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Libya

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 militias, 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 Speech and 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 seat in Tripoli in March, did little to change restrictions on freedom of speech. Observers noted civil society practiced self-censorship because armed groups 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.

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

Press and Media Freedoms: Press freedoms were limited in practice because increased threats, including abductions and killings by a range of assailants, including militias and violent extremists forced many journalists to practice self-censorship. These limits were present in print media, broadcast media, and book publication.

There were few reports of the closing of media outlets, but there were some reports of raids by unidentified actors on organizations working on press freedom. Indirect restrictions on press freedom imposed by both foreign and domestic actors further polarized the media environment.

Violence and Harassment: Reportedly, attacks on the media, including harassment and killings of; and threats, abductions, and violence against media personnel continued to the point where it was 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.

While harassment of journalists was commonplace during the year, more serious crimes against journalists were widespread. There were reports of the arbitrary detention and torture of journalists. On July 29, authorities detained Libyan photojournalist, Selim al-Shebl, while he covered antigovernment protests in Tripoli, but authorities released him without any charges after a few days of detention at the Ain Zara district.

In August, Misratan forces arbitrarily detained two journalists who worked for a major foreign newspaper and tortured one before releasing them without charge.

Unknown assailants killed several journalists.

On June 24, photojournalist Khaled al-Zintani was shot in Benghazi, and on July 21, photojournalist Abdelqadir Fassouk was killed while covering clashes between pro-GNA forces and Da’esh in Sirte.

On October 2, Dutch photojournalist Jeroen Oerlemans was killed in Sirte.

Kidnapping of journalists was also widespread throughout the year. In January media worker Abdelsalam al-Shahoumi was kidnapped from his workplace in Tripoli.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The international NGO Reporters Without Borders reported that all sides used threats and violence to intimidate journalists to prevent publication of information. The unstable security situation and militia fighting created areas of hostility towards civilians and journalists associated with opposing sides. Additionally journalists practiced self-censorship due to lack of security and intimidation.

Libel/Slander Laws: The penal code criminalized a variety of political speech, including speech considered to “insult constitutional and popular authorities” and “publicly insulting the Libyan Arab people.” It and other laws also provide criminal penalties for 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.” In view of the prevalence of self-censorship and the pressure and intimidation of nonstate actors, the government did not resort to its use during the year.

Nongovernmental Impact: The control of Derna, Sirte, and parts of Benghazi by violent extremist organizations restricted freedom of expression. Militias, terrorist and extremist groups, and individual civilians regularly harassed, intimidated, or assaulted journalists. While media coverage focused on the actions of Islamist-affiliated violent extremists, other armed actors also limited freedom of expression.

Reports from NGOs indicated various parties, including civilians, attacked journalists and media outlets, noting that lack of professionalism in the media sector exacerbated violence from those who disagreed with what media reported.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were no credible reports that the government restricted or disrupted internet access or monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority during the year. Nor were there credible reports that the government censored online content.

Internet penetration outside urban centers remained low, and frequent electrical outages resulted in limited internet availability in the capital and elsewhere. According to a World Bank study, 19 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

The government did not exercise effective control over civilian infrastructure for most of the year. Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial communications. A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to instability, militia intimidation, and the uncertain political situation. Some activists reported finding what appeared to be “kill lists” targeting civilian dissenters on social media websites affiliated with certain Islamist militias.

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.

Mauritania

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; however, it sometimes arbitrarily and selectively applied regulations to suppress individuals or groups of individuals who oppose 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 has 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.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government owned two daily newspapers and most broadcast media; five radio stations and five television stations were independent. 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.

For example, on April 16, Deyloul (a news website close to the opposition) reported two journalists (Jedna Deida of Mauriweb and Babacar N’Diaye of Cridem news websites) were tried on April 15. They were arrested and then released following a complaint for defamation filed by the eldest son of President Aziz.

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: There were several reported incidents of violence against and harassment of journalists. On January 27, the president of the country’s journalist syndicate, Moctar Salem, stated during a television broadcast that 12 journalists faced complaints filed by various government officials with the Ministry of Justice–a tactic used by the government to intimidate journalists.

For example, on January 25, Sidi Ali Ould Belemech, a journalist with the Mourassiloun news website, was detained and questioned by police after Ministry of Finance official filed a complaint against Belemech for criticizing him.

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.

On February 15, the Wali (provincial governor) of Hodh El Chargui Region prevented a press crew from the Essirage news group from completing interviews with some communities that were in conflict over a well. The crew allegedly lacked formal authorization from authorities in Nouakchott.

In February the government notified all private media outlets of a temporary suspension of all government funded subscription services and commercial advertising, which had provided financial support to private media. The government stated it planned to use the six billion ouguiyas ($17 million) typically spent annually on media subscriptions and advertising to more equitably support private media. Because of the suspension, however, the private media struggled to survive. On September 18, private media around the country organized a “Day without Press” to protest the government’s subscription and advertising suspension, which remained in place at year’s end. This was the country’s first media strike since 1991.

Some journalists practiced self-censorship when covering topics deemed sensitive, including the military, corruption, and the application of sharia, and there were reports police detained and questioned journalists in connection with their coverage of those topics as well as of slavery.

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 2015 approximately 15 percent of the population used the internet.

The parliament adopted a bill on cybercrime in December 2015 that establishes protection of systems and data. Journalists alleged the legislation would permit authorities to prosecute them for almost anything published online. The legislation would also bring encryption technology under heavy state regulation, and nullify previous laws extending protections to journalists using digital technologies.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Mozambique

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, and the government generally respected this right; however, the government did not always effectively protect nor respect these freedoms. Academics, journalists, opposition party officials, and civil society reported an atmosphere of intimidation and fear that continued to restrict freedom of speech and press. Allegations included the use of threatening messages via text and Facebook, physical confrontations, and widely circulated “WhatsApp” messages targeting anyone critical of the government. The abduction and shooting of independent journalist Jose Jaime Macuane (see Violence and Harassment) caused particular concern.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no official restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or restriction on the discussion of matters of general public interest; however, police imposed de facto restrictions on free speech and expression throughout the year. Opposition and civil society complained they could not freely criticize the government without fear of reprisal, particularly since the March 2015 murder of prominent jurist Gilles Cistac remained unsolved. Multiple civil society figures, including LDH President Mabota, received anonymous threatening text messages after criticizing the government. One academic said the local head of Frelimo visited his mother and threatened her. At least one academic temporarily left the country after receiving such messages.

On March 18, PRM officials arrested Eva Anadon Moreno, a Spanish citizen who worked with various women’s empowerment groups and had lived in the country for six years, for her part in a “street action” organized by women’s rights umbrella group Forum Mulher (Women’s Forum). The protest was intended to draw attention to gender-based violence in schools across the country. The PRM released Anadon several hours after her arrest. Immigration officials later visited her at her apartment the night of March 29 and asked her to accompany them to their headquarters. Instead, they took her to Maputo’s international airport where they detained her overnight. Immigration officials deported Anadon on a commercial flight to South Africa the following day. She did not receive a hearing or a chance to appeal her deportation.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government exerted substantial pressure on all forms of media. The NGO Selekani reported that media outlets and journalists frequently self-censored to avoid government retaliation. In May, Isaque Chande, the minister of justice, constitutional, and religious affairs, threatened to trigger “accountability mechanisms” against the Portuguese news agency Lusa for publishing local residents’ allegations of a mass grave containing 120 bodies in Sofala Province. The government denied the existence of any mass graves, and security forces kept journalists away from the alleged location.

Violence and Harassment: In May unidentified gunmen posing as police officers abducted journalist Jose Jaime Macuane outside his home in Maputo and drove him to a rural area in Maputo Province. They told him they had orders to cripple him and shot him four times in the legs. Macuane was a cohost of the political talk show Pontos de vista (“Points of View”) on STV, an independent television station. Local media speculated that he was targeted for criticizing the government. In response to the shooting, Tomas Viera Mario, chair of the country’s Higher Mass Media Council, said journalists were “facing a serious assault against human rights.” The government did not criticize the shooting.

In June, PIC officers questioned Joao Chamusse and Egidio Placido, manager and editor in chief, respectively, of the print weekly newspaper Zambeze, for several hours regarding their sources after they published an article. The article claimed that Renamo fighters killed an unknown number of Zimbabwean soldiers who were on a combat mission in the central part of the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were no official government guidelines for media. Media officials reported the government’s Information Office convened regular editorial board meetings to coordinate and direct news content released by state-controlled media. Some journalists reported pressure to self-censor. Some media officials stated critical reporting could result in cancellation of government and ruling party advertising contracts. The largest advertising revenue streams for local media came from ministries and state-controlled businesses. Selekani noted the government asserted its control over state-owned media by giving media outlets their annual budgets in small increments, with the amounts determined by how faithfully articles hewed to official positions.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict access to the internet or censor online content. Members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored e-mail and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups. Local internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government. Government officials expressed interest in discovering the identity of “Unay Cambuma,” a pro-Renamo person or group that published Facebook posts critical of the government and that appeared to have intimate knowledge of government operations.

According to the World Bank, 6 percent of persons in the country used the internet during the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events; however, certain academics reported self-censorship. Despite the law providing for separation of party and state, primary school teachers in Gaza Province reportedly included Frelimo party propaganda in their curriculum.

Niger

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government sometimes threatened and arrested journalists and members of the media.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: On June 14, authorities detained Abdoul Moumouni Ousmane after he posted comments on Facebook critical of the government. Ousmane was given a six-month suspended sentence for attempting to foment a coup.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists to arrest, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation due to their reporting.

For example, on June 8, security forces arrested two journalists and a printer at independent newspaper Le Courier for “divulging documents” related to a criminal investigation of Ministry of Public Health officials accused of corruption in the administration of an employment examination. The two journalists, Moussa Dodo and Ali Soumana, were convicted and given three-month suspended sentences; the printer was acquitted and released.

The minister of communications revoked the press credentials of French journalist Nathalie Prevost after she reported critically on military developments in Diffa Region. The CNDH expressed concern over attacks on fundamental liberties, including the detention of journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists practiced self-censorship, and public media generally did not cover the statements or activities of opposition parties and civil society organizations critical of the government.

National Security: The declaration of the state of emergency in Diffa Region grants the government the authority to censor media for security reasons.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Authorities detained activists and charged them for expressing political opinions on social media. Sonitel, the government-owned telecommunications company, indefinitely blocked access to certain websites, such as those of Boko Haram, under orders from the High Commission for New Technology and Communication.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 2.2 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Oman

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for limited freedom of speech and press, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits criticism of the sultan in any form or medium, as well as any “material that leads to public discord, violates the security of the state, or abuses a person’s dignity or his rights;” “messages of any form that violate public order and morals or are harmful to a person’s safety;” and “defamation of character.” Therefore, it is illegal to insult any public official or private citizen, and authorities have prosecuted individuals for writing about the sultan in a way the government perceived to be negative.

In October 2015 the sultan issued a royal decree prohibiting “broadcasting or publishing any news or information or rumors targeting the prestige of the State’s authorities or aimed to weaken confidence in them.” This law grants the government broad powers to arrest citizens for vaguely defined infractions.

Press and Media Freedoms: Media did not operate freely. Authorities tolerated limited criticism in privately owned newspapers and magazines, although editorials generally were consistent with the government’s views. Although mainstream social debate occurred in media, the government and privately owned radio and television stations did not generally broadcast political material criticizing the government. Authorities arrested bloggers during the year. On August 10, the government closed the independent newspaper al-Zamanand detained its managing editor, Yousef al-Hajj, chief editor, Ibrahim al-Maamari, and journalist Zaher al-Abri after they published an article on July 26 detailing corruption in the Supreme Court. The centerpiece of the allegations was an interview with the deputy chief justice, corroborating the corruption allegations. The deputy chief justice was detained and held under house arrest by the Royal Oman Police, and was visited by the Oman Human Rights Commission (OHRC). International human rights organizations and the brother of one of the al-Zaman employees reported that at least one of the journalists had been subjected to solitary confinement. During the trial the court refused motions by the defense attorney, to include calling witnesses and a change of judge after the judge reportedly mocked the defendants. On September 21, the presiding judge sentenced al-Hajj and al-Maamari to three years’ imprisonment each. They also received 3,000 rials ($7,800) fines. The judge also sentenced al-Abri to one-year imprisonment, with a fine of 1,000 OMR ($2,600). Additionally, the judge ordered the indefinite closure of al-Zaman, and the journalists were released on bail.

The law criminalizes a wide variety of expression. Authorities required journalists to obtain a license to work; freelance journalists are ineligible for a license.

Violence and Harassment: In isolated instances authorities harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Headlines in both public and private media print outlets were subject to an official, nontransparent review and approval process before publication. Journalists and writers exercised self-censorship. The law permits the Ministry of Information to review all media products and books produced within or imported into the country. The ministry occasionally prohibited or censored material from domestic and imported publications viewed as politically, culturally, or sexually offensive. Some books were not permitted in the country. There is only one major publishing house in the country, and publication of books remained limited. The government required religious groups to notify the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs (MERA) before importing any religious materials and submit a copy for the MERA files.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel laws and national security concerns as grounds to suppress criticism of government figures and politically objectionable views. Libel is a criminal offense, which allows for a heavy fine and prison sentence.

National Security: The government prohibited publication of any material that “violates the security of the state.”

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law restricts free speech exercised via the internet, and the government enforces the restrictions. The government’s national telecommunications company and private service providers make internet access available for a fee to citizens and foreign residents. Internet access is available via schools, workplaces, wireless networks at coffee shops, and other venues, especially in urban areas.

Authorities monitored the activities of telecommunications service providers and obliged them to block access to numerous websites considered pornographic, or culturally or politically sensitive. The criteria for blocking access to internet sites were not transparent or consistent. Authorities sometimes blocked blogs. Most video-chat technologies, such as Skype, were blocked.

The Law to Counter Information Technology Crimes allows authorities to prosecute individuals for any message sent via any medium that “violates public order and morals.” The law details crimes that take place on the internet that “might prejudice public order or religious values” and specifies a penalty of between one month and a year in prison and fines of not less than 1,000 rials ($2,600). Authorities also applied the law against bloggers and social media users who insult the sultan.

The government placed warnings on websites informing users that criticism of the sultan or personal criticism of government officials would be censored and could lead to police questioning, effectively increasing self-censorship.

Website administrators or moderators were cautious concerning content and were reportedly quick to delete potentially offensive material in chat rooms, on social networking fora, and on blog postings. Some website administrators posted warnings exhorting users to follow local laws and regulations.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Academics largely practiced self-censorship. Colleges and universities were required to have permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Higher Education before meeting with foreign diplomatic missions or accepting money for programs or speakers.

The government censored publicly shown films, primarily for sexual content and nudity. The government restricted the ability of bands with three or more members to perform in public venues. Dancing in restaurants and entertainment venues without a permit also was forbidden by law.

In August the government closed the AMIDEAST Muscat office, which had prepared local students for education abroad. The office had also facilitated cultural exchange.

Qatar

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press in accordance with the law, but the government limited these rights. Self-censorship remained the primary obstacle to free speech and press.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Citizens did not discuss sensitive political and religious issues in public forums, but these issues were discussed in private and on social media. The law prohibits residents from criticizing the emir. Members of the majority foreign population censored themselves publicly on sensitive topics. A 2015 law increases penalties for damaging, removing, or performing an action that expresses hate and contempt to the country’s flag, the Gulf Cooperation Council flag, or the flag of any international organization or authority. Another law criminalizes the use of the national flag without formal permission from authorities, displaying a damaged or discolored flag, or changing the flag by adding photographs, text, or designs to it.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law includes restrictive procedures on the establishment of newspapers, closure, and confiscation of assets of a publication. It also criminalizes libel and slander, including insult to dignity. A journalist may be fined up to QAR 100,000 ($27,500) and imprisoned for a year for defamation and reporting of “false news.”

Members of the ruling family or proprietors who enjoyed close ties to government officials owned all print media. Both private and government-owned television and radio reflected government views; they generally did not criticize authorities or the country’s policies. The government owned and partially funded the Doha-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, which carried regional, international, and theme-based programming. It also partially funded other media outlets operating in the country. Some observers and former al-Jazeera employees alleged that the government influenced the content. On November 30, the country’ s internet service providers blocked access to Doha News, a website that had received significant domestic criticism for its coverage of socially sensitive issues ranging from labor rights to homosexuality. The government did not make an official statement on the closure, but maintained that the blocking of the website was a result of registration and fund-raising violations under the law. The Doha News’ editor and various human rights groups such as Amnesty International called it an “act of censorship.”

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In 2015 an article from the Doha Center for Media Freedom noted, “even though the Qatari government abolished censorship in 1995, media censorship still exists in Qatar and is widely practiced in the form of self-censorship.” Journalists and publishers continued to self-censor due to political and economic pressures when reporting on government policies or material deemed denigrating to Islam, the ruling family, and relations with neighboring states. The Qatar Media Corporation, the Ministry of Culture and Sports, and customs officials censored material. There were no specific reports of political censorship of foreign broadcast news media or foreign programs. The government reviewed, censored, or banned foreign newspapers, magazines, films, and books for objectionable sexual, religious, and political content.

Libel/Slander Laws: Laws restrict the publication of information that could incite the overthrow of the regime or harm supreme state interests; slander the emir or heir apparent; report official secret agreements; include defamation of one of the Abrahamic faiths or blasphemy; prejudice heads of state or disturb relations; harm the national currency or the economic situation; violate the dignity of persons, the proceedings of investigations, and prosecutions in relation to family status; or defame the state or endanger its safety.

National Security: In some cases, courts ordered news outlets to refrain from covering sensitive trials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The maximum punishments for violations of cybercrime law are up to three years in prison and a fine of 500,000 QAR ($137,500). The law prohibits any online activity that threatens the safety of the state, its general order, and its local or international peace. It also criminalizes the spread of “false news,” forces internet providers to block objectionable content, and bans the publication of personal or family information, even if true. Amnesty International assessed this law to pose a serious threat to freedom of expression.

The law requires internet service providers to block objectionable content based on a request from judicial entities. Internet providers are also obligated to maintain long-term electronic records and traffic data for the government. The government-controlled internet service provider Ooredoo restricted the expression of views via the internet and censored the internet for political, religious, and pornographic content through a proxy server, which monitored and blocked websites, e-mail, and chat rooms. Users who believed authorities had censored a site mistakenly could submit the website address to have the site reviewed for suitability; there were no reports that any websites were unblocked based on this procedure. The Ministry of Transportation and Communication is responsible for monitoring and censoring objectionable content on the internet.

Internet access was widespread and more than 96 percent of households were connected to the internet, according to a 2014 UN report.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The constitution provides for freedom of expression and scientific research. Instructors at Qatar University noted that they often exercised self-censorship. Instructors at foreign-based universities operating in the country, however, reported they generally enjoyed academic freedom. There were occasional government restrictions on cultural events, and some groups organizing cultural events reported they exercised self-censorship. Authorities censored books, films, and internet sites for political, religious, and sexual content and for vulgar and obscene language.

Russia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government increasingly restricted those rights. The government instituted several new laws that restrict both freedom of speech and press. Regional and local authorities used procedural violations and restrictive or vague legislation to detain, harass, or prosecute persons who criticized the government. The government exercised greater editorial control over state-controlled media than it had previously, creating a media landscape in which most citizens were exposed to predominantly government-approved narratives. Significant government pressure on independent media constrained coverage of numerous problems, especially the situation in Ukraine and Syria, LGBTI problems, the environment, elections, criticism of local or federal leadership, as well as issues of secessionism or federalism. Self-censorship in television and print media was increasingly widespread, particularly on points of view critical of the government or its policies. The government used direct ownership or ownership by large private companies with government links to control or influence major national media and regional media outlets, especially television.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Government-controlled media frequently used terms such as “traitor,” “foreign agent,” and “fifth column” to describe individuals expressing views critical of or different from government policy, leading to a climate intolerant of dissent. Authorities also invoked a law prohibiting the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors to restrict the free speech of LGBTI persons and their supporters (see section 6).

Authorities continued to misuse the country’s expansive definition of extremism as a tool to stifle dissent. As of November 9, the Ministry of Justice expanded its list of extremist materials to include 3,897 books, videos, websites, social media pages, musical compositions, and other items, an increase of nearly 800 items from 2015. According to the Investigative Committee, detectives referred more than 500 extremism cases to prosecutors in 2015, a number of which included charges of “extremism” levied against individuals for exercising free speech on social media and elsewhere.

In July 2015 journalist Alexander Sokolov of the independent news company RBK was arrested on a charge of participating in the activities of the People’s Will Army, which was declared an extremist organization by the Moscow City Court. Sokolov maintained he was simply providing professional services to the group, such as registering its website. Sokolov had previously reported on state corruption and embezzlement connected with the construction of the Vostochnyy space center. In November 2015 the Memorial Human Rights Center recognized Sokolov as a political prisoner, demanding that the court drop its prosecution. In June, Human Rights Ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova appealed to the prosecutor general, requesting verification of the lawfulness and legality of the decisions taken in the case against Sokolov. On August 1, Reporters without Borders requested that authorities immediately release Sokolov. He remained in prison.

Several persons, including minors in some instances, were charged with extremism under the criminal code for comments and images posted in online forums. In April, Yekaterina Vologzheninova, a single mother working as a cashier in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, was charged after she shared links online critical of the country’s role in the Ukraine conflict. She was subsequently sentenced to 320 hours of “corrective labor.” According to the indictment, Vologzheninova shared and liked posts deemed “insulting and degrading to Russian people.”

By law authorities may close any organization that a court determines to be extremist, including media outlets and websites. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency, routinely issued warnings to newspapers and internet sources suspected of publishing extremist materials. Three warnings in one year were enough to initiate a closure lawsuit.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government increasingly restricted press freedom. As of 2015, the latest year for which data was available, the government and state-owned or state-controlled companies directly owned more than 60 percent of the country’s 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals. The federal or local governments or progovernment individuals completely or partially owned approximately 66 percent of the 2,500 television stations, including all six national channels. Government-owned media outlets often received preferential benefits, such as rent-free occupancy of government-owned buildings. At many government-owned or controlled outlets, the state increasingly dictated editorial policy. A 2014 law, effective in January, restricts foreign ownership of media outlets to no more than 20 percent.

In May the owner of RBK, Mikhail Prokhorov, who was widely seen as under pressure from the government, fired the chief editors of RBK’s newspaper, television channel, and web portal. Following several of RBK’s high-profile investigations into corruption on the part of President Putin, his family, and alleged business associates, culminating in reporting on the “Panama Papers” scandal in April, the government allegedly demanded changes in the holding company’s editorial policies. The editors in chief were replaced by new personnel from the state-owned TASS news agency. The new editors instructed staff that there would now be a “double line” editorial policy–a line that cannot be crossed–concerning certain types of topics, according to a transcript of an RBK staff meeting published by the newspaper Meduza and a source cited in Reuters.

In April the FSB raided the Prokhorov-owned ONEXIM Group’s Moscow premises on suspicion of tax evasion. According to a number of analysts, the raids resulted from the government’s displeasure with RBK’s extended coverage of the Panama Papers leak of documents that detailed how private individuals and public officials used offshore accounts to conceal financial activity, at least some of questionable legality. The Ministry of Internal Affairs also opened a criminal case against RBK on suspicion of alleged fraud.

In July, Svetlana Bababeva, the chief editor of Gazeta.ru, one of the most widely read independent digital media sites in the country, was abruptly fired without explanation when her contract expired. Press reports subsequently indicated that the leadership of Rambler & Co, the media-holding firm that owns Gazeta.ru, faced government pressure to terminate Bababeva because of her opposition to the government and its policies.

Many newspapers ensured their financial viability by agreeing to various types of “support contracts” with government ministries, under which they agreed to provide positive coverage of government officials and policies in news stories. Absent direct government support, independent news publications reported difficulty attracting advertising and securing financial viability, since advertisers feared retaliation if their brands became linked to publications that criticized the government.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subjected to arrest, imprisonment, physical attack, harassment, and intimidation as a result of their reporting. The Glasnost Defense Fund reported numerous actions against journalists in 2014, including five killings, 52 attacks, 107 detentions by law enforcement officers, 200 prosecutions, 29 threats against journalists, 15 politically motivated firings, and two attacks on media offices.

On July 12, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, tasked with monitoring legal entities’ and individuals’ compliance with the country’s terrorist and extremist financing laws, published a list of some 6,000 individuals on its website that included Crimean journalists Nikolay Semena and Anna Andriyevskaya from the Center for Journalistic Investigations. OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatovic expressed concern over the government’s placing of journalists on a list of alleged terrorists and extremists.

In September a criminal court in Chechnya’s Shali District convicted Caucasian Knot journalist Zhalaudi Geriyev of drug possession for personal use and sentenced him to three years in prison. The defense maintained that the prosecutor’s case was marred by inconsistencies and flawed evidence as well as by violations of the criminal procedure code. Although Geriyev had signed a confession while in custody, he completely recanted during the trial, claiming he signed the confession under duress. Caucasian Knot published a statement stating it believed the criminal case against Geriyev was fabricated and calling accusations of his drug use “completely far-fetched.” The statement continued that the “absence of direct evidence” and the pressure placed on Geriyev suggested that the prosecution was “connected with his professional activities.”

Journalists reporting in or on the North Caucasus remained particularly vulnerable to physical attacks for their reporting. Rumors also persisted of an alleged “hit list” that included prominent journalists such as Aleksey Venediktov, chief of the independent radio and news organization Ekho Moskvy.

There was no progress during the year in establishing accountability in a number of high-profile killings of journalists, including the 2004 killing of Paul Klebnikov, the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, or the 2009 killing of Natalia Estemirova.

Journalists and bloggers who uncovered various forms of government malfeasance also faced harassment, either in the form of direct threats to their physical safety or threats to their security or livelihood, often through legal prosecution. In March journalists on a reporting tour organized by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture were stopped and beaten by a group of masked assailants as they traveled from Ingushetia to Chechnya. No one was prosecuted for the attack (see section 1.c.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to use laws and decrees to censor or restrict media content.

On January 23, political analyst Andrey Piontkovskiy posted an article to the Ekho Moskvy website entitled “A Bomb Ready to Explode” which implied that federal authorities had “lost the war for Chechnya” and suggested federal authorities were complicit in acts of corruption by Chechnya’s leaders. The final two paragraphs of the article suggested that authorities allow Chechnya to secede from the Russian Federation and were removed from the text shortly after the article was uploaded. The State Duma called for the prosecution of Ekho Moskvy over the article, and the FSB began an investigation of the station for incitement to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. The FSB conducted searches at Ekho Moskvy’s editorial office, where they seized Piontkovsky’s correspondence. A number of Ekho Moskvy employees were also summoned for questioning. A criminal case was opened against Piontkovskiy, who subsequently left the country.

According to the Glasnost Defense Fund and other NGOs, authorities used media’s widespread dependence on the government for access to property, printing, and distribution services to discourage critical reporting. Approximately 90 percent of print media relied on state-controlled entities for paper, printing, and distribution services, and many television stations relied on the government for access to the airwaves and office space. Officials continued to manipulate the price of printing at state-controlled publishing houses to pressure private media rivals.

Libel/Slander Laws: Officials at all levels used their authority, sometimes publicly, to restrict the work of journalists and bloggers who criticized them, including taking legal action for alleged slander or libel.

National Security: The law places limits on free expression on national security grounds, notably in statutes against extremism and treason (see Freedom of Speech and Expression).

The government utilized antiextremism laws to censor an array of online content (see Internet Freedom, below).

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government took significant new steps to restrict free expression on the internet. Threats to internet freedom included: physical attacks on bloggers; politically motivated prosecutions of bloggers for “extremism,” libel, or other crimes; blocking of specific sites by national and local service providers; distributed denial-of-service attacks on sites of opposition groups or independent media, including to independent pollster Levada Center less than two weeks before State Duma elections; monitoring by authorities of all internet communications; and attempts by national, local, and regional authorities to regulate and criminalize content. The internet was widely available to citizens in all parts of the country, although connection speeds varied by region. According to data compiled by the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 73 percent of the country’s population used the internet in 2015.

A report issued by the legal services NGO AGORA stated that the number of cases in which authorities infringed the rights of internet users increased in 2015, from 2,951 cases to 15,022. The report attributed the surge in cases in part to improved reporting and noted that the number of requests to block, edit, or remove information also increased significantly. Such types of administrative pressure accounted for 11,800 of the reported cases, and occurred in Russian-occupied Crimea as well as in a number of regions of Russia. The number of regions in Russia in which internet users were subjected to serious pressure increased more than twofold to 30 regions.

New laws place additional restrictions on internet freedom. On June 24, President Putin signed into law amendments to the Federal Law on Information, Information Technologies, and Protection of Information and to the administrative code requiring owners of internet search engines (“news aggregators”) with more than one million daily users to be accountable for the truthfulness of “publicly important” information before its dissemination. Authorities can demand that content deemed in violation be removed, and they can also impose heavy fines for noncompliance. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE special representative on freedom of the media, raised concerns that the law “could result in governmental interference of online information and introduce self-censorship in private companies.” The law’s provisions enter into force on January 1, 2017.

In September 2015 the country’s data on-shoring law went into effect, requiring domestic and foreign businesses to store citizens’ personal data on servers located in the country. Critics expressed concern that the law might have negative commercial effects and provide the government with further access to citizens’ private information. On November 17, Roskomnadzor, Russia’s communications authority, announced that it would block the U.S.-based professional networking website LinkedIn for failure to comply with the law. LinkedIn was the first social networking site targeted under the new law.

On January 1, the country’s “right to be forgotten” law entered into force, allowing individuals in the country to block search engine companies from showing search results that contain information about them. Figures with ties to the regime made several attempts to use the law to stifle reporting about their business and political activities. In June the Kuibyshev district court of St. Petersburg began hearings on claims of St. Petersburg billionaire Evgeniy Prigogine against the Yandex search engine. The applicant sought to remove from search engine results links to the website of the NGO Fund to Fight Corruption that contained reporting on Ministry of Defense contracts awarded to Prigogine’s companies. Another target was the Fontanka news site, which covered the entrepreneur’s funding of an internet “trolling factory” that posted progovernment comments on a paid basis. By August, out of 11 such claims against Yandex, none had been upheld by the courts. In four instances, decisions were favorable to Yandex, in two the plaintiffs dropped their claims, and in two others, the cases were dismissed without hearing.

In August the public organization Roskomsvoboda filed a lawsuit against Google in the Moscow Arbitration Court to require that pages containing reference materials hosted on the website of the SOVA Center be restored in search engine results. These pages had earlier been removed from search results in accordance with provisions of the “right to be forgotten” law. The deleted pages contained reports on two trials related to incitement of hatred. The plaintiffs’ representatives asserted that citizens have the right to know that such crimes were committed, who committed them, and where they were committed and that the decision (to remove the material) infringes on the provision in the constitution providing for free flow of information.

Roskomnadzor maintained a federal blacklist of internet sites and required internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to web pages that the agency deemed offensive or illegal, including information that was already prohibited, such as items on the Federal List of Extremist Materials. The law gives the prosecutor general and Roskomnadzor authority to demand that ISPs block websites that promote extremist information or “mass public events that are conducted in violation of appropriate procedures.” Roskomsvoboda reported that its registry included more than 25,000 sites as of April and estimated that almost 600,000 sites were blocked within the country. Sites other than those officially blacklisted often ended up themselves blocked when they shares the same internet address as a blocked site.

Cell phone service providers cooperated with government security agencies’ surveillance of telephone users. In May political activists Oleg Kozlovskiy and Gregoriy Alburov threatened to sue mobile operator MTS for abetting the hacking of their Telegram accounts, an encrypted messaging service popular among activists for its security features. According to Kozlovskiy and Alburov, on April 29, MTS temporarily disabled text messaging services on their phones, allowing a third party trying to hack their accounts to intercept log-in codes sent via text messaging from Telegram.

On July 7, the State Duma passed the “Yarovaya package” of security-related amendments to the law that require telecommunications providers to provide authorities with “backdoors” around encryption technologies used by apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram. Providers face fines of one million rubles ($15,000) for noncompliance. Later that month President Putin ordered the FSB to produce encryption keys to decrypt all data on the internet. In the beginning of August, the FSB announced that it finally had the capabilities to collect encryption keys from internet companies that could decrypt unreadable data on the internet. The statement met with skepticism in the professional community; due to the nature of encryption key technology, many considered this not feasible.

During the year authorities blocked or threatened to block some websites and social network pages that either criticized government policy or violated laws on internet content. On May 11, users in occupied Crimea and several Russian regions reported that Krym.Realii, the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website dedicated to covering events in occupied Crimea, was no longer accessible. In August, after the government alleged Ukrainian “incursions” into the Crimean peninsula, authorities disconnected internet access in the northern part of Crimea, allegedly for security reasons.

During the year authorities prosecuted individual bloggers for alleged extremist content they published online, including the content of other users’ comments on their pages. On August 11, a court refused to grant early release on parole to Darya Polyudova, who was sentenced in December 2015 to two years’ imprisonment for inciting separatism and extremist activities. The charges derived from three posts related to Ukraine on her VKontakte page that criticized the government for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. In February the Investigative Committee opened a case against the prominent blogger Anton Nosik for inciting hatred and humiliation of human dignity. The charges stemmed from a November 2015 post on Nosik’s LiveJournal blog, titled “Wipe Syria off the Face of the Earth,” in which he compared the Assad regime in Syria to the Nazis. Nosik refused to take down the post, asserting that his words did not constitute extremism. His trial remained underway, and he faced four years in prison if convicted. The newspaper Kommersantreported that Luzgin faced criminal prosecution under a highly controversial law signed by President Putin in 2014 that imposes penalties ranging from fines to five years’ imprisonment for the “rehabilitation of Nazism.”

There were multiple reports that authorities fined libraries, schools, and internet clubs during the year for failing to block content listed on the Federal List of Extremist Materials or covered under the law “protecting” children from harmful information. The SOVA Center described 27 cases of sanctions directed at the management of educational facilities for various content filtration-related failures from January to August.

The government continued to employ a “system for operational investigative measures,” which requires ISPs to install, at their own expense, a device that routes all customer traffic to an FSB terminal. The system enabled police to track private e-mail communications, identify internet users, and monitor their internet activity.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were indications that the government took new steps during the year to restrict academic and cultural freedom.

Authorities often censored or shut down cultural events or displays that they considered offensive or that expressed views in opposition to the government and in some cases initiated criminal proceedings against organizers. On June 10, a museum dedicated to the newly controversial subject of American and Soviet cooperation in World War II was closed under pressure from administrators of the government school in which it had been located for 12 years. The museum director stated he was offered a lease that would have allowed him to rent space at the school, but the rent was set at an exorbitant rate because administrators knew he had no way of paying. The director subsequently created a mobile version of the museum to travel to different cities in the country.

Those expressing views of historical events that run counter to officially accepted narratives faced harassment. During an annual student essay competition on 20th century Russian history held by the Memorial Human Rights Center in April, progovernment protesters attacked participants, including students and teachers, throwing eggs and green fast-dye antiseptic liquid at them. The protesters yelled “national traitors” at the participants. Prominent Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, who chaired the competition’s jury, was among those attacked. Some assailants wore World War II-era uniforms, and the group hoisted a replica Soviet Victory flag and held placards reading, “We don’t need alternative history.”

Rwanda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted these rights. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical on sensitive topics.

The Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body, sometimes intervened on journalists’ behalf, as it did in the August disappearance of journalist John Ndabarasa. The RMC also remonstrated against the attack on a foreign journalist, who was injured by a DASSO officer while covering a DASSO operation in May. Journalists also reported the RMC lost its independence following the May 2015 ouster and subsequent exile of its elected chairperson Fred Muvunyi.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals’ right to criticize the government publicly or privately on policy implementation and other issues. Nonetheless, the government generally did not tolerate criticism of the presidency and government policy on security and other matters that were deemed sensitive. For example, in February the RNP detained two journalists who were preparing a report on tax evasion involving the country’s main stone quarry. After their release, the journalists recounted how members of the RMC accompanied the RNP officers who searched and confiscated computers and various files before detaining them.

Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial discouraged citizens from expressing viewpoints some might construe as promoting societal divisions. The law prohibits the propagation of ideas based on “ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language, or other divisive characteristics.” Conviction of public incitement to “genocide ideology” or “divisionism,” including discrimination and sectarianism, is punishable by five to nine years’ imprisonment and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($123 to $1,234). Authorities applied the laws broadly, including to silence political dissent and to shut down investigative journalism.

The 2012 penal code expanded former provisions that prohibited the display of contempt for the head of state or other high-level public officials to include administrative authorities or other public servants, with sentences of one to two years’ imprisonment and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 Rwandan francs ($61 to $617). Other changes included revising the crime of “spreading rumors aimed at inciting the population to rise against the regime” to “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state,” with much more severe penalties, including life in prison for conviction for acts committed during wartime and seven to 10 years’ imprisonment for acts committed in peacetime. Slander and libel of foreign and international officials and dignitaries are illegal, with sentences of one to three years’ imprisonment.

In 2013 the government signed into law a revised genocide ideology law that introduced international definitions for genocide and narrowed the scope of what constitutes “genocide ideology” and related offenses to a more specific range of actions and statements. Specifically, the law states that “genocidal ideology” must be clearly linked to specific acts or statements, rather than the broader “aggregate of thoughts” standard defined in the 2008 law. Nevertheless, authorities applied the statute broadly, and there were numerous reports of its use to silence persons critical of government policy.

The government investigated and prosecuted individuals accused of threatening or harming genocide survivors and witnesses or of espousing genocide ideology, which the law defines as dehumanizing an individual or a group with the same characteristics by threatening, intimidating, defaming, inciting hatred, denying the genocide, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence, killing, planning to kill, or attempting to kill someone.

Prosecutions for genocide ideology and genocide denial rose from 20 reported cases between October 2014 and September 2015 to 78 cases from October 2015 to September; however, it still fell well short of the nearly 800 cases handled by the NPPA in 2012-13. According to the NPPA, 69 cases were prosecuted to completion, two were dropped, and seven remained pending at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: Vendors sold both private and government-owned newspapers published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. There were 53 newspapers, journals, and other publications registered with the government, although fewer than 10 published regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions both in support of and contrary to or critical of the government. There were 33 radio stations (six government-owned and 27 independent), one government-run television station, and five independent television stations. Independent media reported a difficult operating environment and highlighted the reluctance of the business community to advertise on radio stations that might be critical of the government, leading one such station to suspend operations. An independently published newspaper that was sometimes critical of the government cited similar reasons in announcing its closure in December.

A set of five media laws passed in 2013 provide for greater press freedoms but had no discernable effect on those freedoms. Despite the reforms, media professionals reported government officials sought to influence reporting and warned journalists against reporting information deemed sensitive or critical of the government. The board of the RMC was reconstituted following the May 2015 resignation of Chairman Fred Muvunyi. Journalists reported all positions on the RMC board were filled in close consultation with the government and the board hewed closely to RPF orthodoxy. Journalists also said the December election of the new RMC board violated the RMC’s bylaws.

The laws provide journalists the freedom to investigate, express opinions, and “seek, receive, give, and broadcast information and ideas through any media.” The law explicitly prohibits censorship of information, but censorship occurred. The laws restrict these freedoms if journalists “jeopardize the general public order and good morals, an individual’s right to honor and reputation in the public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family.” Authorities may seize journalists’ material and information if a “media offense” occurs but only if a court orders it. Authorities sometimes seized journalists’ material without a court order. Courts may compel journalists to reveal confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must apply with the “competent public organ.” All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.

Violence and Harassment: There were reports police and the SSF at times detained and harassed journalists. In January police arrested reporter John Williams Ntwari and charged him with raping a minor. Prior to the arrest, Ntwari reported receiving threats for his coverage of the Rwigara death and expropriation case. Officials released Ntwari after 10 days when other journalists interviewed the alleged victim and discovered that she was not a minor and there was no evidence of use of force.

Several journalists who fled in prior years remained outside the country, including former RMC chairman Fred Muvunyi, who went into self-exile after arguing against the government’s call to ban the BBC’s Kinyarwanda service following the broadcast of a BBC documentary, which was controversial in the country.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the government to restrict access to some government documents and information, including information on individual privacy and information or statements deemed to constitute defamation. Journalists reported editorial boards for major print and broadcast media companies censored information deemed critical of the RPF or government policies.

Radio stations broadcast criticism of government policies, including on popular citizen call-in shows; however, journalists reported self-censorship and were careful to distance themselves from opinions expressed by call-in guests that could be deemed controversial. Some radio stations, including Radio 1, Radio Isango Star, and Radio Salus, had regular call-in shows that featured discussion of government programs or policies. Several radio stations hosted live debates on sensitive topics, such as power sharing after the 2017 presidential elections.

Libel/Slander Laws: Conviction of defamation (libel and slander) is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment. There were no reports of slander and libel laws being used to suppress freedom of speech or the publication of material that criticized government policies or government officials.

National Security: Under the 2013 media laws, journalists must refrain from reporting items that violate “confidentiality in the national security and national integrity” and “confidentiality of judicial proceedings, parliamentary sessions, and cabinet deliberations in camera.” Authorities invoked these laws to arrest and intimidate journalists covering politically sensitive topics and matters under government investigation.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The media law includes the right of all citizens to “receive, disseminate, or send information through internet,” including the right to start and maintain a website. All provisions of the media laws apply to web-based publications. Restrictions such as website blocking remained in place, however. There were numerous reports the government monitored e-mail and internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail and social media, but were subject to monitoring. As in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports monitoring led to detention or interrogation of individuals by the SSF. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 18 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government.

The government blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies. Such sites included websites of the Rwandan diaspora such as Umuvugizi and Le Profete and online newspapers such as Ireme.com.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government generally did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events, but because academic officials frequently suspended outspoken secondary and university students for divisionism or engaging in genocide ideology, students and professors practiced self-censorship. Local think tanks deferred to government officials in selecting subjects for research, and authorities sometimes prevented the publication of studies that cast the government in a negative light. The government requires visiting academics to receive official permission to conduct research; academics reported occasional harassment and denial of permission to conduct research on political issues, refugees, or the genocide.

Saudi Arabia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Civil law does not protect human rights, including freedoms of speech and of the press; only local interpretation and the practice of sharia protect these rights. There were frequent reports of restrictions on free speech. The Basic Law specifies, “Mass media and all other vehicles of expression shall employ civil and polite language, contribute towards the education of the nation, and strengthen unity. The media are prohibited from committing acts that lead to disorder and division, affect the security of the state or its public relations, or undermine human dignity and rights.” Authorities are responsible for regulating and determining which speech or expression undermines internal security. The government can ban or suspend media outlets if it concludes they violated the press and publications law, and it monitored and blocked hundreds of thousands of internet sites.

The legal definition of terrorism, according to the counterterrorism law, includes “any act…intended to disturb the public order of the state…or insult the reputation of the state or its position.” Local human rights activists and international human rights organizations criticized the law for its vague definition of terrorism and complained the government could use it to prosecute peaceful dissidents for “insulting the state.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government monitored public expressions of opinion and took advantage of legal controls to impede the free expression of opinion and restrict individuals from engaging in public criticism of the political sphere. The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which legally can carry the death penalty, although there were no recent instances of death sentences being carried out for these crimes (see section 1.a.). Statements that authorities construed as constituting defamation of the king, the monarchy, the governing system, or the Al Saud family resulted in criminal charges for citizens advocating government reform. The government prohibits public employees from directly or indirectly engaging in dialogue with local or foreign media or participating in any meetings intended to oppose state policies.

The government charged a number of individuals with crimes related to their exercise of free speech during the year. In January local media reported that the Najran Criminal Court sentenced two Ministry of Health employees to prison terms and lashes for criticizing their hospital’s administration on Twitter. On appeal, the employees were sentenced under the anticyber crimes law to prison terms of 11 months and eight months, respectively.

In February local media reported that the Medina Criminal Court sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and 2,000 lashes on charges related to “atheistic” tweets.

In September the SCC sentenced a person to seven years in prison and a travel ban of 10 years on charges of publishing rumors via Twitter, joining an unauthorized association, not pledging allegiance, calling publicly for demonstrations, and challenging the independence of the judiciary, according to local media reports.

On December 27, the media reported that a court in Dammam sentenced a man to one year in prison and a fine of 30,000 riyals ($8,000) for “incitement to end the guardianship of women” after making statements online and hanging up posters in mosques calling for an end to the male guardianship system.

Some human rights activists were detained and then released on the condition that they refrain from using social media for activism, refrain from communicating with foreign diplomats, refrain from communicating with outside human rights organizations, and refrain from traveling outside the country.

Press and Media Freedoms: The Press and Publications Law governs printed materials; printing presses; bookstores; the import, rental, and sale of films; television and radio; foreign media offices and their correspondents; and online newspapers and journals. The media fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and Information. The ministry may permanently close “whenever necessary” any means of communication–defined as any means of expressing a viewpoint that is meant for circulation–that it deems is engaged in a prohibited activity, as set forth in the decree.

Media policy statements have urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. In 2011 a royal decree amended the press law to strengthen penalties, create a special commission to judge violations, and require all online newspapers and bloggers to obtain a license from the ministry. The decree bans publishing anything “contradicting sharia, inciting disruption, serving foreign interests that contradict national interests, and damaging the reputation of the grand mufti, members of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, or senior government officials.”

The law states that violators can face fines up to 500,000 riyals ($133,000) for each violation of the law, which is doubled if the violation is repeated. Other penalties include banning individuals from writing. While the Violations Considerations Committee in the Ministry of Culture and Information has formal responsibility for implementing the law, the Ministry of Interior, the CPVPV, and sharia court judges considered these issues regularly and exercised wide discretion in interpreting the law. It was unclear which process accords with the law.

Although satellite dishes were illegal, the government did not enforce restrictions on them, and their use was widespread. Many foreign satellite stations broadcast a wide range of programs into the country in Arabic and other languages, including foreign news channels. Access to foreign sources of information, including via satellite dishes and the internet, was common. Foreign media were subject to licensing requirements from the Ministry of Culture and Information and could not operate freely. The government filtered and at times blocked access to internet sites it considered objectionable. Privately owned satellite television networks, headquartered outside the country, maintained local offices and operated under a system of self-censorship.

Violence and Harassment: Authorities subjected journalists to arrests, imprisonment, and harassment during the year.

In March the SCC sentenced Eastern Province-based journalist Alaa Brinji to five years in prison and an eight-year travel ban on charges of inciting the public against the country’s rulers, attempting to tarnish the country’s reputation, accusing security forces of killing protesters in Awamiya, and violating the 2007 anticyber crimes law. According to human rights organizations, Brinji was arrested in 2014 and held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer during pretrial detention.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government reportedly penalized those who published items counter to government guidelines and directly or indirectly censored the media by licensing domestic media and by controlling importation of foreign printed material. Because of self-censorship, authorities did not frequently have reason to prosecute print and broadcast media.

All newspapers in the country must be government-licensed. The Ministry of Culture and Information must approve the appointment of all senior editors and has authority to remove them. The government provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The Saudi Press Agency reported official government news. The government owned most print and broadcast media and book publication facilities in the country, and members of the royal family owned or influenced privately owned and nominally independent operations, including various media outlets and widely circulated pan-Arab newspapers published outside the country. Authorities prevented or delayed the distribution of foreign print media covering issues considered sensitive, effectively censoring these publications.

The government censored published material it considered blasphemous, for example, by removing works by Palestinian novelist and poet Mamoud Darwish at the Riyadh International Book Fair in 2014.

In November multiple media reported that authorities closed the al-Rawi Cultural Cafe on the campus of South Imam University in Riyadh, pending a Ministry of Culture and Information investigation into the cafe’s compliance with book licensing requirements.

In some cases, however, individuals criticized specific government bodies or actions publicly without repercussions. The Consultative Council (Majlis as-Shura), an advisory body, frequently allowed print and broadcast media to observe its proceedings and meetings, but the council closed some high-profile or controversial sessions to the media.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were numerous reports during the year of the government using libel laws to suppress publication of material that criticized policies or public officials.

The anticyber crimes law provides for a maximum penalty of one-year’s imprisonment for “defamation and infliction of damage upon others through the use of various information technology devices.” In 2014 the law was amended to include social media and social networks and increases the maximum fine to 500,000 riyals ($133,000).

In June the Jeddah Criminal Court commuted a seven-year prison sentence and 2,100 lashes for an Indian man convicted of blasphemy after he converted to Islam while in prison; he was initially convicted for posting an image on Facebook of the Holy Kaaba covered with Hindu deities, according to media reports.

In February the SCC sentenced a man to 10 years in prison and a travel ban of unspecified duration for “spreading malicious rumors about the kingdom” and running a YouTube channel in which he called the country’s rulers “tyrants,” according to the local Arab Newsnewspaper.

National Security: In most cases authorities used the anticyber crimes law and the counterterrorism law to restrict freedom of expression, including by prosecuting several individuals under these laws on charges related to statements made on social media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The Ministry of Culture and Information or its agencies must authorize all websites registered and hosted in the country. The General Commission for Audiovisual Media has responsibility for regulating all audio and video content in the country, including satellite channels, film, music, internet, and mobile applications, independent from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Internet access was widely available, and more than 70 percent of the population used the internet during the year, while 83 percent had mobile broadband subscriptions, according to the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

The press and publications law implicitly covers electronic media, since it extends to any means of expression of a viewpoint meant for circulation, ranging from words to cartoons, photographs, and sounds. In 2011 the government issued implementing regulations for electronic publishing that set rules for internet-based and other electronic media, including chat rooms, personal blogs, and text messages. Laws, including the anticyber crimes law, criminalize defamation on the internet, hacking, unauthorized access to government websites, and stealing information related to national security as well as the creation or dissemination of a website for a terrorist organization. Security authorities actively monitored internet activity, both to enforce laws, regulations, and societal norms and to monitor recruitment efforts by extremist organizations such as Da’esh. Activists complained of monitoring or attempted monitoring of their communications on web-based communications applications. According to a 2015 Freedom House report, social media users were increasingly careful about what they posted, shared, or “liked” online, particularly after the passage of the 2014 counterterrorism law.

Access to the internet is legally available only through government-authorized internet service providers. The government required internet access providers to monitor customers and also required internet cafes to install hidden cameras and provide identity records of customers. Although authorities blocked websites offering proxies, persistent internet users accessed the unfiltered internet via other means.

On a number of occasions, government officials and senior clerics publicly warned against inaccurate reports on the internet and reminded the public that criticism of the government and its officials should be done through available private channels. The government charged those using the internet to express dissent against officials or religious authorities with terrorism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

The press and publications law criminalizes the publication or downloading of offensive sites, and authorities routinely blocked sites containing material perceived as harmful, illegal, offensive, or anti-Islamic. The governmental Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) filtered and blocked access to websites it deemed offensive, including adult content, as well as pages calling for domestic political, social, or economic reforms or supporting human rights, including websites of expatriate Saudi dissidents.

In October the CITC announced it blocked 2.6 million “pornographic” sites in calendar year 2015 as well 3.5 million such sites in the period from 2010 through 2015. The CITC coordinated decisions with the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency on blocking phishing sites seeking to obtain confidential personal or financial information. Authorities submitted all other requests to block sites to an interagency committee, chaired by the Ministry of Interior, for decision. Under the Telecommunication Act, failure by service providers to block banned sites can result in a fine of five million riyals ($1.33 million).

The CITC claimed that Facebook removed materials that the CITC deemed offensive but that Twitter ignored all CITC requests. In September the CITC announced that it had not blocked any free voice, video, or messaging services after criticisms on social media that these services had been blocked. Users of Snapchat, a private messenger app, reported the CITC blocked the app during the year. Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp were partially accessible, with text-message features available but voice- and video-calling features blocked. In July users of FaceTime and other video-calling apps reported such services were blocked. In 2013 the CITC had announced it blocked the voice-calling app Viber and that it would “take appropriate action” against applications or services, including Skype and WhatsApp, if the proprietary services did not allow the government “lawful access” for monitoring purposes.

The CITC allows the public to submit requests to block or unblock specific sites. In 2010 the CITC stated it received more than 300,000 requests to block websites annually, citing an average of 200 requests daily to both block and unblock sites.

On July 3, the Ministry of Culture and Information blocked the website of the online news website al-Marsad. The ministry did not give a reason for the closure, and the block on the website was removed after five days.

The government reportedly collected information concerning the identity of persons peacefully expressing political, religious, or ideological opinions or beliefs online. On September 25, authorities arrested a man who used the nickname “Abu Sin” after internet video exchanges with a foreign female user circulated on social media. Authorities charged him with violating the anticyber crimes law, which in part prohibits the “production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on the public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy.” He was released on bail after 10 days, according to media sources.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government censored public artistic expression, prohibited cinemas, and restricted public musical or theatrical performances other than those considered folkloric or special events approved by the government. Academics reportedly practiced self-censorship, and authorities prohibited professors and administrators at public universities from hosting meetings at their universities with foreign academics or diplomats without prior government permission. In October the Commission on Public Entertainment, established on May 7, hosted a public live dance performance in Riyadh and Jeddah and announced a series of entertainment performances as part of a new government-sponsored program under the auspices of the Vision 2030 economic reform agenda to foster live entertainment in the country.

Syria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights, often terrorizing, abusing, or killing those who attempted to exercise these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government routinely characterized expression as illegal, and individuals could not criticize the government publicly or privately without fear of reprisal. The government also stifled criticism by invoking penal code articles prohibiting acts or speech inciting sectarianism. It monitored political meetings and relied on informer networks.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government continued to exercise extensive control over local print and broadcast media, and the law imposes strict punishment for reporters who do not reveal their government sources in response to government requests. A number of quasi-independent periodicals, usually owned and produced by individuals with government connections, published during the year. In 2014 the government began allowing very limited use of Kurdish in state-run universities, following a decades-long, mostly ineffective ban prohibiting all Kurdish-language publications (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).

The government owned some radio and most local television companies, and the Ministry of Information closely monitored all radio and television news and entertainment programs for adherence to government policies. Despite restrictions on ownership and use, citizens widely used satellite dishes, although the government jammed some Arab networks.

Books critical of the government were illegal.

Extremist organizations such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Jund al-Aqsa, and Da’esh also posed a serious threat to press and media freedoms.

Violence and Harassment: Government forces reportedly detained, arrested, and harassed journalists and other writers for works deemed critical of the state. Harassment included attempts at intimidation, banning such individuals from the country, dismissing journalists from their positions, and ignoring requests for continued accreditation. According to reliable NGO reports, the government routinely arrested journalists who were either associated with or writing in favor of the political opposition or the FSA and instigated attacks against foreign press outlets throughout the country.

The government and Da’esh routinely targeted and killed both local and foreign journalists, according to the COI. According to Freedom on the Net and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Syria remained the most deadly and dangerous country in the world for journalists. During the year the CPJ documented the deaths of three journalists in the country: Khaled al-Iissa, Osama Jumaa, and Majid Dirani. According to the CPJ, the majority of reporters killed were covering politics and human rights issues. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimated 56 journalists were killed between 2011 and September, including seven during the year.

A June 16 attack in Aleppo City injured prominent Syrian activist Hadi al-Abdullah and killed photographer Khaled al-Issa, both affiliated with the popular opposition media outlet Radio Fresh. No group took responsibility for the attack; however, it signified the risks to activists and journalists affiliated with opposition groups.

According to the RSF, eight journalists and 17 netizens (activists who may not have journalist training but who use the internet to disseminate their work) remained in prison. The CPJ reported that seven journalists remained in government detention. The reason for arrests was often unclear. Arbitrary arrest raised fears that authorities could arrest internet users at any time for simple online activities perceived to threaten the government’s control, such as posting on a blog, tweeting, commenting on Facebook, sharing a photograph, or uploading a video.

According to reports from media outlets operating in areas controlled by the PYD, they faced pressure and received online threats demanding they play pro-PYD songs. Reports indicated that some opposition journalists affiliated with the Kurdish National Council were detained and/or beaten by members of the PYD security services. In May an independent radio station in al Hasakah governorate reported that an anonymous armed group attacked its headquarters, set the building on fire, and threatened to kill the head of the station if he did not stop broadcasting. Following the attack many local and international governments and political parties criticized the attack, including the Executive Authority of the Self-Administration in the area.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to control the dissemination of information strictly, including developments regarding fighting between the government and armed opposition, and prohibited most criticism of the government and discussion of sectarian problems, including religious and ethnic minority rights. The Ministries of Information and Culture censored domestic and foreign publications prior to circulation or importation and prevented circulation of content determined critical or sensitive. The government prohibited publication or distribution of any material security officials deemed threatening or embarrassing to the government. Censorship was usually greater for materials in Arabic.

Local journalists reported they engaged in extensive self-censorship on subjects such as criticism of the president and his family, the security services, or Alawite religious groups. The government required both domestic and foreign journalist who did not observe these guidelines to leave the country or targeted them for arrest, torture, or execution.

Libel/Slander Laws: Although the 2011 media law prohibits imprisoning journalists for practicing their profession, the government continued to detain and arrest journalists who opposed the government. The government charged some of these individuals under libel laws.

National Security: The government cited laws protecting national security to restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or public officials.

Nongovernmental Impact: Opposition forces kidnapped and killed journalists. According to the RSF and SNHR, the PYD subjected journalists to harassment and detention. According to the COI, Da’esh abducted journalists and activists working to document its abuses in territories under its control. According to the SNHR Da’esh killed 14 media activists including a woman and held others in detention. The SNHR also reported that opposition groups killed six media activists and injured two, and it alleged that Russian forces killed six.

INTERNET FREEDOM

According to the 2016 Freedom on the Net Report, the country remained one of the most dangerous and repressive environments for internet users in the world. The government controlled and restricted the internet and monitored e-mail and social media accounts. Individuals and groups could not express views via the internet, including by e-mail, without prospect of reprisal. The government applied the media law, as well as the general legal code, to regulate internet use and prosecute users.

The government often monitored internet communications, including e-mail, and interfered with and blocked internet service, SMS messages, and two-step verification messages for password recovery or account activation. The government employed sophisticated technologies and hundreds of computer specialists for filtering and surveillance purposes, such as monitoring e-mail and social media accounts of detainees, activists, and others. The government did not attempt to restrict the security branches’ monitoring and censoring of the internet. The security branches were largely responsible for restricting internet freedom and access; internet blackouts often coincided with security force attacks. The government censored websites related to the opposition, including the websites for local coordination committees as well as media outlets.

Many areas no longer had internet access because of continued violence and damage to infrastructure largely perpetrated by the government, especially in the north and east. The government also restricted or prohibited internet access in areas under siege. It obstructed connectivity through its control of key infrastructure, at times shutting the internet and mobile telephone networks entirely or at particular sites of unrest. There was generally little access to state-run internet service in besieged areas unless users could capture signals clandestinely from rooftops near government-controlled areas. Some towns in opposition-held areas had limited internet access via satellite connections. Some activists reportedly gained access independently to satellite internet or through second and third-generation (3G) cell phone network coverage.

The government meanwhile expanded its efforts to use social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, to spread pro-government propaganda and manipulate online content. Government authorities routinely tortured and beat journalists to extract passwords for social media sites, and the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of pro-government computer hackers, frequently launched cyberattacks on websites to disable them and post pro-government material. In January authorities detained Abdul Moyeen Hommse, a media activist, for posting a video satirizing Asad’s government. Later he lost his job. In addition to promoting hacking and conducting surveillance, the government and groups that it supported, such as the SEA, reportedly planted malware to target human rights activists, opposition members, and journalists. Local human rights groups blamed government personnel for instances in which malware infected activists’ computers.

Observers also accused the SEA of slowing internet access to force self-censorship on government critics and diverting e-mail traffic to government servers for surveillance.

Da’esh forces restricted access to internet cafes, especially for women, confiscated cell phones and computers, and instituted strict rules for journalists to follow or face punishment. In February, Da’esh banned private internet access and closed all internet cafes across Manbij, a city in northern Aleppo governorate. Da’esh also increased cyberattacks on journalists and groups documenting human rights abuses. In April Da’esh killed journalist Mohammed Zahir al-Sherqat in response to al-Sherqat’s activism.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities generally did not permit teachers to express ideas contrary to government policy. The Ministry of Culture restricted and banned the screening of certain films.

Da’esh and Jabhat al-Nusra sought to restrict academic freedom severely and to curtail cultural events considered un-Islamic. Media sources reported that schools in Da’esh-controlled Raqqa governorate banned several academic subjects, including chemistry and philosophy.

During the year students, particularly those residing in opposition-held areas, continued to face challenges in taking nationwide exams. The government, however, allowed 360 students from Moadimiyeh and 68 students from Madaya to travel to government-held areas to take exams in May.

Tajikistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The authorities continued to curb freedom of speech through detentions, prosecutions, the threat of heavy fines, the passage of strict and overreaching slander legislation, and the forced closure of media outlets. By law a person may be imprisoned for as long as five years for insulting the president.

Press and Media Freedoms: Independent media faced significant and repeated government threats on media outlets. Although some print media published political commentary and investigatory material critical of the government, journalists observed that authorities considered certain topics off limits, including derogatory information about the president or his family, questions about financial improprieties of those close to the president, or content regarding the banned IRPT.

Several independent television and radio stations were available in a small portion of the country, but the government controlled most broadcasting transmission facilities. A decree issued by the government named “guidelines for the preparation of television and radio programs” stipulates that the government through a state broadcast committee has the right to “regulate and control the content of all television and radio networks regardless of their type of ownership.”

The government allowed some international media to operate and permitted rebroadcasts of Russian television and radio programs. In November the independent news media outlet Nigoh reportedly closed its doors following government harassment and threats of criminal proceedings in response to its prior publication of IRPT content and an inadvertent misspelling of the word “president.”

Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to face harassment and intimidation by government officials. Although the government decriminalized libel in 2012, state officials regularly filed defamation complaints against news outlets in retaliation for publishing stories critical of the government.

On September 19, Ozodagon news agency reported that a journalist from Faraj newspaper, Doro Suhrobi, was beaten by a police officer. While reporting from one of the markets in Dushanbe on the economic difficulties facing the country, Suhrobi was taken to a local police station and detained. According to Suhrobi, he was humiliated and beaten by the police officer that detained him with no intervention from his colleagues. After being released, Suhrobi registered his injuries in a local hospital and filed a complaint with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). The MIA spokesperson, Umarjoni Emomali, told the media in a press conference that the ministry had launched an investigation into the case.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists regularly practiced self-censorship to avoid retribution from officials. Opposition politicians had limited or no access to state-run television. The government gave opposition parties minimal broadcast time to express their political views, while the president’s party had numerous opportunities to broadcast its messages. Access to information was particularly difficult for journalists in the weeks prior to the May 22 Constitutional Referendum. State run TV and radio stations did not broadcast any programs on their channels offering views in opposition to the constitutional amendments.

Newspaper publishers reported the government exercised restrictions on the distribution of materials, requiring all newspapers and magazines with circulations exceeding 99 recipients to register with the Ministry of Culture. The government continued to control all major printing presses and the supply of newsprint. Independent community radio stations continued to experience registration and licensing delays that prevented them from broadcasting. The government restricted issuance of licenses to new stations, in part through an excessively complex application process. The National Committee on Television and Radio, a government organization that directly manages television and radio stations in the country, must approve and then provide licenses to new stations. The government continued to deny the BBC a renewal of its license to broadcast on FM radio.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2012 the government repealed the law criminalizing libel and defamation and downgraded the offenses to civil violations, although the law retains controversial provisions that make publicly insulting the president an offense punishable by a fine or up to five years in jail. Nevertheless, libel judgments were common, particularly against newspapers critical of the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

Individuals and groups faced extensive government surveillance of internet activity, including e-mails, and often self-censored their views while posting on the internet. According to 2016 Telecommunications data, 19.5 percent of the population of Tajikistan used the internet in that year.

There were new and continuing government restrictions on access to internet websites, such as Facebook, YouTube, Google, Google services, and Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. The State Communications Service (SCS) routinely denied involvement in blocking these sites, but the government admitted to periodically implementing a law that allows interruption of internet content and telecommunications “in the interest of national security.” The government continued to implement a 2015 law enabling the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) to shut off internet and telecommunications during security operations.

Since May, independent news agency websites Asia-PlusRadio Liberty’s Tajik Service and Ozodagon were inaccessible in the country. Local experts said the government blocked these websites to limit and control coverage of the constitutional referendum. Previously, access to most social media networks, such as Facebook, YouTube, Odnoklasniki, and numerous news agency websites, were blocked intermittently throughout the year.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The Ministry of Education maintained a dress code that bans wearing the hijab in schools and government institutions. Authorities allowed women to wear a traditional version of the head covering–a scarf that covers hair but not the neck–to schools and universities. Many female students wore the hijab to and from school but removed it upon entering the school building. Parents and school officials appeared to accept this arrangement. The ministry also maintained its ban on beards for all teachers. Students with beards reported being removed from class, questioned, and asked to shave.

A Ministry of Education directive requires school administrators to inform students of the Law on Parental Responsibility, which bans all persons under age 18 from participating in public religious activities, with the exception of funerals. The law provides that, with written parental consent, minors between the ages of seven and 18 may obtain a religious education during their free time from school and outside the state education curriculum and may worship as part of educational activities at religious institutions.

The government requires all persons studying religion abroad to register with the Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA), Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The law provides criminal penalties for violating restrictions on sending citizens abroad for religious education, preaching and teaching religious doctrines, and establishing ties with religious groups abroad without CRA consent.

The Ministry of Education banned students from attending events sponsored by or conducted for foreign organizations during school hours.

There were several reports throughout the year that academics writing on sensitive subjects regarding politics, religion, and history feared publishing or even submitting their articles for review for fear of retribution. There was no official censorship, however, of films, plays, art exhibits, music presentations, or other cultural activities.

Togo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

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

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. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 7.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

Turkmenistan

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 did not respect these rights.

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

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

In October state police services threatened to harm animal rights activist Galina Kucherenko for her online postings protesting a government campaign to destroy stray dogs and cats found on the city streets. Their harassment and intimidation led to Kucherenko’s two-month involuntary confinement to her home, which appeared to ease toward the end of the year.

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

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

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

There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities. The government reported 25 foreign mass media agencies, such as Xinhua, the Associated PressRIA Novosti, and Turkish TRT, were accredited and that TrendAZERTAC, and the Associated Press of Pakistan applied for accreditation. The government did not respond to a November 2015 call by the international community for accreditation of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

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

Several RFE/RL stringers faced harassment and intimidation throughout the year. On October 25, unknown persons attacked and robbed Soltan Achilova after police confronted her for photographing a line of persons queuing for cigarettes at a convenience store. Achilova was harassed verbally by unknown persons on November 14 and was struck by men on bicycles on November 25.

RFE/RL stringer Khudayberdy Allashov was arrested and detained in Konye-Urgench December 3 for possession of an illegal local tobacco product. Reportedly, police also beat Allashov following his arrest, detained his wife and mother, and seized his mother’s home. Allashov faced a seven-year sentence for the alleged crime and remained in jail at year’s end.

The OSCE reported in December RFE/RL stringer Rovshen Yazmuhamedov was threatened by authorities with enforcement of a previously suspended jail sentence. As in previous years, the government required journalists working for state-owned media to obtain permission to cover specific events as well as to publish or broadcast the subject matter they covered.

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

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

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

United Arab Emirates

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

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

Freedom of Speech and Expression: After the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, authorities severely restricted public criticism of the government and ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. In February a court sentenced Omani citizen Saleh Mohammed al-Awaisi to a three-year jail term for sharing a poem over social media that ridiculed the government and its soldiers in Yemen. He was tried under the cybercrime law, which criminalizes all forms of electronic abuse.

In another case, in January authorities issued an arrest warrant for two men who had posted a video of themselves in military uniforms, mimicking the dance moves from a popular Saudi music video. The authorities accused the men of dishonoring the country’s military services. Also in January, the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Mohammed Ashour to three years in prison for creating a Facebook page that allegedly damaged the reputation of the country. In other cases, authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was seen as personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.

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

In February, Jordanian media outlets and human rights groups reported that Jordanian journalist Tayseer al-Najjar had been detained in mid-December 2015 without charge and was being held incommunicado. His wife subsequently told the press that authorities had accused him of spying for Qatar, criticizing the UAE, and criticizing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Human Rights Watch reported in December that al-Najjar was transferred to al-Wathba prison in March and had not been provided with access to legal counsel or informed of the charges against him. Al-Najjar remained in detention at year’s end.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose members the president appoints, licenses and censors all publications, including private association publications. The law authorizes censorship of domestic and foreign publications to remove criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments; statements that “threaten social stability;” and materials considered pornographic, excessively violent, derogatory to Islam, or supportive of certain Israeli government positions. The law also criminalizes, as blasphemy, acts that provoke religious hatred or insult religious convictions through any form of expression, including broadcasting, printed media, or the internet.

According to the NMC and Dubai police officials, authorities did not give journalists specific instructions; however, government officials reportedly warned journalists when they published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow some books perceived as critical of the government, Islam, and Emirati culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others through online or information technology means. Those who commit libel may face up to two years in prison; the maximum penalty for those convicted of libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.

In May the courts convicted three sports journalists of slander and handed each a three-month suspended prison sentence after they publicly criticized a competitor television channel.

National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that curb criticism of government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrimes laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of speech.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

The law explicitly criminalizes use of the internet to commit a wide variety of offenses and provides fines and prison terms for internet users who violate political, social, and religious norms. The law provides penalties for using the internet to oppose Islam; to proselytize Muslims to join other religions; to abuse a holy shrine or ritual of any religion; to insult any religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic group; to incite someone to commit sin; or to contravene family values by publishing news or photographs pertaining to a person’s private life or family. In February the government announced it would increase fines and jail terms for the “criminal intent” use of Virtual Private Networks, which often were used to circumvent internet censorship.

In August news reports alleged that authorities had used a malware application to obtain access to the iPhone of Emirati political activist Ahmed Mansoor by exploiting a flaw in Apple’s iOS operating system.

The 2012 cybercrimes decree and the 2015 Antidiscrimination Law provide for more severe penalties for violations and add to existing online communication limitations on freedom of speech to include prohibitions on criticism or defamation of the government or its officials; insults based on religion, belief, sect, race, color, or ethnic origin; insults directed at neighboring countries; and calls for protests and demonstrations.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

Uzbekistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights and severely limited freedom of expression.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

On April 25, the president signed an amendment criminalizing a broad range of religious expression online and via mass media. Criminal Code Article 244-1 (Threats to Public Security and Public Order) prescribes up to eight years in prison for anyone who uses religion online, via mass media, or in telecommunications to “violate civil concord, disseminate defamatory, destabilizing fabrications, commit other acts aimed against the established rules of behavior in society and public safety, and spread panic among the population.” Anyone distributing or displaying “attributes and symbols of religious extremist and terrorist organizations” can face up to five years in prison.

Press and Media Freedoms: All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country.

Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies, signed in September 2015, hold bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibit posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred. It prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets in the country.

Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies.

The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials or discredited “Western” ideas, such as pop culture and globalization.

A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. Government-owned media, such as the UzA and Jahon Information Agencies, frequently carried reports about reforms or visits to the country in which foreign experts’ comments were misquoted or embellished.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence, as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity.

As in past years, the government harassed journalists from state-run and independent media outlets in retaliation for unauthorized contact with foreign diplomats, specifically questioning journalists about such contact. Some journalists refused to meet with foreign diplomats face-to-face because doing so in the past resulted in harassment and questioning by the NSS.

In June 2015 authorities detained Barnokhon Khudoyarova, editor in chief of the Huquq Dunyosi (World of Law) newspaper, shortly after he wrote a critical article on the Narin District Prosecutor’s Office and State Tax Committee. In October 2015 the Narin District Criminal Court found her guilty of extortion and sentenced her to five years four months in prison. In December 2015 the Namangan Regional Criminal Court declined an appeal and kept the sentence without changes.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases, the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. There continued to be reports that government officials and employers provided verbal directives to journalists to refrain from covering certain events sponsored by foreign embassies, and, in some cases, threatened termination for noncompliance. As in past years, regional television outlets broadcast some moderately critical stories on local issues, such as water, electricity, and gas shortages, as well as corruption and pollution.

The government continued to refuse Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the BBC World Service permission to broadcast from within the country, although the websites of Voice of America and the BBC were periodically accessible.

Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers to print articles and letters under fictitious bylines and gave explicit instructions about the types of stories permitted for publication. There was often little distinction between the editorial content of a government and a privately owned newspaper. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

Journalists working for state media outlets were discouraged from attending events held at foreign embassies.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government.

INTERNET FREEDOM

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

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

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

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

The government intermittently restricted access to several internet messenger services, sometimes for several months, requiring a proxy server to access services such as Skype, Viber, and Telegram.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

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

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

Venezuela

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but the combination of laws and regulations governing libel and media content, as well as legal harassment and physical intimidation of individuals and the media, resulted in significant repression of these freedoms. National and international groups, such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN Human Rights Committee, Freedom House, the Inter American Press Association, Reporters without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned or expressed concern over government efforts throughout the year to restrict press freedom and create a climate of fear and self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law makes insulting the president punishable by six to 30 months in prison without bail, with lesser penalties for insulting lower-ranking officials. Comments exposing another person to public contempt or hatred are punishable by prison sentences of one to three years and fines. PSUV officials threatened violence against opposition figures and supporters, in particular leading up to the opposition’s September 1 march.

Press and Media Freedoms: The law provides that inaccurate reporting that disturbs the public peace is punishable by prison terms of two to five years. The requirement that the media disseminate only “true” information was undefined and open to politically motivated interpretation. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement in August expressing serious concern over the continuing erosion of media freedom.

The law prohibits all media from disseminating messages that incite or promote hate or intolerance for religious, political, gender-related, racial, or xenophobic reasons; incite, promote, or condone criminal acts; constitute war propaganda; foment anxiety in the population or affect public order; do not recognize legitimate government authorities; incite homicide; or incite or promote disobedience to the established legal order. Penalties range from fines to the revocation of licenses.

Despite such laws, President Maduro and the ruling PSUV used the nearly 600 government-owned or-controlled media outlets to insult and intimidate the political opposition throughout the year. Maduro regularly referred to Miranda state governor Henrique Capriles using homosexual slurs on live television, while PSUV First Vice President Diosdado Cabello used his weekly television program to bully journalists and media outlets.

The law declares telecommunications a “public interest service,” thereby giving the government greater authority to regulate the content and structure of the radio, television, and audiovisual production sectors. The law provides that the government may suspend or revoke licenses when it judges such actions necessary in the interests of the nation, public order, or security. The law empowers the government to impose heavy fines and cancel broadcasts for violations of its norms; the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) oversees the law’s application.

The government introduced legal actions against high-profile independent media outlets Tal CualEl NacionalEl Nuevo PaisLa Patilla, and Globovision.

The government’s economic policies made it difficult for newspapers to access foreign currency, preventing many newspapers from purchasing critical supplies and equipment necessary for day-to-day business operations. Items that must be imported included ink, printing plates, camera equipment, and especially newsprint. As the government prevented newspapers from purchasing foreign currency, media companies were forced to buy newsprint from the government-run Alfredo Maneiro Editorial Complex, the only company allowed by the government to import it. Consequently, nearly every newspaper in the country reduced pages and news content in an attempt to conserve paper. On March 16, El Carabobeno stopped printing daily newspapers after 82 years in operation, the latest nongovernment-owned media outlet to cease production due to lack of access to dollars to purchase newsprint from the government.

The NGO Public Space reported 144 cases of violations of freedom of expression between January and June, defined as the “obstruction, impediment, or criminalization of the search, receipt, and distribution of information by the media,” noting an increasing trend. The most common violations were aggressions against journalists and censorship. State-owned and state-influenced media provided almost continuous progovernment programming. In addition private and public radio and television stations were required to transmit mandatory nationwide broadcasts throughout the year. According to the online tracking program Citizens Monitoring, run by the civil society network Legislative Monitor, between January and September the government implemented more than 100 hours of national “cadenas” featuring President Maduro, interrupting regular broadcasts. Both Maduro and other ruling-party officials utilized mandatory broadcast time to campaign for progovernment candidates. Opposition candidates generally did not have access to media broadcast time.

The law requires practicing journalists to have journalism degrees and be members of the National College of Journalists, and it prescribes jail terms of three to six months for those practicing the profession illegally. These requirements are waived for foreigners and opinion columnists.

Violence and Harassment: Senior national and state government leaders continued to harass and intimidate privately owned and opposition-oriented television stations, media outlets, and journalists by using threats, property seizures, administrative and criminal investigations, and prosecutions. Government officials, including the president, used government-controlled media outlets to accuse private media owners, directors, and reporters of fomenting antigovernment destabilization campaigns and coup attempts.

IPYS reported 12 assaults on media offices from January to August. In two separate incidents in August, unidentified assailants threw feces at El Nacional’s Caracas headquarters and shot bullets at the offices of Diario de los Andes in Trujillo. According to statistics taken from an El Carabobeno special report, 34 percent of journalists claimed to have been harassed by government officials.

IPYS recorded at least 17 cases of journalists arbitrarily detained from January to August. On September 3, SEBIN agents detained Reporte Confidencial editor and Chilean-Venezuelan dual national Braulio Jatar for disseminating video of residents of Villa Rosa, Nueva Esparta, banging pots and pans in protest during President Maduro’s visit to their community. Authorities charged Jatar with money laundering and using the proceeds to finance terrorism against the Maduro administration. As of December 22, Jatar remained in state custody.

Government officials also harassed foreign journalists working within the country. On August 31, immigration officials detained and deported a Miami Herald journalist despite having permitted him entry into the country the day before to cover planned opposition protests. Reporters from The Washington Post, ABC, Al-Jazeera, Le Monde, National Public Radio, and Colombia’s Caracol Radio and TV were also expelled or denied entry upon arrival in the country during the year.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: In its 2015 report, IPYS noted the government’s preference for using legal proceedings, financial sanctions, and administrative actions against unfavorable news outlets instead of incurring the political cost of shutting down them down outright. Members of the independent media stated they regularly engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisals. This resulted in many journalists posting articles to their personal blogs and websites instead of publishing them in traditional media. The NGO Public Space reported that in 2015 there were 47 cases involving censorship.

The government also exercised control over content through licensing and broadcasting requirements. CONATEL acted selectively on applications from private radio and television broadcasters for renewal of their broadcast frequencies. According to Nelson Belfort, former president of the Venezuelan Radio Chamber, and NGO reports, approximately 2,000 radio stations were in “illegal” status throughout the country due to CONATEL having not renewed licenses for most radio stations since 2007.

The government controlled a large portion of the country’s businesses and paid for advertising only with government-owned or government-friendly media.

Libel/Slander Laws: Government officials engaged in reprisals against individuals who publicly expressed criticism of the president or government policy. On April 11, a judge sentenced David Natera, editor of independent newspaper Correo del Caroni, to four years in prison for criminal defamation due to his newspaper’s investigation of corruption at a state-run mining company in Bolivar State. Natera remained free pending appeal but was prohibited from leaving the country and required to appear before court officials every 30 days. In addition, the judge fined Natera BsF 201,249 ($20,124, or $30.34 at the Dicom exchange rate as of December 1) and ordered the newspaper not to publish stories about the case. Correo del Caroni also faced civil penalties stemming from the defamation case, which could result in the confiscation of its office and printing press, according to a statement released by the NGO Public Space.

National Security: The law allows the government to suspend or revoke licenses when it determines such actions to be necessary in the interests of public order or security. The government exercised control over the press through the public entity known as the Strategic Center for Security and Protection of the Homeland (CESPPA), established in 2013, which is similar to the government entity Center for National Situational Studies (CESNA), established in 2010. CESNA and CESPPA have similar mandates and are responsible for “compiling, processing, analyzing, and classifying” both government-released and other public information with the objective of “protecting the interests and objectives of the state.”

On May 13, Maduro declared the “state of exception,” citing a continuing economic emergency, and granted himself the power to restrict rights guaranteed in the constitution. The 60-day emergency decree allowed the president to block any action he deemed could “undermine national security” or could “obstruct the continuity of the implementation of economic measures for the urgent reactivation of the national economy.” According to Human Rights Watch, the “state of exception” negatively affected the right to freedom of association and expression. On September 23, the TSJ renewed President Maduro’s decree of a “state of exception.”

Nongovernmental Impact: Widespread violence in the country made it difficult to determine whether attacks on journalists resulted from common criminal activity or whether criminals or others targeted members of the media.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The executive branch exercised broad control over the internet through the state-run CONATEL. Free Access reported that CONATEL supported monitoring of private communications and persecution of internet users who expressed dissenting opinions online. According to media reports, users of social networks accused CONATEL of monitoring their online activity and passing identifying information to intelligence agencies, such as SEBIN. According to Free Access, CONATEL provided information to SEBIN, including internet protocol addresses, which assisted authorities in locating the users. Free Access cited arrests of Twitter users during the 2014 protests.

The law puts the burden of filtering prohibited electronic messages on service providers, and it allows CONATEL to order service providers to block access to websites that violate these norms and sanctions them with fines for distributing prohibited messages.

CONATEL’s director William Castillo repeatedly declared in press statements that the government did not actively block websites. Castillo stated CONATEL’s role was to enforce the law and prevent dissemination of illegal information or material unsuitable for children and adolescents. Nevertheless, the government continued to block internet sites that post dollar- and euro-to-bolivar currency exchange rates differing from the government’s official rate. Government-owned internet service provider CANTV facilitated blockages. The government used Twitter hashtags to attain “trending” status for official propaganda and employed hundreds of employees to manage and disseminate official government accounts. At least 65 official government accounts used Twitter to promote the ruling PSUV party.

Intelligence agencies, which lacked independent oversight, conducted surveillance for political purposes. Courts relied on evidence obtained from anonymous “patriotas cooperantes” (cooperating patriots) to persecute perceived opponents of the government, and senior government officials used personal information gathered by cooperating patriots to intimidate government critics and human rights defenders.

CONATEL reported 53 percent of the population used the internet during the year and estimated that 16.2 million citizens connected to the internet five to seven days per week.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were some government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. University leaders and students alleged the government retaliated against opposition-oriented autonomous universities by providing government subsidies significantly below the annual inflation rate to those universities. Autonomous universities, which receive partial funding from the government, received considerably less than the total budgets they requested. Furthermore, budgetary allocations were based on figures not adequately adjusted for inflation and covered expenses only through March.

On May 18, progovernment gangs attacked student protesters at the University of the Andes (ULA) in Merida and set fire to the medical school after students took refuge inside.

On June 14, President Maduro instructed the Education Ministry to implement a new high school curriculum in 127 schools nationwide for the 2016-17 school year. Teachers’ associations criticized the new standards as being a form of political indoctrination, noting the replacement of key subjects such as history and geography with “homeland and civic duties” courses.

Vietnam

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution and law state that citizens have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The government continued, however, to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict these freedoms. The law defines the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state and social organizations.”

Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders; criticized the party; promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy; or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China. The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists and activists, including in academic institutions.

In August, Hanoi police reportedly detained on multiple occasions Nguyen Van Dien, a member of the Vietnam Path movement, and twice forcibly returned him to his hometown in Yen Bai Province after he rode a bicycle around Hanoi while wearing a shirt with the slogans “Spratly and Paracel islands belong to Vietnam.”

On March 30, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court sentenced Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (also known as Nguyen Ngoc Gia) to four years in prison and three years of probation for writing articles critical of the state for Dan Lam Bao and Dan Luan blogs in 2014.

The government tolerated limited debate about sensitive political or social topics. It allowed limited discussion in the press and among civil society and religious organizations about key proposed laws at the National Assembly level, such as the draft Law on Belief and Religion, which was passed on November 18, and the draft Law on Associations, which was postponed for further review.

Press and Media Freedoms: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications, under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. Private ownership or operation of any media outlet remained prohibited, but there were widespread reports of subcontracting to private establishments. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

The law allows for the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to be able to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable. Cable television, including foreign-origin channels, was widely available to subscribers in urban areas.

The government permitted foreign-based outlets (including, but not limited to, the BBC and CNN), although the law requires foreign television broadcasts to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. In practice such channels ran on a 10-minute delay. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or events in China.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for overseas Vietnamese-language press. Foreign reporters also reported authorities turned them away at airports even if they had valid entry visas.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists and independent bloggers because of their coverage of sensitive stories.

In August police confirmed that former editor in chief of newspaper Nguoi Cao Tuoi Kim Quoc Hoa (also known as Nguyen Quoc Hoa) was free on bail and awaiting investigation. Authorities penalized Hoa for allegedly running a series of investigative articles criticizing the corruption and wrongdoing of high-ranking state officials. In May 2015 authorities charged him with “abusing democratic freedoms” (article 258 of the penal code).

On October 10, police in Nha Trang city arrested blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom), charged her with “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the penal code), and continued to hold her incommunicado in pretrial detention as of the end of the year. On May 15, a plainclothes female police officer in Ho Chi Minh City reportedly beat Quynh and dragged her into a police car, preventing her from taking part in an environmental demonstration. Authorities detained her for 24 hours and subsequently transferred her to her home in Khanh Hoa Province during the night.

On November 2, Ho Chi Minh City police arrested blogger Ho Van Hai and accused him of spreading information and documents on the internet that were against the government, according to media. Police issued a statement stating Hai may have violated article 88 of the penal code (“conducting propaganda against the state”). Four days later police in Ho Chi Minh City arrested activist bloggers Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do and charged them with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” (article 79 of the penal code).

Foreign journalists noted they continued to be required to notify authorities about travel outside Hanoi when it was to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or involved a story the government otherwise might consider sensitive. Numerous foreign journalists reported harassment by security officials, including threats not to renew their visas if they continued to publish stories on “sensitive” topics.

During the visit of a foreign leader in mid-May, authorities ordered a BBC team to halt reporting, reportedly in retaliation for the BBC team meeting with a prominent human rights advocate earlier in the week.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly to dictate or censor a story. Propaganda officials forced editors for major press outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often pervasive self-censorship due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest enabled the party and government to control media content. The government continued its practice of penalizing journalists for failing to self-censor, to include revoking journalists’ press credentials.

In May and June, the Ministry of Information and Communications and party officials penalized Mai Phan Loi, head of the Hanoi Bureau of the Ho Chi Minh City Legal Affairs newspaper, for meeting a visiting foreign leader and for traveling abroad without permission. Loi’s employer summoned him for questioning less than two weeks after he met the foreign leader. On June 20, the ministry revoked Loi’s press credentials, criticizing him for posting a controversial poll on Facebook regarding recent accidental crashes of Vietnamese Navy aircraft. On June 23, Loi’s newspaper fired him. Activists noted that the government aimed to penalize Loi for his advocacy for greater press freedom.

In September the party’s Propaganda and Education Commission directed that news outlets suspend coverage of a major steel industrial project in Ninh Thuan Province to prevent public criticism in the wake of an environmental disaster caused by pollution from a steel plant earlier in the year, according to press.

The law tightly restricts press freedom. Decree 159/2013/ND-CP stipulates fines of 70 million to 100 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($3,140 to $4,500) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests. The decree authorizes the government to fine journalists and newspapers. The decree establishes fines ranging from five million to 10 million VND ($225 to $450) for journalists who fail to cite their sources of information and for journalists and newspapers that “use documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

Government regulations authorize the information ministry to revoke licenses of foreign publishers, and each foreign publisher must reapply annually to maintain its license. Nonetheless, street peddlers and shops oriented to tourists openly sold foreign-language editions of some banned books. Foreign-language periodicals were widely available in cities, but the government occasionally censored articles.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government continued to exercise various forms of control over internet access. It allowed access to the internet but only through a limited number of internet service providers (ISPs), all of which were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. Despite these controls, internet access and usage continued to grow. According to Internet Live Stats, 52 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.

Authorities continued to suppress online political expression through politically motivated arrests and convictions of bloggers as well as through short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and illegal confiscations of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service.

The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups. The government additionally blocked the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned ISPs routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform. Some domestic subscribers reported using workarounds, such as virtual private networks, to access blocked sites.

Facebook reported it had 42 million users countrywide. In general authorities did not block access to the site, which gave citizens a space for free and open debate and dialogue. On multiple occasions throughout the year, however, authorities temporarily blocked Facebook to prevent activists from organizing protests over a major fish kill in the central region of the country linked to industrial pollution. The government also monitored Facebook posts and punished activists who used the internet to organize protests.

On August 23, a court in the Khanh Hoa Province sentenced Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An to three and two years of prison, respectively, for “conducting propaganda against the state” (article 88 of the penal code). Authorities charged Duy with creating a Facebook group to “slander the government.” Duy’s family members reported the court refused to let them visit Duy, send food packages, or provide their own defense lawyer. An was charged with spray-painting an obscenity on the side of a police building and for attending a human rights training event. Duy and An were both associated with the “Zombie Movement,” an online group that formed in 2015 with inspiration from an anticommunist rap song.

The Ministry of Information and Communications required all internet companies, social networking sites, and websites that provided information or commentary about “politics, economics, culture, and society” based in the country to register and obtain an operating license. The ministry also required such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval. It used administrative sanctions such as fines and suspensions of operating permits to regulate online activity, including decrees 159 and 174 under the Law on the Handling of Administrative Violations.

Decree 72/2013/ND CP requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. Under the decree such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate requests for information from the government and store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years. In 2014 the government issued a circular that further outlines the guidelines and implementation of Decree 72. Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. According to the circular, in-country general website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities. During the year representatives of the internet startup community criticized these regulations, which the government had not yet begun enforcing.

During the year the Ministry of Information and Communications issued new regulations restricting media organizations’ use of Facebook forums, which provided users a space for open discussion and debate. On June 26, Document No. 816/PTTH&TTDT required provincial-level offices to increase supervision of websites and social media pages, including those managed by news outlets. Document No. 779/CBC-TTPC, issued July 1, requires that news outlets review their social media pages to prevent user comments aimed at “propaganda and distortion.” This document specifies that newspaper senior staff are responsible for any failures to censor social media content under the control of the media organization.

On September 6, the Ministry of Information and Communications revoked the press credentials of Infonet journalist Luong Tan Huong and Dan Tri (“Intellectual”) journalists Pham Phuc Hung, Le Trinh Truong, and Nguyen Dinh Hung for failing to properly moderate their news organizations’ Facebook forums.

The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs, requires domestic ISPs to store information transmitted on the internet for at least 15 days, and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cybercafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain approval to host conferences involving international sponsorship or participation in advance.

The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.

Although the government controlled art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities, it continued to allow artists broader latitude to choose themes for their works. Authorities continued to restrict public art displays and musical performances through requirement of substantial permission procedures. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.

Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists from their respective universities, although their political activities were peaceful. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them to graduate due to their human rights advocacy.

On March 20, police in Ho Chi Minh City briefly detained Professor Pham Minh Hoang and 14 students for taking part in a course in which he taught the history of civic rights in the country.

Yemen

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press “within the limits of the law,” the Press and Publications Law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. Rebel actors did not respect the rights as provided, and the government was unable to enforce them.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: There were reports that Houthi-Saleh rebels suppressed speech critical of them.

In February Houthi-Saleh rebels abducted the editor of al-Sahwa News, Abdullah al-Minefi, from his home in Dhamar and his whereabouts remained unknown, according to a report from the GCHR.

Press and Media Freedoms: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels, and radio stations proliferated. A number of domestic private stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.

Violence and Harassment: Rebel actors, including Houthi militias and forces loyal to former president Saleh, were primarily responsible for a campaign of violence and harassment against journalists, according to a report from the Yemen Journalists Syndicate, an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists. The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment (Nongovernmental Impact).

In multiple instances Houthi-Saleh rebels went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent. According to HRW, authorities frequently compelled detainees to sign contracts promising not to affiliate themselves with groups their captors saw as opposed to the Ansar Allah movement.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not and could not counter the practice of censorship by rebel actors inside Yemen. During the year Houthi-controlled Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly systematically blocked websites and domains that authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda. The OHCHR reported that Houthi-Saleh rebels blocked 10 news websites, censored four satellite television channels, and blocked five newspapers from going to print during the year.

Prior to the government’s exile, Customs Authority and Ministry of Culture officials occasionally confiscated foreign publications regarded as either pornographic or religiously objectionable, according to the Freedom Foundation. The government required book authors to obtain certification from the Ministry of Culture for publication and to submit copies to the ministry. Publishers sometimes refused to deal with an author who had not obtained certification. The ministry approved most books, but long delays were frequent. Both the ministry and the PSO monitored and sometimes removed books from stores. No information was available on practices following the government’s departure.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state,” although not necessarily “constructive” criticism; the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people”; materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution”; and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations” with the country. Citing these restrictions, the Specialized Press and Publications Court intimidated journalists with excessive prosecutions for criminal defamation prior to the government’s exile. No information was available on the court’s subsequent operations.

Nongovernmental Impact: Houthi-Saleh rebels and AQAP significantly inhibited freedom of expression and members of the press through violence and harassment. As of December 2015 and during the year, the Houthi-Saleh rebels controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity, they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves.

From January through June, according to the Yemen Journalists Syndicate, Houthi-Saleh rebels and progovernment popular resistance forces and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses of media outlets. Houthi-Saleh rebels abducted, detained, prosecuted, or disappeared 24 media workers. There were two cases of journalists’ and newspaper property being confiscated, and 13 websites were blocked. Rebel actors were primarily responsible for these abuses, although some cases involved other security forces and the Saudi-led coalition, according to a Yemen Journalists Syndicate report. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that six journalists were killed during the year, one by explosives laid by pro-Houthi fighters, one killed in fighting between progovernment groups and rebels, two killed by pro-Houthi-Saleh forces in battle, and two killed in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. According to Reporters without Borders, 14 journalists were held captive through year’s end, some by Houthi rebels and some by AQAP.

In January Houthi rebels reportedly abducted al-Jazeera television correspondent Hamdi al-Bokari, fellow reporter Abdelaziz al-Sabri, and their driver Mounir al-Soubaie. They were freed 10 days later, according to Reporters without Borders.

According to Reporters without Borders, on May 8, southern militants attacked and looted the premises of the al-Shumo Foundation and its affiliate newspaper in Aden, Akhbar al-Youm.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not have the capacity to uphold internet freedom. Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi-Saleh rebel intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 25.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015, while 5.5 percent had internet access at home.

The OHCHR reported that the Houthi-controlled Popular Committees blocked 10 news websites and censored four satellite television channels. In October media outlets reported that the mobile messaging application WhatsApp appeared to be blocked by Houthi-Saleh rebels, along with Facebook and Skype. The Houthi-controlled Ministry of Telecommunications claimed the sites were not blocked but rather were offline due to local disruptions to internet service and damage to telecommunications infrastructure due to the conflict, particularly in Sana’a, Sa’ada, and Amran.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Prior to the conflict, political parties frequently attempted to influence university academic appointments and faculty and student elections. They actively recruited new students into party branches specifically created as youth divisions (for example, the General People’s Congress Youth Division and the al-Islah Youth Division), through which the parties could mobilize youth on campuses.

The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern about security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Party-affiliated officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate them as perceived opponents.

Zimbabwe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution provides for freedoms of expression and of the media, but the law limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public safety, public order, state economic interests, public morality, and public health.” The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Security authorities restricted freedom of speech and arrested individuals, particularly those who made or publicized comments critical of President Mugabe or made political statements opposing ZANU-PF or the government’s agenda. CIO agents and informers routinely monitored political and other meetings. Authorities targeted persons deemed to be critical of the government for harassment, abduction, interrogation, and physical abuse.

Government authorities arrested individuals for violating Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, routinely invoked against political and human rights activists as well as ordinary citizens for allegedly undermining the authority of or insulting the president.

On July 27, police arrested Douglas Mahiya, the ZNLWVA secretary for information and publicity, as well as four others for denigrating President Mugabe in a communique issued after a July 18 meeting. The government also accused Mahiya of undermining President Mugabe’s authority during an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation transmitted on July 21. Their trial was pending at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedoms: The government restricted freedom of the press. The Ministry of Media, Information, and Publicity exercised control over state-run media. High-ranking ZANU-PF officials used these media to threaten violence against critics of the government.

Despite threats and pressure from the government, independent newspapers continued to operate.

Security services also prevented journalists from covering events that would expose government excesses. On January 7, Presidential Spokesman and Information Ministry Permanent Secretary George Charamba threatened to take action against privately owned media outfits, warning journalists against reporting on allegations of security sector officials interfering with ZANU-PF internal succession politics. Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe also warned journalists not to write on security sector issues.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA-Zim) issued a statement criticizing the “ongoing police onslaught” against journalists during nationwide protests and demonstrations. MISA-Zim reported police assaulted or harassed more than 12 journalists from local and international media organizations while covering demonstrations between July 6 and September 12. On August 26, police arrested and detained photojournalist James Jemwa for more than five days at Chikurubi Maximum Prison for covering demonstrations in Harare.

The government used accreditation laws to prevent international media journalists’ entry into the country. For example, on July 8, authorities deported two Sky News journalists for entering the country without accreditation. Presidential Spokesman and Information Ministry Permanent Secretary Charamba told AFP “their deportation should serve as a warning to foreign journalists who may attempt to sneak into the country without permits.” Government officials detained the two Sky News journalists overnight at Harare International Airport before deporting them the next morning. Most international media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC, however, continued to operate in the country.

Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. Star FM and ZiFM, both radio stations with close links to ZANU-PF, continued broadcast operations. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, the two stations included independent voices in their programming. Of the eight urban commercial radio stations licensed by the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) in 2015, four had started operating by September.

The government did not license any community radio stations during the year, despite previous years’ promises by officials to do so.

The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s only domestically based television broadcasting station, operated one television channel. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens.

Violence and Harassment: Security forces arbitrarily harassed and arrested journalists who reported unfavorably on government policies or security operations. Senior ZANU-PF officials also criticized local and foreign independent media for allegedly biased reporting that discredited President Mugabe and misrepresented the country’s political and economic conditions.

On July 6, Marimba police detained Alpha Media Holdings journalists Elias Mambo, Tafadzwa Ufumeli, and Richard Chidza and freelance journalist Godwin Mangudya, who were covering protests in the Mufakose suburb of Harare. On August 3, members of the riot police assaulted journalists covering protests by unemployed graduates. As the marchers approached parliament, police beat a group of seven journalists with baton sticks.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government used the law to control media content and the licensing of journalists, although many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. The law provides the government with extensive powers to control media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.”

On July 4, the BAZ issued a warning to broadcasters not to broadcast “programs that incite, encourage, or glamorize violence or brutality.” The notice stated that broadcasters must avoid broadcasting “obscene and undesirable comments” from participants, callers, and audiences in accordance with section 26 of the Broadcasting Services (Licensing and Content) Regulations.

Libel/Slander Laws: The Constitutional Court ruled the previous constitution outlaws criminal defamation. Civil defamation laws remain in force.

On February 3, the Constitutional Court ruled all laws assigning criminal penalties for conviction of defamation contradict constitutional provisions for press freedom, including Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit brought by MISA-Zim and four journalists, including Nqaba Matshazi. In 2011 police arrested Matshazi and his editor, Nevanji Madanhire, of the private independent weekly newspaper The Standard on charges of criminally defaming Munyaradzi Kereke, chairman of a defunct health insurance company and a prominent ZANU-PF official.

Newspapers also exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under civil libel laws.

National Security: The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act makes it a crime to divulge any information acquired in the course of official duties. Authorities used these laws to restrict publication of information critical of government policies or public officials.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions, and the government sometimes restricted access to the internet. For example, the government blocked Blackberry’s internet services for Blackberries registered in the country, including its encrypted messaging service that prevented enforcement of the law, allowing the government to intercept and monitor communications.

Despite the restrictive environment for traditional media, internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, threatened to regulate internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent.

On April 3, the government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper quoted President Mugabe as saying the government needed to stop “abuses on the internet” and would emulate China in the use of security measures to regulate access to certain websites.

The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media. For example, on July 6, a local internet service provider (ISP) stated the government instructed local ISPs and mobile telecommunications companies to slow down their service and to hinder the instant messaging platform, WhatsApp, following a planned day of nationwide protests. The government instructed companies to return service to normal later that same day. Government authorities publicly denied having issued the instruction. Telecommunication service providers interviewed by journalists refused to reveal the cause of the outage.

On July 7, the Posts and Telecommunications Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), the national telecommunications regulator, published a statement warning members of the public against what it termed “social media abuse.” POTRAZ announced that any person caught in possession of, generating, sharing, or passing on “abusive, threatening, subversive, or offensive telecommunication messages” would be arrested and “dealt with accordingly in the national interest.”

Parliamentary and legal watchdog Veritas stated regulations under the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) along with the Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations, 2014 (SI 95 of 2014) facilitated eavesdropping and call interception. Under ICA law, enforcement officers may apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing law enforcement to intercept communications, including calls, e-mails, and messages. Using the statutory instrument, officers may apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 16.4 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

The government restricted academic freedom. The country’s president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of higher education policy at public universities, and ZANU-PF controls the Ministry of Higher Education. The law restricts the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and providing disciplinary powers over staff and students to university authorities.

CIO personnel at times assumed faculty and other positions, or posed as students, at public and some private universities to intimidate and gather intelligence on faculty and students who criticized government policies and actions. CIO officers regularly attended classes in which noted MDC activists were lecturers or students. In response both faculty and students often practiced self-censorship.

On February 23, the Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (RTUZ) reported security officials routinely visited rural schools ahead of visits by senior ZANU-PF officials to ensure that teachers delivered the “correct lessons” to students. RTUZ representatives stated these actions created significant stress on teachers and negatively affected their performance in classrooms.

State-run universities frequently cancelled scheduled events organized by foreign embassies and refused public lectures by foreign diplomats.

The government on occasion restricted human rights activists from using cultural platforms to criticize the ruling party, the president, or political violence.

On March 10, the Zimbabwe Censorship Board upheld its 2015 decision to prohibit distribution of a feature-length documentary focused on the drafting of the 2013 constitution. The documentary, Democrats, followed two politicians appointed to lead the country through the constitutional reform process. In a March letter to Upfront Films, the acting secretary of the Censorship Board announced DVDs of the film were banned and prohibited because the film “is not suitable for public showing as previously recommended.”

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