capacity at year’s end. Authorities may hold arrested individuals for up to 72 hours in police stations, where there was no separate holding area for men, women, or children.

As of July, 11 prisoners and detainees had died in custody. The CNDH, an independent entity within the Ministry of Justice, attributed the deaths to unhealthy prison conditions. Three died from heart attacks; the remainder died from malaria, HIV/AIDS, and dehydration. Inadequate security mechanisms and a general lack of resources limited the ability of authorities to maintain control of prisons.

Prison food, when provided, was insufficient in both quality and quantity, and medical facilities were inadequate. Lack of sanitation continued to pose the most significant threat to prisoners’ health. Buckets served as toilets. Not all prisons had access to potable water. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature were comparable with many poor urban homes.

Administration: There were no prison ombudsmen. Authorities, however, permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints, either directly or through the Office of the Ombudsman of the Republic, to judicial authorities without censorship to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Although prisoners made verbal complaints during prison inspections by the CNDH, prisoners filed no formal complaints due to illiteracy, lack of knowledge regarding complaint mechanisms, skepticism regarding the utility of making such complaints, and fear of retaliation. The CNDH, charged with visiting prisons and ensuring humane conditions, visited prisoners in Bamako Central Prison within one week of request. The CNDH did not regularly visit prisons outside of Bamako, and its last visit to a military detention center occurred in 2012. The government’s Directorate for National Penitentiary Administration investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. Detainees had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits by human rights monitors, and human rights organizations conducted visits during the year. The government required nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other monitors to submit a request to the prison director, who then forwarded it to the Ministry of Justice. The Malian Association for Human Rights visited prisons in Kati, Bamako, and other locations outside the North. Human rights observers with MINUSMA and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly visited the centers holding CMA and Platform members. ICRC officials also visited prisons in Bamako, Kayes, Sikasso, Koulikoro, Gao, and Timbuktu.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and statutory law generally prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention. Nevertheless, government security forces, Platform, CMA forces, and terrorist armed groups detained and arrested numerous individuals in connection with the ongoing conflict in the North and the Center, particularly in the wake of clashes between CMA, GATIA, and ISGS in Menaka and terrorist attacks in the Timbuktu, Mopti, and Segou regions. Security forces also arbitrarily arrested those suspected of supporting Islamist armed groups, primarily in the center of the country (see section 1.g.).

The law allows detainees to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention in court. Individuals are generally released promptly if they win the challenge, but the law does not provide for compensation or recourse against the government.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Security forces include the National Police, the FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, National Guard, and the DGSE. FAMA, the National Gendarmerie, and the National Guard are administratively under the Ministry of Defense, although operational control of the National Guard and National Gendarmerie is shared with the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection. Police officers have responsibility for law enforcement and maintaining order in urban areas, while gendarmes have that responsibility in rural areas. The army occasionally performed domestic security operations in northern areas where police and gendarmes were absent. The National Guard has specialized border security units, which were largely ineffective. The responsibilities of the Ministry of Internal Security and Civil Protection include maintaining order during exceptional circumstances, such as national disasters or riots. The DGSE has authority to investigate any case and temporarily detain persons at the discretion of its director general. It usually did so only in terrorism and national security cases.

The National Police lacked resources and training. Corruption was a problem, and traffic police officers frequently arrested and released drivers in exchange for bribes.

MINUSMA’s mandate includes ensuring security, protecting civilians, assisting the reestablishment of government authority, and the rebuilding of the security sector. The mission worked to expand its presence, including through longer-range patrols, in northern regions beyond key population centers, notably in areas where civilians were at risk. MINUSMA’s mandate also includes providing specific protection for women and children affected by armed conflict and addressing the needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict. MINUSMA’s role extended to anticipating, preventing, mitigating, and resolving issues related to the northern conflict by monitoring violence, assisting in investigations, and reporting to the UN Security Council on abuses or violations of human rights or international humanitarian law committed in the country.

The French military counterterrorism operation Barkhane continued. The operation had a regional focus, undertaking counterterrorism activities in Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger. Approximately 2,500 soldiers conducted counterterrorism operations in collaboration with FAMA in northern Mali.

Civilian authorities failed at times to maintain effective control over the security forces. Particularly in the Center, there were many reports of impunity involving security forces. Mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption by security forces generally were not effective.

A commission of inquiry established in 2014 by the Ministry of Defense investigated security force killings to determine whether they constituted violations of the military code of justice or of criminal law. The commission referred cases involving human rights abuse to the prosecutor general for criminal trial. By year’s end, however, the commission had completed no investigations into alleged human rights abuses committed by soldiers redeployed to the north.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires judicial warrants for arrest. The law requires police officers to charge suspects or release them within 48 hours. While police usually secured warrants based on sufficient evidence, and a duly authorized official issued the warrant, this did not always occur. The law provides for the transfer of detainees from police stations to the prosecutor’s office within 72 hours of arrest, but authorities sometimes held detainees longer in police stations. Authorities may grant detainees, who have limited rights of bail, conditional liberty, particularly for minor crimes and civil matters. Authorities occasionally released defendants on their own recognizance.

Detainees have the right to a lawyer of their choice or a state-provided lawyer if indigent. Nevertheless, a shortage of lawyers–particularly outside Bamako and Mopti–often prevented access to legal representation.

Arbitrary Arrest: On April 5, security forces arrested 14 Fulani men in Dioura by before shooting and killing them. The government described the incident as an alleged escape attempt, but a number of civil society and human rights groups, most notably Tabital Pulaaku, called the incident a summary execution. The detainees were held because security forces suspected them of supporting Islamist armed groups.

Following the August presidential election, the DGSE arrested two campaign workers for opposition candidate Soumaila Cisse, Paul Ismael Boro and Moussa Kimbiri. Both remained detained for well over the constitutionally mandated 72-hour limit before appearing before a prosecutor. After protest from the Cisse campaign and human rights groups, both were transferred to Gendarmerie Camp 1 in Bamako, where they remained for several days before being released.

Human rights organizations reported widespread allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention. In many cases gendarmes detained suspects on DGSE orders and then transferred them for questioning to the DGSE, which generally held suspects for hours or days. The transfer process itself, however, sometimes took more than a week, during which time security services did not inform detainees of the charges against them. Authorities did not provide released detainees transport back to the location of their arrest, a trip that often required several days of travel. These detentions often occurred in the wake of attacks by bandits or terrorists and targeted members of the ethnic group suspected of carrying out the raids.

Pretrial Detention: The law provides for trial for charged detainees within three months for misdemeanors and within one year for felonies, but lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Judicial inefficiency, the large number of detainees, corruption, and staff shortages contributed to the problem. Individuals sometimes remained in prison for several years before their cases came to trial. Approximately 80 percent of inmates awaited trial.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch continued to exert influence over the judicial system. Corruption and limited resources affected the fairness of trials. Bribery and influence peddling were widespread in the courts, according to domestic human rights groups.

There were problems enforcing court orders. Sometimes judges were absent from their assigned areas for months at a time. Village chiefs and justices of the peace appointed by the government decided the majority of disputes in rural areas. Justices of the peace had investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial functions. These traditional systems did not provide the same rights as civil and criminal courts.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. Nevertheless, proceedings often were delayed, and some defendants waited years for their trials to begin. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to prompt and detailed information on the charges against them, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Except in the case of minors and sensitive family cases, trials generally were public.

Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or to have one provided at public expense in felony cases and those involving minors). When a court declares a defendant indigent, it provides an attorney at public expense and the court waives all fees. Administrative backlogs and an insufficient number of lawyers, particularly in rural areas, often prevented prompt access. Defendants and their attorneys have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense, access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and present one’s own witnesses and evidence. The government generally respected these rights. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt and may appeal decisions to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court. The law extends these rights to all citizens.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.

According to the National Directorate for Penitentiary Administration, as of July authorities had detained 155 persons in connection with the conflict in the northern and central parts of the country. Some of those detained were believed to be political prisoners. The government typically detained conflict-related prisoners in higher-security facilities within prisons and provided them the same protection as other prisoners. International human rights and humanitarian organizations had access to most of these centers, but not to detainees held in facilities operated by the DGSE.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations. They may appeal their cases to the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In cases of traditional slavery, there were reports that civil court orders were sometimes difficult to enforce.

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

The constitution and statutory law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government occasionally restricted those rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government restricted freedom of expression and information, particularly during the presidential election period. A radio station that hosts an opposition talk show was abruptly closed. The government claimed security reasons for closing the station. Internet interruptions also occurred during the presidential election period.

Press and Media Freedom: Malian law imposes fines and prison sentences for defamation. It also criminalizes offenses such as undermining state security, demoralizing the armed forces, offending the head of state, sedition, and consorting with the enemy. On August 1, Bamako Governor Colonel Deberekoua Soara issued a decree that ordered radio station 98.1 Renouveau FM to cease all operations following a July 31 broadcast of controversial radio announcer Yousouf Mohamed Bathily’s (a.k.a. Ras Bath) Cartes Sur Table (Cards on the Table) radio program. According to the decree, Bath’s statements during the broadcast “incited revolt and hatred.” On August 10, the high authority regulating communications ordered the reopening of the radio but prohibited the show Cards on the Table.

Violence and Harassment: Renouveau TV and Radio directors Antoine Solange Dembele and Djibril Sacko stated that on the morning of August 2, two armed police officers arrived at Renouveau FM and posted a closure notification on the door. Shortly thereafter, Dembele recounted, a “truck of armed police, carrying tear gas” arrived to prevent anyone from entering the building.

Journalists had difficulty obtaining military information deemed sensitive by the government and often were unable to gain access to northern locations.

Financial considerations also skewed press coverage. Most media outlets had limited resources. Journalists’ salaries were extremely low, and many outlets could not pay the transportation costs for their journalists to attend media events. Journalists often asked event organizers to pay their transportation costs, and the terms “transportation money” and “per diem” became euphemisms for a pay-for-coverage system, with better-financed organizations often receiving better press coverage.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Digital rights NGO Internet without Borders condemned the blocking of access to social media and published on August 1 a detailed analysis conducted by the Open Observatory of Network Interference, which demonstrated that, beginning July 29, “access to certain platforms and websites,”–including Twitter and WhatsApp, were blocked by Orange Mali, the country’s primary mobile carrier. Embassy staff, foreign diplomats, the public, and media sources reported experiencing disrupted internet access and limited transmission on social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter from July 29 to more than one week after the second round of the election on August 12. Internet access was restored following the presidential election.

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. There were numerous internet cafes in Bamako, but home internet access remained limited due to the expense. Outside Bamako, access to the internet was very limited. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 12.7 percent of residents used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government did not always respect this. Security forces used tear gas to break up a June 2 march led by leading opposition politicians and activists. The governor of Bamako used State of Emergency powers, in effect since 2015, to deny the organizers’ formal request to hold the march. March organizers held the march despite this denial. More than 30 protesters, including presidential candidates, were injured during the violence. A reported 16 protesters were admitted to Hospital Gabriel Toure, with unconfirmed reports of two critically injured, of whom one died from his wounds on June 3. The government claimed three security force members also suffered injuries. The government denied that live ammunition was used and defended the actions of the security forces. The political opposition condemned the violence and called for another march on June 8, which the government permitted without restrictions. The June 8 march occurred peacefully.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for freedom of association, although the law prohibits associations deemed immoral. The government generally respected freedom of association except for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2018 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (IBK) won the presidential election, deemed to have met minimum acceptable standards by international observers despite some irregularities and limited violence. One woman was among the 24 candidates who participated in the first round of elections, which were followed by a run-off election between the top two candidates.

The electoral campaign was strongly affected by security conditions in the central and northern regions. Restricted freedom of movement, logistical challenges, and financial limitations prevented many opposition candidates from campaigning in much of the Center and North, while government officials continued to travel to and administer programs in those areas.

Public media coverage of all candidates was generally equal and met standards outlined by the National Committee for Equal Access to State Media. The state media, however, favored the incumbent IBK by covering his actions as a candidate, as president, and of the government, and did not cover opposition candidates.

Security incidents and inaccessibility (mostly due to roads washed out after heavy rains) affected 490 polling stations, 2.1 percent of the total, during the runoff vote, according to an August 12 statement from Minister of Security and Civil Protection General Salif Traore. This was down from 869 polling stations or 3.77 percent of all stations that were affected in the first round of voting July 29. Of the 490 closed polling stations nationwide, 440 were in Mopti Region, according to Traore. He reported that 100 of the 440 closed stations in Mopti were unable to open due to lack of accessibility. Voter turnout was 43 percent for the first round of elections, and 34.5 percent for round two.

Legislative elections, originally scheduled to be held in October, were delayed until at least June 2019. A six-month extension of the current deputies mandate was instituted by the government.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural factors, however, limited women’s political participation in formal and informal roles. A law passed in November 2015 requires that at least 30 percent of the slots on party election lists be reserved for female candidates and that 30 percent of high-level government appointees be women. The law was fully implemented in President Keita’s first cabinet of his second term, in which 11 of 32 ministers were women. There were only 13 women in the 147-member National Assembly. There were four women on the 33-member Supreme Court and two women on the nine-member Constitutional Court, including the head of the court.

The National Assembly had at least 16 members from historically marginalized pastoralist and nomadic ethnic minorities representing the eastern and northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal. The prime minister’s cabinet included pastoral and nomadic ethnic minority members.

Four members of the National Assembly were members of northern armed groups, including two Tuaregs from Kidal associated with the HCUA, one Tuareg from Kidal associated with GATIA, and one member from Gao associated with the MAA. National Assembly members previously allied with Ansar al-Dine ended their association with the group following the French intervention in 2013.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The CNDH is an independent institution funded by the Ministry of Justice. The government continued to provide the commission with a headquarters and small staff. Other human rights organizations criticized the CNDH as ineffective and lacking autonomy. They stated the Ministry of Justice had too much control over the CNDH budget and the commission’s large membership, which included several state representatives, impaired its ability to produce honest critiques of the government.

The commission of inquiry established by the National Assembly in 2014 to investigate violence between the government and armed groups in Kidal had not released a report on its findings by year’s end.

The Ministry of Defense established at least three commissions of inquiry in 2014 to investigate forced disappearances perpetrated by the military in 2012. None of the commissions had released any public reports by year’s end.

The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2015 to accept evidence, hold hearings, and recommend transitional justice measures for crimes and human rights violations stemming from the 2012 crisis, had not initiated any investigations by year’s end.

Malta

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution or law prohibit such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

During the year, there were changes in the management structure at the prison, and reports indicated that conditions for inmates at the facility have improved. Reports of poor conditions in detention centers for some migrants persisted, with some reporting a shortage of blankets and lack of space. The country suffered from a lack of capacity at its established migrant detention centers.

Physical Conditions: Media reports occasionally highlighted alleged shortcomings, but there were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions or processes that raised human rights concerns.

Administration: Authorities allowed prisoners and detainees to submit uncensored complaints to judicial officials and to request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. Authorities investigated such complaints and victims sought redress in the courts.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits to detention centers by independent domestic and international human rights observers and the media.

Improvements: The government undertook a major upgrade of prisons, including addressing the treatment of transgender detainees, improved access to potable water, and overcrowding.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The national police, the intelligence services, and the Armed Forces of Malta fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs and National Security. The national police maintain internal security. The armed forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the national police, the intelligence services, and the armed forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving police or security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A magistrate may issue an arrest warrant to detain a person for questioning based on reasonable suspicion. According to the constitution, police must either file charges or release a suspect within 48 hours. In all cases, authorities must inform detainees of the grounds for their arrest. Police generally respected these requirements. During the 48-hour detention period and prior to initial interrogation, authorities allowed arrested persons access to legal counsel but did not permit visits by family members. The law allows police to delay access to legal counsel for up to 36 hours after arrest in certain circumstances, such as when exercising this right could lead to interference with evidence or harm to other persons. After filing charges authorities granted pretrial detainees access to both counsel and family. A functioning bail system is in place.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a problem. Authorities occasionally confined foreign suspects for more than two years pending arraignment and trial, normally due to lengthy legal procedures. Approximately 20 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. The courts adjudicate applications for bail on a case-by-case basis and normally granted bail for citizens. The courts rarely granted bail to foreigners.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality. There were no reports of instances in which the outcomes of trials appeared predetermined by government or other interference. Authorities respected and enforced court orders.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution and law provide for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Defendants enjoy the right to a presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public trial, and the right to be present at their trial. Defendants have the right to prompt and detailed information of the charges, with free interpretation if necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. They can communicate with an attorney of their choice, or have one provided at public expense if they are unable to pay. Defendants and their lawyers receive adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. They are not compelled to testify to confess guilt and have the right to appeal.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The constitution provides for an independent and impartial court in civil matters, including human rights issues. After exhausting their right of appeal in the national court system, individuals may apply to bring cases covered by the European Convention on Human Rights before the European Court of Human Rights.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Although the country endorsed the Terezin Declaration, there have been no reports related to Holocaust-era property restitution. The country remained a British colony and Allied naval stronghold throughout World War II. The Nazis never invaded or occupied Malta, and Maltese property was never seized.

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

The constitution and law prohibit such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. 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: The Media and Defamation Act, passed by parliament during the year, amended the criminal code to eliminate the article that criminalized contempt for the president. The revised code makes incitement to take away the life or liberty of the president or any other minister a criminal offense. It remains a criminal offense to offend public morality, propriety, or decency. The law criminalizes speech that promotes hatred on grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, language, ethnic origin, religion or belief, or political or other opinion. Incitement to religious hatred is punishable by a prison term of six to 18 months.

In September an independent blogger and activist filed an application in court against the minister of justice, local government entities, and the director general for the Division of Cleansing and Maintenance, accusing them of breaching the European Convention on Human Rights by periodically removing makeshift memorials to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Violence and Harassment: In December 2017 police charged three persons with the killing of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in a 2017 car bombing near her home. Caruana Galizia had reported on major government corruption, allegedly involving the prime minister and other senior government officials (see section 4, Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government). Her writing targeted a wide range of individuals, including members of each political party, business leaders, judges, and other prominent individuals. Public mourning for the murdered journalist was the target of censorship by governing party politicians and public officials, who repeatedly ordered the removal of a makeshift memorial in the capital.

Libel/Slander Laws: In September the minister of the economy, Chris Cardona, declined to reinstate libel proceedings, cancelled earlier by the courts, against Daphne Caruana Galizia. Her family had asked the court to continue with the proceedings. In 2017 Cardona sued the journalist for libel after she had alleged that the minister visited a brothel during an official visit to Germany. Cardona sued for 40,000 euros ($46,000) in damages and asked the court to freeze the assets in the journalist’s bank account pending a trial. The court upheld Cardona’s request.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On April 27, parliament enacted the Media and Defamation Bill. Among other provisions, aimed at strengthening the freedom of the media, it abolished criminal libel and introduced alternative civil remedies for slander.

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.

Independent online media accused Facebook groups associated with the governing Labor Party of mounting disinformation campaigns aimed at vilifying and intimidating critics. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) condemned and called for the dismissal of a leading public official following his online derogatory comments against a civil society activist; the official later apologized.

According to Eurostat in 2017, approximately 85 percent of households had access to the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: In May the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted pervasive offensive content aimed against migrants on the internet and in social media in the country, reflecting negative attitudes toward immigration.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

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

Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country denied asylum to applicants who arrived from other EU countries.

Freedom of Movement: The government may legally detain an asylum applicant for up to nine months. By law the detention must serve to verify the applicant’s identity or nationality; identify elements on which the asylum application is based; decide on the applicant’s legal right to enter the country; facilitate a return procedure, including to another EU country; or protect national security or public order.

In some cases immigration authorities may allow alternatives to detention also limited to nine months’ duration, which may include regular reporting to an assigned place, residing at an assigned place, or depositing documents or a surety. Most asylum seekers were allowed one of these alternatives to detention and stayed in detention for no more than two months.

Immigration officers may also legally detain irregular migrants (including failed asylum seekers) who are subject to repatriation. Such detention may have a duration of six months and can be extended by a further 12 months. Most persons detained under these regulations stayed in detention for less than three months prior to their return.

Persons permitted to remain in the country were issued work permits. They were eligible for voluntary repatriation programs, but few chose to participate.

Durable Solutions: Between January and September, 100 persons were granted refugee status. Few refugees were able to naturalize. While persons with refugee status may apply for reunification with family outside the country, those with temporary “subsidiary” protection–the majority of asylum seekers–are not allowed to do so. As of September, 16 migrants had sought assisted voluntary return. According to several NGOs, integration efforts moved slowly, as migrants generally tended to stay close to residential centers, although some moved into the community. Many migrants found work, mostly in low skilled sectors. Migrants also expressed concerns about access to higher education.

Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection, known as “subsidiary” protection, to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. From January to August, the country granted subsidiary protection to 334 persons.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Observers considered parliamentary elections held in 2017 to be free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Cultural and traditional barriers remained an obstacle to increased participation by women.

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

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their questions and concerns.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The ombudsman is empowered to investigate complaints about the activities of governmental bodies, including activities affecting human rights and problems involving prisoners and detainees. The president appoints the ombudsman with the consent of two-thirds of the House of Representatives. The ombudsman investigates complaints only when administrative or judicial remedies are not available. The ombudsman had adequate resources, operated independently, and was effective. In responding to complaints, the ombudsman submits recommendations to the public entity responsible for addressing the complainant’s grievance. The ombudsman has no power to impose or compel a remedy, but relevant public bodies accepted most of the ombudsman’s recommendations.

In his annual report for 2017, the ombudsman expressed concern about the government’s “outright refusal or extreme reluctance to disclose information” and pointed to a “style of government that is seriously denting the openness and transparency of public administration.”

The House of Representatives Standing Committees on Foreign and European Affairs and on Social Affairs were responsible for human rights issues. The committees met regularly and normally held open hearings, except when they closed a hearing for national security reasons. For the most part, the committees had a reputation for independence, integrity, credibility, and effectiveness, with legislation enacted in the areas under their purview enjoying widespread public support.

The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality and the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities operated effectively and independently with adequate resources and oversaw human rights issues related to gender equality and disabilities. The prime minister, on the advice of or in consultation with the minister responsible for each entity, appoints members of these commissions, who serve for terms of two and three years, respectively. They may be reappointed at the end of their term.

Marshall Islands

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The Majuro and Ebeye jail authorities routinely held drunk prisoners naked. Government officials stated they did this so that prisoners could not use their clothing to attempt suicide.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Treatment of prisoners and prison conditions were harsh and at times degrading.

Physical Conditions: No specialized prison facilities existed for juvenile or adult female prisoners at the jail in Majuro. Authorities did not hold women with men in the Majuro jail. Generally, female prisoners in the capital were held under house arrest, which involved taking away their passports and confining them to their homes at night. According to prison guards, in a few isolated incidents, women arrested for driving under the influence were held with male prisoners for 24 to 48 hours, usually over a weekend or local holiday, when it was not possible to process them quickly enough to put them immediately under house arrest.

A chief complaint in the Majuro jail was the lack of adequate ventilation. Prisoners were cramped in small cells with no air conditioning, windows, or fans, while the daily temperature outside was usually above 90 degrees. Prisoners had to supply their own electric fans. Lighting in cells was inadequate; prisoners had to supply their own lamps or other light sources. The facility was unsanitary; the guards reported that there were no janitors, and prisoners were given cleaning products.

The jail in Ebeye on Kwajalein Atoll, attached to the courthouse, is the only detention facility in the country other than the Majuro jail. In 2017 High Court judge Colin Winchester described Ebeye’s jail as “horrible” and “degrading for anyone who must be confined in it.” According to the judge, he observed 10 individuals incarcerated there, and “if there are two or three people there, it is at its humane limit.” National Police officials commented that Ebeye is supposed to send all prisoners to Majuro jail but does not always do so because of the high cost of transportation.

Authorities allowed prisoners to leave facilities periodically on work details or for meals at home. Police escorted prisoners needing medical treatment to the Majuro Hospital where they received free treatment.

Administration: Although authorities permitted inmates to submit complaints about their treatment without censorship and investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions, there were no complaints of physical abuse filed during the year. On-duty guards often left their posts during the lunch hour.

Independent Monitoring: The government permits prison visits by independent human rights observers, but there were no requests for such visits during the year.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The National Police, local police forces, and the Sea Patrol (maritime police) maintain internal security. The National Police and Sea Patrol report to the Ministry of Justice. Local police forces report to their respective local government councils, not to the Ministry of Justice. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces, and the government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse. There were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Under the constitution, a warrant issued by a court is required for an arrest if there is adequate time to obtain one. The courts interpret this requirement to exempt situations such as a breach of the peace or a felony in progress. The law provides detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination of the legality of their detention. Authorities generally respected this right and informed detainees promptly of the charges against them.

There was a functioning system of bail, and detainees may request bond immediately upon arrest for minor offenses. The constitution requires bail be set at a reasonable rate. Most serious offenses require the detainee to remain in jail until authorities can arrange a hearing, normally the morning after arrest. Detainees were allowed access to a lawyer of their choice and, if indigent, to one provided by the state. There were no known cases of incommunicado detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

The majority of trials are bench trials, in which only a judge hears the case; however, if the penalty for the alleged offense is three or more years in prison, defendants may select either a bench trial or a four-member jury trial. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and have the right to counsel. The government provides an attorney at public expense for indigent defendants facing criminal charges. By law authorities must inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with free interpretation between English and Marshallese as necessary. Defendants also have the right to a fair trial without undue delay and with adequate time to prepare a defense. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and may question witnesses. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal. These rights apply equally to all defendants.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

There is no separate judiciary in civil matters. There are administrative remedies for alleged wrongs, including human rights abuses, as well as judicial remedies within the general court system.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

 

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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. Internet access and availability increased, although it remained low (approximately 10 percent of the country’s population) due to high cost and technical difficulties, particularly in areas outside the capital city, Majuro.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

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

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

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

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)

U.S. nuclear testing from 1947 to 1958 displaced an estimated 14,000 individuals (original evacuees and their descendants). Some relocated to the United States, but most remained as IDPs residing in several locations across the country, including Kili Island and Ejit Islet in Majuro Atoll. IDPs did not suffer societal discrimination and received substantial government support.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has no history of receiving refugees or asylum seekers.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government, including their representatives in the Nitijela, in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The constitution also recognizes the hereditary Council of Iroij’s right to decide on issues of custom and tradition, including land tenure. The council consists of traditional clan chiefs.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: The most recent national legislative elections took place in November 2015 and were generally regarded as free and fair. A special election in November 2017 on Namdrik Atoll to fill the seat of deceased Member of Parliament Mattlan Zackhras, who also served as Minister in Assistance, was free and fair.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Traditional attitudes of male dominance, women’s cultural responsibilities and traditionally passive roles, and the generally early age of pregnancies, however, made it difficult for women to obtain political qualifications or experience. President Heine is a woman.

There were few minorities in the country and none in the legislature.

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

A number of domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Mauritania

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

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

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

b. Disappearance

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

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

The constitution prohibits torture. Additionally, in 2015 the government adopted a law against torture that requires the establishment of a mechanism for its prevention. This law considers torture, acts of torture, and inhuman or degrading punishments as crimes against humanity not subject to a statute of limitations. The law specifically covers activities in prisons, rehabilitation centers for minors in conflict with the law, places of custody, psychiatric institutions, detention centers, areas of transit, and border crossing points. Despite this statute, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported security and law enforcement officials tortured NGO members. Methods of abuse reportedly included beatings and stripping of clothing. There were credible reports of torture, beatings, and abuse in police detention centers and several prisons throughout the country, and in gendarmerie and military facilities.

For example, on June 13, the family of Mohamed Ould Brahim Maatalla alleged he died of cardiac arrest after police tortured him. On June 14, Minister of Interior and Decentralization Ahmedou Ould Abdallah publicly denied the allegation.

In 2016 the government created the National Mechanism for Prevention of Torture (MNP) as an independent governmental body charged with investigating credible allegations of torture. The MNP had not launched any investigation since its inception.

The UN special rapporteur on torture visited the country in January-February 2017 and went to several prisons. The rapporteur encouraged the judiciary to redouble its efforts in implementing safeguards against torture. He expressed concern over the lack of investigations into allegations of torture and called on prosecutors to bring cases against those accused of torture.

The Committee against Torture of the UN Human Rights Council noted with concern in its August 6 report that, even though the government denied the existence of places of unofficial detention, the special rapporteur on torture was denied access to one of these places during his visit.

On June 15, a prisoner, Bouchama Ould Cheikh, committed suicide in his cell in Dar Naim prison to protest the bad conditions he experienced in the prison. The prison suffered from overcrowding and filth. The National Human Rights Commission and several international organizations described the conditions of prisoners as catastrophic.

According to the United Nations, two allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against peacekeepers from Mauritania reported in 2017 were pending. Both cases involved military personnel deployed in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic. One case alleged sexual abuse (sexual assault) involving a child. The other case alleged sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship). The United Nations repatriated the peacekeepers in question. Investigations by Mauritania were pending. One additional allegation reported in 2017 was substantiated with both the United Nations and Mauritania taking action against the perpetrators.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, violence, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.

Physical Conditions: Prisons remained overcrowded. As of October the main civil prison in Nouakchott had a capacity of 350 inmates but held 943, of whom 460 were convicted prisoners and 483 pretrial detainees. Authorities frequently held pretrial detainees with convicted and often dangerous prisoners. Male guards frequently monitored female inmates in the women’s prison of Nouakchott, a practice criticized by the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH). Conditions of detention for women were generally better than for men. According to prison officials, the women’s prison in Nouakchott was less crowded.

Prison authorities kept a mixed population of prisoners in prison facilities throughout the country regardless of their sentences. Drugs were often trafficked among prisoners, which the government acknowledged was caused by lax security for visitors. Prisoners often rebelled and disobeyed authorities in protest against violence and inhuman treatment meted out by jailers. Poor security conditions and dangerous inmates sharing cells with less dangerous ones obliged prisoners to live in a climate of violence, and some had to pay bribes to other prisoners to avoid brutalization and harassment. Human rights groups continued to report prisons lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.

Local NGOs reported that in Dar Naim (largest prison in the country), inmates controlled one wing of the prison while staff secured the other half. Narcotics, weapons, and cash circulated freely because staff could not effectively screen what came into the prison and could not safely enter some areas.

The Mauritanian Human Rights Watch (MHRW) continued to denounce the poor conditions in prisons. There were two separate prisons for women, one in the capital, Nouakchott, and the other in the second largest city, Nouadhibou. Most supervisors were men; there was a severe shortage of female supervisors. Male guards provided security at women’s prisons because the all-male National Guard was assigned this task nationwide. There were some women supervisors in prisons, but they were not from the National Guard. An Italian NGO operated a detention center for minors, the only facility that came close to meeting international standards. These prisons were in addition to detention centers located in police stations throughout the country.

On September 3, the Directorate of Penal Affairs and Prison Administration reported that 77 children between the ages of 15 and 17 were in the Nouakchott Central Prison and seven in the prison in Nouadhibou. On October 3, a separate youth detention center opened, and it held 69 minors.

Authorities reported that 10 persons died in custody during the year. One death by suicide occurred inside the prison. All other cases involved chronic diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS. No families asked for an autopsy of their family members.

In December 2017 Salafist prisoners complained of mistreatment at the Central Civil Prison of Nouakchott, indicating the government prevented their families from visiting them. They also complained of malnutrition because of inadequate food. According to the MHRW, medical facilities and staff were similarly inadequate, particularly in the Dar Naim men’s prison and at the Central Prison. The government allocated a budget of 50 ouguiyas ($1.40) a day for each prisoner for food and medical supplies. Generalized corruption in the prison system, smuggling of medicines, and lack of skilled medical staff accounted for most deficiencies. Ventilation, lighting, and potable water in many cells and holding areas ranged from inadequate to nonexistent.

Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners to file allegations of abuse with the CNDH and MNP. Regulations also allowed inmates to choose one of their own to represent them in dealings with the administration, and prisoners occasionally made use of this opportunity. The government acknowledged allegations regarding inhuman conditions but rarely took corrective action.

Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison and detention center visits by NGOs, diplomats, and international human rights observers. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had unlimited access to prisons and conducted multiple visits, including visits to terrorism suspects. The partners to the Directorate of the Penal Affairs and Prison Administration, in particular the ICRC, Noura Foundation, and Caritas-Mauritania, contributed to the improvement of conditions in the detention centers under a partnership agreement with the administration. The ICRC helped to improve infrastructure, hygiene, and health conditions in detention centers and rehabilitated the sanitation network of the prison of Dar-Naim. It also implemented a program to combat malnutrition in prisons in Aleg and Dar-Naim by rehabilitating the kitchen facilities and periodically providing medicines and other hygiene products.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities did not observe these prohibitions. A detainee has the ability to challenge the lawfulness of his or her detention before a court under two circumstances. If a person remains arrested after the end of his or her legal period of detention, the detainee has the right to complain before a court against the administration of the prison or the penitential authority that arrested the detainee. Second, if the detainee disagrees with his or her sentence, he or she has the right to file an appeal before a court of appeal or the Supreme Court.

In some cases authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, human rights activists, and journalists (see section 2.a.).

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Under the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization, the National Police is responsible for enforcing the law and maintaining order in urban areas. The National Guard, under the same ministry, performs limited police functions in keeping with its peacetime role as the guarantor of physical security at government facilities, including prisons. For instance, regional authorities may call upon it to restore civil order during riots and other large-scale disturbances. The gendarmerie, a specialized paramilitary organization under the Ministry of Defense, is responsible for maintaining civil order around metropolitan areas and providing law enforcement services in rural areas. The Ministry of Interior and Decentralization’s newest police force, the General Group for Road Safety, maintains security on roads and operates checkpoints throughout the country.

Police and gendarmes were poorly paid, trained, and equipped. Corruption and impunity were serious problems. Police and gendarmes reportedly regularly sought bribes at nightly roadblocks in Nouakchott and at checkpoints between cities. There were numerous reports police at such roadblocks arbitrarily detained individuals, often without probable cause, for several hours or overnight.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

The law requires duly authorized arrest warrants, although their issuance was uncommon. Authorities generally did not inform detainees of the accusations against them until the conclusion of an investigation. The law requires that in most cases courts review the legality of a person’s detention within 48 hours of arrest, but police may extend the period for an additional 48 hours. On July 28, al-Akhbar, a news website, reported that the Committee against Torture in Geneva recommended the duration of police custody not exceed 48 hours. According to the committee, the nonworking days were not counted in the duration of police custody, thus often extending the period of detention. Under the law against terrorism, the duration of custody could reach 45 working days without possibility of challenge or appeal. The report noted that the records of detention in police stations were poorly maintained. Only after the prosecutor submits charges does a suspect have the right to contact an attorney. By law indigent defendants are entitled to an attorney at state expense, but frequently either legal representation was unavailable or attorneys did not speak a defendant’s language. There was a bail system, but judges sometimes refused such requests arbitrarily or set inordinately high bail.

Arbitrary Arrest: There were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists. Police arrested a number of human right activists and journalists without charge or hearings.

In November 2017 the Nouadhibou Court of Appeals ordered the release of Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheytir (MKheytir), a blogger who was sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy after he allegedly posted statements on social media critical of the Prophet Mohammed. In March 2017 the Supreme Court ruled the court of appeals had improperly sentenced MKheytir to death for apostasy, since he had properly recanted his statements. Despite the appeals court’s release order, MKheytir remained in an unknown location, with the government citing concerns for his safety and public order if released.

In August the news website Tawary reported that authorities arrested and subsequently released two journalists, Babacar Baye N’Diaye from the news website Cridem and Mahmoudi Ould Saibott from the news website Taqadoum, following a defamation complaint by a Mauritanian lawyer based in Paris, Jamal Ould Mohamed, who was considered to be close to the government.

Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, although no statistics on the average length of detention were available. Security force members sometimes arrested demonstrators and held them longer than regulations allow, often due to lack of capacity to process cases in a timely manner, or to obtain confessions. By law authorities may hold a minor for no more than six months while the detainee awaits trial. Nevertheless, there were reports many individuals, including minors, remained in pretrial detention for excessively long periods due to judicial inefficiency.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary was not autonomous. The executive branch continued to exercise significant influence over the judiciary through its ability to appoint and remove judges. Observers often perceived many judges to be corrupt and unskilled.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for due process, and defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. The law requires that authorities inform defendants of the charges against them, but the government did not normally respect this provision. Defendants did not often learn of the charges until the investigation was complete. Authorities generally provided defendants with free interpretation as required; however, the quality of these services was generally poor. Defendants have the right to a fair and public trial. They also have the right to be present during trial. All defendants, including the indigent, have the right to legal counsel, but authorities rarely respected this right. Likewise, defendants may confront or question witnesses and present witnesses and evidence in both civil and criminal cases. Defendants generally had adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants enjoy the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt and have the right of appeal. These rights extend to minorities and men but do not extend equally to women. Court proceedings are by law conducted in Arabic, and interpreters are not always available for those defendants who do not understand that language. Some bilingual judges speak with defendants in French.

Sharia is, in part, the basis for law and court procedures. Courts did not treat women equally with men in some cases.

A special court hears cases involving persons younger than age 18. Children who appeared before the court received more lenient sentences than adults and extenuating circumstances received greater consideration. The minimum age for a child to stand trial is 12 years. Several NGOs expressed concern regarding the holding of youthful offenders in the general population, including with more dangerous inmates, at Nouakchott Central Prison; however, these concerns were addressed when the new youth detention center opened in October.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

On August 15, al-Akhbar, a news website, reported that Amnesty International called on the authorities to stop pre-election arrests of journalists and opposition figures, including antislavery activists. The president of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA), Biram Dah Abeid, was arrested at his home on August 7. Biram was in the middle of his ultimately successful campaign for parliament. Abdallahi El Housein Messaoud, another member of the IRA, was questioned two days later. Biram Dah Abeid and Abdellahi El Houssein Messoud were arrested in connection with a complaint filed by a journalist accusing Biram of threatening him. Opposition political parties and several international and domestic organizations denounced Biram’s continued detention as politically motivated.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Complaints of human rights violations fall within the jurisdiction of the Administrative Court. Individuals or organizations may appeal decisions to international regional courts. NGO representatives stated they collaborated with the Administrative Court but added it was not impartial. There are administrative remedies through the social chamber of a court of appeals and the Supreme Court. Persons may sue at the Administrative Court and appeal to the court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

Real property ownership in the southern regions has been controversial since the government expelled tens of thousands of non-Arab sub-Saharans from communities based in the Senegal River Valley (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) from 1989 to 1991 amid tensions with neighboring Senegal. Many non-Arabs were dispossessed of their land, which regional officials subsequently sold or ceded to Beydane (“Arabo-Berbers” or “White Moors” (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities)). Although the government continued to make modest efforts to indemnify returning deportees, it did not fully restore their property rights. The government reimbursed some in cash and provided jobs for others.

For example, in November 2017 the defense minister reaffirmed the government’s commitment to provide compensation to victims of the 1989-91 events. To this end, it allocated more than 124.3 million ouguiyas ($3.5 million) to fund pensions of soldiers who were expelled from the army from 1981 to 2004.

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

The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who opposed government policies. Individuals were generally free to criticize the government publicly or privately but were occasionally subject to retaliation. The constitution and law prohibit racial or ethnic propaganda. The government used these provisions against political opponents, accusing them of “racism” or “promoting national disunity” for speaking out against the extreme underrepresentation in government of Haratines and sub-Saharan Africans.

Freedom of Expression: There were no major restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression. Local NGOs and bloggers, among other observers, reported the government’s actions in recent years discredited its image and reputation. For example, it arrested journalists who were sympathizers to prominent government opposition figures.

On September 15, the news website al-Akhbar reported that police arrested several opposition bloggers and activists at the headquarters of the political party Tawassoul in the city of Zoueirate in the northern part of the country. Included in the arrests was a youth caravan coming from Nouakchott to support the opposition candidates.

Press and Media Freedom: Several independent daily publications generally expressed a wide variety of views with limited restrictions. Throughout the year incidents of government retaliation against media deemed too outspoken increased.

In June 2017 the National Assembly passed a bill imposing harsh penalties on journalists who publish “incendiary” articles. The law describes possible financial penalties for journalists publishing articles or statements that may, according to government, incite discrimination, hatred, violence, or insult based on origin, ethnicity, or nationality.

Independent media remained the principal source of information for most citizens, followed by government media. Government media focused primarily on official news but provided some coverage of opposition activities and views.

Violence and Harassment: On October 8, political parties from the hardline opposition, as well as many international and national organizations, denounced the government’s repression and harassment of the protests organized by the IRA.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Some opposition leaders asserted they had no effective access to official media. The government made payment of back taxes, at times unpaid for years with official complicity, a matter of priority, threatening the solvency of several independent stations.

In October 2017 Tele Diffusion Mauritania (TDM) briefly shut down five private television channels. TDM explained that its decision to suspend the private television stations’ operations was intended to force these outlets to pay their overdue royalties and broadcasting dues. TDM claimed to have made several attempts at finding an amicable solution but said they were either rebuffed or ignored by the owners of the private television stations.

On August 3, TDM again notified private channels and radio stations to pay their debts. According to the local press, TDM gave one week for these media outlets to settle, otherwise, they would be closed again. The media outlets did not pay, but they were not suspended.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2017 approximately 21 percent of the population used the internet.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. Registered political parties are not required to seek permission to hold meetings or demonstrations. The law requires NGO organizers to apply to the local administrative chief for permission to hold large meetings or assemblies. Authorities usually granted permission but on some occasions denied it in circumstances that suggested the application of political criteria.

On several occasions officials with the IRA and other organizations reported security force members arrested their activists for failing to obtain the local prefect’s permission before holding a rally.

On August 29, the news website Sahara Media reported that police dispersed an opposition rally in Nouakchott in advance of the September elections. Police objected to the rally on the grounds of a complaint filed by Al-Najah Company, which owned the old airport (site of the rally). According to opposition leaders, they had previously received approval from the government to hold the rally.

After parliament opened on October 8, the IRA organized several largely peaceful protests against the continued detention of their leader and newly elected parliamentarian Biram Dah Abeid. Police response to some protests was violent.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The law provides for freedom of association, and the government generally, but not in every instance, respected this right.

All local NGOs must register with the Ministry of Interior and Decentralization. Generally, if the ministry fails to respond within 45 days to a request to establish an NGO, the NGO may proceed with its work, although it was not considered officially registered.

Since 2014 Amnesty International documented 43 cases in which NGOs working in the human rights domain had not received a response from the government on their registration requests, meaning the NGOs were not authorized to operate in the country.

The government encouraged locally registered NGOs to join the government-sponsored Civil Society Platform. Approximately 6,000 local NGOs did so.

c. Freedom of Religion

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

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

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

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In 2014 President Aziz won re-election to a second and constitutionally mandated-final five-year term with approximately 82 percent of the vote. Although some opposition groups alleged procedural irregularities and inconsistent application of vote counting policies, the Constitutional Council and international observers endorsed the results of the election.

In August 2017 the country organized a referendum that led to the dissolution of the Senate, resulting in a unicameral legislature. Voters approved the referendum with 85 percent of the vote, and the Constitutional Court validated the result 10 days later.

In September the president’s party, the UPR, won 95 of 157 seats in the National Assembly in direct legislative elections, which observers, including from the African Union, judged to be have been peaceful, calm, and credible. The UPR also won control of each of the 13 regional councils that replaced the Senate, as well as two-thirds of the 219 municipalities elected on the same day.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The government often favored individuals based on political ties.

The Beydane (Arabs) account for at most 30 percent of the population but occupied approximately 80 percent of top leadership positions. Haratines (Arab slave descendants) constitute at least 45 percent of the population but held less than 10 percent of the positions. The sub-Saharan ethnic groups (Halpulaar, Soninke, and Wolof) make up about 25 percent of the population and accounted for less than 10 percent of top leadership positions.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws li